In any sleight-of-hand tricks where one thing is replaced with another, better thing, there exists a crucial element to the success of the trick. Key utilization of this feature can make or break the trick, depending on the sharp eyes that might catch it in action.
In our card trick, we shall call this example, the Sleeve.
Two cards are on the table, and two need to leave it, but at least one of those cards is an extra. A third card is introduced at the same time this extra is removed, from the same place: the Sleeve.
In the card trick that is actually the operation of a delivery room baby-swapping scheme to bring about the end of times, this Sleeve is Crowley.
“What’s this?” Crowley asked, incredulous, as a nun tried to pass a basket back to him. “No, no, no, I was the delivery guy, I was not- I’m not getting rid of the extra, that’s ridiculous. Just...give it away, or something. Nuns do adoptions, don’t they?”
“I-I’m afraid they were insistent,” the nun said, forcing her basket into the demon’s stunned hands. “It has to be gone before anyone sees it, otherwise they’ll know something’s up.”
Crowley looked down into the basket he’d been passed. “This...this is that senator’s baby, then? The actual baby, not the…?”
“Not the antichrist,” the nun confirmed. “Nope, just a normal baby... and such a cute little one, too. Look at his chubby little cheeks.”
A highly reluctant glance into the bassinet revealed that, indeed, the baby had very round cheeks, even for a newborn.
“...What do I do with it?” Crowley asked weakly, eyes now locked on the wide blue ones staring up at him from a peaceful, angelic face.
“Nevermind,” Crowley said, quickly, straightening. “I’ve got it. I know what I’m doing. Obviously. Absolutely clear on what I’m meant to do here, so if you excuse me, I’ll just…take it away, now.”
He met the nun’s eyes, managed a jerky nod, and made his best attempt at a speedy yet dignified retreat.
Sleep was not necessary for celestial beings, but neither was eating, and that had never stopped Aziraphale from enjoying either. Sleep wasn’t that terribly interesting, by itself, but he liked pajamas rather a lot, and getting nice bedclothes and soft things to lay in could create a truly wonderful comfort experience. On nights he couldn’t be bothered to properly sleep, he would at least gather all these comforts in place and lay down to read a book or two to pass the night instead.
It was doing this that he was interrupted by loud crashing, as someone audibly forced their way into his bookshop.
Startled, Aziraphale set aside his book - a rather worn old romance he was very fond of - and tied the front of his dressing gown tight, stepping into slippers and easing his way down the stairs between his flat and the shop below.
Halfway down the stairs, Aziraphale paused, shoulders dropping down as he let out a heavy sigh of relief. “Crowley,” he breathed, starting back down the remaining stairs. “You are a menace, scared me half to death, here I thought some vagrant had-...”
Aziraphale stopped short at the foot of the stairs.
Crowley stood there, his usual cool composure vanished under the weight of a clear anxiety, holding a basket.
“I...don’t believe that is a picnic,” Aziraphale said, weakly, eyeing the basket. “What...what is it?”
Crowley seemed to be drawing very deep breaths, and he might have met Aziraphale’s gaze, underneath the sunglasses, but it was hidden. “It’s happening, angel.”
“No,” Aziraphale breathed. “Oh, no, it can’t-...Already? But-...” He blinked, stopping short, and dropped wide eyes down to the basket. “Oh, you’re not telling me that’s-...!”
“No, no!” Crowley rushed to assure him. “This one’s the extra.”
Aziraphale only felt better for a second, before anxiously prompting, “The extra?”
Crowley seemed to take this as a cue, and approached, holding the basket up and out to Aziraphale.
Inside was a chubby little blonde-haired baby, newborn and pink and watching Aziraphale with oddly alert eyes.
“...The extra baby,” Azirphale completed, feeling some sort of distant mimicry of the horror he would probably feel in earnest once the whole thing had time to process in his mind. “And you...brought it here.”
“To…” Aziraphale lowered his voice, barely a whisper, “To get rid of it?”
“No,” Crowley said. “Well, yes, but no. They didn’t tell me-...I don’t necessarily have to-...”
“You want to keep it,” Aziraphale realized. “Oh, Crowley, no, you can’t- you can’t just steal a baby, Crowley.”
“I haven’t stolen anything!” Crowley protested. “They just handed it to me. And if I did steal a baby, I doubt anyone would care. My lot like that sort of thing. Could just tell them I was raising it to be some sort of deviant and they’d be all for it.”
“You can’t raise him to be a deviant!” Aziraphale cried. “Look at him, Crowley, he’s innocent. He deserves to grow up properly, with a family-...”
“And that’s why I’ve got you!” Crowley said.
Both froze, staring at each other for a long moment in silence.
“I just mean,” Crowley said, backpedaling quickly. “Well, it’s just- Look, I like Earth, right? So do you. It’s lovely. Lots of fun to be had. So...so maybe it doesn’t have to end. Maybe-...Maybe you and I stick close to the important baby, and just...keep him from growing up evil. And what better way to do that then with a kid? It’s brilliant, really, we just...we give him a friend, and see what happens.”
“You can’t gamble on an infant,” Aziraphale sighed, but his eyes fell back on the baby, and a the next protest he went to make came out instead as, “Oh, he’s rather cute, though, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Crowley agreed. “Right cute little bugger, this one. I actually-...”
The demon cut himself off, and Azirphale looked up to him with a frown. “You actually…?”
“Well, it’s just,” Crowley said, sunglasses now directed toward the ceiling, as though trying to make it exceptionally clear even with his eyes obscured that he was not looking at Azirphale. “Well, he sort of looked...like you. I thought so, anyway.”
Aziraphale blinked, looking back down at the baby. He personally couldn’t see any resemblence beyond the roundness of his cheeks and the light hue of his hair, but something warm settled deep in his stomach at the comparison nonetheless.
“What are you going to call him?” he asked.
“Dunno,” Crowley said. Then, on a whim, he added, “You should name him.”
“Me?” Aziraphale looked to him in shock. “I- Crowley, you’re the one-...”
“Well, I’m not doing this without you, obviously,” Crowley said. At Aziraphale’s widening eyes, he rushed to continue, almost tripping over himself to get the rest of his thoughts out. “I mean, it’s the perfect opportunity for us both to pretend to be doing what we’re meant to be doing, and it’s a damn hard time dealing with a kid, and a demon alone would definitely raise him just a little bit evil, surely-...”
Crowley faltered, then cleared his throat, starting over as though the moment of panic had never even occurred. “He needs to be called something normal. None of the old names, nothing too...demon-y. Nothing biblical, either, so you can shelve anything you were thinking along those lines.”
“Oh, alright,” Aziraphale murmured. “How about…Oscar?”
“As in Wilde?” Crowley asked, tone heavily judgemental. “Don’t name him after someone you fancied, that’s horrible.”
Aziraphale pinked. “It was just a suggestion. Gilbert?”
Aziraphale huffed. “Why did you ask me to name him if you won’t let me?”
“You can name him what you want,” Crowley said. “Just not something weird. Give him a proper name. Pick one out of a book, or something.”
“A book?” Aziraphale echoed, then paused, thinking it over. “...Holden.”
“What book’s that out of?”
“The Catcher in the Rye,” Azirpahale said. “It’s a good book. A good name, too.”
“Yes, well,” Crowley breathed, and then turned the basket around to look down at the baby within. “What do you think, sprout? Holden.”
The baby’s revealed pink gums as he opened his mouth, shoving the backs of his fingers into it. “Yeah, I think it’ll work,” Crowley said, trying to sound as though he were thinking on it more strongly than he actually was, instead distracted by the peculiar behavior of the very tiny human seedling he’d been charged with. “Better than nasty old Oscar, anyway.”
“I really don’t know what that man did to you,” Aziraphale said, shaking his head, but ignored Crowley’s mouth opening - probably to defend his dislike of Aziraphale’s favored historical authors - and bent to look in on the baby as well. “Hello, Holden.”
The baby continued to gnaw on his hand, eyeing the men above him with interest.
“Alright, then,” Crowley said. “We can be...fathers.”
“Fathers,” Aziraphale echoed, awed by it.
Then, as though to remind them that it was not going to be all a fantasy, Holden took the opportunity to start crying.