Actions

Work Header

Work of Heart

Chapter Text

banner

It all began with a reading circle.

When Aziraphale had started volunteering at the library a few blocks away from his bookshop, one of the first things he insisted on was something where parents could bring in their children and have them fall in love with reading. He worked to organize a couple of people to volunteer, just a few regulars who would come into his shop, and it slowly became more popular. Now there was a volunteer for each day of the week to come in and read. Not only did this encourage the kids to enjoy books, but it also provided a relief for parents who just needed something to keep their kids entertained.

Eventually, he began to organize more events such as book clubs, writing seminars, and a couple of study classes for various standardized tests.

After a few months, and the increase in participation from the community, the library was able to afford to hire a full time employee. Aziraphale did entertain the idea of applying himself, but he didn’t want to give up time at his bookshop. 

Eventually, they hired Anathema. She was an American university student who came to England to study abroad. Once the exchange program ended, she stayed and managed to finish her degree. At first, her job was to focus on the reference desk, but soon enough she organized more events aimed at a younger generation. She even hosted a fundraiser banquet to update the ancient computers which allowed for even more events for the young. Within two years, the library was a regular hotspot of activity thanks to the tag team effort, which surprised everyone since this branch was on the brink of closing before Aziraphale arrived.

Right now, parents were ushering small children towards the back room for the daily story time.

Today’s reading was by far the most crowded that Aziraphale has ever seen. The room was already packed with children occupying every bean bag available while others sat on the colorful carpeted floor and others still chose to sit in their mothers or fathers’ lap. Parents lined the back wall of the room, spilling into the entryway as they waited for the volunteer to arrive. Anathema strode up beside him and helped to scan the books.

“I didn’t know that a children’s reading circle could be so popular,” Aziraphale remarked offhandedly.

“Oh, this one is.” Anathema smirked. “The kids absolutely love him.” 

“Well, as long as they are enjoying the stories, I’m happy.” 

He placed his glasses on the counter and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to ease away the headache. He’d been having trouble sleeping as of late, so to try and combat that he’d usually make a cup of tea and sit in the old chair in the back of his bookshop, getting lost in a book. He would wake up later, usually sore and groggy, before shuffling upstairs and trying to finish the night with some actual sleep. More often than not, that would prove to be futile and he would hardly get more than a short and unpleasant nap.

“Are they all this full?” Aziraphale asked. He couldn't help but be impressed with the sheer volume of people trying to fill the small space

“Hell no,” Anathema laughed. “The rest will have maybe half, usually less. This guy has been popular for months now. Which reminds me, we should probably take some of the extra chairs at the tables and move into the room. Want to help?” 

It only took a handful of trips before most of the parents had a place to sit in the room. Aziraphale paused a moment by the door to try and get a quick head count, the largest he’d seen one of these before was about twenty people which included parents and children. This was easily nearly double. 

“You don’t normally work on Saturdays, do you?” Anathema asked by his side.

“No. I’ve been working Sundays for the last year, but I wanted a change,” Aziraphale said as if it wasn’t important. In truth, he was hoping the change of routine would help with the slight insomnia issue. “The woman who reads on Sundays is very nice. What is this person like?”

Anathema shrugged. “Dunno much. I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to him. He comes in just before the reading starts, and clears out shortly after it ends. He’s tall, handsome, and isn’t what one would expect from a volunteer to read to children.”

“What does that mean?” 

“Well, let's just say that‒”

“Oh no,” Aziraphale made a face at the mental image. “Is he some sort of gangster? Covered in tattoos, and a leather jacket?”

“No, not‒”

“Wow, he sounds like a jerk.” A third voice spoke behind Aziraphale’s back, prompting Aziraphale to whirl around and come face to face with perfectly styled short red hair and designer sunglasses. “You should probably fire him.”

At first, Aziraphale was merely confused as to why this man was sharing his opinion. Then he saw the book in his hand, something entirely too big to be a children's book, but could be an anthology of short stories, and realised this was probably the person he and Anathema had been speculating about. 

Aziraphale gaped like a fish out of water, especially since his remark wasn’t that far off. The tall, lithe man was clad in black nearly from head to toe, his shirt wasn’t entirely inappropriate but it did dip a bit too low in its v cut, and a small snake tattoo could be seen peeking out by his ear.

“No- I mean, well...” Aziraphale tried to recover, but it seemed that his brain decided to leave him high and dry. The other man just smiled and cocked an eyebrow over his sunglasses. “Apologies, my speculations were entirely inappropriate. I assure you it won’t happen again.” 

“Oh, well I expect not.” The man’s voice had an amusing tone to it. “Do I live up to the fantasy, though?”

“I am sure you are most suitable for the job,” Aziraphale spoke rather quickly hoping this conversation would be over before he ended up staying anything else to offend the man.

“That's not what I mean... wait, suitable?" His tone sounded a little confused. “I’ve been called a lot of things, but never suitable .”

“I assure you, you are the right choice for the job Mr…” Aziraphale trailed off, realizing he never actually learned the name of the volunteer.

“Crowley.”

“Well, Mr Crowley, I will let you get to your work.” He nodded stiffly before turning on his heel and headed back to the counter, Anathema only a few steps behind. There was work to be done and hopefully this would allow him to forget accidentally insulting a volunteer.

“Well that was weird,” Anathema spoke up. Aziraphale jumped slightly, he had almost forgotten that she was behind him.

“What was?”

“That.” She gestured broadly at the door where they were previously occupied. “He’s been coming here for months and hasn't said a word to anyone. But he talked to you right away.” 

“I’m sure he just overheard our conversation and wanted to squash any rumors that may have been started.” 

Anathema shrugged and went to help the person waiting at the front desk which left Aziraphale alone with the books that needed to be returned to their shelves.

Finished with that, he moved on to the fiction section where the largest amount of titles were waiting to be restocked. His mind drifted to the earlier interaction and wondered why Anathema had thought it to be so odd. Surely he only spoke to Aziraphale because they were in the way of the room, and obviously he must have overheard his rather uncomplimentary hypothetical description and wanted to correct it. 

Although it was a little flattering that apparently Aziraphale had been interesting enough for Mr Crowley to talk to. Even if it was just to show how he wasn’t what Aziraphale was thinking. Still, the fact that he took time to even say anything, made him feel important. 

And, now that he allowed himself to think about it a bit more, he did have a rather nice smile. It was brilliantly charming, soft and inviting, with just a hint of sharpness to it. He wondered briefly if anyone else at the library had seen that smile before.

He was so lost in his thought that he found himself placing works of fiction in the unit right next to the reading room which afforded him the perfect excuse to‒ not really eavesdrop, but, well, to attentively listen in to the reading circle even without being physically present in the room. Or invited.

There was a buzz in the air from the excitement of the story being told. He could only hear bits of pieces of what Mr Crowley was reading, just fragments of sentences or sharp lines of dialogue to bring more authenticity to the characters in the story. And to keep the attention of the little ones. 

The first time that Aziraphale volunteered at the library, he had done the same thing. He picked out what he thought was a rather interesting children's book, and read at the first ever reading circle. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way that children tend to have an attention span worse than a goldfish, and loved asking far too many questions. He barely managed to finish the book before swearing to never go through that again. It was then that he started recruiting volunteers to read, and they had done a much better job than he had. 

Aziraphale moved his cart out of the way and found himself walking into the reading room.

“‘And in the end, the burgesses passed that remarkable law which is told of by traders in Hatheg and discussed by travellers in Nir,’” Crowley spoke in an ominous voice, but the smile on his face made the children giggle. 

Aziraphale’s smile instantly disappeared. He looked around confused, but none of the parents seemed to find this story selection to be odd. There was no way this man was actually allowed to read a lovecraftian story. 

“‘Namely, that in Ulthar no man may kill a cat.’”

The book was closed with a satisfying thud and Crowley looked at the beaming children who huddled around, hanging onto his every word.

“So what is the moral of the story, kids?” One small girl shot her hand up energetically and babbled on about how everyone should be kind to all animals. “I would have went with don’t torture cats or they’ll eat your face. But yours works too.” 

The parents laughed. Aziraphale was horrified. The man said his goodbyes to the kids as they trickled out of the room with their parents. Several ran straight to other parts of the library to make book selections to check out.

In the confusion of everyone leaving, Aziraphale was able to make his way to the front of the room. “Um, excuse me, Mr Crowley.”

“Just Crowley,” he corrected.

“Right.” Aziraphale straightened his jumper. “I, well, I couldn’t help but overhear your reading session, and I wanted-” 

Crowley laughed. “Couldn’t help?” He flashed a brilliant smile and cocked an eyebrow. “No, I am sure you just wanted to see me.”

He tried to look aghast at the accusation, although he would not admit that Crowley was a little bit correct. “I assure you, that was not the case. I did want to talk to you about your choice in literature.” 

“My choice in literature?” He parroted the words back and placed a hand on his chest in mock insult. He held up the book in question with the author's name in large, silver letters on the front. “What is wrong with my choice in literature? The Cats of Ulthar is a classic short story.” 

“Those stories are not appropriate for children,” Aziraphale pleaded.

“They seem to like them just fine.”

I don’t know why the parents haven’t talked to you about this.”

“Some have.” He shrugged. “Most who have an issue don’t come back. They can make their own choices about if they want their kids to stay for what I read. I don’t see what this is an issue.”

“I just think you should rethink your choices. The selection is not appropriate for the age group.”

Crowley just raised an eyebrow in question. “And what would you recommend?”

“Maybe some Dr. Seuss… or maybe that wonderful book about the little rainbow fish.”

“First of all,” Crowley held up a finger, “everyone reads Dr. Seuss, the kids are bored of it. Second of all, that is not how natural selection works.” Aziraphale looked very confused which caused Crowley to continue to speak. “That book is about a genetic mutated anomaly of a fish, who damns his friends by giving them his scales which would have made them more visible to predators. That guy didn’t share with his friends to be nice, he did it so they would get eaten and not him. Really, a bad message if you think about it.”

Aziraphale didn’t know how to respond. That was the strangest argument he’d ever heard for not reading a children’s book, especially one with such a positive message. He couldn’t figure out what type of person would volunteer to read to kids, and yet refused to read books aimed at that age. 

He was such a strange enigma of a man, and yet Aziraphale felt curious as to what led him here.  

“You know,” Crowley smirked, “I’ve never been confronted by a grumpy librarian before.”

That comment snapped Aziraphale out of it. He had half a mind to walk away but instead just crossed his arms and huffed. 

“Don’t worry, I meant that as a compliment.” Crowley chuckled. “Listen um…” He held a hand out as if asking a question.

“Aziraphale.”

“Wow, that's a mouthful.” They walked out of the reading room into the main part of the library where Aziraphale’s cart was waiting with only a handful of books left. “Anyway, I read the stories the kids want to hear. If people don’t like it, then they don’t have to listen.” They both reached the front doors of the library when Aziraphale stopped walking. “I guess I will see you next week, Aziraphale.” His stomach fluttered slightly when he heard his name roll off of Crowley’s tongue. With one last smile thrown his way, Crowley walked out of the library.

It took several minutes for Aziraphale to move, and even longer to realise he lost the argument. He went back to his discarded cart and finished stocking the books a little more irritably than before.

📚📚📚

The week passed quickly as Aziraphale worked hard at his bookshop. Although his work usually focused on scaring away customers rather than letting them buy anything. Some people at the library did remark that it was strange that someone who owned a bookshop would also volunteer at the library, but the shop was one of the biggest reasons he would even go to the library. 

Aziraphale’s shop specialized in first editions and rare print books. When he needed to reference a particular book, it was much easier to go to the library and check out a copy of that book. This would ensure his own collection stayed pristine. 

Over the week, his issues with sleep didn’t let up either. He was barely getting five hours of sleep a night and most of it took place in an uncomfortable arm chair in the back of his bookshop. He was spending less and less time in his flat upstairs. 

When Saturday rolled around, Aziraphale found himself back at the library, helping Anathema fix a particularly stubborn computer. Honestly, he had no idea what he was doing. He just let Anathema read instructions that she found on some website while he crouched under, plugging in various wires, thankful that everything was color coded or different shaped since he didn’t understand anything the girl was saying. 

“Ok, then take the VGA cord and connect it to the monitor and then it should be done.” Anathema said triumphantly. Aziraphale grabbed the only cord that was left and looked for the corresponding port. They turned on the power button and nothing happened. “I don’t understand, it should work.”

Aziraphale stood up and looked down at the black screen. “It's a new computer, maybe something's wrong inside?” 

“It could be a loose connection.” A young man who was sitting at the table behind them spoke up. He had a spread of newspapers covering the table.

“What do you mean?” 

“Well,” he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “sometimes when computers are assembled, the cords into the motherboard may not be connected fully. But it is an easy fix.”

“Could you take a look?” Anathema asked.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He sounded very hesitant. 

“You can’t just throw out a suggestion and not offer to help.” Anathema was a little annoyed. The man reluctantly stood up and got under the table to try and fix the computer. After a few moments the monitor flicked on and Anathema smiled. The happiness, however, only lasted about three seconds when a loud popping noise filled the room. Like a row of dominos, the computers lined up on the table cut out one by one.

The young man crawled back out with a sheepish expression. “I told you that wasn’t a good idea.”

“What did you do?” Anathema panicked over the computers.

“I’m not good with computers.” He adjusted his glasses. “Well, I am in theory. But in reality they tend to die around me.” He looked at the girl who was a mix between angry and disappointed. “I can tell you what to do to fix it, if you want.” 

“Well since I can’t google how to fix this,” Anathema pointed at the row of dead computers, “you can help. Stand right there, don’t touch anything, and tell me what to do.”

“I would need to know a bit more information about the computers before I can help.” 

Anathema sighed. “Aziraphale. I kept one of the owner’s manuals under the counter in one of the drawers. Grab it for me?”

Aziraphale hurried over to the counter and opened drawers at random, trying to find the manual. It probably would have been more helpful if Anathema had given him a description of what the book looked like, or at least which drawer she put it in. Then he opened the right drawer and saw a book with a picture of the computer on the cover. 

But in his hurry to bring it over to Anathema, he took the corner of the counter a bit too fast and ended up colliding with someone else, nearly losing his balance. Instinctively he reached out to grab something to steady himself, and the other person did the same. In a fraction of a second, Aziraphale’s balance was lost with the added weight of someone clinging to his outstretched arm. The pair tumbled to the ground. 

“I am so sorry!” Aziraphale didn’t mean to shout, but he had been caught by surprise. He looked down at the person he was practically sprawled on top of and felt embarrassed once again. After last week’s debacle with insulting and telling him how inappropriate his story choices were, Aziraphale was hoping he could have avoided Crowley today.

“I should have been paying more attention.” Like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming Lorry, Aziraphale failed to move. For a moment time seemed to pause as Aziraphale took in the flush that colored Crowley’s face. It was then that Aziraphale realized he was essentially trapping him. He sprang off of Crowley as quickly as possible. “That was very rude of me.”

Aziraphale stood first and reached out to offer and hand to help Crowley. It was the least he could do after knocking him over.

“S’fine, angel.” Crowley dusted himself off and adjusted his sunglasses, which had gone slightly askew in the tumble. For a moment, Aziraphale saw a flash of colour he couldn’t quite describe beneath those dark lenses and suddenly he had the urge to ask about the glasses. But that seemed to be a little too forward, so he decided not to. 

“What did you call me?” Aziraphale knew he was staring, but he wasn’t sure if he heard that correctly. 

Crowley, on the other hand, looked slightly confused for a second, then a whole other variety of expression crossed his face before settling on embarrassed. 

“Uhh, angel?” Clearly he wasn’t prepared to explain himself. “I thought your name was too long. Plus it sounded more like an angel’s name. Figured it’d be easier to call you angel.” 

“I hardly think that name is appropriate.” 

“I thought we established last week that I don’t care about appropriateness,” Crowley chuckled, falling back into a more relaxed demeanor.

“Aziraphale!” Anathema called from the computers. 

That was when he realised what caused this terrible incident. 

“Oh! Sorry.” He gave an apologetic look and quickly stepped around Crowley to return the book to Anathema.

“Well, I’m going to have to work on the computers with… Newt, right?” He nodded. “So you’re in charge of the counter today.”

When Aziraphale turned to leave them to their work, he was surprised to see Crowley still standing there. That was also the moment that Aziraphale noticed his clothing choices which, much like his story choices, was not suitable for volunteering at a library. The buttons of his entirely too tight purple shirt strained to keep the fabric shut. And Aziraphale was scrambling for something to say other than make a comment about his outfit that would probably insult him… again. 

“And what traumatizing stories are you bestowing upon the children today?” 

“I thought we’d go a bit with the classics. I was thinking ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’.” Crowley smiled and seemed to wait to see Aziraphale’s response to that.

 “I believe you already know what I think about it.” 

Crowley laughed, said his goodbye, and sauntered over to the reading area. With a roll of his eyes, Aziraphale watched the other man walk away in his too tight shirt and, oh good lord, were those leather trousers? And there was no need for that much hip swaying either. Aziraphale just huffed and began checking in the returned books a little more roughly than he probably should have. That man had no sense of what should and should not be allowed in a library.

Eventually, Anathema finished getting the computers set up, and banned Newt from touching them. He could see her leaning over the newspapers with Newt and talking at alarming speeds. The young boy would smile and nod, but looked a little too terrified to respond. Even from this distance, Aziraphale could see the tiniest hints of affection blossom between the two. 

He felt a little pang of jealousy. It wasn’t that he wanted their affections, not even in the slightest, but he was a bit envious that they connected so well and it was their first meeting nonetheless. It had been a long time since someone had shown any affection towards him. The last he could remember was a handsome young man who bonded with Aziraphale over their love for Oscar Wilde books. Unfortunately, after a few dates, he found that beyond a shared love for the same author, they really didn’t have much else in common.

In the years that followed, Aziraphale wound up focusing more on his work while at the library rather than others who came in. Which suited him just fine, he was comfortable with his books and his shop. And it wasn’t as if anyone else was interested anyway.

The returned books were piled onto the cart and Aziraphale was about to go about his rounds when he looked through the glass doors to the reading room. A small boy, probably no older than five, wound up in Crowley’s lap for this session. He poked and prodded at the book in the man’s hands, but like a professional Crowley kept reading. Aziraphale smiled as he watched this small boy try and turn pages before it was time, or pushing at the book just for fun. 

Crowley just smirked and, on what must have been a particularly scary line, he shouted and dropped the book making the small boy shriek loud enough to echo through the building. It was quickly followed up with a round of laughter which included the small boy. Aziraphale smiled as well. When Crowley picked up the book, he looked up and made eye contact through the glass. Or at least Aziraphale assumed he did what with the sunglasses he was wearing. His assumption was confirmed when  he smiled at Aziraphale and waved a little.

Aziraphale realised he had been caught staring and only managed a half-hearted wave back before he quickly pushed the cart as far away from the reading room as possible. 

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, completely lost in his work, but the sounds of children laughing and running around to several sections in the library indicated that the reading circle must have been over.

Carefully, he maneuvered the cart out of one aisle and was pleasantly surprised to see Crowley exiting the reading room nearby. For a moment, Aziraphale debated going up to him and asking how the reading went, but thought better of it. Surely the man didn’t need to be bothered everytime Aziraphale saw him. 

Crowley, though, must have had a similar thought process. He paused in his walk before turning heel and heading straight over to Aziraphale.

“Need any help?” Crowley picked up a book at random and flipped through it absentmindedly as if trying to figure out where it would go.

“No, thank you,” Aziraphale said dismissively. He probably shouldn’t have, but he still wasn’t sleeping well and as a result was getting a little irritable. “I hardly think you would know the dewey decimal system anyway.” 

“Not a clue,” Crowley leaned against the cart carefully with a sly smile. Azirpahale regretted his short tone even if Crowley didn’t seem phased by it. “But I’m a quick learner, if you’ll teach me.”

Or perhaps Crowley didn’t notice the tone. I mean with barely even a proper conversation before, how would he know that Aziraphale was being a bit moody? Obviously he was being polite. For now. It probably wouldn’t take long before Crowley realised what an arse Aziraphale can be when he didn’t get a proper night’s sleep, which was most nights. Once he figured that out, Crowley would run out of patience and stop talking to him.  

“And why would you want to help?” Aziraphale side-eyed him suspiciously while he pushed one book aside on the shelf to make space for the one in his hand.

“You look like you could use the company.” He dropped the flirtatious pretense and stood back up. “If not, I could go.”

“No, no,” Azirapale sighed. He shouldn’t have been so rude to the other man. “That is very kind of you. I am very irritable today, so I apologize.” 

He picked the book out of Crowley’s hands and showed him the label on the spine. He explained how it worked and where this particular book would need to go. 

After a few more examples, Crowley was able to test his own skills. He managed to place the next few books correctly with Aziraphale’s guidance. True to his word, Crowley was a quick learner and Aziraphale had to admit it was nice to have someone to keep him company. Their conversation flowed freely, which wasn’t something that normally happened. Usually Aziraphale felt a bit awkward around others at first, he would always attempt small talk simply because that is what most people did but honestly he was terrible at it.

Aziraphale never wanted to talk about the weather or whatever other nonsense most people defaulted to in conversations. It always felt so shallow. His time was always better spent engaging in meaningful conversations, where he got to know the other person better. Or actually got to enjoy the topic at head. 

Then Crowley told him about this nature documentary he had watched where, apparently, there was an island where monkeys ate fermented sugar cane and ended up developing a taste for alcohol. 

“So just imagine that.” Crowley laughed while continuing to reshelve the books. “You’re enjoying this nice dinner and then out of nowhere a monkey grabs your drink and makes off with it.” 

That image startled a laugh out of Aziraphale. “Oh, that sounds terrible. Hopefully, you would get your money back for the absconded drink.”

“Hope so.” Crowley continued. “Makes you wonder, though. What other sort of animal likes to get drunk? It’s such a fun hobby.”

While Aziraphale was focused on the stack of books in his hand, he didn’t notice Crowley next to him working through his own set of books. They were close enough the Aziraphale could faintly smell the pleasant cologne that Crowley was wearing. It was something sweet but with a touch of an earthy spice, possibly roses with a mix of cedar. 

He wasn’t sure what it was, perhaps the conversation, or the nice cologne, or being around these books with pleasant company, but Aziraphale realized that this was the first time in several years that he was actually enjoying his time at the library. It wasn’t that he hated what he did — after all, he could just leave if he no longer liked being at the library — but he hadn’t been as happy lately as he was when he first volunteered. Now he felt like he did in the beginning, laughing and talking with others as the work was done. It was such a wonderful feeling of contentment, that he didn’t know he had been missing in his life. If spending more time with Crowley would make him feel that happiness, then that was what he should continue to do.

“Elephants, I think.” Aziraphale said.

“What?”

“From what I’ve heard, there are some elephants who will ferment fruit in their trunks.” 

“I don’t believe that.” Crowley smiled almost as if he was happy that Aziraphale was indulging him in this ridiculous conversation.

“It’s just what I’ve heard. Although I haven’t fact-checked it myself.”

“Don’t go around spreading false information.” 

Aziraphale gasped scandalized. “I would never! I am a librarian and take the transfer of knowledge very seriously.”

“Well, I’ll have to google it and let you know. Can’t have a librarian going around telling people the wrong thing.”

And when Aziraphale bent down to pick another book and his fingers touched cold metal, he realized that they had actually finished reshelving all the books. Truthfully though, talking with Crowley has made time pass so quickly. He was a little disappointed that it was coming to an end so soon. Especially since Crowley slipped and mentioned that his favorite show was ‘The Golden Girls’, and he hadn’t had much time to tease him about it. 

“Well, I guess you are all done for today, huh?” Crowley said as they walked the empty cart back to the main counter. “Don’t suppose I could give you a lift home?” 

“That is very kind of you,” Aziraphale replied. “As tired as I am, I still have a few more things to do before I can leave. I will see you next week though, right?”

“Right.” Crowley nodded a bit disappointed. “Right, next week. See you then, angel.”

Aziraphale wouldn’t admit it, but he watched the man walk away still thinking those hips moved way too much, but enjoying the view anyway.