But Once A Year
by Daegaer

The phone rang, and after a minute or so Aziraphale unearthed it from beneath the pile of old Telegraphs he kept forgetting to put out for recycling. It was still ringing, which meant it was either an unusually persistent double-glazing telemarketer or someone who knew his phone was likely to have been in need of excavation. He answered it cheerfully. If it was a telemarketer, Aziraphale knew he could keep the poor dear on the line for simply ages without ever promising to buy anything, and he could do his job from the comfort of his own shop. Telemarketers who tried to sell Aziraphale something found he had a far more convincing line of patter than anything their sales departments could have dreamed up.

'Hello?' he said.

'Three minutes and five seconds. Is that better or worse than last time?'

'Hello, Crowley,' Aziraphale said happily. No need to exert himself at all, so. It wasn't like Crowley would appreciate an attempt to save his soul. Not that he had one. Nor, Aziraphale admitted in the spirit of fairness, did he. When he thought about it, which was far less often than he had at one point, he supposed that -- from a strictly human point of view, which was rather a sloppy way of thinking about things, anyway -- they didn't have souls, they were souls. Sort of. Messy human things, souls. Made him glad he didn't have one.

'And that's how I damned every single living creature in Australia,' Crowley said with deep satisfaction.

'Dear me,' said Aziraphale. 'All of them? It seems a bit much on top of the rugby score.'

'Some people, when they answer the phone, do their caller the courtesy of actually listening. So. Dinner? You owe me one. I have top secret information you might be interested in . . .'

'Oooh. What?'

'It's a secret,' Crowley said, laughing. 'You think I'm giving away secret information on a call from a mobile? I need a nice restaurant to do that.'

'All right. Er. Crowley? About Australia?'

He could practically hear Crowley rolling his eyes.

'I'll pick you up at half seven,' Crowley said, and hung up.


At exactly half past seven Crowley knocked on the door and whisked Aziraphale off to the restaurant that he had finally considered acceptable. It had taken some doing, with numerous phone calls and hisses of exasperation about angelic taste, but finally a compromise was reached, even if Aziraphale was a little hesitant about how much he'd enjoy Nepalese food. The dinner was perfectly nice, however, and the wine list was surprisingly comprehensive. Surprising to the staff, at least. The evening was perfectly pleasant, and Crowley was cheerful and spilled the top-secret beans with very little prompting. Aziraphale wasn't impressed. Infernal interference in international politics was nothing new and it was really nothing that he couldn't have worked out -- that he in fact had worked out and had been planning to ask Crowley about -- from reading the papers.

'This isn't exactly news,' he said, poking at the photos Crowley had shown him. 'In fact I think you may have actually copied this one from last week's Observer.'

'Huh,' said Crowley. 'I thought you read The Sunday Times.'

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow and Crowley grinned unrepentantly.

'All right, mainly I wanted a dinner I didn't have to pay for,' Crowley said, sniggering.

'I should insist on us going Dutch on this one,' Aziraphale said, trying to look stern. 'Anyway, since when did you get stingy? You're filthy rich.'

'So? So are you. You invested in those companies like I told you, you can afford this.'

'Those companies,' Aziraphale said, his voice becoming a little frosty, 'were the most unethical businesses I've come across in a long while. Have you any idea what they get up to in the Third World? It took me a long time to extract my money.'

'But they paid you nice high dividends, didn't they?' Crowley said sulkily. 'You should have left your money in for longer.'

'Hmmm,' said Aziraphale, rather annoyed that he'd been duped into a social dinner when he thought it was a business one. Not one he could exactly claim for, but still. Why Crowley couldn't just have come clean and said he wanted to go out for dinner, or at least do Aziraphale the courtesy of a better cover story, he didn't know. 'Are we done with business for the evening?' Crowley nodded, leaning back in his chair. 'All right,' Aziraphale said, 'let's get down to business, then.' He signalled to the waiter and gave the man his most charming smile. 'We'll have another bottle of this lovely French red, dear. Oh, and open another to breath, would you?'


Aziraphale was drunk. He had come to this startling conclusion after he realised he was staring with rapt attention at the way Crowley had both pale, long-fingered hands carefully wrapped round the wine bottle and was pouring another glass for both of them with deep concentration. Crowley didn't usually need both hands to steady the bottle, nor did he normally squint over the top of his sunglasses while muttering under his breath that the wine glasses were tricky buggers who should just stop shifting around if they didn't want a good smiting. Ergo, Crowley was drunk too. Possibly drunker even than Aziraphale. This deduction cheered Aziraphale mightily and he smiled sunnily and attempted to help by shoving the glasses closer to Crowley. It didn't help much but he was sure the wine would come out of the tablecloth with a bit of soaking. Crowley gave him an evil yellow glare and a glass of wine.

'Happy November,' he said.

'Almost happy December,' Aziraphale said, clinking their glasses together.

'Mmrpph,' said Crowley into his glass.

'Oooh, I must have a wander round and look at the shop displays,' Aziraphale said fuzzily. 'And M&S must have its Christmas clove- scented handwash in by now.'

Crowley didn't reply, but Aziraphale thought he was making himself clear on the subject anyway.

'Don't glare at me like that,' he said. 'Suppose your aim was off and you incinerated a waiter?'

'Well, then they'd have an opening for the holiday season,' Crowley growled.

'Don't be like that,' Aziraphale said, wondering if it would be an abuse of his abilities if he just told the wine to pour itself. 'What's wrong with you anyway? Ever since we stopped talking business you've been getting sulkier and sulkier.'

Crowley drained his glass and with much concentration poured another, hardly spilling any of it. After draining that as well he looked at the tablecloth, prodding viciously at the various spills they'd put on it over the last several hours.

'Everywhere's turning on their lights for that Midwinter Festival,' he said sullenly.

'Don't be such a baby. You can say the word.'

'Well, I don't want to. Anyway, I'm going somewhere warm.'

'Really?' Aziraphale said. 'Anywhere nice?'

'I was thinking of Australia, it's the middle of summer down there. I could lie on a beach and think of you freezing here, and laugh.'

'You wouldn't like it,' Aziraphale said. 'It won't give you much entertainment at all.' He smiled at Crowley's suspicious and confused face. 'You've already damned them all, remember?'

Crowley laughed, a little unwillingly, and Aziraphale regarded him with drunken kindness.

'Crowley,' he said. 'I always buy far too much in for Christmas. Why don't you come to dinner on Christmas Day? You'd really be doing me a favour.'

'Wouldn't want to impose,' Crowley hissed, squinting over the tops of his glasses again.

'Nonsense. Now, would you like turkey or goose?'

'Goose,' Crowley said, almost before the words were out of Aziraphale's mouth. 'And I don't know how you can cook anything in that poky little kitchen of yours. There's a dreadful smell of gas, we'd -- er, you'd get blown to Kingdom Come.' He looked like he thought he was being rather cunning as he continued, 'Why don't you bring the stuff round to my place and you can cook it in my nice modern kitchen? Nobody gets blown up, the heating's at a proper level, we can sit around having sherry like civilised people, and I promise there'll be something decent on the telly.'

'Oh,' said Aziraphale slowly, as if the idea was only slowly sinking in, 'well, that would be more convenient, I suppose. If it's not a terrible imposition on you, my dear?'

Crowley made an expansive gesture and knocked an empty bottle to the floor. 'S'fine. Good for you. Get you out of the shop. Y'don't want to be sitting in the shop at Christmas.'

'No, I suppose not,' Aziraphale said, trying to disguise his giggles by taking a sip of wine. He hiccupped rather a lot, which made Crowley laugh, and allowed him to laugh as well without Crowley getting suspicious. Dear boy, Aziraphale thought as the giggles subsided, do we have to do it this way every year? He smiled fondly at the no longer sullen Crowley who was rather excitedly talking about a perfectly dreadful artificial Christmas tree he'd seen in a luxury shop. Purple and gold, dear me, Aziraphale thought.

'It sounds very modern,' he said, and was gratified to see Crowley beam at him. He smiled back, even though it was now a sure thing that he'd have to pretend to like the monstrosity when it was unveiled as a surprise for him. He'd survive. And Crowley would be happy to have pleased him. After all, neither of them liked being without a friend at Christmas. They just couldn't really admit it.

He poured a final glass for both of them, and began plotting how he'd get Crowley to wear a paper hat this year.


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