The dimly lit shop window cast a reddish glow onto the filthy slush on the pavement. Lucas trod this portion of pavement every day as part of his commute, but he’d never seen the shop window until he was trudging along worrying about what to buy Riley for Valentine’s Day. There was so much he wanted to put into words but couldn’t, which meant the Valentine’s gift had to be perfect. Then he noticed the strangely tinted light falling on the pavement, and he looked up at a shop he would’ve sworn had never been there before. Odd, antique knickknacks were displayed in the window: a jewelry box, a silver flask, a chess set. A sign on the door read: “Your perfect Valentine’s Day gift – with Style! Guaranteed!”
Guaranteed? he thought. That didn’t seem completely honest. But what did he have to lose? He pushed open the door.
The low lighting in the store was partially explained by the man behind the sales counter, who wore dark glasses. Probably some sort of accommodation then. The dimness made it hard to see the shop’s contents, which were arranged haphazardly as if someone believed it wasn’t a proper shop unless it was crowded and difficult to navigate. Tables stuck out at odd angles, each one covered in a jumble of unsorted merchandise: a model battleship, a glass ashtray, a marble globe. The only other person in the store was the employee with the shades. He rested an elbow against the counter, somehow managing to slouch the rest of his body into that one joint as if it was the only thing keeping him upright. He wore all black, which Lucas had to admit fit with the shop’s vibe. Coming in here had been a mistake.
But as he headed back to the door, the salesclerk drawled in a posh accent, “Looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, are you?”
“Er, I don’t think my boyfriend likes knickknacks.”
The man slithered from behind the counter, and Lucas felt powerless to move. As if the clerk’s eyes behind the glasses were hypnotizing him. But the man smiled pleasantly. “Oh, what does your boyfriend like then?”
The clerk’s black leather jacket probably cost more than the Brooks Brothers suit Lucas wore. He must know something about style. Lucas had been considering buying Riley a jacket. Or maybe an antique watch?
“He likes football,” Lucas said. “He and his brothers are always going to games together.”
Now why had he said that? True, Lucas was a little hurt that Riley had chosen to go to a match with his two older brothers on Valentine’s Day. Naturally, there were only three tickets. Naturally, because Riley’s older brothers were such pricks that it was built into their very nature.
The man’s eyebrows lifted. “His brothers. Doesn’t that sound … nice?”
“Oh, sure, nice. A real welcoming family as long as you like what they like.” He sounded petulant, but what could it hurt to complain to this total stranger? Riley would never know, and what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.
“I know the type,” the man said sympathetically. “Let me guess. They listen to the same old music and wear the same boring clothes.”
“Exactly!” Lucas said. This man really did understand. “They spend their whole lives performing their versions of the rules for alpha males. You can imagine what they think of their baby brother with me. Oh, they pretend they’re supportive, but they keep studying me as if they expect me to show up in neon fishnets and purple lipstick.”
“The way I see it,” the clerk said, “is that it’s probably hard for your boyfriend to go against his family’s wishes, even though they make him feel bad about himself.”
Lucas barked out a laugh with no humor in it. “You sound like you know what you’re talking about.”
“You could say I’m familiar with a similar situation.” This clerk was alright, despite the aging bass guitarist outfit. “I suppose the question is, does he really like football that much?”
Lucas shrugged. “He’s going to a match on Valentine’s Day without me.”
“Yeah? Then I have the perfect gift for him.”
The man sauntered back to the sales counter and rummaged around under it. He pulled out a rolled-up poster bound with a rubber band. It took him a few tries to conquer the recalcitrant rubber band and wrap it around his wrist, but soon enough, he was spreading out a poster on the counter. Not just any poster: the 1989 Arsenal title winners poster. Lucas studied it intently, noting the signatures. Steve Bould. Alan Smith. Paul Merson. He sucked in a breath. This was a collector’s item, no mistake.
“How much?” he asked, sure it was well out of his price range.
“Ten pounds,” the clerk said.
Lucas figured the guy was pulling his leg. “But you don’t mean—”
“I mean,” the clerk said. “You read the sign on the door? Shops have to do what the sign on their door says.” The man’s smile widened into an oversized grin, as if the joints of his jaw could stretch like the rubber band on his wrist. “A guarantee from the likes of me is iron clad.”
“That’s … that’s incredibly generous.” He must be the owner of the shop, not merely the clerk.
The man pushed his long hair over his shoulder. “It’s all in the name of Valentine’s Day, mate. If this is what you want, that is.”
Of course it was what Lucas wanted. A signed poster from the 1989 Arsenal Club season for ten pounds! He could afford to get it framed at that price. Then Riley could hang it in a place of pride in the flat, and Lucas could remember every day how Riley blew him off on Valentine’s Day to go to a match with his asshole brothers.
He hesitated. Maybe he should look for watches after all.
The shop owner leaned over the counter, almost flirtatiously. “I’ll bet his brothers will be green with envy when they see this beauty.”
“I’ll take it.” After all, it was only ten pounds! What a miraculous find. And Lucas was positive it wouldn’t remind him of the asshole brothers. Not too much, at any rate. No, he was sure it would be the perfect gift. It was guaranteed, wasn’t it?
“Thank you so much,” he said as the shop owner struggled to wrap the rubber band around the poster. “Here, why don’t you let me do that?”
“Humans need to invent something better than blessed stretchy bands,” the man said.
“Ha ha,” Lucas said awkwardly. “Have a happy Valentine’s Day.”
The wide-mouthed grin was back. “Oh, I’m enjoying it already.”
After the man left the shop with the poster, Crowley allowed himself a devilish chuckle. Selling cursed items for Valentine’s Day in a cursed shop had been bloody genius. He’d gotten the inspiration from the latest Stephen King movie, Needful Things. He loved Stephen King; the movie with the possessed killer car was his favorite. But the cursed shop was an old idea, old as horror stories themselves. So old, in fact, that Lord Beelzebub themselves couldn’t complain about it not being properly demonic.
No time to rest on his laurels, however. Another potential victim was examining the window, reading the sign. This man had long hair hanging in front of his face. Crowley lurked behind the sales counter, watching him like a rattlesnake watches a baby bird. The new customer opened the door and lifted his gaze to the ceiling to make sure he didn’t bang his head on the door frame. His hair fell back to expose a network of horribly deep burn scars on one side of his face. Not that Crowley was feeling sympathetic because he was not.
“Can I help you find anything?” he said.
The man cleared his throat as if he wasn’t used to talking much. “Looking for a thing for my, uh, girlfriend.” He tried not to smile on the last word.
Oh, first serious girlfriend, then? Crowley absolutely did not feel sympathetic at all. “Hmmm, let’s see what’s appropriate. I’m good at selecting gifts. Is she pretty?”
The man narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but said, “Aye.”
This was too easy. A silver hairbrush would do the trick, or maybe a jeweled hair comb. Something that would constantly remind the man how much his pretty girlfriend didn’t deserve—
The bell rang, the door opened, and a breeze wafted in the smell of cocoa and old books. Bold of the angel to walk right into his shop, but Aziraphale had never wanted for courage when it came to thwarting his wiles.
“I’m with a customer!” he said loudly.
“Yes, I can see that,” Aziraphale said. “My, what a beautiful shop.”
“It’s not …” The customer was staring at him, so he swallowed his retort to Aziraphale. “Right, your girlfriend. I have just the item. This beautiful dressing table mirror.”
Aziraphale clicked his tongue. “Oh, that’s far too practical for a Valentine’s Day gift. Tell me, does your sweetheart like to read?”
“He’s not here to buy one of your soppy Regency romances,” Crowley said.
The customer raised his good eyebrow. “She’s more the outdoors type.”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said, “perhaps a pair of hiking boots then?”
“How is that not bloody practical?” Crowley snapped. “What do you know about Valentine’s Day gifts anyway? You never bought me one. After all the years I gave you chocolates, and not cheap chocolates either, not for your buggering refined tastes.”
Aziraphale glared at him in a way that reminded Crowley he had thousands of eyes he wasn’t using at the moment, but he could manifest them if the need arose. If he lost his temper. Seemed to be more punishment than the crime warranted because Crowley was 100 percent accurate about the chocolates. Meanwhile, the mark was eyeing him and the angel and backing away, wriggling off the hook.
“Perhaps jewelry, that’s always a welcome gift to adorn a beautiful woman,” he said. He walked to what passed for a jewelry counter, feeling Aziraphale’s intense gaze heating his cheeks. He was not going to feel embarrassed about selling this man a cursed item. He was a demon, for Hell’s sake.
Aziraphale followed the customer to the jewelry area. “Does your dearest one like dogs?” he asked.
While Crowley rolled his eyes at the endearment, the customer broke into his first genuine smile. “She’s obsessed. Family thing. They’ve got like a dozen of ‘em.”
“Then how about this?” Aziraphale held up a ring holder in the shape of a Scottish terrier. “And in the spring, she can expect you to get her a ring for it?”
Well, that was that – the bloke fled like he was being chased by a lion. Not that Crowley could blame him.
Aziraphale adopted a very smug expression and rocked on his toes. “Hmm, that’s a shame.”
Crowley growled. “You stay out of my shop and I’ll stay out of yours.”
“I never asked you to stay out of my shop.” At least that made Aziraphale less smug and more snitty, if snitty was a word. Maybe it was, because Aziraphale definitely sounded snitty. “How long do you plan to keep this up?”
“Who knows?” Crowley was already a little bored with playing shopkeeper and was regretting how often he’d pointed out that shops should have regular hours, but neither wild nor domestic horses would drag that admission from him. “Maybe I’ll stay open through tourist season.”
“Oh, do you think so?” Somehow, Aziraphale’s smile was both smug and snitty at once. “You won’t make it to February 14th. Evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction.”
He circled the angel, moving further into his personal space with each step. “Are you proposing some sort of wager with the devil?”
“Oh, good heavens.” Aziraphale fluttered his eyelashes coquettishly. (Crowley stood firm on the descriptor ‘coquettishly’.) “I’m not taking the bus all the way down here every time you rope in an innocent bystander.”
Crowley made shooing motions with his hands. “I know all about your opposition to Valentine’s Day presents. You don’t need to remind me.”
Aziraphale gasped as if he were the one with the moral high ground. Which … eh, maybe, but not on the subject of gift exchanges, at least. “Well! That’s just … that’s just dandy. Let me know when you lose interest in this dog and pony show. You know where to find me.”
“Sorry, we’re closed!” Crowley cried in his best shopkeeper voice.
With a final, flustered, and slightly adorable huff, Aziraphale vacated the premises, taking warmth and the smell of freshly baked croissants with him. Just fine with Crowley. All the better to be left alone to ply his cursed wares.
Still, it was unusual for Aziraphale to give up so easily when there were wiles to be thwarted, especially wiles this, uh, wily. He’d have to be on his toes for an offensive from the angel. After 6000 years of playing this game, Crowley knew it wasn’t like Aziraphale to pull out early, or suffer from premature withdrawal, if you like. And Crowley would, very much, like.
By the next afternoon, Crowley hadn’t had another customer, and he was bored beyond belief. He was about to start hawking cursed (pronounced with a heavy emphasis on the second syllable) items in the tube station when the sassy brunette sauntered in. Her eyes were bright and merry, and her pink lacquered lips curled in a pert smile to reveal flawless teeth. It was hard to believe this lady needed help in the romance department, but maybe she was amusingly particular. He didn’t meet a lot of people with high standards in his line of work.
Her dancing eyes examined and rejected almost every item in the store before she approached the counter. “Excuse me.”
“May I help you?” he drawled, instinctively reaching for his poshest, upper class twit accent.
“Mmm.” The tip of her tongue touched her upper lip for a fraction of a second, begging the question of how that dark pink lipstick tasted. She was quite the budding talent, hardly needed any help from cursed love objects. “I’m looking for something both old and unique for my lover.”
Crowley leaned over the counter. “Is your lover also old and unique?”
Her laugh tinkled like the upper register keys of a grand piano, as if he’d said something clever. “His family is quite, quite old. And when he wants something,” and here she gave him a flirtatious side eye, “he goes right out and gets it for himself.”
“Just a regular go getter, I expect.” He didn’t like this woman, he realized, and he didn’t like her old-family, old-money lover, even though he’d never meet him. Well, that just made the process easier.
She walked her fingers across the counter, leaving off as she reached his chest. “I need this present to be beyond unique. I need it to exceed expectations. Like me.”
Ah, a garden variety narcissist then. “Obviously it has to be an item that reminds him of you and all your best attributes,” he said, turning slowly, thinking it through.
She sighed. “You’re not going to suggest a sex toy, are you? I’m trying to impress his family.”
“Have you considered a rare book?” he said, and almost bit his tongue. What had possessed him to suggest such a thing?
She tilted her head. “He does like to think of himself as intelligent, my paramour. That’s not a terrible idea.”
“Try A.Z. Fell Bookseller in Soho,” he said.
She hummed noncommittally and meandered through the aisles while he took apart his self-sabotage. Why send her to Aziraphale as if she could be redeemed? Just look at her, swinging her hips seductively, reddish curls rippling down her back, as she schemed to manipulate her intelligent, perfectly pedigreed angel … Ah, he was over-identifying. He needed to stop that immediately.
“How about an art piece?” He led her to one of the rickety display tables and pointed out an art deco table lamp. “Bronze base, leaded glass shade. Shows off your knowledge and admiration of Tiffany’s work.” He turned it over and examined the base. “Psh, this actually is a Tiffany. Imagine that.”
“How much?” she said.
“Two hundred pounds,” he said, afraid to go lower. The lamp was probably worth four times that, and it had just been transported from an auction house without any of its employees being the wiser. Fortunately, stolen lamps so rarely made the headlines.
And the lamp was the perfect cursed gift for the sucker she was using for her upward mobility. He’d soon realize that, like his girlfriend, the lamp gave off light but absolutely no warmth.
The woman’s smile became brittle and covetous. “One fifty,” she said quickly.
He kept up the ruse by negotiating her to one seventy-five before wrapping the lamp in several layers of red and pink tissue paper and boxing it for her. Curse accomplished, and without any more projecting his fancies onto his customers. It wasn’t any of his business if someone fell in love with a selfish, conceited narcissist with no redeeming qualities. Nope, none of his business at all. To each their own. Someday, the unseen boyfriend would learn and move on, dumping his handsome and stylish leech of a partner. It was only logical. Self-preservation at work.
Before he could settle into a full-throttled sulking session, the bell above the door rang to announce another customer. This one was younger than the others, barely out of adolescence, and he marched directly to Crowley, mindless of the merchandise he caused to wobble in his wake.
“I need you to pick me out a present for my girlfriend,” he said, and Crowley noted the lack of a request. He waited for more information.
After a few seconds of silence, the punk barked at him. “Well?”
“Excuse me, sir.” This occasion called for a less refined accent, so he let a bit of hiss slip into his words. “What are your girlfriend’ss interestss?”
“Me, obviously.” The young man laughed, and Crowley smiled in return, his fangs glinting in the dim light. That sobered the punk just a touch. “I don’t know, does it matter?”
The young man was blond with cold green eyes, and Crowley, who was an excellent judge of these things, decided his shoes were Italian, his tailored jeans were American, his peacoat was French, and his attitude was Sociopathic. Cursing him and his girlfriend seemed like an unnecessary complication. Then again, he could always cheat the wanker out of some money to stay in practice, maybe steal his credit card number and buy himself a loofah to scrub this memory out his system.
“You want something expensive,” Crowley said, as that didn’t exactly take an occult genius. Such a waste of his talents.
“It should certainly look expensive. She might tell other people I bought it for her. What’s the most expensive thing you have in this—” he looked around with a sneer – “shop?”
“An antique atlas. Ahhh, except I just sent it out for binding. It’s at A.Z. Fell in Soho, let me give you their business card.”
He produced Aziraphale’s business card, an impressive feat considering Aziraphale didn’t own any business cards as he felt they gave people ideas. He wasn’t entirely sure what his motivation was for foisting this prick on the angel, other than to be annoying. If anyone deserved a kick in the arse on Valentine’s Day, it was the Principality “Never Bought Crowley a Valentine’s Gift in Return” Aziraphale. Sort of a long nickname for him, but accurate, very accurate. Let Aziraphale deal with unpleasant psychos for a change.
With a gasp, he realized how the angel was thwarting him. He was sending these bloody awful people into his shop!
“I don’t want a book,” the tosser said. “Don’t you sell anything women care about? Or is everything here for fruits?”
Oh, he owed Aziraphale big time for this one.
“Get out of my shop, you horrible monster,” he said as he grabbed the punk’s arm and propelled him towards the door. “Wait, take a cursed object as you go. No, you know what, just take the curse. May you get what you deserve!”
“Why, you—” But Crowley slammed the door, cutting off the rest of the entitled tirade. And locked it. That was enough business for the day. Time to figure out how to repay his old friend Aziraphale.
He paced the narrow aisles, fuming. How dare Aziraphale try to make him miserable? Just because he was using his imagination, hustling his hustle, cursing a few people who richly deserved it.
Although Aziraphale knew his darkest secret: he preferred cursing people who richly deserved it. What if that was why the angel was sending such scumbags to cross his path? Come to think of it, the blond Caligula he’d just evicted was exactly the type of wet end he usually enjoyed damning to Hell. What had infuriated him about the encounter was how the swaggering git was so pleased with himself for buying a Valentine’s Day gift. It didn’t matter to him how his girlfriend felt about it, or what she might want for Valentine’s Day, oh no, all that mattered was that she knew he spent money buying her something fine that he could hold over her head year after year after year, look what I got you, did you appreciate it enough, did you ever get me anything as expensive, because it’s all about me, me, me.
He was over-identifying again. As a demon with imagination, he should be the world’s worst nightmare. Instead, he managed to be his own worst nightmare. The only truly cursed thing in the whole damned shop was himself.
That was enough – time to close up shop. Aziraphale had been right. He couldn’t do this until the 14th. He knew why the angel was sending him these socially maladjusted bozos. Aziraphale knew Crowley would identify with them. This was his way of telling Crowley to back off, that Crowley was selfish to keep trying to tempt him with chocolates and flowers and wine. None of those gifts had been given without ulterior motive. He was just like his last two customers: it was all about what he wanted, not about what Aziraphale wanted. All the angel wanted was to be left alone to read. He certainly didn’t want to be bombarded once a decade on Valentine’s Day with paraphernalia with strings attached from a demon. The best thing to do now, Crowley decided, was to take a nap and wake up sometime in June, when Valentine’s Day was long forgotten.
Magicking the shop out of existence took a bit of time, especially with Crowley’s mind circling the drain instead of paying attention to his work. He was in the Bentley driving back to his flat when his mobile phone rang. He was incredibly proud of his phone; it was the absolute pinnacle of 1994’s cellular phone technology in that it flipped open and closed. He often gave out his phone number so that his mobile would ring when he was in pubs, and he could flip it open and start talking loudly. Unfortunately, there was nobody to hear his phone ring this time, but he found that sitting at a traffic light until it turned green and then waiting a minute more while talking on his phone achieved the desired effect. He found a red light, put the Bentley in park, and flipped open the phone. Flip. So cool.
“Anthony J. Crowley.” The light turned green, and the horn symphony began.
“Is that you, Crowley? You’d better answer your telephone.”
“I’m on the phone, angel.” He gave out a rude gesture with his free hand, waited until the light turned yellow, and gunned the accelerator. He really needed to give Aziraphale a ride while he was using the mobile phone. That would be a treat.
“I’m in terrible trouble, and I’m blaming you.”
Shit, what had Aziraphale gotten into now? He flipped the phone closed – so cool – and sped to Soho in record time.
The trouble in the bookshop was not immediately apparent. Aziraphale was shelving books and twitching a little, like a cat after a bath. His pretty blue eyes were dark and his brow furrowed. As a fluent expert in Aziraphale’s body language, Crowley was picking up annoyance instead of imminent peril. He threw himself into the nearest armchair and hooked a leg over the side so he could swing it back and forth, a rhythmic motion that was sometimes successful in distracting Aziraphale’s attention.
Not today, though. “What is the meaning of sending those, those absolute rotters into my shop?” Aziraphale said, fixing Crowley with a look that ranked him somewhere below a silverfish infestation.
“I sent them?” He made a dismissive noise. “You sent them first.”
“I did no such thing.” Aziraphale straightened his waistcoat. “I washed my hands of your devilish enterprise. I’m sure it already backfired on you, or you wouldn’t be here darkening my doorstep.”
“But – grr –" Why did the angel insist on making everything so blessed complicated? He jumped up and paced around Aziraphale, staring him down. “You called me. You said you were in terrible trouble.”
“Yes, well.” Aziraphale broke eye contact and started pouting. “I couldn’t get that blond bully to stop touching things. He gave me a business card. A business card, Crowley, with my shop’s name on it.”
“Oh, and that constitutes terrible trouble, does it?”
Aziraphale clutched his hands together. “I see you’re not going to take this seriously. Just admit you were wrong, and I’ll forget all about it.”
“What!” Crowley studied Aziraphale’s ramrod straight posture and shockingly sudden lack of pouting. His admittedly very specialized expertise advised him that the angel wasn’t putting him on but was dead serious.
“I didn’t send those people to your shop.”
“Then where did the business card come from, hmm?”
He threw up his hands. “Alright, I may have sort of sent them in this direction, but only because you did it first.”
“That’s not even the issue,” Aziraphale snapped. “But since you won’t let it go, allow me to point out that I obviously didn’t send anyone into a cursed shop. I’m an angel.”
“Really? I never would’ve guessed.”
Aziraphale fixed him with one of those stares again, the one that suggested he was angry enough to summon his true form and only hadn’t done so out of habit. Usually, when he wound Aziraphale up, a beautiful pink blush would suffuse his cheeks, and his motions would quicken as if he were coming alive. This Aziraphale was pale and motionless as a marble statue. He was furious.
“C’mon, angel, my shop didn’t annoy you this much,” Crowley said. He was almost sure it didn’t sound like pleading.
Maybe the boy had really frightened him. If that were the case, Crowley would enjoy tracking him down. “You want me to find the future Nicolae Ceaușescu and make his day miserable?”
“I want you to admit you were wrong.”
“About playing shopkeeper? Fine, I was wrong. It’s even more tedious than you manage to make it look.” Crowley was practically sure this wasn’t what had Aziraphale turning to ice, but he had to start somewhere.
“You don’t even know what you’re apologizing for.”
“Oi, I never apologized.” He raised an eyebrow to convey his annoyance. “I have professional standards, I’ll have you know.”
Aziraphale sighed, and all the fight went out of him. He deflated, no longer looking at Crowley but focusing on the closest dusty bookshelf, his eyes swimming with unshed tears. Out of all the expressions in his internal Aziraphale catalogue, this was his least favorite. He hated it. It invariably made him grind his teeth until they were about to break, and then babble nonsense to try to make it go away.
And here he was, already opening his mouth with nothing to say. “So … so … I mean, you have to … uh, agree …”
“You said I never got you a Valentine’s Day present,” Aziraphale whined. “I got you the first Valentine gift, and you forgot.”
Crowley was stunned into immobility. When he finally recovered the ability to speak, he said, “I would never forget something like that.”
“You did. We were at the Coliseum when Valentinus was executed.” The pout was back, his lips in a lovely little knot. “Emperor Claudius Gothicus was persecuting the Christians. I bought you an oil lamp with a painting of your favorite gladiator.”
Uh-oh. This was sounding familiar. He remembered that lamp. “Flamma. The Syrian Flame. Were there, um, lions in the arena that day?”
“Oh, yes, of course, your side was always big on setting the lions on the Christians,” Aziraphale said testily. Testy was good, he could work his way up from testy.
“It was Claudius Gothicus who made the lions do his dirty work,” he muttered. “I thought the cats were rather sweet myself.”
“You. Forgot.” Aziraphale sniffled, and the sound made Crowley want to bury his head under his crossed arms as if they were coils.
“But I loved that lamp. I did, I did!” Aziraphale was shaking his head. “I kept it for over a thousand years. I wish I still had it, but—”
But Dagon had been on his ass about his supposed emotional weaknesses, his vulnerabilities, his habit of over-identifying with things, and he’d been forced to purge his favorite possessions. That punishment had hurt. It had bothered him so much, he’d put everything he’d lost out of his mind as a coping strategy. You couldn’t go around dwelling on Hell’s punishments, not if you wanted to stay awake for more than a few weeks a year.
But he would’ve risked keeping it if he’d realized the lamp was the world’s first ever Valentine’s Day present.
“You know how it is.” He glanced at the floor significantly. “I mean, whoever heard of a demon with sentimental attachments to souvenirs?”
Aziraphale sighed again. “Of course. Never mind me.”
He returned to perusing his bookshelf. Crowley struggled for something else to say to prolong his visit.
“So, this Valentinus?” he said. “Was he the one with the superiority complex who performed illegal marriages for men trying to dodge the draft?”
“That’s the one,” Aziraphale confirmed. “He was quite full of himself, wasn’t he? I never was sure what the fuss was about. Imagine if we celebrated a day for everyone the Romans killed. We’d have to add another month to the calendar.”
“How’d he get to be a saint anyway? I didn’t think your sort were in favor of illegal marriages.”
Aziraphale shrugged, his mood improving only slowly by Crowley letting him enter lecturer mode. “He was beaten with clubs in the Coliseum and then beheaded.”
Crowley smiled. “So even if you were a right tosser in life, you can be a saint if you died a publicly gruesome death. Got it.”
“Honestly, Crowley, I didn’t get a vote. If I could choose who was favored by Heaven—”
He shut his mouth abruptly and turned back to his books. Probably just as well.
Crowley stood and swung his car keys in an arc. “sowhatareyoudoingforvalentinesday?” he spit out before he could stop himself.
Aziraphale’s mood finally lightened. “Oh, I was planning to reread Canterbury Tales. You know, it was Chaucer who started this whole saint of courtly love nonsense.”
He could picture it now: Aziraphale eating Belgian chocolates and reading in peace and quiet, with absolutely no reminders of his obligations. And he decided not to disturb it for the world.
“Right. Chaucer,” he said. “He’s definitely one of ours.”
“Without a doubt,” Aziraphale said. “And you?”
It took Crowley a few moments to work out what he was being asked. “Hmm, well, I think I’m going to look into renting one of those storage thingies. Keep a few, er, artifacts safe.”
“Capital idea, my dear. Mind how you go.”
“You know what I always wondered?” He couldn’t resist. He really was his own worst enemy. “Why a lamp? When you brought it to me, were you carrying a torch for me?”
Aziraphale’s gaze shot upwards. “Crowley …” he warned.
“So, angel, does this make me an old flame?”
“You know what,” Aziraphale said crisply. “How about I’ll stay out of your shop and you stay out of mine?”
He felt a little giddy on the way back to the car. The first ever Valentine’s Day gift, given to him, of all people. He shouldn’t have teased the angel so much for making such a gesture. Aziraphale was really too good for Heaven, and certainly too good for the likes of him.
He was barely behind the Bentley’s steering wheel when his mobile rang. He flipped it open, hoping that someone was watching. “Anthony J. Crowley.”
“Hello? I’m hoping you can help me. I need the perfect Valentine’s gift for my Brienne, and I hear you’re the bloke to call. She doesn’t think I’m very bright, and I don’t think she has a romantic bone in her body, so I have no—”
“Where did you get this number?” Crowley asked.
The man on the phone cleared his throat. “Ah. SoHo. Strange chap in a bookshop gave me your business card. So, as I was saying—”
“Let me call you back when I get to a green light.”
He hung up and dialed Aziraphale’s number. The angel answered right away. “A.Z. Fell and Company, we’re currently closed.”
“You’re an absolute bastard, you know that?” he said, and flipped the phone closed.
Flip. So cool.