“I’m completely on board for this Soul Squad idea,” Chidi says, “seeing as it’s way better than the alternative of succumbing to the existential terror, but I still have some questions. Like how? How are we supposed to push a soul on track from the bad to the good? We’re a demon, four hell-bound humans, and a – a Janet! Isn’t there some book we could read?“ Eleanor starts one of her full-body eyerolls, so Chidi course-corrects. “An expert we could ask. Are there any, I don’t know, guardian angels on Earth trying to nudge people in the right direction?”
“Each side only gets to have one agent stationed on Earth,” Michael says. “I’ve been warned to stay away from the one from my side, they say he’s gone cuckoo after six thousand years on Earth. We could try the other one, though he might have also lost his marbles. Janet, where’s the Good Place agent on Earth?”
“I can’t live-update his position while I’m on Earth,” Janet says. “But according to my records, the Principality Aziraphale spends 82% of his time at A.Z. Fell & Co. Rare and Antiquarian Books, Soho, London, England.”
Tahani clapped her hands together. “Oh! Does this mean we get to go to London?”
“The only angel living on Earth owns a bookshop,” Chidi says, his eyes lighting up like he’s been promised a thousand chocolate-dipped orgasms. “That makes so much sense.”
“Ugh,” Eleanor says. “Of course the only angel on Earth is a boring nerd. Why can’t angels be hot like demons?” When the others all stare at her, she throws her hands up. “Oh, come on. Michael’s a silver fox. I’m just saying. I’m not gonna make it weird or anything.”
Nobly deciding to ignore this, Michael says, “Fine, we’ll ask him. But if he tries to smite me, I plan to run like a chicken.”
It takes a three-hour stakeout to catch the bookshop opening. Chidi, Jason, and Tahani spend the whole time trying to come up with a list of the questions they want to ask a real, actual angel. Eleanor doesn’t want to ask him anything. She knows she’s not going to the Good Place, so why work herself into one of her death spirals of jealousy?
Chidi makes a beeline for the aisles as soon as they walk into the bookshop. “Ooooh! Is that a signed Slavoj Zizek?”
A man who Eleanor could only describe as a cross between an English professor and a historical re-enactor descends on Chidi from the back of the bookshop like the wrath of God. He watches Chidi like he might try chewing or humping the book instead of reading it. He says frostily, “Can I help you?”
“Show me your philosophy section,” Chidi says, in the tones of a starving man asking for a single potato chip.
“Chidi, please focus,” says Michael, stepping forward. “This is the angel we’re here to talk to.”
The bookshop guy’s eyes widen when he looks at Michael. “Crowley!” he calls. “One of your side is here! Could you please ask him to go away?”
“WHAT!” cries a voice from the back of the shop.
“Now, we don’t need to get nasty,” Michael says. “This isn’t an official visit. I have four humans and a Good Janet with me, see?”
“A Good Janet? My, I’ve only ever heard of you from the architects, I’ve never seen one of you before… your design is quite ingenious, my dear.”
“Thank you!” says Janet, beaming back at him. That leads to more beaming, in a feedback cycle of completely genuine smiles that’s starting to give Eleanor a headache just looking at it.
“He’s really an angel?” Jason said to Michael in a way he probably thought was subtle.
“Yes,” Michael says, squinting. “He’s actually kind of blinding to look at if you can see in all twenty dimensions.”
“Dope!” Jason says, grinning. “The bible study teacher at Lynyrd Skynyrd High School always said that gay people can’t go to heaven, and I told her that was stupid and got detention. I was totally right!”
“Jason…” Tahani begins, glancing at the angel. “He might just be overenthusiastic about vintage clothing.” Eleanor rolls her eyes at Tahani. Angel or no angel, this guy is obviously gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide.
That’s when six feet of bad ideas squeezed into a pair of black skinny jeans appears in the aisle behind the angel. “Keteb? Is that you? What are you doing on Earth with a Good Janet?”
Guh. Eleanor was totally right about demons being hot.
“Please, I go by Michael these days,” Michael says. “When you have to deal with condemned souls all the time, it’s so much easier if you use a name that sounds familiar.”
“You named yourself after an angel? You have some cheek, you have.”
“This is all a very touching reunion,” Tahani says, “but we do have some rather important questions about salvation and the immortal soul, so if there’s some place where we all might gather for tea…”
That finally seems to break the angel out of his endless cycle of glowing smiles and compliments with Good Janet, which were getting so intense that Eleanor’s eyes were starting to water a little just seeing it from the side. “An excellent idea. There’s a table for eight miraculously free at a lovely cafe down the street.”
“Do we have to leave?” Chidi says mournfully, clutching the book he found to his chest. “If I were headed to the Good Place, my neighborhood would look exactly like this.”
“Well,” says the angel – Aziraphale – leaning back in his chair and dabbing his lips with a napkin in a way that would do Tahani proud. “You’ve made quite a mess of things, Michael. Nearly as much of a mess as Crowley and I made of our jobs. I’m afraid they’re going to come down very harshly on you, when they catch up to you.”
Hot Demon – Crowley – just looks at Eleanor and the other humans and says, “I’m sorry.” From any other demon, it would have sounded fake, but Crowley apparently spent all of human history making trouble on Earth, so he’s never actually tortured anybody in Hell. Which puts him way ahead of Michael, and Eleanor likes him fine. Besides, he’s friends with an angel who wears dumb professor clothes and likes books.
“It’s fine,” Eleanor says. “We’ve already had our big emotional breakdowns and crying margarita binges about it. Pass the yellow goop, hot stuff.”
Tahani reaches her long brown arm along the table to pick up the dish of yellow goop and pass it to Eleanor. “It’s called lemon curd, Eleanor.”
Eleanor takes it and spreads it on her scone. “I meant the tall, dark, and demonic hot stuff. He was closer. But I like you too, babe.”
“We’re called the Soul Squad now! Like superheroes!” Jason says. “We’re gonna try to save our friends from going to the Bad Place.”
“Which is why I wanted to talk to you,” Chidi says to Aziraphale. “You’re on Earth to save people’s souls, right? You’ve been doing it for thousands of years. How does it work?”
Aziraphale looks like he’s caught in one of those nightmares where you show up to a test and you realize you don’t know what the test is about and you’re naked. Crowley is smirking at Aziraphale, his eyebrows up like he can’t wait to hear what he’s about to come up with. “Well. Ah. I don’t, ah, strictly speaking, know whether my miracles actually redeem souls from Hell. The fate of human souls after death is not my department. Sometimes I got an assignment from Above for a specific miracle I was to carry out, but I mostly just… bless a human from time to time and hope for the best, really.”
Tahani takes a sip of her tea. “I heard a past tense in there. Don’t you still get assignments?”
“Well,” Aziraphale says. “No. Crowley and I haven't heard from our respective head offices for a while now. We’re in their black books since we helped prevent Armageddon.”
Eleanor rounds on Michael. “There was almost an Armageddon and you didn’t tell us?!”
Michael shrugs. “I didn’t really care at the time. I was focused on torturing the four of you for eternity.”
“Can we get back to the discussion about good and evil and saving souls?” Chidi said. “Because I’d really like to know how to do that, please. Can you at least tell us about one time you did a blessing and you think it might have saved a soul?”
Aziraphale hums and mutters under his breath and drinks tea to try to cover up his panic. It’s a familiar move. Eleanor looks at Crowley. “Hey, you. You’re a demon, and you and the angel are bros. What do you think his best miracle was?”
Crowley gives Aziraphale a long look from his sunglasses. “For my money, it was right after the Flood started. I was watching from – it doesn’t matter where. A dry place. People’s homes were falling apart. They were scrambling onto whatever high place they could find. Roofs, hilltops, anything. I’ve seen a lot of disasters in my time on Earth, and I know how people can get. When they’re desperate, they’ll try anything. Leave their neighbors to drown. Shove a neighbor off a boat so there’s more room for them. Now, all the other angels were on board the Ark fussing over Noah and his lot. But Aziraphale was out flying, watching it all. All the houses collapsing, all the families drowning. And he started singing. Or – not singing exactly. More like delivering a song to each person, or little group. I could hear one, too, from where I was. I’m not sure what it was for everyone else, but the way I heard it, it was a song of hope. That one day everything would get better, even if it was dreadful right now. And all the humans who might have spent their last moments backstabbing each other for one last dry spot started helping each other instead. Holding on to each other. Saying goodbye. I don’t know if it saved anyone’s soul, but – it was a good miracle, anyway.”
“Thank you, Crowley,” Aziraphale says, giving Crowley a smile that’s also kind of sad. He looks back at Chidi. “Does that help?”
There’s a moment of total silence while everyone else at the table tries to process. Eleanor is still stuck on the idea that the Flood really, actually happened when Jason says, “No. That doesn’t help at all. That’s messed up, dude. You had big white angel wings and you could fly and you didn’t save anybody? If I had wings back in Jacksonville I would have saved people from floods all the time. I could have been a real superhero. I could have been… Dope Angel.”
“He’s got a point,” Crowley says.
“You must understand,” Aziraphale says, “that at the time, I believed any order from Heaven to be an absolute good.”
Chidi’s brain looks like it’s finally catching up to the conversation. “No, hang on, Jason’s right. That is messed up.” He gets a wild look in his eye. He gets to his feet, shoves his chair back, and jabs a finger at Aziraphale. “You know what? Screw deontology!” And with that, he storms off.
Eleanor slow-claps. “I’m impressed!” she calls after him. “You just yelled at an angel!”
Distantly, she hears Chidi say, “Oh God what have I done,” and running footsteps. She fidgets in her chair and looks at Janet, who shrugs. They’re going to have to track him down before he hurts himself.
“What’s deontology again?” Crowley says.
Eleanor gets up and starts scanning the cafe for Chidi. “Deontology is the philosophy that there are absolute, universal rules about what’s good and what’s evil.”
“Oh, that,” Crowley says. “Yeah, it’s rubbish.”
“Is that young man quite all right?” Aziraphale says, noticing what Eleanor’s doing.
“Probably not,” Eleanor says. “I’m gonna go bring him down from his moral death spiral.”
As she goes, she hears Tahani say, “If you don’t mind, I have a list of important figures, and I’d love to know which ones have been under angelic and/or demonic influence.”
“Give it here,” Crowley says, somewhere behind Eleanor. Chidi’s not in the cafe, so he must have run outside in a panic. “No, no, no, me, no, me, me, definitely no, no, no, Aziraphale, no…”
“You miracled him?” Michael says. “Seriously?” And it’s a show of just how much Eleanor cares about her stupid book nerd that she doesn’t go back to hear the hot goss, but goes to find him instead.