Even as an Archangel, Aziraphale still kept his bookshop. He'd found that it had become as much a part of him as his wings or his halo were and he simply couldn't give it up. Besides, more than once through history, it had been the site of many a good deed and it helped to have somewhere other than his home with Crowley, for the other Archangels to report to him if necessary.
Aziraphale always kept a close eye on each and every one of the people who entered his bookshop, just in case they ever got sticky fingers or threatened to damage anything. But when one young woman had disappeared into the stacks over forty minutes ago, never to be seen again, he began to get slightly concerned. He picked up a small pile of books on the pretence of shelving them and sauntered through the stacks in search of the missing young woman. He found her easily, she was sitting on the floor, her back to a shelf, her knees drawn up to her chest with her face buried in her hands. She was crying.
"Oh, you poor, dear lady, whatever is the matter?" Aziraphale asked, setting down the few books he'd been carrying.
"Wha..." the weeping woman looked up and flushed, embarrassed. "It's...n..nothing, I'm fine..." she said, attempting to stop crying.
"I was just about to put on a pot of tea," Aziraphale said, kindly, "Would you care to join me?"
"For 'where there is tea, there is hope' you know," he smiled at her.
She gave a small snort of amusement and wiped her hand over her eyes. "Yeah...yeah ok...erm...please," she said after a moment.
"Wonderful," Aziraphale beamed at her and held out his hand.
She stared at it for a moment, but the pale hand with manicured fingernails never faltered. It just hovered there patiently until she reached out and took it, allowing herself to be gently hauled up off the floor with a strength which surprised her.
"Thanks," she uttered, quietly.
He nodded at her and offered her his handkerchief which she took before he led her through the bookshop to the back room with the fireplace which he'd wordlessly lit before they reached the room. It always seemed to have a calming effect on him when he was distressed, despite the oddity of a burning grate in a bookshop, so he hoped that it would have the same effect on this young woman.
"I'm terribly sorry, my dear, but I'm afraid I've been awfully rude and I've realised that I don't know your name," he stated after offering her one of the chairs before the fire.
"Emily," she answered, sitting down.
"A lovely name to be sure," he replied, "Mine is Aziraphale."
She raised an eyebrow at the name but said nothing as he smiled. "Now, tea. I'll be just a moment. Help yourself to the books, oh or the gramophone, but do please be careful, it's quite old and rather temperamental towards strangers," he said.
He then left for a minute only to return to find that she hadn't moved at all from the chair. He was holding a a silver tray carrying a delicate tea pot and two cups resting on matching saucers. He put the tray down onto a round coffee table, "Milk and sugar?" he asked and she nodded. "You've been in here before, haven't you?" Aziraphale asked, pouring the tea.
"Erm...yeah," the young woman sniffed, "Couple of times."
"Browsing the classics, if I remember correctly."
"Yeah," she nodded.
"Here you are, Miss Emily," Aziraphale said, holding out one of the dainty, bone China cups on its saucer to her.
"Thanks," Emily mumbled, taking the cup and resting it on her lap. She breathed in the steam rising from it and blew on it lightly before taking a sip.
"Are you a fan of classic literature then?" he asked and she nodded, "Any particular favourites?"
"Erm...Austen," Emily answered, staring into the cup still.
"A very good choice. Anything else? I'm rather partial to Oscar Wilde, myself," Aziraphale replied. "In fact, my partner often says that poor old Oscar gets more attention than he does," he smiled and she gave another little amused scoff. He classed that as a victory.
"H.G. Wells," Emily said, "I like H.G Wells."
"Ah, so I do. Very forward thinking works...well, at the time, obviously. I have some remarkable notes of his, they cost me a small fortune, but they make for some interesting additions to his work. People in the auction room went mad trying to get their hands on them and I rather think my name was cursed more than once when I won. Ah well, one cannot complain, I suppose. Not when one has tea and first editions."
"I'm erm...I'm sorry," the woman said, sombrely.
"Oh, whatever for?"
"For...for blubbing like that in the middle of your shop, I shouldn't have...I just..."
"Whatever your reasons, I'm sure you're perfectly justified, and while I doubt that it was the sheer beauty of my books that moved you to tears, something is clearly causing you great distress. I can only attempt to sympathise and offer my help should you need it."
"That's erm...nice...thanks," she said, surprised.
"You can stay here for the rest of the day, if you like. If it would help at all. I'll bring you something to read, some first editions, Austen or Wells, perhaps. I believe I have a beautiful edition of Pride and Prejudice somewhere...well, actually I have several, but that's beside the point."
"I erm..." she looked around at the room.
It was a beautiful, calming room lit by the fire and old oil lamps, like something out of one of the classic novels she loved so much or from an old oil painting you'd find hanging in a museum. The whole place, Aziraphale had come to learn, was a beacon to a certain type of people; bookish, occasionally lonely and intelligent people like Emily who sometimes needed refuge from the unforgiving, busy world outside. Sometimes a good deed was simply offering that refuge when needed and proving tea when the occasion called for it as well.
"Maybe...maybe I'll stay...for a bit...if that's okay," Emily sniffed.
"Of course, you're more than welcome," he replied. "I'll bring you those books and please help yourself to the rest of the tea," he said, standing up. "Do let me know if you get peckish, I have a delightful selection of cakes from the excellent bakery across the street," he added before he left.
Emily curled herself up the chair and tugged at the soft blanket that was draped over the back of it. Perhaps it was a little odd, and unlike her, to cry so openly in front of a stranger and for her to trust that stranger enough to sit there now, but as with many other people, she found it incredibly easy to trust Aziraphale even though she couldn't explain why. She had no idea how much time passed before Aziraphale returned carrying a selection of books but during that time she'd closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the crackling fire and the creaking of the old floorboards as people moved about in the shop.
"Well, here we are, I found quite a few that you might enjoy," he declared and deposited them on a table close to her chair. He then moved it closer so that she could remain seated and reach the books at the same time. There was a lamp on the table to help her to see and it flickered as he moved it. "One of them was signed by Austen herself you know...erm, to Aziraphale...a family name, I'm not quite that old," he said in what he hoped was a convincing, yet joking manner.
She gave a small smile and though her tears had stopped, her eyes were still glassy and she was sniffing quite regularly, it was a heartbreaking sight.
"Is there anything I can do to help? Anything at all?" he offered.
"No...nothing," Emily replied, sadly, "You're..you're probably busy, I should just...go."
"Nonsense, my dear lady, I said that you were welcome to stay and I meant it. If I can do nothing else, then at least allow me to offer a refuge. Do you have anyone you'd like to call, for company?"
"I see," Aziraphale uttered, sadly. "Then would you prefer me to stay in here with you?" he asked.
"I don't wanna be a bother. You're probably busy...with...with the shop, I'll...I'll be fine," she replied.
"If you're sure," he said and she nodded.
For an hour or so, Aziraphale busied himself at the front of the shop but then his concern grew too great and he closed the shop. He then, without a word, took up an old favourite book and sat opposite Emily by the fire. He wasn't sure that she even noticed, engrossed as she was by her own book. Aziraphale wasn't quite sure how much time passed, but when Crowley walked into the room, he reasoned that it must have been at least seven at night. They'd agreed to go out for lunch.
"Angel?" the demon blinked in confusion at the sight.
The young lady was still sitting curled up on the chair, her eyes closed and the book still resting on her lap.
"Oh, my dear," Aziraphale exclaimed, quietly. "I'm afraid I completely lost track of the time. Did I miss lunch?" he asked.
"No, I came to pick you up. Who's that?"
Aziraphale stood and walked over to him, carefully so that he didn't make any noise to wake the dozing Emily.
"Her name is Emily," he explained, "I found her crying in the stacks this morning."
"What? Oh, not again, 'Zira," Crowley rolled his eyes.
"She was crying, my dear, I couldn't simply just send on her way. And sometimes, silent company is the best thing one can offer when people are upset."
"So, what's up with her, then?"
"I don't know. She wouldn't say and I didn't press the matter. It's usually best not to, I've found."
"You've got a habit of picking up strays, y'know that," Crowley remarked, "Lemme guess, she's a bookworm, too?"
"However did you know?" Aziraphale asked, stunned.
"They always are, with you," the demon replied, fondly.
"She was quite distressed, the poor thing," Aziraphale stated, "But she seems to have calmed a little. At least she's resting."
"Soooo," Crowley droned, "Does this mean we're not going for lunch?"
"Oh...erm...I don't...I do hate to miss meals and I was rather looking forward to it," the angel frowned but then looked back at the sleeping woman. "But I would feel terribly guilty about simply leaving her alone here," he confessed.
"Leave a note," Crowley shrugged.
"I can't do that," Aziraphale replied, sounding appalled.
"So, wake her up then."
"But she needs the rest."
"Says who? Her doctor? You're not a doctor, you're an Archa...gah, that's just worse," Crowley scrubbed a frustrated hand through his hair.
"Yes, quite, my love," the angel smiled, "You see my dilemma."
"I can go, it's okay," Emily said, suddenly, turning round in her chair to face them.
"Oh, you're awake. I thought you were sleeping," Aziraphale remarked.
"I'm err...a light sleeper," she yawned and stood up, stretching her muscles. "Thanks for letting me stay here, but I don't wanna ruin your plans," she explained and made her way over to them. "Really...thank you," she said to the angel.
"Well, are you quite sure that you'll be alright?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine."
"Then do come back again, won't you," Aziraphale said, albeit reluctantly, "Tomorrow if you can. I've plenty more tea and more books than you could read in a lifetime."
"I will," she nodded. "Thanks again," she added before leaving.
"At least let us drive you. It's late and dark," the angel called after her.
"I'm not a taxi service," Crowley mumbled.
"But..." Emily turned back around.
"For my peace of mind, Miss Emily, if nothing else."
"Well...it's not far, I can..."
"If it's not far, then that's all the more reason for us to drive you there."
"You mean me," Crowley groaned.
"Well..." Emily blinked.
"Splendid, come along then, my dears," Aziraphale smiled, ushering Crowley out with an arm linked through his. He locked the door behind him and they turned to the road to the 1926 Bentley waiting for them, illegally parked of course.
"Whoa," the woman stared at the Bentley.
Crowley made a proud sounding 'humph' before clicking his fingers to open the doors and switch on the lights. "Get in then," he said.
"H...how'd...how'd it do that?"
"Magic. Get in," Crowley reiterated and sat in the drivers' seat.
Aziraphale as always took the front passenger seat which left Emily sitting in the back, staring in awe at the interior of the car from every angle.
"I think she likes the car, dear," Aziraphale whispered to Crowley.
"She'd better," Crowley replied, caressing the steering wheel before he turned the key in the ignition. As always, Queen began to play from the radio, blasting out 'I want to break free' as the Bentley tore through the streets, following Emily's directions.
They stopped when they reached a post war, semi detached house which, Emily said, she shared with three other people.
"Do try and visit me tomorrow, won't you," Aziraphale said.
"Okay, I'll try," she replied, getting out of the car.
"Goodbye, Miss Emily," the angel said just before the car sped off down the street again.
"Don't look at me like that, love," Aziraphale pouted.
"Like what? And I'm looking at the road, not you."
"You're looking at me like I've done something wrong."
"Y'cant keep taking in every waif and stray you see, angel," Crowley sighed.
"Who says I can't? Besides, it's my job. I'm an angel..."
"Archangel," Crowley corrected.
"Yes, thank you, I'm an Archangel, I'm meant to help people."
"The others don't."
"Oh, I don't know. I think Remiel is getting quite good at it. I think she enjoys it too. If I could only get her to stop wearing her armour whenever she wanders Earth, she'd be even better." (*1)
"Last time people thought she was in a Halloween costume."
"Yes, it's a rather convenient excuse, that. A pity it only works for the one month."
"Time before that people thought she was on the way to comic con," Crowley snorted, "We're running outta excuses."
"I'm sure we'll think of something," Aziraphale said, calmly. "But why on earth does it bother you so much that I still help people?" he asked.
"That was a terrible lie."
"I just...when we were...retired y'know...I liked it better that way...s'all," Crowley shrugged.
"So did I," Aziraphale agreed, sadly and rested his hand on the demons' knee.
"Like I needed another reason to curse that bloody bastard for ruining it all," Crowley hissed, thinking of Gabriel's Fall.
"Well, we still have each other, dearest, so we should be thankful for small miracles."
"You can if you want but I'm a demon, I'm meant to be greedy," Crowley said, turning a corner with a little more speed and force than was strictly necessary, or safe.
*1 Remiel is another Archangel, I haven't introduced her as a character yet though. I'm working on it.