And if all the world was perfect
I would only ever want to see your scars
You know they can have their universe
We’ll be in the dirt designing stars
“Do you trust me?” Aziraphale asks him one night, in the exact tone someone might use to ask do you think it’s going to rain ?
Crowley looks up, fingers slowing to a stop along one of Aziraphale’s feathers. They’ve been sitting on his couch over an hour, an old movie playing on the television, one that Aziraphale chose and they’ve seen a few times. He glances at the television anyway, hoping perhaps to find a clue what spurred the question, but the grainy black-and-white film has nothing obviously novel or of import. “Didn’t think that was a secret.”
Aziraphale looks over as if from a daydream, and seems to realize he’s asked the question aloud. “Oh, I don’t mean- obviously you trust me-”
“Obviously,” Crowley agrees.
“-it’s just, would you trust me if you didn’t know what I was going to do?”
Crowley tries to parse that as best as he can. Aziraphale is just well-read enough to be entirely coherent without making a lick of sense. “What, d’you mean like a surprise?”
“Yes, exactly,” Aziraphale says quickly. “Like a surprise. Would you mind if I surprised you?”
“You’ve been doing that for six thousand years,” Crowley tells him, a warm grin curling at his lips. “I don’t see any reason to stop now.”
Crowley should have asked more questions.
The idea that he should have asked more questions does not actually occur to him until two days later when he’s sitting on a plane with absolutely no idea where they’re going or why, and he’s pretty sure that’s too late to ask. It’s certainly too late to back out, despite Aziraphale’s insistence that he will explain everything the moment Crowley asks. Which is, in fact, half the reason Crowley says nothing about the blindfold, or the earmuffs he’s very certain Aziraphale miracled into utter silence, because he cannot hear a thing except for Aziraphale’s voice.
“It’s going to be a long flight,” Aziraphale warns him quietly. Crowley wonders what kind of looks he’s getting, leading around a blindfolded, earmuffed man.
Crowley refrains from asking how long, because it doesn’t matter. A long flight to humans is still a blip on the timelines of immortals, and he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise by guessing where they’re going by how long they’ll spend in the air. Aziraphale is rarely so excited, and Crowley absolutely will not be the one to spoil it.
Instead, he settles back in his chair and splays one hand palm-up on the armrest between them. A second later, Aziraphale’s hand finds his, fingers twining together, and Crowley closes his eyes to have a nap, trusting that Aziraphale will guard them both until they have safely landed.
They land in the afternoon somewhere hot , and retreat to a hotel nowhere near the airport. Aziraphale lets him remove the blindfold and the earmuffs on the condition that he not look out any of the windows. Crowley promises, and doesn’t admit how much fun he’s having already. Aziraphale has never gone to these kinds of lengths for him before, and it leaves him with a buzz unlike anything else.
They play cards until the sun goes down, and Aziraphale mostly wins, and Crowley mostly lets him, and eventually they order room service. Crowley listens intently to Aziraphale speaking to the young woman who brings his desserts, but it’s Spanish and that doesn’t tell him anything. He’s never heard this particular accent, though, which rules out Spain proper. He doesn’t try to guess beyond that.
And then the sun is down and the air is cooling and Aziraphale asks him to put on his blindfold, and he does so without question. They leave the muffs, and Crowley realizes it is because they are getting into a car by themselves. He climbs up into the vehicle instead of down, and the engine roars to life when Aziraphale starts it, so Crowley guesses it is of decent size. When they move and the wind stirs his hair and washes over him from all around, he realizes there isn’t a top to it. He sticks a hand out where the window should be, and feels air flow around it, and he spreads his fingers like feathers and enjoys the ride. He hadn’t known Aziraphale even knew how to drive.
When they finally stop, the chill in the air is deep, and Crowley finds himself glad that they aren’t human. Aziraphale exits the car and Crowley hears a faint splash, as if he’s stepped in a puddle, and the scent of salt blooms. He doesn’t hear an ocean. A moment later, his door clicks open, and Aziraphale’s hand takes his, warm and soft. Crowley’s heart skips the same beat it always does when Aziraphale touches him.
“It’s a little wet, but not deep,” Aziraphale tells him, leading him out of the car.
Crowley’s feet set down in a couple of inches of water. If he’d been wearing real shoes, it might have run over them, but it just feels like tepid water over his scaled feet. It hasn’t taken on the chill of the air yet, and the gritty soil beneath the water is still sun-warmed. The contrast between the ground and the air raises gooseflesh on his arms.
Aziraphale leads him a little way through the water, and there is nothing in their way; no pebbles, no stones, no sticks. The ground is flat and a little cracked, as though it had dried at some point, but it doesn’t slide like wetted mud. They stop what must be a few dozen yards from the car, and fall still. Aziraphale moves behind him and begins to undo the blindfold.
“Close your eyes,” he says, the blindfold only held in place by the tension he places on it.
Crowley does so, and the blindfold falls away. “When can I open them?”
“In a couple of minutes,” Aziraphale says gently. “When the water is still again.”
No lifting his feet, Crowley surmises. He stays as still as he can, counting off the seconds, until Aziraphale finally touches his shoulder blade and says:
Slowly, slowly, as if waking into a dream, Crowley opens his eyes and stops breathing at the sight of the cosmos all around them. Above them the void night glitters with countless stars, one arm of the Milky Way Galaxy like a pale slash across the sky. The universe touches the Earth at his feet and spills out across the water, the perfect reflection sparkling as if the sky never ended at all. Stars stretch out above and below in every direction, the horizon so hazy and the water so utterly still it forms the perfect illusion.
He remembers this, and for a single moment, he is lost.
For a single moment he can feel stardust at his fingertips as he lovingly shapes pieces of the universe. The elegant wings of his true form stir and leave nebulae in their wake. His hands craft whole worlds of glass and fire and methane and ice and place them around the stars they will circle until they are consumed. As he works he sings to them of the Almighty, harmonies in tones no human has ever heard and no demon can reach, and they sing back, adding to the symphony of creation.
For a moment he remembers how he began, with six wings feathered in eyes like a peacock and holy fire licking at every axis. He remembers the light of the Almighty burning at his core, and the facets of his power ever shifting through his massive collection of energy. He had been many things, once- serpent, corvid, rabbit, lynx. A lamb with dragon’s claws. Loved. He had been many things, once.
And for a single moment, he forgets about Heaven and Hell and everything in between, and remembers only the vast, open expanse of the ether as it was Before. Everything he has been through, everything he has suffered, drops away, replaced by an all-encompassing peace he has since felt only in the recesses of dreams that were lost to the light of day.
Then he blinks, and he can feel the wetness on his cheeks and a soft breeze ruffling through his feathers. He does not remember opening his wings, but they are stretched toward the heavens as if he might reach them somehow.
“Where are we?” Crowley asks, still breathless, his voice barely working.
“Bolivia,” Aziraphale says fondly. “I saw a photo of the salt flats at night, and I thought… well, that you would like it very much.”
Crowley wipes his streaming eyes with the corner of his sleeve and they both pretended he hasn’t. He tries to swallow the lump in his throat, but it sticks. “It reminds me of Before.”
“I thought it might,” Aziraphale tells him, stirring the water and sending ripples through the night floor as he comes around to the front, shattering the illusion. His eyes are turned upward as well, his pale wings out the same as Crowley’s, and Crowley realizes Aziraphale can’t go back either. Not really. Not ever. “I didn’t see much of it, you know. Principalities were some of the last angels She made.”
“I wasn’t,” Crowley says, eyes sweeping back up to the endless mural of stars. “I was one of the first. Saraph. Built to love her.”
“Do you still?”
Crowley glances down at him without meeting his eyes, and then turns his gaze back up to the endless, mirrored night. “I wish I didn’t.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says like a wound. “I didn’t know. That you were.... that you still-”
“No one does.” There is nothing to forgive, but it sounds like absolution anyway. “It didn’t really matter, anyway, after I Fell. Nothing did.”
“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale says softly, even though he’s already been forgiven. “I should have known this would hurt.”
Crowley gives a wet laugh. "Oh, it doesn't, angel. It doesn't.” His eyes track over the glittering sky. “It's just… it's been thousands of years since I was up there, among all the stars and worlds I helped create. There are whole galaxies somewhere that I had a hand in.” He drops his gaze to look over at Aziraphale, pale and warm in the starlight, and knows he has never loved anything more. “And yet, if She showed up right now to bring me back, I- I think I’d turn down every single one of them to stay here with you. Right here, just like this. And it would be worth it.”
Aziraphale glances sidelong at him, eyes catching on his and lips twitching into a brief, sad smile. “How can you say that so easily?”
“And why not?” Crowley asks. He extends his right wing, letting the tips of his primaries touch the tips of Aziraphale’s. “It’s the truth.”
“It’s too big of a thing to just say,” Aziraphale tells him, but he doesn’t pull away.
“Would you prefer we act like humans?” Crowley says with a little grin. Aziraphale gives him a withering look. “I could try to fit us into three little words.”
“No, I don’t think I’d like that very much,” Aziraphale says, his wings pulling closer to his body but not quite folding. They no longer touch and the chill of the clear night air rushes in to replace where they did. Crowley folds his wings. “I wouldn’t go back, either,” Aziraphale adds, gaze sweeping up to the stars. “But I would change things.”
Crowley tries to keep his heart from breaking. “Which things?”
“I’d love you sooner,” Aziraphale says plainly, and Crowley thinks that's a bigger thing than not changing anything. Aziraphale looks over at Crowley and smiles softly. “But I suppose there’s no sense in looking backward anymore, when we can only move forward. And… speaking of moving forward...”
He turns, and Crowley turns to follow his gesture, and his eyes land upon their vehicle. It’s bigger than most of the cars Crowley is used to seeing, much bigger than the Bentley, with bars instead of sides and wheels that look as if they could climb mountains, if there were any mountains to climb. Crowley looks over at Aziraphale in question.
“This was not an easy car to find,” Aziraphale explains slowly, “but it had to be this one. It’s the only one you can stand up in and open your wings while I drive. I imagine it will feel quite a lot like-”
“Flying,” Crowley breathes, gaze darting back to the vehicle in realization.
They can do a lot of things with their mortal bodies, like change their shape and their size, but flight uses their essence in its purest form. Flight, celestial or infernal, would cause their essence to go much faster than their body, which is generally frowned upon by the bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell, and outright impossible for Crowley and Aziraphale, who have no way to replace these bodies if they lose them. Flying, true flying, has become one more thing of which they can only dream.
This, however, may come a close second.
“Yes,” Aziraphale agrees. “I know that it’s not the same , but I thought if I went fast enough…”
Crowley smiles, heart warm enough to chase away the chill. “Let’s find out.”
While Crowley scales the side of the Jeep, wings flailing out to keep his balance, Aziraphale walks around to the driver’s side. The slam of his door, although light, scatters out over the flats like shards of glass with no echo back to them. There is nothing to echo off of, not for miles in any direction. Crowley plants his feet as the engine rumbles to life and then goes silent at a snap from Aziraphale.
“Ready?” Aziraphale asks, looking up.
Dark wings rising and spreading wide against the starry sky, Crowley looks down and smiles. “Hit it,” he says.
The car rocks forward and Crowley finds his balance as it gains speed, wheels turning over miraculously flat ground. Water kicks up below them, sending billowing ripples through the reflection and leaving a rooster-tail wake behind them. Crowley closes his eyes and holds onto the roll bars and adjusts his wings to feel the wind through them.
Aziraphale puts Crowley’s normal speeds through London to shame, and it turns out he was right; it doesn’t feel the same as flying in Heaven had. But when Crowley opens his eyes and stares up into the endless cosmos, Earthly winds whipping through his hair and his feathers and whistling in his ears, he thinks maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Heaven had been huge and bright and cold and empty. Crowley stares up and up and up at the galaxy in the sky and he remembers how empty it had been, once.
And he thinks, as he turns to look down at where Aziraphale has both hands on the wheel and one wing out the window and a positively gleeful smile on his face, that the universe hadn’t stayed that way. Not forever.
Once upon a time he had helped to fill in all that emptiness with love.
And though he might not read the sorts of books that begin with Once upon a time, even Crowley knows that they end with happily ever after.