A/N: This story takes place fairly soon after the endings of Good Omens and Guards! Guards!
The best thing about having your shop burnt to the ground and then re-created with all new books, Aziraphale decided, was that you had a shop full of all new books.
It had taken him a good while, but he was just about finished going through all the stacks and cataloging each volume-as well as checking their value. It was a veritable gold-mine, in Aziraphale's opinion. While the angel mourned the loss of some of the rarer and more esoteric pieces of his collection, he now had an almost priceless collection of children's literature.
All first editions. All first impressions. All first issue jackets. And Aziraphale wasn't quite sure how Adam had managed it, but each book was signed by the author and, if it had illustrations, by the artist as well.
Now, after weeks of work, Aziraphale was finally down to the last shelf. The last shelf! He promised himself a celebratory cup of tea—and perhaps some biscuits—when he was done. He wheeled his tiny, rickety book cart to the end of the narrow aisle, and then he crouched down and reached for the book closest to him.
A book on the very end of the shelf caught his eye.
A single mountain, in striking blue, black and white dominated the spine. Runes ran along the top and bottom. Aziraphale peered at the title. The Hobbit. "Oh, my goodness," he said, and with exquisite care he removed the book from the shelf.
He took it to his desk, and then returned for the rest of the lot. Aziraphale had established a shelf-by-shelf system; remove all the items on each shelf, take them to his desk, look up their value and enter them into the computer—which was still plasticky, but much faster—and then return them to their spot. And so on. The angel hummed along with the Mozart playing in the shop while he consulted Skindle's Price Guide. His finger paused at the entry.
This particular edition of The Hobbit was worth over one hundred thousand pounds.
"Whoo-eee," Aziraphale whispered, feeling slightly giddy.
This one was definitely going on the Shelf.
The Shelf was the next best thing about the 'new' shop. Aziraphale had discovered it quite by accident, early on during his inventory-taking. He had been working in one of the stacks in the rear of the shop, and he was returning a handful of books to a chest-level shelf when the books went back a little too far. He discovered a double-deep shelf—which was quite impossible, since the stacks in the shop were all back-to-back, and each shelf was more or less twenty centimeters deep. The 'extra' shelf was a bit deeper than that, and careful examination had revealed that it did, in fact, have an edge on the other side. Aziraphale didn't have the least clue what was on that other side, but as an other-dimensional being he wasn't at all alarmed by the presence of another dimension in a shelf in his bookshop. It was a secret stash, so Aziraphale had promptly installed a chain with a 'Restricted Section' sign across that section of the aisle.
He was about to take The Hobbit to the Shelf when the phone rang. It could only be Crowley, since Aziraphale had an unlisted number for the shop. He picked up the receiver. "Hello," he said.
"We're still on for tonight, right?" Horns blared tinnily in the background, telling Aziraphale that Crowley was in his car, most likely creating massive jams on the M1.
Aziraphale blinked, and then he glanced at the calendar. It was Thursday, and the two of them dined at the Ritz on Thursdays. "Er," he replied.
"You forgot, didn't you?"
"Not exactly," Aziraphale said. "I've been finishing up my inventory today."
"Ah. Found any more pricey books?"
Aziraphale smiled at the book in his hands. "As a matter of fact, yes. So, tonight… instead of meeting me at the restaurant, why don't you stop by the shop first? You haven't seen the new books, and there's something intriguing I want to show you."
"Sounds good. I'll see you in a bit, then."
Aziraphale replaced the receiver and then he made his way to the back of the shop, over to the last row of bookshelves, and down the narrow aisle until he faced the Shelf. A small row of books resided there at the moment, taking up perhaps a third of the shelf space. Not only were they all extremely valuable, but Aziraphale had read each book and was very fond of them. "Here, let me put you in your proper height order," Aziraphale said to the book, and he nudged a section of volumes aside to make room for its newest resident.
Just as he was sliding the book into place, his copy of Winnie-the-Pooh toppled over. Aziraphale reached out to try and catch the book, but it teetered on the shelf's other edge, slid off and then disappeared from view.
"Oh, bother," Aziraphale said.
• • •
If a book falls in a library and no one is there to hear it, does anyone get shushed?
There are many ways a book can sound when it falls to the floor. Some land on their spines with a thump, usually instantly opening in a furry of pages. When a book is unfortunate enough to land on its open side, it crackles as its pages are crushed and torn.
This particular book landed flat on its back with a single, neat clap. A small cloud of dust billowed up from beneath it.
The Librarian looked up from the book he was repairing and frowned.
"Oook," he said.
• • •
"Here's a new start for our back room stash," Crowley said, handing Aziraphale two bottles of wine. He slipped off his overcoat and hung it on the rack near the door, and then he looked around at the front of the shop. "Wow, you're right about the place looking the same."
"It's the same, but it isn't," Aziraphale said as he put the wine away. "It's little things—and not just the books."
"Well, it's still dusty in here," Crowley remarked, running his finger along the top of the front desk. "And the light's still dim."
"Oh yes, that's still the same," the angel agreed. "But there are a few changes; my computer is definitely faster, and my phone is now one of those new push-button versions."
"Nobody uses a rotary phone any more, Aziraphale."
Aziraphale sniffed in derision. "I prefer using them, and I will be checking the local antique shops to try and get this one replaced. Also, one unfortunate side-effect of my new inventory is that I have seen an increase in customers."
Crowley laughed. "Have fun with that—these days, people are mad about vintage children's books."
"Don't rub it in," Aziraphale said. "They're far more persistent than the customers I used to get—I actually had two sales this month, despite my best efforts."
"Poor angel." Crowley finished his inspection of the shop and then he turned to Aziraphale. "So, what's this 'something intriguing' you wanted to show me?"
Aziraphale brightened. "Oh! I found a secret shelf behind another shelf in one of the stacks. Come and see." While Crowley followed him to the back of the shop, Aziraphale told him about his discovery of the Shelf. "I'll also show you the first-edition Hobbit I found right before you called, it's fantastic," he said as he unhooked the 'Restricted Section' sign. He stopped at the end of the aisle and waved a manicured hand to his left.
Crowley frowned. "It's an empty shelf," he said.
"Of course it's empty on this side, look further in."
Crowley craned his neck to peer inside the shelf. "It's still empty."
"What?" Aziraphale stuck his face practically inside the shelf, only to find bare wood. "Where are my books?" he wailed.
Sam Vimes looked up from the report he was filling out. "What is it, Constable?"
Carrot Ironfoundersson ducked beneath the doorway and stepped into the tiny, cluttered office. "I think our, um, friend from the Library wants to see you."
"The Librarian? Is he here?"
"No, sir, I think he's at the Library. But there was a peanut on our doorstep when I came in." Carrot held up the evidence.
Vimes sighed. The last time the Librarian had a problem at the Library, earlier in the year, there was a dragon involved. But, he did owe the ape a favor. "I think I'll have Corporal Nobbs come with me. You and Sergeant Colon can hold down the fort until we get back." He took the peanut from Carrot and reached for his coat.
"Yes, sir. Um, sir?"
"What should I hold the fort down with?"
Vimes pinched the bridge of his nose. At least Carrot hadn't asked where the fort was; the lad was improving with being less literal. "Sheer force of will," Vimes said, and he passed Carrot to enter the narrow hallway beyond his office. "Nobby!"
It wasn't all that far a walk to the Library of the Unseen University, despite Nobby's pleas that they take a carriage. As they stood in front of the tall, stone building it occurred to Vimes that he'd never actually been inside the Library. "You ever been here before, Nobby?"
"Oh, no, sir," Nobby wheezed in between gasping breaths, "place gives me the heebie-jeebies. All that magic and wossname."
Vimes showed the peanut to an exiting student.
"Oh, he'll be at the Reference Desk, sir," the young man said. "It's on the second floor, in the back."
Vimes thanked the student, and then he and Nobby made their way inside. Minutes later, they stood before a large, well-worn wooden counter, behind which hunched an even larger, hairier, three-hundred pound orangutan.
Vimes tossed the peanut on the desk. "Interesting messaging method you have here," he said. "What can I do for you?"
The Librarian slid a pile of books to the front of the counter.
They were rather unusual-looking books, Vimes thought, unusual for this place, anyway. They had paper jackets that were filled with brightly-colored illustrations—not the moldy, half falling apart tomes that were piled in other places on the Librarian's counter. He scanned the titles. "What's a Hobbit?" he asked. "I know what a tollbooth is, but I've never heard of a phantom one. And what's a Pooh? Never heard of Poohs."
The Librarian shrugged, and then he made a series of elaborate gestures.
Vimes blinked. "What do you mean, these aren't your books? We're in a library, in case you hadn't noticed. Lots of books. Quite possibly ones you haven't read yet."
Orangutans didn't really have eyebrows, so the Librarian made do by raising one of the fleshy pads above his eyes to the vicinity of his hairline.
"Well, yes, I can see that they don't quite belong here." They were too...new, for one thing. And Vimes was hard pressed to imagine any spells that would involve a rabbit made of velveteen. Or a bear that wore a hat and walked about with a suitcase and a jar of marmalade. He watched as Nobby ran a fingertip along the decorated spine of one of the books. "Corporal Nobbs, please leave that book alone."
Nobby jumped back from the counter and put his hands behind his back. "Sorry, sir, it's just that it looked like there's gold on that one—the one about wind in willows. What are willows, sir?"
Vimes shook his head. "I don't know," he said. He turned to the Librarian. "What do you want me to do about this?"
The Librarian flapped his large hands at the books, then at Vimes.
"But there hasn't been a crime committed, technically," Vimes said, eyeing the brightly-jacketed stack of volumes on the desk. "It's not like they took any books."
The Librarian crossed his arms—a not inconsiderable feat in light of the fact that his arms reached the floor—and scowled at him. "Eeek," he said.
"Oh, I agree, it needs to be looked into," Vimes assured him. "We can't have mysterious books just popping up willy-nilly. But is it a crime? Best we could hope for here is breaking-and-redecorating, and I haven't seen one of those since old Miss Pesteridge broke into the City Art Gallery and straightened all the paintings*."
"I remember her," Nobby said. "She was right off her rocker. We got her to confess after we made a mess in the Interrogation room we had in our old quarters. Drove her mad, it did, havin' all that stuff out of whack."
"Were these all on one shelf?" Vimes asked.
The Librarian nodded.
"How did you discover them?"
A large, grey-black hand slapped the counter, and then a single finger tapped the small volume of Winnie-the-Pooh.
"Ah, one fell."
"How about you show me this shelf?" Vimes suggested.
"Oook," the Librarian said, and he vaulted over the counter to join them. He handed Nobby a large ball of twine and then tied the dangling end to a desk lamp.
"Wassis for?" Nobby asked.
The Librarian patted him on the head, and then he handed Vimes a lantern.
"So we don't get lost," Vimes said.
The ape gave him a thumbs-up and then he led the two men into the stacks.
*Another infamous straightener was George "But-It-Looks-Better-That-Way" Biggleston, who was notorious for breaking into houses in the middle of the night and completely re-arranging the furniture. Apprehended after a string of re-arrangements, George's lawyer attempted to use the "Fong Shuey" defense when he appeared at court. George was found guilty and was sentenced to two years in a cell that had everything bolted to the floor and walls.
• • •
"I don't understand," Aziraphale said. "My books were there. I put The Hobbit on that back shelf there less than half an hour ago."
Crowley examined the shelf. "How odd. It's like a small pocket-dimension." He tried to make out what was beyond the shelf. "Did you figure out what's over there?"
"Not yet," Aziraphale said. "I imagine it's another book shop, or perhaps a library. It has that same sort of smell."
Crowley stared at him. "Another shop, or a library," he repeated. "And you put your most valuable books there? Are you mad?"
"I know, I should have put them in the safe," the angel said unhappily. "But this was more fun, it was a, a—"
"Secret stash," Crowley said.
"Young boys love hidden stashes," Crowley said. "I imagine this was Adam's handiwork, he probably thought you should have one. Have you got a torch?"
"A torch? Yes." Aziraphale went and fished one out of a nearby drawer, and then he handed it to the demon. "But why?"
Crowley switched it on. "To see what's in there—it's got even worse lighting than your place." He shone the beam through the shelf.
Aziraphale leaned in closer so that he could see, too. "There's books," he said. "Hundreds of them."
Crowley waved the torch around a bit. "Thousands, more likely. I think you're right, and this is a library."
"A very old one, judging from all the dust."
"You've got room to talk."
"Oh, shut up. Shine the light over there a bit—oh!" Aziraphale's lips moved as he read some of the titles to himself. "These are books of magic."
"Magic, eh? That would explain a lot." Crowley squinted at the books. "Want to look at a few?"
"Oh, I'm sure I couldn't—really?" Aziraphale's fingers itched.
"Sure," Crowley said. "I think that with a little effort, I could reach through and snag one or two." He grinned at Aziraphale. "You know you want to."
"We'll just look at them," Aziraphale said primly, "and then we'll put them back."
"Of course. I daresay someone is doing the same thing with your books right now. You'll just be…borrowing these."
"Oh! I like that thought. Perhaps mine will get returned."
Crowley handed Aziraphale the torch. "Here, you hold this and keep shining the light through the shelf while I try and get a book."
He reached through the shelf.
• • •
They were deep in the bowels of the Reference Section.
Vimes held his lantern aloft as he and Nobby followed the Librarian single-file through the narrow, labyrinthine collection of book stacks. Dust-motes danced in the lamplight, and in the semi-darkness it seemed to Vimes as if the aisles went on forever. "You've still got that string, right, Nobby?"
"Yes, sir, I bin lettin' it out as we walk."
Vimes felt no small amount of relief at the answer.
They made a left to venture into an even narrower section of bookshelves, where the aisle was barely a meter wide. There was a strange, whitish glow up ahead, and Vimes could hear the murmur of voices. Two voices. Male.
The Librarian suddenly stopped, and held up a hand. "Oook," he whispered, and he pointed directly ahead of them.
Vimes peered over a massive, hairy shoulder. A disembodied, jacketed arm hung in the air not more than three meters away, its fingers wiggling as it tried to reach the books that rested on the opposite shelf.
Nobby squeezed in alongside for a peek. "Oh, now I've definitely got the heebie-jeebies."
Vimes found himself wishing Carrot were with them, but then he realized that the Librarian was more than capable of dealing with the intruders. "I don't think we should let that arm get away," he said quietly.
For all his bulk, the Librarian could move pretty fast. The next thing Vimes knew, there was a shout, and then the ape had a firm grip on the arm, which turned out to be not so disembodied.
Vimes stood next to the Librarian and looked through the shelf. Two men were standing there; one was blond and looked a bit rumpled, and the other one—whose arm was currently in the Librarian's custody—was dark-haired and wore a much nicer suit. He also wore dark glasses, which Vimes felt was a bit odd, considering the general lack of light on both sides of the shelf. "Who are you two?" he demanded "What are you doing here?"
"My name is Aziraphale," the blond answered, "and, er, this side is my bookshop. This is Crowley."
"Forgive me if we don't shake hands," the other man said. "Mine's currently being held hostage."
"Oook," the Librarian said, and he gave Crowley's arm a yank.
"I'm Samuel Vimes, Captain of the City Watch," Vimes said. "This 'side' is the Library of the Unseen University, and the Librarian here asked me to investigate when he found a set of books that didn't belong here."
"Oh, those are mine," Aziraphale said, waving. "I found this shelf in my shop and I thought it would be fun to keep them here." He smiled sheepishly at Nobby, who had inserted himself next to Vimes. "Sorry for the inconvenience, I'll be happy to take them back."
"Why's he apologizing to me, sir?" Nobby whispered to Vimes.
Vimes held back a snort. "It appears, Nobby, that he thinks you're the Librarian."
"Who, me?" Nobby squeaked. He shook his head vigorously at Aziraphale. "Oh, no, sir, I'm not the one who runs this place. I'm Corporal Nobbs, sir, he's the Librarian." He pointed at the annoyed, three-hundred-pound ape who still had a firm grip on Crowley's arm.
Vimes found it fascinating to watch the play of thoughts that crossed the two men's faces.
"Oh!" Aziraphale said. "Er. How… interesting."
Crowley, meanwhile, was laughing. "This is priceless," he said. "They've got a monkey for a librarian."
"Oh dear," Nobby said. "Now you've done it."
• • •
"You brought it on yourself," Aziraphale said reprovingly as he helped Crowley to his feet. "Orangutans are great apes; they're a completely different genus. I would have been offended."
"Like I was supposed to have known all that," Crowley muttered. "And you wouldn't have tried to pull me through a shelf that's less than thirty centimeters tall."
"I must say, he made an admirable attempt. Shame about your suit."
"He's very sorry, sir," Nobby called from the other side of the stack.
"Oook," added the Librarian.
"It's just on account of that word, sir. Gets right up his nose. I bin there and done that myself, sir, and he gave me a right hard pounding. Here's your spectacles." Nobby gingerly placed the mangled remains of Crowley's sunglasses on the worn, wooden shelf. He hoped the man would at least try to put them on; Nobby had never seen a man with eyes like that, which led to the uncomfortable suspicion that Crowley might not actually be a man.
The Librarian added a handful of peanuts next to the sunglasses as a gesture of good-will.
Vimes set the stack of books on the shelf and pushed them through. "I fetched the books that were found on the shelf," he said. He turned toward the Librarian. "This is all of them?"
The librarian nodded. A long, curved forefinger reached out and lightly caressed the spine of The Phantom Tollbooth.
Aziraphale noticed the gesture. "You liked that one, did you? You may keep it, if you like."
The Librarian gave him a very large, very toothy smile as he took the book. He held up his finger to indicate for Aziraphale to wait, and then he disappeared from view. A few moments later he returned, and he reached through the shelf to offer an enthusiastically embossed and gilded book to the angel.
"Why, thank you," Aziraphale said as he accepted the gift. He glanced at the title—Mr Bunnsy Has An Adventure. "Er, thank you very much." He placed the book on top of the others and then took them all off the shelf. "I think it might be best if I keep these in a safe from now on," he said.
"Yes, that might be best," Vimes agreed.
"Thank you for your help, Captain," Aziraphale said. He peered through the shelf at the Librarian and smiled. "It was a pleasure to meet you, my good man—er, ape. Perhaps we can loan each other books now and then."
"Oook," the Librarian said.
Aziraphale wasn't quite sure if that had been a 'yes' or a 'no', so he just smiled and waved as the others left. "Well, that was certainly interesting," he said. "Another world's library on the other side of that shelf! And an orangutan for a librarian!" He retrieved the sunglasses and peanuts and handed them to Crowley, who eyed the peanuts quizzically.
"These are my favorite sunglasses," Crowley complained.
"Oh, hush. You can always make another pair."
"And this suit is Armani."
"I'm quite sure you will have no problem conjuring up another one."
Crowley grinned at him. "You're right, I won't." He brushed a few long, orange hairs from his now-immaculate suit. A moment later, he slipped a new pair of sunglasses on. He chucked the peanuts into a nearby wastebin. "Let's go," he said. "Right now I'm fancying a very stiff drink and a very rare steak."
"Mmm, yes," replied the angel. "Just let me get these put away. In the safe."
"What are you going to do with that shelf? Close it up?" Crowley asked as Aziraphale fiddled with the dial on his safe.
"What? Oh, no, I imagine I'll just let it be." Aziraphale rather hoped that it would become a 'lending library' of sorts. He'd have to think about what book to leave there for the Librarian to read. The Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps. Or The Sword in the Stone. Perhaps even some Tolkien. He placed the books in the safe, shut the door and gave the dial a spin.
Crowley was waiting for him at the front door, already clad in his cashmere overcoat. "My car is at the end of the block."
"Do we really need to take your car? Parking is terrible around the Ritz."
A dark eyebrow lifted above Crowley's sunglasses. "If I can't find good parking, I'll make good parking. Besides, you haven't been in the car since Adam re-made it; it plays actual music now. We can go for drives."
"No more Best of Queen?"
"Not a bit."
"Well now, that will be a treat." After Aziraphale shrugged into his own overcoat, he flicked off the light switch, and the bell on the door jangled against the glass as he pulled it firmly shut behind them.
"I think you ought to lend the orangutan The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Crowley said while Aziraphale locked the door.
"That would be exceedingly rude," Aziraphale huffed.
"How about Curious George, then?"
"I don't have a death wish, thank you very much."
"The Monkey King?"
"Now you're just being silly."
The angel and the demon pulled up their collars against the late October wind and walked on into the night.