The brace of ducks in St. James' Park lake were finishing up their third mid-afternoon circumnavigation of their namesake island when they noticed a man sitting down on a bench on the southern mainland.
They paused and regarded him.
Usually the best duck-feeders were young children, who would sometimes throw their entire lunch into the lake. Little old ladies were nearly as good as the children, and, as an added bonus, the ladies would sweet-talk them. Furtive men in trench-coats and sunglasses were also high on their list, especially the Russians with their chewy, black bread.
This man, while not a child or little old lady—or a Russian—was one of their 'regulars' and usually brought an excellent brioche. He was also not quite a man, but he was man-shaped and since he brought good bread the ducks accepted him as such. They paddled over, reaching the shoreline just as another man-shaped person joined him.
"You know, there are plenty of other places in London where we can meet," Crowley said as he slid onto the worn, wooden park bench. He brushed a crisp leaf from his cashmere overcoat and then accepted a piece of bread from Aziraphale.
"I know, but I quite like this place," the angel replied, frowning when Crowley lobbed a piece at a duck, which squawked and capsized in its effort to dodge the crusty missile. "Toss it to them, not at them," he said. "Really, must you?"
Aziraphale sighed. "Well, focus your habit elsewhere and leave the poor ducks alone. They remember this sort of thing, you know, and then they'll associate me with you."
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Crowley decided there was no point in annoying his companion, so he settled for putting all the traffic lights out of sync along the Mall and Constitution Hill. Smiling at the cacophony of honking that erupted from the other side of the park, Crowley tossed another—much smaller—piece into the lake, and this time it landed with a tiny splash a few centimeters from the ducks. A few brave ones went after the bread, while his initial victim gave him a cross look, tossed his beak and headed back toward the island.
"Well, it's supposed to be a bad thing. Isn't it?"
Crowley shrugged. "Who knows, any more?" He threw another piece of bread. "I forgot to get a coffee," he said, and then he peered up the lakeside path. "Any kiosks nearby?"
Aziraphale nudged him with an elbow and gestured in the opposite direction. "They put a new one in over there, by Storey's Gate. See it? Quite nice, really; the woman there makes a lovely cocoa and she even makes that fancy-pants coffee you like. Express-thingy."
Crowley brightened. "She makes espresso?" He hadn't had a decent espresso in weeks.
"That's it! Yes."
"Fancy a cuppa?" Crowley reached inside his overcoat and retrieved his wallet. "My treat. We could even have a few biscuits." He held out some notes. "Two tenners should do the trick. Get me a double. And a couple of Bourbons."
"Ooh, they have a brilliant shortbread," Aziraphale said. He eyed the bills in Crowley's hand. "Those are…er…real, right?"
Crowley made an impatient noise. "Yes, they're real."
"All right, then." Aziraphale took the money and rose from the bench. "I'll just be a minute. Do try to behave yourself."
The angel stuffed the notes into one of his overcoat pockets and set off down the footpath that led to the refreshment kiosk. While he walked he re-set the traffic lights back to normal. See a wile, thwart it, he thought. Even if it was just traffic lights.
There was someone already being waited on when Aziraphale reached the tiny structure, so while he waited he admired the building's pleasing mix of warm wood and fieldstone. Its warm, woodsy appearance was another reason why he liked to frequent this spot over the other kiosks in the park. The first—and most important—reason was that most of the biscuits and cakes sold there were home-baked by the proprietress herself. And it had been centuries since Aziraphale had encountered someone who made a better cup of hot cocoa than he did.
"Why, hello there, dearie!" The woman closed the till and gave him a bright smile. "Haven't seen you for a few weeks." She peeked around him to glance over at the bench where Crowley sat. "I see you have company today. Coffee, tea, or cocoa for you boys?"
Aziraphale smiled back. Yes, she was a bit chatty, but her food more than made up for it. "Cocoa for me, please, and my friend would like an"—he quickly replayed his conversation with Crowley—"espresso. A 'double' one? He also wants a few Bourbon biscuits. I shall have your most excellent shortbread."
The woman looked up from her order pad and shook her head. "Sorry, love, I'm clean out of my shortbread."
For one brief, mad moment, Aziraphale contemplated committing a small miracle, but he managed to reconsider the notion. Barely, though, because he had been mentally eating that shortbread since he'd gotten up off the bench.
"There, there, it's not so bad—look what I made last night!" With a small flourish, she waved a plump hand at a glass-covered cake dish that sat next to the till.
Aziraphale leaned over and regarded the offering. "Are they—?"
"Jammie Dodgers," the woman announced proudly. "My own jam, too."
"I'll take a half dozen."
"That's the spirit!" she said, and she lifted the glass lid and deftly removed six of them, as well as a seventh. "I'll put an extra one in for your young man to try, although he does seem more of a Bourbon fellow." She put them in a small paper sack, and then reached into the front case to retrieve a few chocolate cream biscuits.
"Thank you," Aziraphale said, and then he frowned. "My what?"
"Your young man. I've seen him sit there with you before—I think it's sweet that you two meet in the park now and then for a little rendezvous." She set the second paper sack on the counter, and then she bustled over to the coffee grinder, poured in beans and turned it on. The air around them was soon filled with the scent of freshly-ground coffee, and she started preparing Aziraphale's cocoa while the grinder whirred behind her.
Aziraphale blinked. "Rendezvous? But we—"
"And he feeds the ducks with you, too!" she said over the noise of the grinder. She flicked off the switch, filled and tamped the filter, and then starting brewing the espresso. While the machine gurgled and hissed, she poured the cocoa into a cup and spooned a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. "He's quite the looker, he is. Like a movie star, wearing those dark sunglasses all the time." The machine finished with a steamy cough, and she poured the frothy espresso into another, smaller cup.
"No wonder you like your sweets, if you have to keep up with him." The woman winked at him and touched the side of her nose. "Bit of a devil, I'd wager."
Aziraphale felt heat rising in his cheeks. "My dear woman—"
"Here you go, dear." She put the cups in a cardboard carrier, added napkins and spoons, and put the sacks in the empty spots. "That'll be fourteen pounds eighty."
The angel handed over the money with a slightly trembling hand, and then he stammered his thanks and took the carrier.
"Now, next time have that young man of yours fetch your treats," she said. "I'll tell him what a fine catch you are, and that he should spoil you more." Another wink.
Aziraphale stuffed the change into the brightly decorated 'TIPS' jar and fled the scene.
Crowley's idea of behaving himself while he waited was to bring the ducks to a state of near-war. With strategically aimed launches of bread, he soon had them squawking and squabbling with each other over the treats. He was vaguely aware that the traffic lights had returned to normal, but he decided to let Aziraphale score a minor Thwart—he would just jam all the lifts within a two kilometer radius before he left the park.
He looked up when he heard the crunch of leaves behind him, and he watched Aziraphale walk around to the front of the bench. He noticed two things almost immediately: one, that Aziraphale seemed flustered, something Crowley had not witnessed since the ill-fated Birthday Party Incident; and two, the angel was blushing.
Crowley couldn't remember the last time Aziraphale sported such a bright shade of pink.
"Here, I'll take that," he said as Aziraphale sat down. Crowley set his cup next to him on the bench, and then he peeked into the bags to see which biscuits were his. "Jammie Dodgers?"
"She was out of shortbread, and these are home-baked, with her own jam. She put in one for you to try."
Something seemed off in Aziraphale's voice, and the angel was looking at him with an odd expression on his face. Crowley shrugged it off, though, and took his bag of Bourbons. "I'll stick with these for now," he said, and then he stirred his espresso with one of the little plastic spoons and took a good-sized sip. His eyelids slid shut as the strong, syrupy liquid swept across his tongue. "Mmmm. You weren't kidding, this is fantassssstic." He munched on a biscuit and glanced over at Aziraphale, who was staring at his cocoa. "What's the matter?"
"She thought you were my 'young man.'"
Crowley grinned. "Well, I do like to think I look young. You could look younger, too, if you wanted to. Just a change in tailor would make a world—""
"Not a young man, my young man. She's apparently seen us sitting here before, and has come to an unfortunate conclusion."
"That we're a couple." Aziraphale scowled at his cocoa. "She thinks it's sweet that we feed the ducks together, and that this"—he flapped a hand at them, the bench and the lake—"is an afternoon 'rendezvous.'"
Crowley laughed, narrowly avoiding spewing espresso. "We're having a rendezvous? You and I?"
"Yes," the angel replied darkly. "She complimented me on you being a 'looker', and implied that I needed sweets to 'keep up with you.'"
Crowley leaned back and rested a cashmere-clad elbow on the top edge of the bench. "I'm flattered," he said, his smile widening, "and you would definitely need your sweets—and some vitamins—to keep up with me." He tossed back the rest of his coffee and ate his other biscuit.
"You're not helping."
"Oh, lighten up and drink your cocoa," Crowley said, and he twisted around to give a wave at the kiosk. The woman smiled and waved back.
"Will you stop it? Don't give her any more ideas than she already has." Aziraphale bit into his biscuit with far more force than was necessary.
"She thinks I'm a kept man," Crowley said, unable to keep the grin off his face. "I suppose that makes you my sugar-daddy."
"Don't be vulgar." Aziraphale was pouting now.
There were tiny crumbs of shortcake on Aziraphale's lower lip. A sudden, lunatic impulse flitted through Crowley's mind, and he thought, Oh hell, why not? He leaned over and kissed Aziraphale on the mouth, lingering a bit and letting his tongue flick over Aziraphale's lips. He tasted shortcake and jam, and, up this close, he caught the angel's scent—old books, Merino wool, and underneath it all, the sweetness of light and sky.
Aziraphale jerked back and blinked rapidly. "W-why on earth did you do that?"
"Might as well give our barista a good show," Crowley replied, unrepentant. It was rather delightful, winding the angel up this way. Much more entertaining than messing about with traffic lights, lifts and inciting civil war between waterfowl. "That jam tasted good…I think I'll have my mine after all." He fished in Aziraphale's bag for a biscuit.
"Why, I never," Aziraphale huffed.
"Oh, I imagine you haven't," said Crowley. "Not so bad, was it?"
"Er." The angel gave his attention to the cup in his hands. "It…wasn't horrible."
Crowley watched him drink his cocoa. Really, if one was going to have a snog, why not with someone you'd known for over six thousand years? Someone who knew what you really looked like, behind the sunglasses and beneath the man-shape, and still liked you anyway?
Well, mostly liked, he supposed. Tolerated, at the very least.
Aziraphale lowered his cup, and Crowley noticed a few drops of chocolatey foam clinging to the angel's upper lip.
Crowley licked his lips, and he wondered what that tasted like.