They did indeed arrive home safe and sound, as Crowley promised. The six of them stumbled back into the barn, all immediately relieved to be back on home turf. Sam felt he'd had enough of travelling to different universes to last a life-time.
Crowley clapped his hands together. "Lovely. All's well that ends well. And this, my darlings, is where we part."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "You're not coming back with us?"
Crowley seemed pleasantly surprised by the offer. "Do you want me to?"
Dean shrugged. "If I didn't, would it stop you?"
"Not likely. But, unfortunately, duty calls. Mother and I have a great deal of cleaning up to do."
It was Rowena's turn to be surprised. She looked up at her son. "You and I?"
"Indentured servitude seems a fine way to repay me for all my pain and suffering, wouldn't you say?" Crowley smirked at her, but Sam detected perhaps the faintest hint of underlying affection. "You're a hateful, manipulative bitch. There's no one else who would be more useful to have at my side when dealing with hundreds of splintered factions of demons."
"You do know how to flatter," Rowena complimented, practically glowing.
"Well, keep us updated," Sam said.
"And if you need help—" Cas began.
"Who else would I call?" Crowley interrupted. "Til next time, boys."
Crowley and Rowena vanished.
Jack snapped the portal out of existence with two fingers, then smiled. "I think Crowley's starting to forgive her."
"Don't know if 'forgive' is really a thing Crowley does, but he doesn't want to kill her anymore, so...that's a win, I guess." Dean stretched languidly. "Fuck, that cot wasn't good on my back. I need my memory foam. Let's get the hell out of here."
Sam stared at Dean. Dean stared back.
"What?" Dean asked, looking expectantly at Sam.
"Dean...Crowley teleported us here. The Impala's still at Heaven's Gate."
The realization hit Dean and he leaned backwards, groaning. "Fuck."
Cas sighed heavily. "Seems we'll be walking."
And it was a long walk. And hitch-hiking bore exactly zero results; with the advent of the ID channel, people were all too wary of picking up strange men on the side of the road. Sam longed for the 90s, where you could stick a thumb up and get picked up more reliably than you could count on an Uber or Lyft now.
The three of them walked side-by-side, mostly silent, Jack further ahead in the lead, seeming lost in thought. Their physical exhaustion had been cleared up by their full night's sleep at Crowley's, but Dean and Sam were emotionally and mentally ready for a nap that would last several days. Cas was as Cas always was; tired in an eternal way. There was no amount of sleep that would clear the bags from underneath Cas's eyes.
Sam did notice, however, Dean and Cas walking perhaps unnecessarily close to each other. And he did definitely notice Cas stealthily sliding a hand into Dean's.
Dean's head jerked sideways immediately, and he whispered, "What are you doing, dude?"
"Trying something," Cas evaded. "Would you like me to stop?"
"N—I didn't say that," Dean answered back, hushed, operating under the erroneous auspice that Sam couldn't hear. "But. Like. You can't just do that."
Cas went to pull his hand away, but Dean stopped him.
"Dean, I'm unclear as to what you want."(1)
"I just—why now?"
A beat of silence. The two lagged behind. Still not out of Sam's earshot. "Well, the Empty was an influencing factor."
"You—you couldn't be happy," Dean said shakily. "Are you—you're saying—me?"
"We don't need to have a conversation about it now."
"Now seems like a damn good time to me. Shit...why me, Cas? Like I haven't been a miserable bastard to you for ten fucking years."
"I'd say we've both been bastards to each other." A brief pause, then: "I'd like to change that."
Dean seemed to mull on that. "Do I actually make you happy?"
"When we're not fighting for pointless reasons? Yes."
Sam chanced a sneaky glance at Dean over his shoulder. His brother was staring militantly at the ground, cheeks flagging bright red. "I dunno what to say."
"You don't need to say anything. I think...well, for the first time I think we have all the time in the world to say what we need to say."
Dean let out a strangled noise. "Just uh...don't let Sammy see. I don't have a good explanation for this yet."
"I've been waiting for you two to finally stop playing around for over a decade," Sam said loudly, deciding it was time for the two of them to know he could hear everything they were saying. "And, yes. I can hear you." Sam turned so he was walking backwards, and gave them a serious look. "And just so you guys know—you have never, at any point, been subtle. Everyone could see what was going on but you. You've been winning gold medals in the unneccesary prolonged eye contact Olympics since 2008."
"Sh—shut up!" Dean retorted weakly.
Dean still didn't let go of Cas's hand.
After several hours of walking, they all trundled down the stairs of the bunker, winded and irritated. However, they made it no further than the halfway mark when Sam noticed someone was waiting for them in the foyer.
Mom stood there with her arms crossed, face the picture of displeasure.
"Oh shit," Dean muttered from beside him.
"Mary," Cas greeted. "We can explain—"
"The four of you, gone. A holy oil circle burned in the floor—" Damn, they had forgotten to scrub that out, hadn't they? "—no note, nothing. And you wouldn't answer any calls."
Sam winced. He hadn't even checked his cell since they'd gotten back. None of them had. Jack and Cas hadn't even brought theirs with them, sure that just being in Heaven would fry them.(2)
"It's a long story, Mom," Dean said. "We didn't know you'd be back—"
"Except I told you what day I'd be back."
"A lot happened," Jack put in hesitantly. "We sort of lost track of time."
Mary sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I brought beer. You're going to tell me what's going on, and I'm going to drink one. Or ten."
Grinning would probably only get him in deeper trouble, but Sam couldn't help it, with how much like Dean she had just sounded. Dean may have gotten a lot from Dad—some things he wanted and some things he didn't—but he and Mom were a lot alike. He was realizing that more and more by the day.
"Okay, okay, just—let me go change, okay? I got other universe stank on me."
"Told you it's a long story!" Dean called over his shoulder as he dipped down the hallway to his bedroom.
"We made some friends," Cas provided.
"You would have liked them," Jack tacked on. "Well. You would have liked Aziraphale, at least. Crowley was a little more..."
"Abrasive," Cas filled in.
"Crowley? Like, demon King of Hell Crowley?"
"No. Different Crowley. But we've got news about our Crowley too," Sam began, but was interrupted by furious, unintelligible yelling from Dean's room. His brother appeared back in the foyer moments later, fuming.
"What? What is it?" Cas asked, bewildered.
"All my vinyl—it's gone. It's all Queen's Greatest Hits—" Realization dawned on Dean. "Fucking AJ!"
Several weeks later, Crowley and Aziraphale found themselves in St. James Park, a large quilted blanket spread out underneath them, birds chirping, autumn leaves falling, a brisk but not unpleasant wind rustling their hair. They shared a lovely bottle of sweet pear wine, nibbled at charcuterie courtesy of Aziraphale, who was very enthusiastic to be moving around on his own two feet again.
It was unclear which one of them worked the miracle, but through the overcast overhead, a ray of sunshine peeked out, warming the two of them. Crowley reclined, cradling his head in his hands.
"I do say we've earned this," Aziraphale commented, trying to make a selection between a slice of bourbon gouda and apple cinnamon goat cheese.
"And then some," Crowley agreed, eyes closed, basking in the sunlight, warm in spite of it being nearly November. He tried his best to ignore the roar of London traffic in the background. Almost peaceful. Almost. But he was here with Aziraphale, and that was peace enough for him.
Aziraphale, who was fine, minus a nasty scar that would never completely heal, just as Crowley's torn open shoulder would remain until such a time he discorporated his current vessel, which, given their complete lack of viable back-ups, now and forever—was something he'd very much like to avoid.
"I was thinking," Aziraphale said carefully, as if testing the waters. "What about a vacation?"
Crowley cracked open one eye, letting his sunglasses slide enough down his nose to really look at Aziraphale. "Listening."
"Just somewhere quiet we could get away for a bit. Leave the city behind, go to the country...maybe somewhere by the sea. Oh, Crowley, we haven't been to the sea in ages."
He wasn't opposed to going anywhere with Aziraphale. "Where are you thinking?" Knowing Aziraphale, he had thought this through very thoroughly, down to the minute details, before so much as bringing it up to Crowley.
"The South Downs, I think, would be very nice. Even in the winter. They do light displays like you wouldn't believe, around Christmastime. And the snowfall is never too bad. We could—oh, I don't know. Rent a cottage."
Crowley pushed himself into a sitting position, pouring another glass of wine for both himself and Aziraphale. "Stop pretending like you haven't already picked a cottage out, and you've been waiting for me to say yes."
Aziraphale made a face. "Well, yes, if you must know, there's one I've looked at. I used Anathema's mobile—amazing that they can look at pictures on their phones now, isn't it?"
"Been amazing for the past fifteen years, angel," Crowley said with no small amount of fondness. "Want to take a drive out? See it?"
"Perhaps we could take a train," Aziraphale suggested, paling at the thought of Crowley's driving.
"You don't want a soothing drive through the country with me?"
"My dear, I love you, but soothing is not a word I would ascribe to very much that you do," Aziraphale replied wryly.
Crowley still glowed at those three little words. "I can be soothing. Very soothing, me."
"You drove the wrong way down a one-way street when we were driving over here," Aziraphale reminded him.
"Always so uptight." Crowley leaned over and pressed his lips to Aziraphale's, and Aziraphale kissed him back. Crowley slid the hand not clutching the stem of his wine glass into the angel's curls, pulling him closer.
"Public, dear," Aziraphale murmured against his mouth.
"Don't care," Crowley mumbled back, kissing him again, and again, and again.
It is impossible to imagine a conversation between two beings powerful enough to wring Something from Nothing; to create existence, to form something from what otherwise would be empty, empty, empty.
They have entire universes within their minds, and even 'minds' is perhaps an unnecessary humanization of that which could never be considered as such, but for the sake of understanding, we can use more recognizable—more conceivable terms—as descriptors.
So, in that vein, picture if you will a man-shaped being and a woman-shaped being sitting on a bench. The bench could be in St. James Park in London. It could be in Lebanon, Kansas. It could be positioned precariously between two binary stars in the depths of space.
It's a bench all the same.
They do not play chess—beings like this have no mind for strategy, strategy involves an unknowable future. And the pair know their futures, and then some more futures that are not theirs. No, theirs is a game of Chutes and Ladders, the most grueling, marathon game of it in history, and the rungs are soaked with blood.
But this is the game they play. And they're quite good at it, even if they have a stark contrast in styles.
The man-shaped being is the first to speak. He always is.
"This can't happen again."
The other pauses for a moment, considering Her counterpart. "And why is that?"
"You know why. This isn't the story I'm trying to tell."
"You don't like it when characters surprise you?"
He doesn't, and He says as much: "Look, I've got an outline. I don't mind some wiggling, some whimsy, that's just good fiction. But you should never let a story get away from you. I'm in charge, okay? And this has totally trashed an entire plot thread. Jack wasn't supposed to live. And never mind what I had planned for Mary—it's all ruined, now."
"Surely you can adapt?"
A flash of ancient rage behind disarmingly human eyes, and He replied, "They adapt to me. I don't adapt to them."
She hums in thought. "You really do just see them like little paper dolls, don't you? Nothing more. A means to an end."
"Like you see them any differently. I know you wanted to do your own thing here, but come on."
"I do see them differently. They're my children."
He threw His head back and laughed. "Yeah right. I used that line too."
"I mean it. I told you I was going to do things differently, and I did. They're mine, all of them. Angels and demons and humans. I love them—and they're free. Truly free."
"You had to have some kind of plan."
"I had a Beginning, and an End." And a Garden for both. "I let them fill in the middle."
"That's insane. Anything could have happened."
"I knew everything would fall as it needed to, when it needed to. I trusted them to do that."
"You trusted humanity?"
"Not the Them I was referring to."
"The angel and the demon?"
He snorted. "I tried an angel and demon romance. Didn't really resonate with me, so I just killed the demon off."
She did nothing to hide Her disgust. "Yes, that does seem to be a favorite move of yours."
"Oh what, no one ever dies in your world?
"I'm sure that's what your Death thought, too. Stranger aeons."
"I'm the one thing the Winchesters can't kill. That much I'm sure of."
A tonal shift; or a cosmic one, if you like: "Is that a threat?"
"I'm not sure I believe you. You're the one thing I can't really Know."
"Maybe that's why you left me."
"You wanted this," He reminded Her.
"A visit once a millenia wouldn't be unwarranted."
"Cut me some slack, you're running on a completely different timescale from me."
"Time doesn't matter between universes. Time doesn't matter between us."
Silence, for a time, and then He speaks again: "I'm serious, though. No more universe hopping, not from Crowley and Aziraphale. The amount of damage they did in just a few days…and now I'm stuck with another Gabriel. I already had to kill the last one twice, and the impact kinda got lost the second time around."
"I told you, they have free will. I don't control Crowley and Aziraphale. No one does."
"You do! That's the whole point of you!"
"I create. And now I watch. And the two of them have not yet disappointed me."
"Seriously? Not once?"
"Never. They have always done what I asked them to. They may have been the only ones."
"And what did you ask?"
"For them to love humanity more than me."
He just shook His head. "You're insane. And this is going to blow up in both of our faces. Mark my words. Gabriel and Naomi, they're cut from the same cloth. Before long, he'll run Heaven...and your Lucifer? He's already plotting his revenge. His war."
She didn't seem troubled. She never did. "Oh, I know the story's not over yet...but, I do know that it has a happy ending."
She was met with only silence, and then He was gone.
(...but nothing ever really ends, does it?)