It wasn’t raining yet, but the air was heavy with the promise that it would be thundering by dinner. Edward sweated beneath his heavy coat, and tugged uselessly at the stiff collar of his shirt. Not for the first time, he lamented that they always had to meet outside – what he wouldn’t give for a nice café somewhere, or a museum. Anywhere, really, that would be less humid than this.
He turned a page in the book he wasn’t reading, and took a sip from his coffee. The steam billowed across his glasses for a second, and by the time they cleared, there was a man sitting one bench over.
Edward recognised him, of course – St James’ was one of several meeting spots he and his… counterparts frequented. This man, though not quite a regular, had been there on several occasions, and his getup was fairly memorable. As tactics went, it was a fairly daring choice, but one that Edward admired nonetheless.
From a very young age, Edward had been astoundingly forgettable. He’d heard every variation of ‘just one of those faces’ available in the English language, as well as a few others besides. He was of average height, with mousy hair that was just starting to thin out in places. He had never been particularly athletic, or overweight, or underweight. There was nothing about him that would draw the eye of someone in a crowd – it was even odds if he would draw the eye of someone when utterly alone. It was a quality highly favoured in certain professions, and something he had honed to fine art over the years. Bland clothes, a tired slump to his shoulders, the perfect amount of eye contact with strangers that happened to glance his way – not that there were many of those. He was very, very good at being invisible.
The man on the bench went in completely the other direction.
The first thing Edward remembered noting about him was the vibrant red of his hair; he still hadn’t worked out if it was a wig or just dye, but it used to make people double-take upon seeing it. These days, of course, bright hair was very much the in thing, and in London besides, it rarely drew more than a curious tilt of the head. The sunglasses, on a bright day, he never would have looked twice at; but wearing them no matter the weather meant they stuck in people’s minds. The ‘tattoo’ on his face was very distinctive – enough to make you forget anything you might have otherwise noted about the man’s features.
He was certainly very dedicated to his façade, Edward thought, but it was a gimmick that worked. Remove the aging-rocker clothes, bright hair, tattoo, and sunglasses, and Edward could quite easily pass this man on the street every day and never know he was the same person.
Choosing very distinguishing and easily changed features was certainly one way to escape notice the rest of the time.
Edward took another sip of his coffee, and turned another page. He watched the man out of the corner of his eye – another talent he’d spent far too long working on. It wasn’t paranoia, not like the first few times. He knew now that he was invisible to the man – had even bumped into him once, and hadn’t even gotten a shrug for his trouble.
He was just curious.
The man – Crowley, Edward had heard him called, although he wasn’t green enough to assume it was the man’s real name – sprawled across half of his own bench, scrolling disinterestedly through his phone. The glasses meant that his gaze could be anywhere, but the little smile that crooked the corner of his mouth every now and then suggested that he was actually reading something. Or a very good actor; but Edward doubted that. Even the very best struggled to remember there was always the chance of someone watching, and keep up little tics like that. And speaking of – Edward turned his page.
Edward and Molly had tried to find Crowley, once, and as they’d suspected there didn’t seem to be any evidence that it was the man’s real name – oh, there were plenty of Crowley’s about, of course. There were even some promising leads scattered throughout London, but all of the accounts were far too old to belong to this man, or far too ostentatious to be anything other than thinly disguised bait. They’d joked for a while, wondering if anyone trying to find the man had ever actually fallen for the flat in Mayfair under the name ‘Anthony J Crowley’ – as though anyone with an ounce of sense would pick the moniker of Britain’s infamous criminal-turned-spy to actually buy a place with.
But of the man himself, they’d found distressingly little. Not that they’d had any more luck with Angel, Edward thought sourly, as the figure appeared at the end of the path. Not even which organisations they worked for.
Angel was as bizarre as Crowley; they made a strikingly mismatched pair.
Crowley abandoned all pretence of interest in his phone, pushing himself languidly to his feet and sauntering down to meet Angel. Angel himself looked exactly as he always did – hair bleached so blond it could be white in the right light, and clothes that could have been lifted straight from a Dickens adaptation. He didn’t bother with glasses, or ‘tattoos’ like Crowley, but Edward imagined that he too would be completely unrecognisable in regular clothes, and with dark hair and perhaps a beard or something.
“Angel,” Crowley greeted. He tipped his head to the canvas bag over Angel’s arm. “Been shopping?”
“I rather thought we could feed the ducks,” Angel said, and smiled so wide his eyes crinkled shut. He had a smile that would have begged you to trust it, except that would be beneath its dignity. If Edward hadn’t spent so many years learning not to trust people, he might have been tempted.
Feeding the ducks was a good tactic, though, and one that Edward himself had used a few times. Facing the water made it harder for any observers to read their lips, and the clamour of the ducks themselves was usually enough to drown out any muttered conversations. Not that these two ever muttered. Not that they needed to.
Years of seeing them on-and-off, and neither Edward nor Molly – nor anyone else they’d surreptitiously asked – had managed to crack whatever code these two used. Nothing ever seemed to line up with any events of a national or international scale, and none of the information that Edward was privy to could be connected to their conversations in even the loosest sense. One moment they were referencing all the places they had supposedly been, the next talking about monks and Satanists, and in the same breath grumbling about the quality of modern shoes.
Crowley glanced in the bag and snorted.
“Bread, Angel? You know, I read that bread’s bad for ducks.” He sounded teasing, as he so often did, and Edward wasn’t sure if it was part of the code, or a genuine conversation. A connection.
“Not this bread,” Angel said conspiratorially. Ah. Code, then. Crowley shook his head despairingly.
“How’s the shop?” He asked at length. They often referenced a shop – Edward suspected it to be some sort of drop location. Angel huffed a little, and aggressively lobbed a crust to a passing signet.
“I still can’t shift those blasted Just William books,” he grumbled. “I can’t help but think they’re multiplying – I’ve had to move three Lorca’s to the back storeroom just this week!”
“Where the customers can’t see them? How awful for you.”
Angel looked quite offended. Edward wondered just what it was he was trying to ‘shift’ – something to do with the royal family? Just ‘William’?
“My dear boy,” he started heatedly, until he saw Crowley’s shoulders shaking. “Oh yes, I’m sure it’s terribly amusing for you. You don’t have the antichrist phoning every other day to ask how many people have bought the books he left for you! What am I supposed to tell him, Crowley?”
It wasn’t the first time he’d heard them talk about someone they referred to as the ‘antichrist’, but before it had always sounded far more theoretical rather than a person they actually interacted with on a regular basis. Interesting.
“You could always tell him the truth,” Crowley said. “That you haven’t willingly parted with a book since 1732, and you don’t intend to start now.”
Edward didn’t even know where to begin with that one. There was a pause as they both threw some more bread.
“You remember that?” Angel asked finally, his voice terribly soft.
Edward found himself holding his breath.
“Of course,” Crowley said tightly, his shoulders creeping up towards his ears. “Was a good book.”
“I would’ve given it to you.” Angel sounded chiding, and fond. Fonder than Edward might have expected. Or maybe he was reading too much into things. It was something of a bad habit of his, he’d been told. “You didn’t have to pay for it.”
Crowley waved a dismissive hand.
“Wanted to be the first person to buy something from you,” he said.
“If it were up to me, you’d be the only person to buy something from me,” Angel said lightly. That was slightly more solid ground for Edward – confirmation of an exclusive alliance.
“Ngk,” said Crowley. “Angel, you can’t just say things like that -”
“Why ever not?” Angel shook out the last crumbs from the bag. “You know as well as I do that it doesn’t matter what we say anymore. They aren’t listening. They can’t listen. Or watch. Or interfere. Too much like ‘mucking around’, as Adam would say.” Oh, now all of that did sound interesting. Maybe Molly would be able to make some sort of sense of it –
“For now,” Crowley said sullenly – but he’d relaxed, Edward noted with interest.
“Dear boy, that barely stopped us before,” Angel said, holding out an arm. Crowley took it apparently without looking, and with every appearance of an old habit. Edward felt his eyebrows creep up, just ever so slightly.
They shot up to his hairline when Crowley stooped to press a kiss to Angel’s cheek.
“There’s a new patisserie a couple streets over,” Crowley said. “My treat.”
“You’re too good to me,” Angel said, and laughed when Crowley hissed between his teeth. They started walking his way, and Edward kept his gaze ostensibly turned towards his book as they approached.
“Say it a little louder next time, I think there’s some MI6 feller over there that didn’t hear you,” Crowley said sourly, gesturing to the other side of the pond. Edward glanced over despite himself, and sure enough, there was Gerald, waiting for his own point of contact. Edward quickly looked back down, and hoped they hadn’t spotted his slip-up, absorbed in each other as they were.
The words on the page blurred a little – he turned it, realising suddenly that he’d neglected to continue ‘reading’ as he listened to them. It was such a basic error that he could have kicked himself.
“What a shame that would be,” he said. “Other people finding out you’re capable of a moment of kindness here and there.”
“You really can be a bastard, Aziraphale,” Crowley hissed, but he was smiling.
Angel – Aziraphale? Surely that couldn’t be his real name? But then, was Angel a codename, or -? Surely it couldn’t simply be a term of endearment? Edward blinked hurriedly as a hundred other conversations started to shift in his mind, to take on new meanings. He couldn’t have been this wrong for so long, he was sure. It would be too humiliating, if nothing else. But…
He needed to talk to Molly about this. She’d see something he couldn’t, he was certain.
Edward lifted his eyes just as they reached him, and before he could stop to consider the action, found himself nodding at them as they walked past. Aziraphale didn’t seem to notice, caught up in debating what he’d order, apparently without requiring any sort of input from his partner. Crowley must have seen him, though, and tipped his head in return. They continued past, oblivious to the way Edward had started to sweat at even the thought of drawing attention to himself. No matter how casually.
He tried to take a few deep breaths, and compose himself. He flicked his eyes to his watch – his contact was a couple of minutes late, but that wasn’t unusual for her. He tried to think of the USB stick sat at the bottom of her iced mocha in its little plastic bag, or of the art exhibition he wanted to see next week but hadn’t managed to get tickets for, or his sister’s upcoming wedding. Anything to distract himself.
By the time she arrived and slid onto the bench next to him, he’d got himself under control.
“Thanks for the coffee,” she said, and handed him a folded five-pound note. There would be something folded up inside, but this wasn’t a good place to look. He handed her the other cup easily, and just like that, their interaction was over. He pretended to read his book for a while, and she did the sudoku in her paper. In a minute, he would get up to leave, and wouldn’t see her again until the next time one of them had something relevant.
“Did you see Crowley and Angel holding hands on their way out?” She asked suddenly. He paused in getting up, coffee cup in one hand, book in the other, note tucked firmly in his breast pocket. In the distance, thunder started to rumble.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said finally, and left. There were some things, he reflected, you just didn't talk about where anyone could hear you.