Title: Bernard's Rules
Author: Beer Good
Fandom: Doctor Who/Black Books
Word Count: ~900
Rating: PG
Warnings: Reference to character death
Summary: After the Year That Never Was, Doctor Martha Jones buys a book in a shop she's Never visited from a bookshop owner who Never did anything for anyone.

Bernard's Rules

One day, for the first time since... all that, Martha dropped by the bookshop on her way home from the hospital. Quite literally, in fact, since there was something slimy on the floor right inside the door that made her lose her balance completely. Flailing wildly, she managed to avoid knocking over a pile of used books, did a rather ungracious pirouette to not bump into a man browsing at the table, slipped on a pile of old National Geographics, and finally did a very undignified faceplant right in front of the cashier's desk.

Now, most people, if you do something like that in front of them - they'll react. They'll ask if you're alright. They'll ask if you need a doctor (which would be ironic on so many levels) or, at the very least, a cup of tea. The owner of Black Books just sighed, put down the book he was reading, took the cigarette out of his mouth and asked "Can I help you?" in a tone that strongly implied that the only help he would be willing to offer would be directions on how to get out of the shop as quickly as possible.

Martha got to her feet, brushing off an alarming amount of dust and inhaling a lungful of Black Books air - equal parts mold, second-hand smoke and Unspecified Bernard. "Yes, I..." What do you say to someone you've never met in this life? "Is Manny in today?"

If Bernard Black had shown her the slightest interest before, it was now replaced with bored disdain. "Oh, you're a friend of Manny's. Sorry, no. He's dead."

"Dead?" Even after... Martha was about to go off on a private soliloquy about how some things seem to be fixed points in time that you can't change no matter what, when he continued.

"Yes, dead to me. Would you believe there was only one bottle of wine left this morning and it's an hour until lunchtime?" He gestured at the half-empty wine bottle sitting on the desk. "I sent him down the shops. Now buy something or get out."

There was a shelf of books right beside the desk - in no particular order, as usual. She picked up one where half the spine was gone, only the words RAY BRADB still legible. "That one's not for sale," Bernard barked. She put it back and picked another one, Peter Pan. "That one isn't either. Look, can't you all just..." He groaned and got to his feet, swigging from the bottle. "Why do you all have to come here? Why can't you leave me in PEACE? Yes, I'm talking to you two in the corner," he yelled at one confused customer over in the corner. "These are my books. And you come in here and you... slather your unwashed TV eyes all over them. It's all money to you, isn't it?"

"Well," a sensible older gentleman browsing what may at one point have been the History shelf interjected. "We do pay you for them. This is a bookshop, after all." He managed to duck as Bernard hurled a copy of War And Peace (vol 1) at his head, and with a "Well I never!" he was out the door.

Bernard looked very pleased with himself, took another swig and lit a second cigarette (which proved rather awkward as he hadn't actually finished the first one yet, but somehow he managed it). He sat back down, picked up his book, frowned as if remembering something, and looked back up at Martha. "I'm sorry, any reason you're still here?"

She looked around the shop, which as always looked like a bomb had gone off in it. "Books are all ideas, aren't they? The only weapon against fear, ignorance and tyranny."

"Yes, thank you, miss obvious." He shot her a withering look and... paused. Hard to tell with the greasy hair hanging in his face, but Martha could have sworn there was something in his eyes that seemed to say Hang on, don't I... Then he shrugged it off and waved drunkenly at the books she almost knocked over when she came in. "You can have... one of those. Over there. In that pile."

The one on top was a tattered paperback copy of Nevil Shute's On The Beach. Apocalypse stuff. Martha had a feeling she'd already read it, or at least lived it, but she paid for it anyway. He seemed reluctant to let her have it, but eventually accepted her three pound coins ("But you're not getting a receipt.")

Back out on the street, she opened the book and read the epigram - In this last of meeting places, we grope together and avoid speech, gathered on this beach of the tumid river. That's as far as she got before she was bumped into by another outraged customer storming out of the shop without having found the book he was looking for. She cast a last look through the dirty windows before continuing down the street.

In this world, Bernard Black would never have to stand up to anything worse than tourists looking for cheap holiday reads, and surprisingly few of those would try to burn his shop down. There were still other bookshops and libraries around for them to go to. After all, the year where Martha walked the Earth to spread an idea, and where Bernard was the only bookseller in London who refused to close, never happened.