The sun was shining, which was unusual for this time of year, there had been fresh scones and cream for breakfast, and nobody had tried to kill him for weeks.
All in all, a very nice day.
It was about to become somewhat less than nice rather speedily, but he didn't know that just yet.
A bell tinkled overhead as he pushed open the door of the dim little shop. He stepped inside and promptly sneezed six times in a row, the violent fit ruffling the pages of a folded-up Daily Telegraph. The half-finished crossword faced up, and the penmanship in the little squares was elaborate enough to drive a mere human 'round the bend after five minutes of scrutiny.
He glanced about the bookshop and blinked the dust motes from his watery eyes. The scent of the place settled behind his nose: leather and dust, paper and ink, glue and cloth, and very stale tea. A coat with a fur collar hung on a hook behind the counter.
There was no answer. The sight of all the unattended, valuable books made his fingers twitch. He was sorely tempted to shoplift, but decided it wasn't worth earning a sanctimonious speech from his goody-two-shoes companion, who currently was circling the surrounding blocks looking for a parking spot.
He shuffled farther inside and tilted his head to read the spines of books piled haphazardly on the shelves. "Hello?" he said again, and then a book caught his eye. "Fuck me, is that the Charing Cross Bible?"
The noise that followed his exclamation was something that he hadn't heard since the last time he'd strangled a chicken, and the last time he'd strangled a chicken, Strom Thurmond hadn't been invented yet.
There was now a man standing behind the counter, a light-haired, pleasant-looking, entirely affable man wearing a slipover and a neat tie. "May I help you, dear boy?"
"There's a book that I --" He slumped his shoulders a little more under his rather disreputable-looking trench coat and squinted at the proprietor. Accusingly, he said, "You look familiar."
The proprietor fidgeted with his tie and squinted back. "So do you. It must be the nose."
"It has a tendency to do that," he admitted.
"Hmm," said the proprietor.
They both squinted some more, circled, squinted, and then jumped when the telephone rang. It rang twice, and then the ansaphone picked up. "Hello, Aziraphale? Pick up the bloody -- Aziraphale! Look, I know you're there, angel, I can feel you hiding --"
Aziraphale reached out and pushed a button to cut off the message, and just after he did, several things happened at once.
Aziraphale seemed to realise exactly why his customer seemed so familiar just as his customer was mentally picturing him with wings and a bit more presence, and shortly thereafter Methos took a step forward to loom at the counter's edge. Two blocks away, Duncan MacLeod finally found a parking space.
Methos scowled. Aziraphale frowned. The silence itched uncomfortably like a woolen jumper.
"Well," said Aziraphale brightly. "How long has it been? Two millennia?"
Methos scowled a little harder. He'd been swanning about as Death the last time he'd seen this particular member of the Heavenly Host, and the meeting had involved one of the nastier averted Apocalypses he'd ever had the displeasure to attend. He'd resigned his position shortly thereafter and fled to Greece, where he'd taken up both scholarship and the wearing of an exceptionally ugly wig.
The wig, he'd long suspected, hadn't been his idea at all, and three millennia was more than enough time to build up a little resentment for that sort of thing.
"More like three," Methos said finally. "How's the new kid working out?"1
"Oh, he settled in quite well," said Aziraphale. "Quite well, indeed."
"Look," said Methos, abandoning the pretext of politeness with a relish he normally reserved for lying outrageously to MacLeod. "I want my book back."
Aziraphale beamed. "Dear boy, I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."
"Right," drawled Methos. "I know you have it."
"One of my journals. About yea big," he said, gesturing, "incredibly old, and in my handwriting?"
The angel pursed his lips and tapped them with his index finger. "What language, did you say?"
"I didn't. Does this mean," said Methos, flowing around the counter in order to invade Aziraphale's personal bubble, "that you have more than one?"
Aziraphale blinked. "Well, yes, of course."
Outraged, Methos' hands clenched at the tea-scented air. "How many?"
"I couldn't say," said Aziraphale primly.
"Oh, I think you could," growled Methos.
"No, I couldn't possibly," insisted Aziraphale.
"You great, bloody, thieving excuse for a Principality!" said Methos. "What, 'thou shalt not steal' doesn't apply to you?"
Aziraphale sniffed. Had he been wearing his feathers, they would have been ruffled. "One doesn't need to steal what one finds abandoned."3
"All right, fine," said Methos, abruptly switching gears from threats to bribery, "I'll make it worth your while."
Aziraphale waved his hand. "My dear, I have no need for money."
"I was thinking you could take it out in trade," said Methos silkily. He traced his finger over Aziraphale's tie tack.
"Oh dear." Aziraphale blushed a rosy shade of pink. "I'm not," he said, making a rather suggestive motion 'down there' and dropping his voice to a whisper, "properly equipped."
Methos looked him up and down. The angel really was quite pleasant to look at, and just enough of a bastard to be interesting. "No? Pity," he murmured.
"At least, not unless one makes an effort," amended Aziraphale.
Methos smiled slowly. "Well, now."
Aziraphale's rosy blush redoubled itself. "Er."
The bell over the door tinkled, and they both turned to see a broad-shouldered fellow step through the door. He smiled blandly and walked to a corner of the store, whistling loudly in an attempt to be innocuous that went over about as well as the Emperor's new clothes.
"I actually meant books, earlier," said Methos. "I own a bookshop in Paris. Shakespeare & Company. It has a back room and a cellar."
"The cellar floods," said the man helpfully from his corner as he flipped through a book.
"Shut up, MacLeod," hissed Methos. To Aziraphale, he said, "One rare tome for each of my journals returned. Your pick."
"Gosh," said Aziraphale, and the look upon his face was positively covetous.
"Do we have a deal?"
Aziraphale gave him a look. "Do I have your word?"
Methos sighed. "An eye for an eye, a book for a book, and a deal with the devil's in the details, I know."
"But do I have your word, my dear?"
He hung his head. "Yes. You have my word."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Aziraphale, clapping his hands together. "Shall we?"
Methos followed him into the back room and watched whilst Aziraphale plucked not two or three but six volumes from the piles of books stacked and spilling over every available surface, including a sleeping cat. Aziraphale tucked them all neatly into a dirty holdall and handed it over as easy as you please.
"Do I sign for these in blood?" asked Methos, the cloth straps tugging at his fingers.
Aziraphale chuckled. "Oh, pish! We don't do that sort of thing anymore."
Methos shifted the sack to the crook of his arm and fished for a business card. He pressed it into Aziraphale's hand just as he pressed a kiss to the angel's warm lips. "My address for when you come to collect."
"Oh," said Aziraphale, his eyes wide.
"And when you do," said Methos slowly, "remember to make an effort."
The flush returned to Aziraphale's face, but muted this time, as if fading from repeated exposure. "And if I do, you'll make it worth my while?"
Methos winked. "You have my word, don't you?" Halfway to the door, he turned and said, "By the way, you don't know anyone named Ahriman, do you?"
Aziraphale furrowed his brow. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"Just checking," he said, and left to collect his companion before any errant demons entered the premises. The sun was still shining, he had a date, and as long as they hurried, no one in the immediate vicinity wanted to kill them.
What a very nice day.
1. The "new kid" being the current Death, who was in fact the eighth Death to hold the position. Methos had been number four. Deaths five through seven all had quit less than a year after accepting the position in order to become accountants, because numbers didn't shriek or cry or leak disgusting fluids when tallied.
The current Death has held the position for nearly three thousand years, and is still "the new kid." It is not recommended that you mention this in Death's presence.2
2. No, really. [back]
3. Put simply: finders, keepers. The 'neener' is implied. [back]