Aziraphale the Love Expert @raichel
Too Nice for His Own Good

Aziraphale had always been very bad at not helping people who asked for it. He didn’t usually go so far as handing out miracles, and he would never give anyone his prized books, but any other request was pretty much fair game, even if it wasn’t his forte. He could not very easily say no to a random human in distress. 

This was why, just after the second world war, he had accidentally become a “love expert.” A sweet young woman had come in for a book and asked him for some advice over the counter. She was desperate, and she was there anyway, so she lamented to the angel (not that she had any idea what he was) that she was at an absolute loss over her boyfriend’s recent behavior. Always willing to help (and distract her from the very valuable book she had settled on), he offered the most sensical advice he could come up with, and, apparently, it worked wonders.

From there he had accidentally gained a very small following, as the woman sent her friends to him. Years later she sent her daughter, and his following sprang up again. It was certainly not his area of expertise, but he had at least an 85% success rate, so they just kept coming back. Every few years a woman would appear, asking for “the love expert,” and though it always took him by surprise, he would offer what advice he could, and insist that he was absolutely not the same man they met 20 years ago, don’t be silly. That must have been his father. Or his brother.

From there he had accidentally gained a very small following, as the woman sent her friends to him. Years later she sent her daughter, and his following sprang up again. It was certainly not his area of expertise, but he had at least an 85% success rate, so they just kept coming back. Every few years a woman would appear, asking for “the love expert,” and though it always took him by surprise, he would offer what advice he could, and insist that he was absolutely not the same man they met 20 years ago, don’t be silly. That must have been his father. Or his brother.

When a young girl walked into the bookshop, he barely even noticed. He didn’t pay much attention to his customers, unless they tried to steal or, god forbid, buy a book. He didn’t really even know she was there until she stepped up to his desk.

“Are you, um,” she hesitated something awful, radiating nerves, “is this your shop?”

“Yes, can I help you with something?” he asked. Young people didn’t usually have an interest in the sorts of books he had, so he didn’t feel the need to try and scare her off. Yet. She was only a teenager.

“You probably don’t remember my mother— you couldn’t, you’re at least her age,” it was always funny when humans assumed his age. “but she came in here years ago looking for a ‘love expert’?”

“Oh, dear,” Aziraphale chuckled, “I suppose that would be me. Or my, er, father, rather,” he backtracked.

“My mum sent me over to see if you could help me, but I’m not sure that you can, I just didn’t want to disappoint her,” she was staring intently at her shuffling feet.

“Well, it rarely hurts to ask,” Aziraphale offered, though he would rather get back to his reading.

“She really wants to help, but she can’t, and I think she’s sad I won’t tell her,” it was fascinating how humans could get stuck on one track like this, unable to stop telling the story the started on. It was sort of endearing. “so she said I should come to you, or I guess your dad, but he’s not even—“

“I assure you, I’m as qualified as my father in these things,” which, admittedly, was still not very qualified so far has he was concerned, but the humans trusted him, so apparently he was qualified. “What can I help you with?” he prompted. She gave him a very particular kind of look, full of apprehension and trying very hard to get a read on him. (That would unfortunately be very hard for her; angels are notoriously inscrutable when they want to be.)

“Do you—“ she started, but cut herself short, rethinking her sentence. “you’re really a love expert?” she asked.

“People certainly seem to think so,” he replied.

“Do you know, like, a lot, then? About relationships and stuff?”

“I have a lot of experience in the word,” he offered, “and I like to think I know a lot about many things, but I’m not the one who started the whole ‘love expert’ idea,” he had to admit.

“Oh,” she accepted. She twisted a bracelet around her wrist, looking over the bookshelves. “Do you have any Emily Dickinson?” she asked suddenly.

“Well, yes,” he allowed, “I have some lovely first editions, but somehow I don’t think that was what you were here to ask about. Usually people looking for the ‘love expert’ are fairly quick to cut to the chase unless it’s something terribly taboo,” he said. “like that one woman who was having an affair and didn’t know what to do about it. She didn’t have much success, but I don’t know what she expected! Those things never turn out well.” 

“What about crushes?”

“Pardon?”

“What about crushes?” she asked again, “If— if someone has a crush on a friend, how does that usually work out?”

“Hm. It’s hard to know in that case,” he admitted, “is that your problem?”

“Sort of.”

“You’re terribly young,” he said, a concerned frown sneaking onto his face, “I usually only hear from women who are married, or at least worried about marriage! Why don’t you talk to your peers, or your mother?” 

Silence. She wouldn’t even make eye contact with him.

“Is there something else?” he asked, tone softening. “Are you keeping a secret from your mother?”

She nodded. “She wouldn’t leave me alone,” she tried to explain, “so I told her I was stressed out about, like, relationships, crushes and stuff, but I just couldn’t tell her. So she sent me here, and I don’t want her to be any more disappointed than she already is, so…” she shrugged. 

Aziraphale hesitated, wondering if he was reading her correctly; you don’t hang around discreet gentleman’s clubs for years without learning a little more than the gavotte.

“I’m very good at keeping secrets,” he told her, “if you would just like to tell someone,” he pointed out. “I understand if you don’t want to, but—“

“You won’t tell mum or anyone?”

“Absolutely not,” he assured her.

“My crush, it’s not just on a friend,” she told him, “it’s on a girl, and I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to tell my mum ‘cause I’m scared that if I tell her she’ll freak out. I don’t think she’ll disown me or anything, but I don’t want everything to change! I don’t know what she’ll do!”

“Hopefully she will continue to love you,” Aziraphale said, “but I must admit I wouldn’t know. All you can do is try and be honest with her, when, or if, you’re comfortable to do so.” he’d seen the story enough times: the familial rejection, the peer rejection, the harassment. He wished he could help them all, somehow. It was one of many human tragedies he had to put out of his mind, without the leeway to perform enough miracles (if there could ever be enough to help all humanity).

“Yeah,” she muttered. Children knew so much these days, though still so little. She had probably heard that advice before. “I might tell her someday, but I don’t know.”

“What about this girl you have a crush on, then?” he prompted, on the off chance she’d rather talk about that.

“We’ve been friends for a long time, almost six years now,” she explained. how strange human timeframes seemed in comparison to his own. “And she’s really pretty, and, like, opposites attract or whatever, and we just, like, fit really well, you know? I really like being around her, and sometimes I think about maybe kissing her, but that might just be, like, teenage hormones? I don’t know. She’s just my favorite person in the whole world, and— and I think I might be in love with her.”

“You clearly love her,” Aziraphale agreed. The human capacity for love was one of his favorite things about them.

“But am I in love with her?” the girl wondered, “cause I’ve never been in love before, not really, and I’m just not sure!”

“Remind me your name?” he prompted, realizing belatedly he had nothing to call this child.

“Emma.”

“Emma. I’m afraid you’re the only one who can really be sure, but if you think you are in love, it can’t hurt to have a frank conversation. Just try your best to avoid making her feel cornered, or coerced, I suppose. You never know unless you try! Perhaps she feels the same way.”

“Maybe,” she mumbled, and for a moment she was quiet. “Have you ever been in love?” she asked him, giving him a look somewhere between scrutinizing and skeptical. 

Aziraphale was already very bad at lying, and this girl was so genuine, and needed so badly to be heard and understood, and he slipped up. He slipped up something awful.

“I have,” he told her, and the part of his mind responsible for keeping him in denial insisted that he was just saying this for her sake, that it might even be a lie, but his heart rate sped up like it was very much true. Like he was saying something he really shouldn’t admit aloud.

“With who?” Emma asked, watching him with rapt attention now, “Are you married? The ring doesn’t usually go on the pinky finger, but—“

“No, no. I am happily single,” he assured her.

“But you love someone? Loved someone? Tell me about it. Please?” she had that pleading look humans get, not unlike the one they often took on in prayer. “I need to know what it’s like to be in love. I can’t tell her I love her if I it turns out I don’t!”

“You probably do,” he pointed out, “people are generally very good at figuring these things out.”

“But tell me about being in love,” she insisted.

“Oh, I don’t know, it’s not important how I feel. You need to figure things out for yourself. Have an honest conversation with the girl, that rarely hurts.”

“Tell meeeeee,” she insisted, spreading her arms across his desk. “Is it tragic? Is there death involved?”

“No! Nothing like that,” he said, “I’ve known him for a very long time. There’s no death, but it’s not—“ Emma’s face lit up like Christmas at the mention of a ‘him.’ “I assure you, it wouldn’t work. I have thought over this plenty of times.”

“What’s he like? Why wouldn’t it work? Have you tried moving on to someone else?”

“There is no one else!” oh, he shouldn’t have said that. He meant, of course, that no human had the knowledge, let alone the lifespan, to be an option, but he couldn’t actually explain that bit.

“Have you asked him out before?”

“Good lord, no,” he spluttered. This girl had become quite troublesome. 

“You never know until you try,” she parroted his words back to him.

“This is not the matter at hand. You came to me for advice, I never asked for your thoughts on my personal life.”

“I wonder what my mum will think if I tell her the love expert is a hypocrite!”

“I am not—!“ the bell on the door dinged and, not usually the customer service type, Aziraphale stood up, hoping to extricate himself from this ridiculous conversation. “Yes, how can I— Crowley!” he realized several seconds too late how broadly he was smiling at the demon.

“Hello, angel.” Crowley’s eyes darted over to Emma. He raised an eyebrow, “who’s this?”

Aziraphale looked over to find her grinning far too wide, eyes zipping back and forth between him and Crowley.

“Er—“

“I came to talk to the love expert,” she explained herself to Crowley.

“Love expert?” the demon grinned, turning back to Aziraphale, “How’d you manage that?”

“It’s a very long story,” he muttered, “is something wrong, Crowley?”

“No,” he shrugged, “I was just in the area, er,” he glanced back at Emma, “on business, and thought I’d stop in. But you seem busy,” he added, nodding to the girl and turning to leave. “I’ll come back.”

"Oh, um…" Aziraphale couldn’t think of a very good reason to keep him, and Crowley strolled right back out of the shop. Emma wheeled on him immediately,

“Is that him?” she asked. This was one of those moments where Aziraphale wished he could lie without so much reservation. He could understate, he could exaggerate, but to outright lie was what this situation called for, and that was very, very difficult. “It is!” she concluded before he could manage a remotely convincing ‘no.’ “He called you Angel!”

Oh dear, something else he couldn’t very well explain.

“That’s not— It doesn’t mean—“ he stammered.

“You have to ask him out! At least try? Ooh, is he married or something?”

Aziraphale snorted, “Heavens no,”

“Then what’s the harm in trying?!”

“There is plenty of harm in trying,” he assured her, “It just wouldn’t work!” For a brief moment she was quiet, and he thought perhaps she would leave him alone, but,

“What if I make you a deal?” she asked, up on her tip-toes, “If I confess, you’ll confess?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffed, “there are things at work here you couldn’t possibly understand.”

“And there are things in high school you couldn’t possibly understand!” she retorted, “But if I get up the courage I’m coming back, and I’ll prove to you I did it, and then you have to tell him!”

This was absolutely absurd. A human, not two decades old, insisting a being older than earth do her bidding.

“Deal?” she prompted. She was so excited, and he didn’t actually have to fulfill the deal, did he? Surely he could devise some loophole to satisfy his angelic morals… “Please?” she added, and he couldn’t help but think that if she came to a stranger for help with this she must feel so alone in the world.

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