Aziraphale looked down at the book in his hands. It was the only one he owned now. One book, the Agnes Nutter, had survived the bookshop fire, thanks to Crowley. But Aziraphale had needed to give that one up, and so from that moment on the airbase until this one in Crowley’s flat, Aziraphale had been a literature-loving angel without a single book to his name. Now he had one again, a first edition Poe. Also thanks to Crowley.
Aziraphale looked up at the demon standing in front of him. Crowley had miracled himself free from soot and smoke, but they could both still smell it, from the fires that had ended the book shop and the Bentley. And there was no miracling away Crowley’s obvious exhaustion, the darkened skin beneath his eyes, the darkened fright in the eyes themselves.
“Thank you for the book,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley shrugged, as Aziraphale knew he would, the demon was not fond of thanks. “Picked it up somewhere, thought it would make a good Christmas gift. Then, you know, with everything today— thought maybe you’d like to have it early.”
“For Christmas?” Aziraphale asked, astonished. “You bought a Christmas gift for after Armageddon?”
Crowley rubbed one of his shoulders in a way that made it clear how sore he was. “Ever the optimist, you know me.”
It took a while for Aziraphale to convince Crowley to lie down and try to get some sleep. But then once Crowley was in the other room and silent, Aziraphale found he missed his company dearly. Not that he didn’t always miss Crowley, but having sat next to him on a bus for hours, Aziraphale missed him in a rather novel way— missed feeling their legs pressed together, their fingers entwined. It was an especially cold, cavernous feeling, because Aziraphale was not sure if he’d ever manage to be so close to Crowley again.
Well, it wasn’t like he had no entertainment options for the night, was it? The Poe book was still in his hands. Aziraphale hadn’t been able to let go of it yet.
Christmas. Aziraphale had always been good at optimism himself— well, more like ignoring everything he didn’t want to deal with— but tonight it was completely eluding him. It wasn’t over, what they faced. Heaven and Hell would come for them, and Aziraphale would lose Crowley. They’d take him away, and that meant that all of the terrible things that Aziraphale had said and done over the years to Crowley had not been enough to keep him safe.
We’re not friends. We don’t know each other. You go too fast for me.
Aziraphale had inflicted hurt with a desperate kind of hope— a sort of cruel, angelic optimism— that he could protect Crowley by pushing him away. But now he could see that he’d gained nothing by it. Meanwhile Crowley was out there buying gifts for a holiday that most likely would never have come.
Aziraphale made himself sit down on Crowley’s uncomfortable couch, but he couldn’t open the book. He just stared at its cover, and taking that pose was what made him remember, suddenly— wasn’t there a spell that went just like this, with a future gift, given early, but still unopened? It came back to Aziraphale along with the memory of incense and the hot-cold-hot teasing of a flickering lamp set close to his hand.
The spell allowed its caster to take the pure, selfless intent to give, twist it round a little, and use it like a key to open a door through which you could see from the present moment to the moment for which the gift had been intended. It was a divination spell. To tell the future.
Earth had almost not had a future, but there would be a Christmas now. What Aziraphale did not know was whether he and Crowley would be around to see it.
Aziraphale sat a while with the book in his hands, an answer that he was not yet seeking. Perhaps if he looked into the future he’d see Alpha Centauri, the two of them, together and hidden away, safe. Perhaps he’d see nothing. Worse, perhaps he’d see himself alone, with Crowley erased from existence and Aziraphale left behind.
They’d faced down the apocalypse in the chaos at the air base, but sitting on a couch in a quiet flat, Aziraphale didn’t feel nearly as brave. He needed to be, though. He’d failed to keep Crowley safe. If this book could show Aziraphale the way that Crowley survived his trial— Alpha Centauri or any other clue— Aziraphale had to see it.
He gripped the book tightly in his fingers and whispered words in a language no longer spoken. And then three, in English. Show me Christmas.
Crowley’s flat faded. In its place was the bookshop.
For a moment, Aziraphale was convinced the spell had failed. The bookshop was gone, it had burned down. It wasn’t until he caught a glimpse of the Poe book, Crowley’s gift, lying on a table, that he realized he really was seeing the future, as impossible as it might seem.
The bookshop was beautifully decorated, with ribbons and green garlands and golden bells, and a huge fir tree in the center. Music was playing, orchestral versions of Christmas carols. Aziraphale could feel the warmth of the place, could smell warm biscuits and spiced wine. And yet the future Aziraphale who stood in front of him looked quite— quite wrong.
For one, he was strangely dressed, in stocking feet with no shoes, with his coat and waistcoat missing, along with his tie. He wore just a pair of trousers and a shirt. And worse— this Aziraphale bore a melancholy expression.
He was looking down at a small object in his hand— it was a little glass angel, meant to hang on the tree. A very old ornament with chipped wings and a missing hand, long broken off. The future Aziraphale sighed and spoke softly to the little angel. “You’ve seen better days, haven’t you?”
And then to the present Aziraphale’s astonishment, he grinned. “Well, I haven’t,” he whispered, and hung the broken angel on the tree, right in the front.
“Aziraphale!” came a voice that Aziraphale knew as well as his own, and he let out a gasp. Future Aziraphale couldn’t hear him, or see him, of course. In any case, they were both too busy listening to Crowley yell. “Angel, get your ineffable ass over here, you’ve drunk all the eggnog again.”
Future Aziraphale heaved a sigh. “I haven’t, dear, there’s more in the back of the ice box.”
Aziraphale could hear Crowley rolling his eyes. “Refrigerator,” he corrected. There was some clanking around, and then he declared, “I can’t find it.”
Future Aziraphale rolled his eyes right back and started walking back to the kitchen. Present Aziraphale hastened to keep up with him. “Oh, honestly,” his future self griped, “take your damned glasses off—”
They both drew up short at the sight of Crowley standing in the doorway to the kitchen, with a very self-satisfied look on his face, beneath a sprig of mistletoe affixed to the ceiling above his head. He also was wearing just trousers and a shirt, his feet bare, and he was— he was glorious. His feet alone Aziraphale could have stared at for hours, the pale color of them below Crowley’s black trousers, the way they flexed when he shifted—
Present Aziraphale realized that Future Crowley was saying something.
“They’re off,” Crowley said, about the glasses, which was true. His golden eyes shone with bright amusement. “I’m about to start taking other things off, too…wondered if you might like to help.”
Future Aziraphale laughed, and it was a better sound than Aziraphale knew he could make. “Darling, we’ve only just put them back on.” He looked down at himself. “Some of them, anyway.”
“It’s more fun this way,” Crowley assured him. He held out his hand. “Happy Christmas, angel.” As Aziraphale stepped forward into his arms, Crowley slid his hand behind Aziraphale’s neck and pulled him in for a kiss.
Present Aziraphale dropped the book. The scene vanished.
And yet, there was still the sound of Aziraphale talking, the present one this time. “He’s kissing me. He’s going to kiss me. Also, we survive, which is important, but—”
He glanced toward the bedroom, where present Crowley lay asleep. Aziraphale’s legs trembled as if they might give out unless he moved in that direction immediately.
“No,” he told himself sternly, still out loud. “It can’t be that simple. Heaven and Hell will attack, we know that. But we don’t go to Alpha Centauri, so we must have a plan—” With the book on the floor, Aziraphale could wring his hands together. “Oh, they’ll drag him off to Hell, and he never belonged there, not ever. He doesn’t belong there now. If I could only go for him, I would…”
The solution was apparent then. Choose your faces wisely.
Agnes Nutter and Edgar Allen Poe. Two books, out of all those that Aziraphale had ever owned, had proved to be the solution to everything he’d ever wanted to know.
There was a sound behind him and Aziraphale jumped as Crowley wandered out from his bedroom. He wore black silk pajamas, no sunglasses, and oh, those bare feet again...
It took Aziraphale a moment to realize that present Crowley was finally having his turn to speak. “Angel, you okay? You’re making a lot of noise.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, “oh, I— I know how to survive our trials. I figured out the prophecy. But that’s not important right now.”
Crowley made a surprised, rather skeptical noise. “That’s not important?”
Aziraphale felt tears in his eyes. It was time. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Crowley and—” When Crowley started to object, Aziraphale pointed at him in a very fierce manner. “Shut up. I am sorry, more sorry than I can say, for what I did and for what I failed to do, and I love you, and we’re going to be all right, because—”
Crowley raised a hand with one finger extended. “Back— back up one, there.”
Aziraphale felt his heart shudder painfully in his chest. “You— did you not know?”
Crowley ran a hand through his hair, mussing it further than the bed had. “Did you?” he asked, in a very quiet voice.
“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale assured him. “I caught a glimpse of your soul in 1470 when you were nearly burned as a witch. If you remember.”
“Not the sort of thing you forget.”
“Yes, well. You know, to save you, we—”
“Robbed a grave?”
“Uh— yes, um, and when we did the switching of your body with the other, ah, body, we were a little careless—”
“You were a little careless.”
“Something rather careless was done, and your soul nearly came out of your corporation. Anyway, there it was. Plain as day.”
Crowley shifted uncomfortably. “You can see that sort of thing?”
“If you’re an angel, yes. Anyway, that’s how we will survive our trials, you see, the switching—”
Crowley said softly, “That’s not important right now.” He looked at the ceiling, and then the floor, and then finally Aziraphale. His expression was both warm and icy cold, as if he were offering Aziraphale everything he had, all of his good intentions and feelings, and leaving nothing for himself. Which was what he had always done. “I’ve loved you a lot longer than that, you know,” he said.
Aziraphale took a step closer. “I fell in love with you in 836 BC,” he offered.
Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “You know the exact date? Hang on, I was discorporated in 836. Assyria.”
“You didn’t have to be.”
Crowley looked wary now, and he dropped Aziraphale’s gaze, folding his arms over his chest. “No, it couldn’t be helped.”
“I saw you,” Aziraphale said. “Got there just too late for a rescue.”
“Don’t say it,” Crowley warned.
Aziraphale was smiling now. “Crowley, if you lined up everyone in the whole world and asked them whether dying ridiculously to save a basket of kittens is a demonic act, nobody, at all, would say yes.”
Crowley gave him a very fearsome scowl and mumbled something that sounded a bit like, “Were the kittens okay?”
“They were,” Aziraphale said. “All taken into good homes, I made sure. Crowley— did you know? How I felt?”
Crowley sighed. “Yeah. I mean, I— I hoped. It seemed like— sometimes—”
“I love you, Crowley.” So rarely had Aziraphale given Crowley the truth directly, rather than in the subtext, where it might have been, and probably often was, lost. This felt terribly refreshing.
“Yeah,” Crowley said, in a strained voice. “Okay.”
“We’re going to be all right,” Aziraphale told him. “It’s not optimism, it’s real. And we’re going to be together.” On the bus, Crowley had offered his hand to Aziraphale. Aziraphale offered his now. “It’s time for us to see some better days, my love.”
Perhaps it was the case that not so very much had been lost to subtext over the years after all, because Crowley proved he was very good at reading it. He ignored Aziraphale’s hand, pulled the angel into his arms, and kissed him.