For Toni on her birthday, even though it's not till Monday. I'm super-organised, which is largely your fault. Because the best gift anyone can give is the opportunity to indulge in one's fantasies; and because I've spent enough money this week. Sorry.
For those of you who are not Toni, this may not be to your liking; it is my second piece of Black Books fanfiction, following so close on the heels of the first that it managed to hit the keyboard first. It is fluffy in ways I have never attempted to write before. Enjoy it, if you still want to read it after that accidental deterrent.
Mr. Black was not in a good mood. He'd called the doctor in order to prove to his hyperchondriacal Furby that it was not too ill to work, only to have the backstabbing medical bastard proclaim the exact opposite and force him out to face the hordes of time-wasting customers on his own.
The world hated him this morning. He sat behind his desk and looked with pronounced disgust at them, crawling around his tables, pawing at his beloved books with their filthy, alien hands. Manny usually managed to divert his attention from this desecration by doing something worse; but today all he was doing was lying in bed like a sack of sand and moaning.
Pathetic. It was all a ruse for attention. His corkscrew was right in front of him, which was bloody lucky, because someone was going to suffer if he had to move more than a meter to refill his wineglass, and it sure wasn't going to be him. He poured himself an umpteenth glass of cat's piss and threw it into the back of his throat. It was the only comfort he had today.
The door opened again and he cringed; another person who would want something from him. Everybody seemed to, especially now that technology was coming to other, less beautiful and idyllic bookshops. How they expected him to be able to hunt up a specific book while they waited for him, he didn't know.
Through the door strode a woman. Strode was definitely the right word; she had not walked in as though contemplating the shop's charming aesthetic or wondering what sort of book to buy, but marched in with a purpose. She was broad, but not fat in the way that so many people seemed to be these days, but strong and determined; her overall impression was one of immense strength and will, and he found himself shrinking in his chair before her.
That wasn't good. He was the biggest thing in this shop, how dare she just stride in here as though she owned the place? He stood up and wandered, feigning nonchalance, over to her. "Can I help you?" he asked in a false, sickly-sweet tone.
She looked at him. "If you like," she replied, and he noticed a slight lilt of sarcasm in her voice that was almost attractive. But of course, he was stony-hearted and impervious to attraction. "I'm looking for something that will make me laugh. Something dark."
Every minute he liked her more and more. "Look for red covers," he advised her, not sure how helpful this was; he'd never tried to assist anyone in the shop before. She raised an eyebrow. "I think you should find something on this table."
"So, basically, keep going exactly as I was?" A sarcastic smile played across her bold face. She had nice eyes, he noticed dumbly.
"Yeah." She grinned, and he seized his advantage. "Bernard Black," he offered, sticking out a hand shyly. She took it, smiling.
"Toni Blackler," she said, a tone of ironic surprise colouring her voice. "We match."
He found the notion of connection quite pleasant, though he still wasn't sure why. He suddenly felt like he was making a fool of himself in front of this woman. "Good," he said absently. He would go and check on Manny, he told himself, and then if she was still there when he came back maybe he would be able to 'play it cool', as it were, and look like less of an idiot.
But the hairy mass of flesh was asleep and snoring undignifiedly. He cursed it; if he went back down now he would look too eager. He still didn't quite understand his sudden need to appear nonchalant, but it was far too pressing to ignore, so he sat at his assistant's bedside for a while to pass the time. For a minute he was sure that the constant tapping of his fingers would wake the Beast and he would have an excuse to stay; but it seemed to be in such a deep sleep that he could jump on it and it would still be snoring like an earthquake.
It was Fran. He groaned and descended the stairs again; what did she want? She stood in front of his desk when he reached it, with some pathetic old biddy hanging off her arm. Protector of the Useless, as always. "What?"
"I want –" the lady began, but he cut her off in his usual fashion.
"Oh, that's right, I want, I want… well, the I wants don't get, dear."
She gave him that shocked look that old people always cast his way when he shut them down. "Bernard," Fran scolded, "she just wants to buy a book."
"Everyone wants to buy a book," he said petulantly. "They can all go buy them off someone else."
The woman left. He spent several minutes sitting behind his desk, rearranging his hair and not listening to Fran while he watched the bold woman shift his books around. She had one tucked under her arm and was reading the blurb of another when Fran finally looked around to see who he was watching.
"God, look at that woman," she whispered. "You are looking at her. Of course you are. How can you not? She just... makes you look at her. I bet she came in here knowing exactly what she wants." She looked sideways back at him. "Sort of like you."
He made a face at her, but he was secretly oddly pleased about the comparison. Fran launched straight back into whatever she'd been talking about before; while she was babbling on about nothing in particular, Toni Blackler made a decision and approached the desk.
"Will you bite my head off if I buy something?" she asked, that little sarcastic smile on her face again. Attractive or not, he did like that smile.
"He will," Fran answered for him before he had a chance, "you saw what he did to that old lady."
She grinned at him. "I thought you handled it very well," she told him. "Old ladies can be so pushy." He smiled back; out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Fran looking in confusion from his face to hers. She held out a pair of books. "Just these two, if that's all right."
He took them and glanced at their covers. "That one was crap," he said knowledgeably. "You knew who the killer was right from the start. Terrible writing."
She snorted and took it back. "Maybe not this one, then."
"Wonderful decision. That's three pounds." She handed over the money and he kept their eyes locked as he put it away. "Thanks, Bernard Black."
He smiled. "You're welcome, Toni Blackler." She hovered for a moment before she left, causing his heart to leap uncomfortably; but then she turned and marched out all the same, and he was left to stare numbly after her, wondering what exactly she had made him feel.
"What was that, Bernard?" Fran asked wryly. He glared at her.
"I'm not sure," he replied finally. She raised an eyebrow, and suddenly he was sure; what Toni Blacker had made him feel was something he'd never felt before, and it was something he wanted – needed – to feel again. At a smile from his oldest friend he jumped up with more alacrity than he had ever displayed in his life and raced to the door; he flung it open and yelled down the street after her.
Because after all, the best opportunities only present themselves to those willing to take them.
A/N: Allright. I'm sorry. It's the best I could do when I was at work, but I got SO sick of freaking Navision change logs. Happy Birthday, Toni, I love you and will bring you cake next time I see you, just to prove it. Everyone else, I hope it wasn't too bad. Thanks for sticking with it.