“Will you stop that at once?”
Eli strained to see past the shoulders of the men who were facing him, and realized that the voice had come from Mr. Fell, the man who ran the bookshop around the corner with his husband, Mr. Crowley. That made sense, because he sounded less like a person trying to ward off an attack and more like a librarian tetchy about an overdue book.
“And that language,” said Mr. Fell, “is really quite inappropriate.”
One of the men sneered and called him the same name they’d been calling Eli.
Mr. Fell sighed. “First of all, that word is quite offensive, and its use makes you sound uneducated. And second, you try hanging out with Temptation Incarnate for 6000 years, see how well you resist him.” He was talking calmly, but Eli could see the middle-aged bookshop owner sizing up the three men surrounding Eli.
Eli tried to find his voice. He’d never really spoken to Mr. Fell before, but the man clearly was out of his depth here. “Don’t—I’m okay. You have to go!”
Mr. Fell smiled at him. “This will just take a moment, dear.”
“You’re right about that!” one of the men growled, as he pulled out a knife and brandished it at Mr. Fell.
Mr. Fell said simply, “I wouldn’t do that.”
It almost seemed to make them pause, how unafraid the older man seemed, but it didn’t last. Oddly enough, the knife also didn’t last. It disappeared as it came nearer to Mr. Fell’s unflinching body.
“How did you do that?” one of the men demanded.
“Easily,” said Mr. Fell. “Now I think you ought to apologise, and then I believe we need to have a chat about your behaviour in the future.”
That was when the other knives came out. It was hard for Eli to tell what happened next. He eventually realized that he was lying on the pavement, but the world had changed around him. Instead of the street, all he saw were white feathers. And Mr. Fell, sitting beside him on the ground, smiling at him.
“Did I hit my head?” Eli groaned.
“Yes. Well, I’m afraid they hit it for you. On the wall here.” And that was when Eli realized that the feathers were coming from the bookshop owner. They were wings.
“You—what are you?”
“I’m an angel.”
“You’re my guardian angel?”
“At the moment, yes. I’ve finished with them now, so let’s get you taken care of.” Mr. Fell scooped Eli into his arms as if he weighed nothing at all, and then with his very next step they were walking into the bookshop.
Eli’s vision went hazy after that, but he could still feel Mr. Fell’s gentle touch and hear his voice as he laid Eli on what felt like a couch. “Lean back for me, please, my dear. There we are.” Warm hands ran over Eli’s forehead, and the pain there started to ease.
And then there was another voice, low and tense. “Do you have it, angel, or should I call an ambulance?”
“No, darling, it’s fine,” Mr. Fell answered. “I’ll just be a moment.” Eli guessed that the darling bit meant this was Mr. Crowley.
“And did you, ah, take care of the situation?” asked Mr. Crowley.
“I did, although perhaps not to your standards.”
There was a sudden growl that made Eli jump. “Aziraphale, you’re bleeding!”
“Oh!” said Mr. Fell in mild surprise. “So I am. It’s nothing—”
“It’s not nothing, you’ve been stabbed, you stupid blessed angel!”
Mr. Fell’s hands withdrew from Eli for a moment, and the angel gave a little gasp of pain, followed by a sigh. “Thank you, dear,” Mr. Fell said, as his hands started brushing over Eli’s forehead again. “Where are you going?”
“To take care of things to my sssstandards,” Mr. Crowley hissed.
“Darling, there’s no need.”
“They stabbed you!”
“And they’re going to have a very hard time doing that again when the very thought of violence makes them feel ill. Also they won’t find the time to harass anyone now that they’re working full-time to save up enough to go back to school, plus volunteering at a local library.”
“Aziraphale,” Mr. Crowley growled.
“My dear, I’ve no idea what else you expected from me.” Eli could hear the smile in Mr. Fell’s voice, and then he could see it, as his vision finally cleared. “Hello there, Eli,” said Mr. Fell, and Eli probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Mr. Fell somehow knew his name. “How do you feel?”
The wings were gone, but somehow the bookshop owner still didn’t look quite human. It almost seemed like he had too many eyes, although Eli could see his eyes, both of them, and they were a lovely, normal-looking blue. “Confused,” Eli admitted.
“Yes, well, the human body’s not made to suddenly recover from a concussion, I’m afraid,” Mr. Fell told him.
Mr. Crowley, wearing dark glasses and a scowl, was fussing with the jacket that Mr. Fell had been wearing earlier, which had a rather large bloodstain across it. “Do you have any idea how infuriating you are?” he grumbled at his husband.
Mr. Fell didn’t look in the least bit offended. “I’m afraid I’m hard-wired to forgive, my dear.”
The scowl deepened. “Don’t give me that, none of the other angels forgive.”
Mr. Fell’s smile faltered. “Well. No.”
“You’re far better than they are,” Mr. Crowley said, in a low, fierce voice, as he hung the jacket on a hook, without the bloodstain. Despite that bit of magic, Eli was certain that Mr. Crowley was not another angel.
Mr. Fell’s smile returned very brightly. “You should take it easy for the next few days,” he counseled Eli, handing him a cup of tea that had come out of thin air.
“I don’t forgive them.” Eli’s voice sounded sharp in the quiet bookshop, and he regretted it immediately, sitting in front of an actual angel who’d just saved his life.
But Mr. Fell didn’t even look shocked. “Oh, I should think not,” he said. “They don’t deserve it, and honestly, they don’t need it. You should only forgive them if you ever decide you need it.”
“So what do I do now?” Eli asked. “How do I go home to my spouse and our baby like nothing happened?”
“You can’t,” Mr. Fell said quietly. “I wish I...well, I wish I could fix everything.”
Mr. Crowley quickly put a hand to Mr. Fell’s cheek so that his husband would look up at him. His expression was fond and reassuring. “You don’t have to, angel, remember? None of us are in this alone. We’re all going to fix it together.”