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on deceiving appearances

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“Can I hit him?” Eric the disposable demon asked with a nervous smile, curling his hands into fists. 

All of the angels gathered around looked at him oddly.  Sitting in his chair, the Principality Aziraphale didn’t even flinch.  “I’ve always wanted to hit an angel,” Eric said by way of explanation, shrugging slightly. 

Finally, the angel with the gold in his teeth said carelessly, “Go for it.” 

Eric swallowed hard, drew himself up, and sidled around Aziraphale.  His boots clicked loudly on Heaven’s floor, echoing around the oddly empty space.  Aziraphale didn’t even deign to look up at him for a moment when Eric stopped in front of him, his face blank and composed. 

Eric held back a grin of giddy excitement— he had been itching to smack an angel since the last War, and now he was lucky enough to get a chance!  Eric clenched his fists tightly, widened his stance a little.  To one side the column of Hellfire blazed, its warmth a comfort in Heaven’s cold and clinical unfamiliarity.  He set his jaw, readying himself. 

And then the Principality Aziraphale slowly looked up, making eye contact. 

Eric paused.  He had been told, of course, that the angel was a traitor... just like the Demon Crowley.  And if they both had both been on Earth for millennia, battling it out, then this angel must be quite strong.  Crowley was the Serpent of Eden, after all, clearly incredibly powerful and competent if Hell had assigned him to Earth for so long.  So to match Crowley, Aziraphale must also be remarkably powerful and competent. 

But not even incredible power could save an angel from Hellfire.  Nothing could.  So Aziraphale’s power couldn’t possibly explain why he was so calm, so utterly collected in the face of complete destruction.  Even the other archangels were shying away from the blaze of Hellfire, wary of getting singed. 

Eric’s nostrils flared just slightly.  It was really hard to smell anything in Heaven, the whole place reeked of celestial bleach, but he thought he caught just a hint of some other demonic presence.  It smelled a great deal, in fact, like the demon Crowley. 

Eric blinked.  That might… that might make a little sense.  After all, Crowley and Aziraphale were being executed partly because of their fraternization, whatever that meant, so it would make sense that Aziraphale might smell a little bit demonic.  Especially if, as Eric privately suspected, Crowley had managed to seduce the angel from Heaven and they had done… things. 

But… Eric stared at Aziraphale’s blank, fearless face.  His pale eyes were cold, utterly devoid of emotion, his corporation unnaturally still and unmoving where he was tied.  And then Eric looked a little closer, allowed his vision to dip into a different plane. 

Aziraphale seemed just the same, an angel tied to a chair and glaring at his death.  But deep, deep in his corporation, where a soul would be for a human… there was a spark of power, sure, but it didn’t burn with Holy light— it smoldered with Hellish magic.  It was subtle, so subtle that someone would have to look very closely to tell the difference, but now that Eric knew to look for something off, he could tell. 

Eric’s excitement slid slowly off his face, and he stared at the Aziraphale-shaped creature in front of him.  As if in reply, the Aziraphale-thing nodded just slightly, imperceptible to everyone but them.  The corner of his mouth lifted in the tiniest hint of a cocky smile, and suddenly it was so apparent to Eric that he wasn’t looking at an angel that he wanted to scream.  A sudden jolt of fear flashed through him as he stared at the demon Crowley, practically smirking up at him from inside the corporation of an angel. 

Eric just barely resisted jumping away and shrieking, and said hastily, his voice only trembling a little, “I should be going back.”  His fingers uncurled from their fists, and he slowly took a step away.  Crowley-as-Aziraphale watched him go, the smug amusement gone from his face but not from his eyes.  

“I’ll come and pick up the Hellfire in, what,” Eric babbled.  “An hour?” 

Gabriel smiled coldly at him.  “I don’t think it will take that long.  You can wait.” 

Eric gulped again, and his eyes darted back to Crowley-as-Aziraphale.  “Er.” 

“Outside, if you like,” Uriel offered, and Eric was nearly certain that this was the first time he had ever seen an angel show real mercy. 

“Sure.  Yeah.”   He determinedly did not look at the being in the chair, walking quickly after Uriel as she led him to a blank wall broken up only by shiny silver elevator doors— the only way to get back to Earth. 

“Wait here,” Uriel ordered.  “And don’t touch anything that will get you smote.” 

“Right,” Eric mumbled, and watched as she walked away. 

Left alone in Heaven’s great expanse, nothing to break the blinding monotony but his own grimy boots, Eric began to question.  How in the world had the essence of a demon inhabited the corporation of an angel?  And, more importantly, where had that angel’s own essence gone?  Demons could possess other vessels, sure, but angels?  Was that even possible, for an angel’s essence to leave its Earthly form and transfer to another? 

Because that must have been what had happened.  Crowley and Aziraphale must have somehow switched forms, traded corporations before Heaven and Hell had come for them.  They must have hoped that the soul of a demon, even in the body of an angel, would be able to withstand Hellfire.  And presumably vice versa— Eric had passed the Archangel Michael in the lobby, and the pitcher of water she had been holding as she waited for Hell’s rusty deathtrap of an elevator had practically glowed with divinity. 

Eric shuffled his feet anxiously, clenching and unclenching his fingers.  He fiddled with his scarf, listening hard. Heaven was so quiet it was deafening.  He thought he maybe heard the crackling roar of Hellfire in the distance, but the sound vanished before he could pinpoint it. 

Eric felt as though he waited an eternity before he heard the sound of heels clacking on Heaven’s smooth floors, a moment before Uriel rounded the corner.  “Come back for the Hellfire,” she ordered tersely, her expression tight and closed off. 

Eric gulped and followed her.  The execution must not have gone to plan. 

Sure enough, Uriel led him back to the wide expanse where a column of Hellfire still merrily burned, the apparent Principality Aziraphale standing next to it with a satisfied little smile as he straightened his bowtie. 

“Get rid of this Hellfire,” Gabriel said.  He was standing slightly in front of the third archangel, and his eyes didn’t leave Crowley-as-Aziraphale for a moment.  Eric dutifully gathered the Hellfire back into its container, clutching it to his chest.  

“Get them out,” Gabriel hissed, and Eric genuinely couldn’t tell if he was talking about him or the fake angel. 

“This way,” Uriel ordered, and this time Eric could hear a slight shake to her voice. 

“Well, that was a bit exciting,” Crowley-as-Aziraphale said mildly.  He smiled magnanimously at Gabriel.  “It’s been a delight.  As I said, may we meet again on a better occasion.” 

“Principality Aziraphale, former Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden,” Gabriel said stiffly.  “Your services will not be needed by Heaven until further notice.  You may go.” 

Crowley-as-Aziraphale’s smile turned just slightly mischievous.  “Quite,” he said.  “Thank you.  I’d say it’s been lovely, but…” 

“Come,” Uriel said again, more insistently, and started walking towards the exit.  Eric scrambled to follow her, hoping and dreading that Crowley-as-Aziraphale would follow.  He did, walking quickly to catch up with Eric. 

“Hello,” he said, and there was something terrifyingly sharp in his smile.  “I don’t believe we’ve met.  I’m Aziraphale.” 

Eric’s breath caught in his throat.  His eyes darted to look at Crowley-as-Aziraphale for just a moment before returning to the front.  He didn’t say a word. 

“It’s a wonder you haven’t Fallen yet,” Uriel snapped, glaring over her shoulder at them.  “If this is how you deal with every demon that crosses your path.” 

“Oh, not every demon,” Crowley-as-Aziraphale said sweetly.  “Only the ones I like.  Or the ones I can get something from.”  He gave Eric another friendly, chilling smile, as though there was any doubt which category Eric fell into. 

Uriel led them to the elevator, her shoulders tense, and no one made a sound as they waited for it to come.  The elevator chimed cheerfully as the door opened, and Eric hesitated for just a moment before stepping in.  Crowley-as-Aziraphale followed him, his hands folded neatly in front of himself. 

“Don’t come back,” Uriel said, her voice hard.  Crowley-as-Aziraphale just waved happily in reply, a beatific smile on his face. 

The doors slid closed. 

And then Eric found himself pinned against the wall, a snarling demon in his face. 

“You know,” Crowley hissed.  He had apparently dropped all pretense of trying to be a convincing Aziraphale, and Hellfire danced clearly in his eyes.  Eric choked as Crowley’s fingers pressed against his throat. 

“Have you ever been discorporated by Hassstur?” Crowley whispered sibilantly, his lip curling in a sneer.  “I can promissse you that what I’ll do to you will be far, far worssse.  Hastur’s got no imagination, after all.  And I have.” 

Eric choked again, and Crowley loosened his grip just slightly.  Trembling, Eric managed to gasp out, “I’m not going— to tell anyone—“ 

“Oh?” Crowley snarled.  “I find that very hard to believe.” 

“Who would believe me?” Eric rasped. 

Crowley studied him carefully, Aziraphale’s features distorted by his wrath.  “I suppose that’s true,” he said thoughtfully, and shoved Eric away.  Eric fell to the floor, coughing.  When he looked up, Crowley-as-Aziraphale was glaring down at him. 

“I don’t suppose I need to tell you,” Crowley said darkly, and Eric could almost imagine that his eyes were slitted and yellow instead of pale and angelic.  “I don’t suppose I need to describe to you what will happen to you if you ever so much as think of breathing a word about thisss.  I don’t take kindly to people who put my angel in danger, after all.” 

Eric nodded frantically.  “Not a word!” he promised, and for once in his life he meant every word he said. 

Crowley-as-Aziraphale nodded, apparently satisfied, and turned to face the doors again.  The smile returned to his face, scarier than any snarl. 

The elevator doors dinged open and Eric scrambled to his feet, stepping out as soon as he could.  Crowley-as-Aziraphale stepped out after him, and if Eric didn’t know better than he could have sworn he was being followed by an angel. 

Across the lobby, Hell’s elevator dinged open as well and the Archangel Michael stepped out, followed by a being that could only be Aziraphale-as-Crowley.  “Angel!” Aziraphale-as-Crowley exclaimed, swaggering across the lobby with his jacket slung over his shoulder.  “Glad to see you.” 

“And I you, my dear,” Crowley-as-Aziraphale said with a small smile.  Michael made brief eye contact with Eric before she swept into Heaven’s elevator, and Eric’s lips burned with the secret he would never be able to tell anyone. 

Aziraphale-as-Crowley and Crowley-as-Aziraphale met each other in the center of the lobby.  “Any problems?” Crowley-as-Aziraphale asked in a low voice. 

“None, you?” Aziraphale-as-Crowley replied. 

Crowley-as-Aziraphale glanced over his shoulder as Eric, and then said with a nasty smile, “None you need to worry about.” 

Eric’s eyes widened slightly and he made a break for Hell’s elevator, scrambling to get inside just as the doors began to close.  Crowley-as-Aziraphale smirked, and Aziraphale-as-Crowley watched him with a slightly bemused smile. 

Just before the elevator doors closed, Eric saw him offer his arm to Crowley-as-Aziraphale.  “To the park, angel?” 

“Quite,” Crowley-as-Aziraphale agreed. 

Neither of them spared another glance for the terrified demon in Hell’s elevator.

 

(When Eric got back to Hell, the halls were already teeming with tales of the demon Crowley— the Serpent of Eden was resistant to Holy Water, they said, and he had gone so native that no one in Hell could even touch him.  Beelzebub themself had been scared, someone whispered… and it must be bad, if Beelzebub was scared.  Crowley, yet again, had gotten away with whatever he wanted— and this time, there would never be another chance to stop him; orders had come from Below to leave him alone. 

Eric’s secret burrowed away behind his rotted ribcage, deep in his demonic soul where no one, not even Hastur or Beelzebub or even Lucifer, would be able to get it out of him.  He wouldn’t, couldn’t tell anyone what Crowley and Aziraphale had done, how they had escaped. 

And he thought, maybe— as he settled back into his comfortably miserable job, as he remembered the merciless angels at Aziraphale’s execution that he wouldn’t have to face down in a War— he thought maybe he didn’t want to tell anyone) 

 

(On Earth, an angel and a demon dined at the Ritz)