Aziraphale was about to close shop for the day when he saw a lanky teen hovering outside. 'Might as well wait a little', he thought, 'it wouldn't do to leave her out in the cold'. She seemed uncertain of whether to come in or not so he went back to the books he was arranging. Eventually he heard the doorbell ring and the girl entered.
The warmth of A. Z. Fell's bookshop hit Cara the moment she stepped inside. She wanted to turn back, couldn't imagine what she was doing. She should be going home now, she had a bus journey, she had homework to do, housework. In short, she did not have time to be wandering around Soho, and certainly not to be wandering around browsing books. But something drew her here. She had needed a breathing space away from her school or her usual route home, and then, while walking the streets of Soho, almost in a daze, she had seen the kind face of the proprietor through the window. It was stupid to expect answers from him, she thought, stupid to even imagine confiding in him. But she needed a little respite from the chaos in her head and the musty interior of the bookstore seemed to promise that. She was glad it hadn't closed yet, even as she saw the stores around beginning to bring their shutters down. She glanced at the shopkeeper but he made no move for her to leave so she walked slowly amongst the endless maze of books. Eventually, she paused in front of a shelf of first and second editions by Simon de Beauvoir and lightly ran her finger along them before looking back quickly, worried that she had been noticed and might be asked if she wished to buy.
As a matter of fact, Aziraphale had seen her looking, and he strolled over to join her.
"Admiring the books, my dear?" he asked pleasantly.
"Yes, no, I don't know," she replied confused. The noise in her head was difficult to drown out in the best of times, and this wasn't it.
"Are you alright? Would you like to sit down?" Aziraphale asked.
"No, I'm okay thanks," Cara replied, regaining her grip on herself. "I just, lots of things going on in my head."
"It comes with the age, I've heard," Aziraphale said kindly.
"But my friends don't have it, it's just me," she burst out, the stress finally too much. She was glad now that she had not gone home. Her family would be less accepting of her fears than a stranger. They were strict and she had learnt to be careful around what she said. Maybe she could unburden herself here. Soho wasn't her local area and the shopkeeper looked like he was used to keeping other people's secrets private. She hesitated, torn.
"Have what, my dear?" Aziraphale asked gently.
"Sometimes I think I'm just wrong," she said sadly, "the thoughts keep coming and coming and I spend so much time battling them. I don't want to hurt anybody but I keep thinking about it. What if I could? What if I do? I don't know what to do," she finished.
"Perhaps you should sit down," Aziraphale suggested, "We've got a seating area just over there, and I can bring you tissues."
Cara nodded and went to collapse into one of the massive armchairs. It was all she could do to hold back the tears and soon enough they got the better of her. She was surprised to find that she did not mind. She could not deny that it was overdue.
Aziraphale came back with the tissues and sat on the chair next to hers. "I think everyone struggles with their thoughts from time to time," he started.
"But they can't!" Cara cried, "if they do, how do they function? They can't all be like me, not when I'm like this."
"No, my dear, I don't suppose they are," Aziraphale nodded. "If you don't mind my asking, and you don't have to answer, but what kind of thoughts do you mean?" Cara was silent for a long time but Aziraphale had expected that. She was debating with herself over whether or not to open up to this man. Months of stress had made her reach her breaking point, however, and the decision she made was, in a way, inevitable. "Will you tell anyone?" she asked. "Not if no-one is in danger," he promised. "But what if they are?" she demanded.
If Aziraphale had been human, he might have sat up a little straighter. Perhaps he would have looked worried, anxious or unsure. Aziraphale was not human. He was an angel, and angels have the odd ability to tell what a person's intentions are like, not with particular clarity, but with a vague idea of if an action was meant to help or to harm. It was clear to Aziraphale that this girl had no ill intentions. So he smiled reassuringly at her and told her that he did not think it would come to that. But, to be on the safe side, he did wait for her to continue before giving her his advice.
"I just, sometimes I look at someone, and I think I could hit them, or slap them, or something," she eventually confessed. It was hard to reveal this to anyone, and particularly strange to tell this man, with his waistcoat and his sympathetic eyes. But she had started and was determined to finish. Setting her jaw, she continued, "Not people who've hurt me, though sometimes them too. Just, anyone. Randomly. Like a flash through my mind. And sometimes I just can't think of anything else. Sometimes other things too. It makes me feel so guilty."
Aziraphale was on the verge of answering when a memory came back to him and he could not believe he had not made the link before. A few years ago Crowley had suffered from a similar issue, likely triggered by the stress of the not-apocalypse. At first, he had been reluctant to confide in Aziraphale but as time went on, Aziraphale could not fail to notice the shadows under Crowley's eyes, the slightly haunted expression lingering around his mouth. They had both thought it had been because of Crowley's demonic nature, although that had not fully made sense to either. Eventually, Aziraphale had demanded Crowley visit to a therapist and Crowley, who had never been able to refuse Aziraphale anything, had reluctantly agreed. It did not take the therapist long to diagnose Crowley with what is informally known as pure O - a form of OCD characterised by disturbing and repetitive intrusive thoughts - and, with her help, Crowley had been able to start functioning again. Aziraphale knew that, angel or not, he was in no position to attempt to diagnose another person. However, he thought the information could be useful to her and so, changing Crowley to 'the girlfriend of one of his best friends' as well as a few other identifying features (he did not think Crowley would appreciate Aziraphale breaking this particular confidence), he told her the whole thing. As the story wove on, her expression changed from frightened to puzzled to relieved.
"So, you see," he finally finished, "there is nothing at all evil or wrong about you and, to me, it just seems as if you need some help."
"Thank you," she replied, and he was pleased to see that the weight around her eyes had finally lifted.
"One more thing," Aziraphale told her before she left, "you have nothing to be ashamed of but, equally, you have no obligation to tell anyone about this. Of course, I would recommend that you see a mental health professional, but, if this is OCD, which is what it seems to be to me, you are no more likely to harm anyone than any other person. And, unfortunately, this aspect of it is still relatively unknown and many people will not understand. The most important thing is that you stay safe."
"But what if I do hurt someone?" she asked again. Aziraphale could see that her heart was not really in it, however. She knew that he was right.
"I don't know if this will help, but I can try to give you something to hold on to," he replied. "Tell me, have you ever done anything that those thoughts told you to?"
"Not once," she said slowly.
"You see," he smiled.
"Try to remember, my dear, you are not your thoughts. Bad thoughts don't necessarily make a bad person. And," he continued as a thought struck him, "good thoughts don't always make a good person. In any case, most people are a mix. What matters is what you act on."
"I'll remember that," she said, much cheered. "Thanks again," she added as she got up.
"My pleasure," Aziraphale smiled, and went to hold the door open for her. She said a quick goodbye before running to catch her bus. She would definitely be home late. She thought she'd better text her parents, let them know where she was. And perhaps also check how to access mental health services for under 18s. But she could do that on the bus.
This is a real condition and if anyone is struggling with it, I would advise seeking help. As always, mental health is as important as physical health and it is much easier to treat issues if they are caught sooner rather than later.