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Misfire

Chapter Text

"You can stay at my place." It had been a simple enough offer. One intended on the basis that Aziraphale's bookshop, and the flat above it, was burned into many tiny, tiny ashes. But, then, happy day! It wasn't.

And yet, Aziraphale was living with Crowley anyway. Sure, he would go to the bookshop, frequently, sometimes get caught up with his reading and staying through the night there, but more often than not, when Crowley woke each morning, stretched languidly, and went to water (read: threaten) his plants, he'd find the angel sat at his kitchen table, nursing a cup of cocoa and some kind of breakfast pastry that he'd bought enough of for both of them. Each time greeted with a soft smile and a good morning, and Crowley would merely shrug and take his seat across from Aziraphale and they'd eat together and chat back and forth.

At first it was a bit odd. He'd never lived with anyone, except for one memorable and brief stint where he'd been hanging around just a touch too much with the Czar's family in the early twentieth century. He was used to silence, other than the terrified rustling of his plants and the typical London din outside. Used to waking up and going to bed alone. Used to talking to himself to keep his mind occupied and listening to his music as loudly as he liked without any questioning looks from anyone. Used to parading around naked when he felt like it, sleeping for days at a time. Just...doing whatever the hell he felt like doing.

But now, well. The angel could barely wrap his head around sleeping—Aziraphale had probably slept less in his entire existence than Crowley had in the past month. He didn't share Crowley's passion for oblivion and eight hours thereof each night, and upon the angel taking up residence with him, those eight hours quickly diminished to four or three. Aziraphale was endlessly talkative, especially in the evening, especially with a few glasses of wine in him.

Crowley's inconsistent eating habits vanished as well, replaced by seemingly never-ending bouts of London cuisine, and sometimes more exotic fare when it tickled the angel's fancy. Aziraphale had attempted to cook a few times and failed spectacularly, much to Crowley's amusement.

So, when going out or ordering in didn't appeal to them, Crowley would make something, which all but floored Aziraphale.

"6,000 years, and I never knew you could cook," the angel commented offhandedly one day while watching Crowley idly grilling salmon steaks for the two of them.

Crowley glanced at the angel over his shoulder. "There's plenty of things you don't know about me. I'm dark and mysterious."

"You are at least one of those things," Aziraphale replied with a flicker of an amused smile.

The angel seemed to be making a concerted effort not to whine about Crowley's music, but for Aziraphale's sake, he tried to keep the vinyl to what he and the angel could both agree on. Aziraphale, being almost consistently a hundred years behind the times, was just now getting around to jazz and big band music. The blues were hit and miss with him. Classical always turned a smile out of the angel. And, of course, they could both agree on Queen, but Crowley assumed that was because Aziraphale knew that some things were nonnegotiable.

His quiet flat had turned into a place filled with the smell of hot cocoa, the sound of Chopin, and almost constant conversation.

He...liked it?

Yes. He did.

He'd been so used to wide periods of separation from Aziraphale, necessary to maintain The Arrangement to the degree they had. The brief times they spent together over their 6,000 year friendship were a huge risk with both Heaven and Hell breathing down their necks, but now? Well, Above and Below were scared shitless of them both.

Our side, Crowley mused. No more wink-wink-nudge-nudge, no more scrawled notes about suicide measures, no clandestine meeting places. They could just spend time together whenever they wanted, and whenever they wanted was...well, basically all the time.

Crowley rose from bed approximately six weeks after the Almostocalypse, stretching with a pleased groan. He and Aziraphale had spent another late night talking, mostly bitching about Arthur Conan Doyle (long story) and Crowley had only snatched about two hours. Benefit of not physically needing any sleep at all was that he still felt refreshed upon waking. Dressed only in his silk boxers, he stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

At first he'd kept clothing on constantly, in addition to his sunglasses, but the more Aziraphale was around the more at ease he grew. What hadn't the angel seen, by this point? Never mind the body swapping incident. Certainly intimately aware of one another's corporeal forms nowadays.

Aziraphale was at the kitchen table as usual, cup of cocoa near his hand, glasses perched on his nose, thumbing through what appeared to be a restored copy of The Corsair. Aziraphale glanced up at Crowley's entrance and granted him a small smile. "Did you enjoy your nap?"

"Always do," Crowley yawned, draping himself over one of the kitchen chairs and reaching for the plate of danishes Aziraphale had acquired. "Ooh, apple. How's the Byron?"

"Quite good. I've been looking to get my hands on all of his first editions, but it's been frightfully difficult," the angel admitted wistfully. "All in good time."

"The hell is a corsair, anyway?"

Aziraphale shot him a wry look over his wholly unnecessary glasses, but Crowley could detect amusement in his eyes. "A pirate ship, essentially."

"Always liked pirates. The early 1700s were a wild time. And the parrots. LOVED the parrots. There was this one time, I think I was in Nova Scotia—"

Crowley would have finished his sentence, but it was at that precise moment that he vanished from existence, leaving only a half-eaten apple danish behind.


It had to work. Rowena had torn through every book on soul retrieval and resurrection that existed, visited black witches, white witches, hoodoo and voodoo practioners, necromancers, and everything in-between. This ritual was vetted, practiced, its basis in the Book of the Damned and repeated in earnest by her several dozen times before she was confident in it. It was sure to work. It had taken ages to gather all the proper ingredients—angel feathers were in short supply nowadays, what with all but a slim few of the angels being crow-food—but she'd finally done it.

She was going to get her son back. And this time...this time, things would be different.

"Sit iterum," she chanted, purple energy vibrating maliciously around her. This was dark stuff, the darkest of stuff. Darker than she'd ever attempted before. It would cost her, down the line. She'd be shocked if it didn't. All magic came with a price. "Vivere condemnabitur. Mortem non regnabit. Excitare regem, excitare regem, excitare regem...Crowley!"

She threw a handful of angel feathers into a seething pot of all manner of nastiness, and they were incinerated almost immediately. The new-and-improved and freshly readapted Grand Circle of Solomon she'd drawn in the middle of the abandoned barn she was using for this plot glowed a brilliant purple as well, and the room was saturated with otherworldly power.

This was either going to work, or kill her. She was sincerely hoping for the former. She was too young to die. Not even four hundred yet.

A blast sent her careening backwards into the wooden wall. The windows were all blown out of the barn in one simultaneous explosion of shattering glass. Blood dripped down her nose, and her vision whited out. Oh Lord, here we go. It's going to do me in, isn't it?

Silence, and then..."What in the bloody blue hell?"

Rowena blinked hard and repeatedly, trying to reorient herself. That hadn't been her son's voice, but it certainly sounded like something he'd say. She pushed herself up with effort, noting her torn cashmere dress. When the smoke cleared and her head stopped pounding, she looked into the center of the circle.

A man stood there, tall and dreadful skinny, long goofy limbs, artfully messy auburn hair, and a small snake tattoo sliding down by his right ear. Bare except for boxer-briefs. And then of course there were the yellow snake eyes.

"Fergus?" she asked tentatively. She had no idea what the repercussions of this spell would be—she had assumed it would resurrect the form Fergus had died in, but perhaps it had constructed him a new body?

But those eyes...very far from Crossroads red indeed.

"What? No." The man swung his head around wildly. "Oi, I dunno who you are, but put me back! Summoning a demon before he even finishes his breakfast, that's damned rude, you ask me."

Her ears perked up at the word 'demon', and she managed to force herself back to her feet, ignoring her swimming head. Maybe he was just irritated at being called his human name. "Crowley?" she tried again.

"Crow-ley," corrected the demon. "Like the bird. And please tell me I'm not in Scotland. There's too many people in Scotland who want to kill me."

She'd done it. She wasn't sure about his memory, and those eyes weren't a good sign, per se, but she'd done it. She'd brought her son back. "You don't recognize me?"

"Should I? I'm terrible with faces."

"It's me. Your mother, dear. I brought you back," she said, a tittering laugh escaping her, though that might've been a side effect of the magical exhaustion besetting her.

"Mother? I don't have one. Well, I guess I do, but it's God, and that's a whole...thing," Crowley said unspectacularly. "I think you have me confused with someone else."

Rowena made to respond, but the double-barn doors blew in at that moment, revealing—oh for Hell's sake—the Winchesters, their angel, and their adopted son.

"Rowena, stop! We know what you're trying to do and—" that was Samuel, all abluster with a sawed-off shotgun. He stopped cold when he saw Crowley in the circle.

"Son of a bitch," Dean cursed, predictably. "We're too late."

"Is...that him?" asked young Jack, peering around Sam's massive shoulders at Crowley.

"Yes—" Rowena began, pleased that she'd been able to proceed with her plot before the Winchesters and their ilk could put holes in her plans again, but Castiel cut her off.

"That's not Crowley," the angel said stiffly.

"Crow-ley," the demon insisted again, visibly more irritated this time. "Not a hard name to pronounce, really."

"It's my son," Rowena pressed, though the sneaking suspicion that something had gone awry was creeping on her. Had she really failed again? But what were the chances of another demon named Crowley out in the world, one who had a penchant for British vessels and bitchiness?

"I have no idea what he is, but he's not your son," Castiel informed her bluntly. Castiel stepped past the Winchesters and Jack, coming to a halt just outside the Grand Circle of Solomon. "He's...a serpent."

"Now we're getting somewhere," Crowley said with a smirk. He spread out his arms, unabashed about his near-nakedness. "Anthony J. Crowley, at your service. Care to tell me where the Heaven I am? Because this doesn't look like Peckham to me."

Dean leveled a withering look at Rowena. "You seriously summoned the wrong Crowley?"

"Oh, like I did it intentionally! I've worked for months to put this together! How was I to know there was more than one demon named Crowley?" Rowena raged. What were the odds? All of that work, turned to dust in a matter of moments, left with nothing but a reasonably attractive demon in his skivvies. What a bloody waste.

"Cas, what do you mean by serpent?" Sam asked quietly. "Not...not Lucifer?"

"Words hurt, you know," Crowley said, putting a hand to his chest in mock affront. "Let me spell it out for you: the big winding slither-y snake-y thing in the Garden? With Eve, and the tree, all that—yours truly," he did a little self-aggrandizing bow. "Calling me Lucifer, PLEASE. Do I look half as stuffed-up as him?"

"But Lucifer was the snake in the Garden of Eden," Castiel insisted, brows drawing together in irritation. "Unless..." he narrowed his eyes further.

"You want a closer look?" the demon asked jauntily. To the shock and horror of everyone in the room, he sauntered out of the Grand Circle of Solomon without issue and stopped barely a foot from Castiel. "You really think something like that's going to hold me? I haven't been properly chained in one of those things since Solomon himself carked it. He was the only one who really had the magic touch, know what I mean?"

The Winchesters both raised their guns, Castiel and Jack drew angel blades.

Crowley cracked his neck, unconcerned. He snapped his fingers, and in a blink, he was clad in tight dark skinny jeans, a crimson v-neck, and sleek black jacket. "Ah, much better."

"What the hell are you!" Dean demanded, alarmed.

"Oh, well, look at the time," Rowena said, totally justified fear taking hold of her. She made a show of checking her wrist for a watch that didn't exist. "I really do need to be going, time's gotten away from me—good luck with all of this boys, do tell me how it goes!"

A demon with the eyes of a serpent that couldn't be caught in a devil's trap? She didn't know what she'd summoned, but she really truly did not want to find out. Before the Winchesters or their sidekicks could make the move to stop her, she vanished, leaving nothing behind but a few drops of blood on the barn floor.


Aziraphale stared at the spot Crowley had occupied only moments ago.

"Crowley?" Aziraphale called out, baffled. Surely the demon was playing a joke on him. It wouldn't be the first time Crowley had hid somewhere in the flat to alarm him. He'd dropped down in his snake form from one of his plants just last week onto Aziraphale's shoulders, and when Aziraphale had cursed in surprise, he hadn't heard the end of it for the next three days.

Aziraphale searched the flat from top to bottom, taking extra care to brush past the leaves of Crowley's plants to make sure the wily old serpent wasn't curled in their higher branches waiting for him. He spread out his awareness, focusing as best he could—when he gathered his energies and tuned into the world around him, there was no chance of Crowley hiding from his sight.

He detected no trace of the demon, his distinct aura absent entirely from the flat, the street...all of London.

"Crowley?" he called out again, voice shaking ever-so-slightly. "This isn't funny. It's not. Come out right now!"

No response.

"Oh, oh," Aziraphale swung his head around, wringing his hands. "Crowley, where are you!?"

Chapter Text

 

 

It had been the boy who'd clamped the cuffs on him. All the squiggly lines on the ground in the world couldn't do much to hold Crowley if he was in a mood, but cuffs meant to restrain the nigh-on limitless celestial abilities of angels, well, that put a damper on things. Sure, he wasn't an angel now, but a lot of the same bits and pieces were there, more's the pity.

Crowley had been on about something—mainly trying to figure out where the devil he was and how he could get back to his angel and his danish—when he'd felt the cold, consecrated steel clamp over his wrists. He'd been focused on the big hulking piles of lumber and Discount Colombo, ignoring the timid teenager hiding behind them. Mistake, apparently, because now he was in a bloody trunk(1) headed off to parts unknown.

There was all kinds of things back here, though. Enough supernatural weaponry to kill every pretty vampire and werewolf in any urban fantasy-esque media that had been created in the past twenty years(2). Crowley idly picked up a wooden stake, twirling it in his fingers. Very old school. So, the big blighters, they were hunters. Great. Human hunters had always been not necessarily the bane of his existence, but certainly an ever-present annoyance. It was rare that they were actually able to figure out that he was far from human, and then they'd try the exorcisms and the chanting and UGH. All so irritating. Can't exorcise a body that isn't possessed, and his was quite fully his own. Picked out the cheek bones and everything.

Crowley hissed loudly when he found a water bottle with a Sharpie cross scribbled on it. Surely, it couldn't be...? He carefully cracked the top and gave it a sniff. Another hiss, even more panicked that time. He closed it swiftly and chucked it to the other side of the trunk, heartbeat picking up in his chest. Oh, this just turned from an inconvenience into something very, very bad. They could kill him with that stuff! Maybe not that little, but if there was one bottle, there was more, or at least the potential to make more.

"Aziraphale," Crowley murmured under his breath, slipping his extra pair of sunglasses out of his jacket pocket and settling them on his face. "Come on, angel. When you're in trouble, I can feel it. Well now I'm in trouble, and I need you to feel it!"


Anathema and Newt, much like Crowley and Aziraphale, had come together under one roof without much discussion. Predestination tended to speed things up in terms of a relationship. To Newt's credit, he had been the ideal house guest. He made very little mess, especially for a man, and frequently helped her tidy the house and cook meals, even going so far as to help her with various spells she worked, even if that only meant holding a notebook open while her eyes scanned through rough translations or ingredient lists and her hands stirred a cauldron.

He hadn't even left the toilet seat up—not once! He'd done nothing approaching offensive, with the exception of bricking her cell phone the one time she asked him to Google something for her. Apparently his absolutely destructive touch with computers didn't reserve itself to just PCs.

She decided, ultimately, that life was better with Newton Pulsifer than without. He seemed to be in agreement with her, overwhelmingly so. He'd hardly stopped grinning in the past month and a half. She wondered if his face ever got sore.

The cottage had gone from a reprieve for a witch trying to save the world with a dusty old book, to a happy, lived-in place, often filled with the laughter and chatter of the Them, as they'd formed the habit of coming over whenever their usual games bored them. Pepper had taken to the New Aquarian with the same passion as Adam, and soaked up Anathema's lessons about environmental conservation and the damned Tibetans like sponges. Wensleydale and Brian found this less interesting than the other half of their party, but they'd found common ground with Newt in video games and comics. Especially video games. Brian's Xbox One now took up residence in their living room, and the Them thoroughly enjoyed destroying Newt at whatever they played.

"Well, I've always liked video games," Newt had confessed one sunny afternoon(3). "I'm rubbish at them, but I do like them. It never mattered much to me whether I won or not."

As long as he didn't explode Brian's Xbox, thus incurring a call from his enraged parents, she encouraged his playtime. Anathema had inquired with Adam as to whether his parents were alright with the Them spending time at Jasmine Cottage, but Adam had quickly assuaged her fears.

"My parents don't mind. They just think they've met you through work or something and can't remember who you are and they're too polite to ask. Same with Aziraphale and Crowley," Adam said with an unaffected shrug of one shoulder.

"How...British of them," had been Anathema's only response.

The angel and demon had been in and out as well, though not nearly as frequently as the Them. She assumed their concerns lay mostly with making sure Heaven and Hell kept their respective grimy hands off of Adam, and that the Antichrist continued to be very un-Antichrist like. There was a paternal concern for the boy from both of them, and she found that both endearing and surprising.

She still wasn't sure what to make of either of them. She was sure of only two things: one, that they had only humanity's best interest at heart, and two, that they were gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.

So, it did not surprise her when in early October, just as the leaves started to change, that Aziraphale presented himself at her door. It did surprise her, however, that the angel was in an absolute fit of panic. He'd been the picture of content since the apocalypse was averted.

"Anathema," he said immediately upon her opening the door. "I need your help. Crowley's gone."

"Gone...where?" she asked slowly. The sun had just risen, and her and Newt were barely past the point of having their morning coffee. She was still in her bathrobe.

"That's what I'm trying to determine!" She ushered the anxious angel inside while he continued to explain at a breakneck pace, "He disappeared right in front of me. I've searched high and low for him, but I can't find him—I can't feel him," Aziraphale stressed emphatically. "And usually, you see, no matter how far Crowley is from me, there's always this sense that he's...around. Part of being the, ah, yang to my yin, as they say. Universal balance has to be maintained. I've never, not once, not been able to feel him."

"And you say he just...disappeared? Could he be in Hell?"

Aziraphale paled visibly. "That's what I fear may have happened. Is there anything you could do that could tell me where he is?"

Anathema took a deep breath. "Give me ten minutes."


"What. The hell. Is he," Dean repeated for the third time.

"His true form is just one massive, winged, black serpent," Cas said in answer, again, sounding substantially more irritated than last time.

"Are those cuffs going to hold him?" Sam pressed.

"You two keeping asking as if I could somehow know," Cas snapped irritably. "I can only tell you what I see. I have never encountered anything like this demon before. My best and only theory, is that he's...not from here."

"Like an alien?" Jack asked, perking up. Dean suppressed an eye-roll. Sammy had gotten the kid binge-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and now he kept hoping every case would turn out to be an alien, no matter how many times Dean stressed the 'everything's real BUT aliens and bigfoot' rule to him.(4)

"Like from another universe," Cas elaborated. "A universe where Lucifer wasn't the serpent. A universe where there was never a King of Hell named Crowley. A universe where devil's traps are not infallible."

"I don't like the sound of that universe," Dean said evenly. "How the hell do we put him back?"

Jack patted the pile of notebooks and grimoires they'd liberated from Rowena's barn. "Maybe something in here will tell us?" Dean had hoped Rowena would've been freaked out enough by Bizarro Crowley to leave the Book of the Damned behind, but no such luck. Still, maybe they could dig up something from her notes, if any of them could ever make out her handwriting.

"Rowena summoned this Crowley by accident. It's a resurrection ritual, clearly gone awry—repeating it won't reverse it. We have to find which universe he originally came from and attempt to open up a portal."

"Too bad we're fresh out of Archangel Grace," Dean said with a grimace. "And I don't think Michael's in the giving mood. Not that we know where the bastard is, anyway."

"That Russian guy, Sergei. He had some of Gabriel's Grace. Maybe he has more?" Sam suggested.

"I won't deal with Sergei again. He was...I believe the word is 'shady'...and I doubt he has another vial, I'm amazed he was able to get the first." Cas shifted in the backseat, worry obvious in the crease of his brow. Cas's expression echoed what Dean was thinking: when are we gonna catch a fucking break?

"Should we just kill him?" Dean suggested tiredly. "We have no clue how strong this guy is. He could be a serious problem."

"Shouldn't we at least figure that out before we murder him?" Jack asked, and Dean could practically feel the judgement rolling off of him. It's not like murder was the first or best option, but demons with weird-ass snake eyes that couldn't be trapped freaked him out! They didn't need another world-ending otherworldly threat on their plate, they already had one of those.

"Assuming we can hold him," Sam pointed out darkly. "There's no telling whether—"

Just then, the Impala veered violently sideways, a concussive force rolling the car once, then twice, ending with the roof flat against the rural highway, and the boys dangling from their seat-belts, bloodied and bruised, but not seriously hurt.

"I—don't think the cuffs held him," Dean managed, vision blurring in front of him. More concerning than the possible concussion was the amount of damage that had just been done to Baby. "That settles it. We're killing him."

"WHO CARRIES BOMBS IN THE BACK OF THEIR CAR!" Dean heard a loud shout from behind the Impala. Bizarro Crowley. Dean cut himself out of his seatbelt with Ruby's knife and crawled out from underneath the Impala, Sam close behind. Cas was checking a large cut across Jack's forehead. The young Nephilim seemed disoriented, but otherwise fine.

Dean forced himself to his feet, staggering several steps as the world did a high-speed 360 around him. Okay, not possible concussion, definite concussion. Thankfully, Bizarro Crowley struck a noticeable black silhouette against the hazy blue Kansas sky. Dean fired off a shot at his head without hesitation.

The bullet stopped and fell before it could even hit Crowley. Crowley, who, now that his vision had cleared, looked like he'd been half lit on fire. He also still had the angel cuffs on.

"The cuffs don't work," Dean said immediately to Sam, Cas, and Jack. "He was bluffing us."

"Oh, they work a bit. Kinda like putting a muzzle on me. I can still growl, just not bark," the demon explained, still looking incredibly harried. "And also, in my own defense, I didn't even know what it was, the bomb, that is, I was just messing about with it—not a whole lot to do when you're locked against your will in a trunk—and it blew!"

"Demon bombs," Sam coughed out, pinching the bridge of his nose. "The demon bombs Kevin made, we had spares back there."

Dean whirled on Sam, nearly losing his footing in the process. "You're telling me he just blew up a demon bomb in his bare fucking hands and he's FINE?"

"Demon bombs? Those exist? Why? Not like you can kill demons," Bizarro Crowley said, shaking ash out of his hair.

Dean made for the demon with Ruby's knife still gripped tight in his hand. "Wanna bet?"

"Ah-ah! What did I ever even do to you lot?" Bizarro Crowley burst out, lifting up his hands. "I don't even want to be here! Just send me wherever that ginger witch pulled me out of and we can all live happily ever after!"

"We don't know how to send you back, but I can definitely make it so you're not my problem anymore."

"Look mate, I'm begging you, please. Don't discorporate me. I worked hard on this body. A one time stroke of inspiration," Bizarro Crowley pleaded.

"If he's as powerful as he seems, why is he begging?" Castiel questioned, helping Jack out of the car.

"He said the angel cuffs muzzle him," Sam reminded them. "Maybe he's only got one death save."

Hopefully, Dean thought. "Give me one good reason not to kill you," he said. Assuming he could kill the demon at all, which was pretty up in the air at this point.

"I—I—" the demon whipped off his sunglasses dramatically, as if an idea had just hit him. "I can fix your car!"

"You're the one who broke it!"

"No, but I mean I can just—" Crowley snapped his fingers. "I mean, obviously nothing happened that time, because you have me chained, but if you unchain me, I can put it right as rain, good as new—"

"We're not taking your cuffs off! Forget it!" Sam shouted, retrieving his sawed-off from where it was stored at the small of his back and pointing it at Crowley's head.

"Guns. Never liked guns." He eyed Ruby's knife with a raised eyebrow. "Weapons...weapons in general, not a fan."

Dean hesitated, lowering the knife ever-so-slightly. "Well..." he looked beseechingly at Sam. "We should hear him out."

"Dean! We can fix the Impala! We've done it before!" Sam burst out, incredulous.

"Dude, do you know what a pain in the ass it is to fix body damage?"

Cas and Jack flanked Sam and Dean, but Cas seemed less concerned and more confused. "He's awfully cowardly for a demon as powerful as him."

"Maybe he's not actually that powerful," Jack suggested.

"No, he has power. His aura is..." Cas shook his head, seeming to have trouble finding the words. "Large. Gold. Flashy. Jam-packed tightly with infernal energy."

"Look," Crowley's hands were still raised, "I'm a lover, not a fighter."

Dean looked sharply at Cas. "Are you SURE this isn't our Crowley?"

"Our Crowley was a lot of things, but I wouldn't say he was a coward. He proved that much in the end."

"Coward is a bit of a strong word..."

Crowley jumped when Cas put the tip of his angel blade to the demon's throat. "If angel cuffs will hold him, an angel blade should kill him. Release him...one false move, and I'll end this."

Bizarro Crowley eyed Castiel with distaste. "You're an odd duck, aren't you? An angel palling around with humans. I've got a friend that would just love you."

"Shut up." Cas met Dean's eyes, and Dean nodded, moving forward swiftly. With a quick click of the key, the angel cuffs were off. Dean took one step back, cautiously.

Bizarro Crowley massaged his wrists. "Now THAT'S better," he said with a half-mad grin. "Check this out." He did jazzhands, and then snapped his fingers. The Impala immediately righted itself, worked out its own dents, unbent its hood and roof, and washed itself within a matter of seconds.

Dean gaped.

"Now," the demon set one hand on Castiel's shoulder and one hand on Dean's. "How about you let me sit in the backseat the rest of the way?"

 

Chapter Text

Anathema, Newt, and Aziraphale stood in the parlor, gathered around the coffee table, which had a map of the world spread out upon it. Anathema was mixing a series of herbs into a bowl, occasionally requesting that Newt dip into her pantry to retrieve some ambiguous vial of liquid, usually with such helpful descriptors tacked on as, "the goopy one" or "the one that smells like that indescribable but somehow universally recognizable scent of the elderly."

When she seemed satisfied with the mix of ingredients, Anathema grabbed a torch lighter from the windowsill and held it down to the concoction, chanting a few words in Assyrian under her breath.

"You're sure this will work?" Aziraphale asked with a frown, hands clasped to his chest.

"As sure as I ever am now that I don't have a book of prophecy telling me exactly what to do at all times," Anathema replied evenly.

"She's really quite good," Newt tacked on helpfully, hovering behind Anathema. "Last week, I lost the keys to Dick Turpin, and she worked a spell and found them right away."

"They were in his coat pocket," Anathema elaborated tiredly as the ingredients in the bowl burst into bright emerald flames.

Newt blushed. "I was sure I'd checked there."

Anathema handed Newt the lighter and grabbed the bowl, giving it a firm shake before upending it onto the world map. The green flames spread like—well, like wildfire, as one would imagine—and quickly covered the entire map.

"It will burn all but where Crowley is," Anathema provided. "So if he's on Earth, it'll show us."

"But what if he's in Hell, as I fear he may be?" Aziraphale pressed.

"If he's in Hell, the map won't burn at all. But see," Anathema pointed, "it's already charring—he's on Earth."

Aziraphale nearly collapsed in relief. "Thank Heavens. Not that I wouldn't go to Hell for Crowley, surely he'd go Upwards to get me if I got in a snag, but, not going to Hell is always a favorable alternative to going to Hell."

"I would imagine so," Newt agreed with a nod.

The map continued to burn. North America, the British Isles, Northwestern Europe...Eastern Europe. Africa.

"He must be in Asia somewhere," Aziraphale said, but his voice was absent surety.

Asia burned away.

"Australia then. I'm sure he's made enemies in Australia. Or perhaps he just nipped off for a touch of Sullivan's Cove on a whim. He did always say how much he liked—"

Australia burned away.

Aziraphale gulped. "New Zealand...?"

No dice.

The map was ash.

"What," Aziraphale said slowly, visibly paling, eyes wide, "what does it mean if the map burns completely?"

Anathema stared down at the ashes. "I..."

She was amazed by how all refinement the angel usually maintained vanished in an instant. His eyes glistened, and he raised a trembling hand to cover his mouth, as if struggling to hold back a sob. He let out a muffled, "Oh dear," and she could see how close he was to breaking.

She didn't know precisely what the score was with the angel and the demon, but she never thought of them as separate entities. Since meeting them, it had always been CrowleyandAziraphale. AziraphaleandCrowley. Said in one breath, ascribed to one being. To think of the two independently felt unnatural. They were one thing in two bodies, two halves of a whole idiot.

"I would feel it," Aziraphale said with abrupt certainty, jerking his hand away from his mouth and clenching it into a fist. "I would. We are part of the scales that balance the universe; if he were to...to...to have something happen to him—" the angel said in a near unintelligible rush, "I would know it. I'm positive."

"I actually agree with you," Anathema said, mind whirring. "I think you would feel it. And if Crowley had died anywhere on Earth, this would still point us to his body. Demons as powerful and as old as Crowley, according to some of the light reading(1) I've been doing, it would be like a miniature nuclear reactor exploding if he were to actually die, rather than just being discorporated. And if he was discorporated, the map wouldn't have burned."

"...and if he were in Heaven?" Aziraphale broached, seeming to dread that idea even more than the concept of the demon being in Hell.

"I suppose he could be, but if the angels knew where Crowley was, they know where you are. Why not take you both?" Anathema pointed out. "Or at least tell you that they'd taken him, so they could use him for leverage, or bait."

"So if he's not on Earth, not in Hell, and not in Heaven, where is he?" posed Newt, swinging his head between Aziraphale and Anathema.

"You say he just disappeared? Right in front of your eyes?" Anathema asked, for clarification.

Aziraphale nodded. "In a blink."

"If that's the case...forgive me if this sounds like a stretch, but I think he may have been transported to another universe." Anathema buzzed off to her near-buckling bookshelves, hunting for a particular tome. "Supposedly there's—ah, here it is," she opened up a dusty leather bound book that was several centuries older than she was. It was a theory on adjacent planes of existence, created by a very old Bavarian witch long before string theory and quantum mechanics made alternate universes hip. "Supposedly there's infinite universes. Every single choice spawns a different one, every single choice made by every single person. Mirrors reflecting into other mirrors reflecting into other mirrors."

"And you think Crowley may have been teleported to one of these parallel universes?" the angel's brows dipped in doubt.

"That's my best guess. Either that or I did that spell very wrong, and I don't often do things very wrong," Anathema replied.

Aziraphale seemed to find this answer vastly more comforting than the idea of Crowley being dead, or in the possession of those Above or Below, so he laid his reservations to the side. "But, that does beg the question, Anathema, how exactly do I go about getting to another universe, or getting Crowley back from where he was sent?"

"The fabric of reality should be thinner where he was taken from." She tucked the leather book—Es Gibt Noch Andere Verdammte Universen—underneath her arm. "You're a Principality, right? You should be strong enough to tear a hole and step through to whatever is on the other side. You likely won't find Crowley just waiting for you there, but you'll at least be in the same dimension as him."

"I do remember you prefacing all this alternate universe talk with 'supposedly'..."

"I don't think you'd like any other answer I have for you," Anathema said bluntly. The best hope for Crowley was that he'd been taken to a different universe. Entertaining any other option was pointless, as it all meant the same thing: the demon was gone.

Aziraphale's face crumpled. "I see," he said. "Then, I'll just—I'll go on after him, then." Aziraphale glanced between Anathema and Newt. "I do hate to trouble you further, but it would be wise if someone were to guard the portal while I'm on the other side, assuming that this pans out as we hope it will. You never know what might come through."

Aziraphale looked like an absolute slew of Lovecraftian horrors were currently doing a conga line in his mind's eye.

Newt turned to her. "Do we...have the means to protect against otherworldly threats?"

"No, probably not." She was already heading for the door. "Did you put gas in Dick Turpin yesterday?"

"Gas—? Oh. Petrol. Yeah. All, uh, gassed up," Newt chuckled nervously. "Should we have guns or something?"

Anathema dipped into the kitchen and secured a steak knife from the knife block. "We'll be fine. Let's go."

Newt paled a bit, but still nodded. He seemed to have developed an almost unshakeable faith in her since the apocalypse that wasn't, and she appreciated that. Given how her life usually went, he would need to have a little faith to survive.

With that less than cheery thought, she made for the door, Newt and Aziraphale in her wake. They were waylaid halfway to Dick Turpin when the Them rolled down the streets on their bikes, Adam, as always, in the lead, with Dog nipping along at his heels.

"Hi Anathema. Hi Newt. Hi Aziraphale," Adam greeted, and the Them echoed him. "Where's Crowley?" he asked immediately, noticing his absence.

"That's what we're trying to find out, my dear boy," Aziraphale replied in a somber tone, looking down at the Antichrist. Dog bounded up to him, and Aziraphale gave the hellhound an affectionate scratch behind his ears.

"How're you gonna do that?" Brian posed.

"We're going to rip a hole in the universe," Anathema provided.

The eyes of the Them lit up immediately. "Can we come?" Adam asked. "To wherever you're doing the hole ripping at."

"Adam, you four have school tomorrow," Anathema scolded him lightly. "You can't come with us. Plus, this could be dangerous."

"Nothing's dangerous to me," Adam said, totally unconcerned.

"And actually it's a Baker Day tomorrow," said Wensleydale, adjusting his slightly too big glasses. "We don't have school."

"We have no idea what's going to happen when we do this. Your parents'll be very cross with us if some huge tentacled monster crawls through and eats you lot," Newt said to the Them. His goal was to scare them, Anathema assumed, but he'd only succeeded in making them more enthused to come.

"Please Anathema!"

"We won't tell our parents!"

"Actually, tentacles aren't even that scary—"

"Please, children," it was Aziraphale who eventually interrupted their pleading, the angel's eyes serious. "This is something that could put all of your lives at great risk, and I cannot abide that." He smiled sadly at the four tweens. "Crowley would have very strong words with me if anything were to happen to you."

"Also, we, ah, we can't fit that many people in Dick Turpin," Newt added.

The Them seemed to realize there was no arguing their way into coming, and promptly deflated. "Fine. But next time you go to another universe, I want to come," Adam said very seriously. "And I want a souvenir."

"You have my word," Aziraphale said, extending a hand to Adam and giving it a firm shake. Adam seemed satisfied.

"We might be gone for a few days. Pepper, can you water my plants in the meantime?" Anathema asked Pepper kindly.

Pepper seemed to take the duty with dignity. "They'll be even better when you get back."

"Good. We'll see you all in a few days. Behave."

And then the witch, witchfinder, and angel were piling into Dick Turpin, and off.


"Bit mad, isn't it? Having a telescope underground? Can't look at anything. I get that it's decorative, but I'm guessing you don't get a lot of company here..."

"What the fuck are we gonna do with this guy?" Dean asked lowly. He, Sam, Cas, and Jack hovered around the strategy room table, hands planted all over the earth, watching Bizarro Crowley wander around the bunker and poke at things, an endless stream of jabber all the while.

"Send him home," Cas said, eyes following Crowley's every move as he wound his way over to the Commodore 64(2).

"But how do we find his home?" Jack questioned. "There's so many universes."

The demon lifted a chained hand to press one of the larger, redder buttons, "What's this one do—"

"DON'T," Sam and Dean chorused.

Crowley withdrew his hand, shrinking somewhat. He hadn't argued when they'd put the cuffs back on him in the Impala, seeming perfectly pleased that he got to sit in the backseat instead of getting thrown in the trunk once more.

Dean leaned forward, biting back a sigh. "Look, Crowley—"

"Crow-ley," the demon corrected automatically.

Dean just flung his hands around in a vague gesture. "Okay, okay, this is too weird. What did you say your full name was?"

"Anthony J. Crowley," the demon announced proudly. "The one and only."

What the hell kind of demon has a first, middle, and last name? "Cool. I'm calling you Tony. So, Tony—"

Crowley let out an outraged, incredibly snake-like hiss. "Do I look like a bloody Tony to you?" he demanded. "Tony. Good God. Err. Satan. Good somebody. If you want cutesy nicknames, I'll answer to AJ, but I don't understand what's so hard about Crowley."

"Because we've got a..." he struggled to find the correct way to describe their relationship with Crowley. "Friend," he settled on with an eye roll, "named Crowley. And it's freaking me out. So, whatever. AJ—" Dean took a deep breath, but Cas spoke before he could.

"You're obviously strong enough to have gotten away from us by now," the angel pointed out bluntly. "Why not run?"

Crowley swayed a bit on his feet. "Full disclosure, that was the plan, but then I realized, well—off in a universe I know nothing about, want to go home, you four seem to know what's up over here and don't seem to want me slithering around—it's..." he spread out his hands, searching for the word with a furrowed brow. "Synergy, that's it. You want me gone, I want to be gone."

"You aren't strong enough to get yourself home?" Cas questioned, narrowing his eyes at the demon.

"Really shook you up, waltzing out of that devil's trap, didn't I?" Crowley grinned. "We're running on two different sets of rules, far as universes go. Obviously demons are weaker over here, but back home, we're not gods. I could probably tear open a hole in the universe if I really tried, but I've no idea where it would drop me. Could end up floating in some void in space for the rest of forever. Could end up in another universe. A worse one. Rather not take the risk if I can avoid it. So, if you all can whip something up and send me back to the proper place, then everything's..." the demon seemed to be sharing a private joke with himself, "...everything's tickety-boo."

"Tickety-boo?" Jack repeated, baffled. Dean would have explained if he knew what the fuck it meant.

"Also, can I get some names? If we're gonna be in cahoots?" Crowley asked, wagging a finger between the four of them.

"We're not in cahoots," Cas insisted.

"We're kind of in cahoots," Crowley argued, face scrunching.

"I'm Dean Winchester, this is my brother Sam, this is Jack, and this is Cas," Dean rattled off quickly, eager to skip the introductions. The less the demon knew about them, the better.

Crowley's finger came to rest in Cas's general direction. "Is that Cas as in Cassiel or Cas as in Castiel?"

"Castiel."

"Shame. Angel of the moon would've been loads cooler. No offense." Crowley redirected his attention to Jack. "And this one's got an aura like nobody's business. Tastes Nephilim-y. Looks just like you. Your son?"

Cas seemed to completely blank at the question, mouth drifting open slightly. He made to stammer out a response, but Jack provided a simple, "Yes," before Cas could get a word in edgewise.

Cas blinked a few times, as if double-checking that he'd heard Jack right. Dean knew that constipated look on Cas's face all too well; that meant a lot for him to hear that from Jack. Dean knew that Jack looked at all of them in the paternal sense(3) but it was different with Cas. Jack had been born thinking Cas was his father. It was no wonder the kid looked just like him, with the way Jack had once been able to naturally manipulate things to his will. He'd known before he was even born that Cas was the dad that mattered, so instead of popping out looking like a little mini-Lucifer, he looked like the picture perfect combo of Kelly and Cas.

"Sending you back isn't that simple," Sam said with a grimace. "The only way we know to open a portal to another universe is with Archangel Grace, which we're fresh out of."

"Well, you've got Archangels here, right?" Crowley asked, confused. He plopped down on the strategy table, legs an unreasonable distance apart. He swung his dangling feet, looking expectantly at Cas. "Who's in charge Upstairs?"

"Frankly, no one. Naomi leads what few angels are left."

"Naomi? We don't have a Naomi over in my world. And how few is few?"

Dean ran both of his hands through his hair. "Holy shit. We're gonna be here all night explaining our greatest hits to him."

"Well EXCUSE ME for wanting a bit of backstory—" the demon said loudly.

"We're operating on two completely different lore systems here," Sam cut in swiftly. "There's going to be confusion if we don't clear it up. I have an idea."

Sam vanished for a few moments, leaving the rest of them in awkward silence while Sam rifled through something in a back room. He returned two minutes later with his arms full-to-the-brim with books. He deposited them unceremoniously in front of Crowley.

"This'll give you a crash-course, and there's more books online after that," Sam explained.

Crowley merely raised an eyebrow and scooped one up. "On the Head of a Pin," he read the title aloud. He held the book aloft and peered at Sam over the top of his sunglasses. "Am I missing something here?"

Dean looked at the large pile of paperbacks in open revulsion. "We own these?" he asked with a scowl.

"I figured they'd come in handy some day," Sam said begrudgingly. "Crowley, these cover a lot of things about our world. I'm assuming you can read faster than humans?"

"See. Big Boy over here can call me Crowley. Not so hard," Crowley taunted Dean, then tossed the book back on the table, shifting through the pile to find the copy labeled with a '1'. "And yeah, I don't particularly like to, but I can read quickly. So what even are these?"

"The Winchester Gospel," Cas informed him. "Written by God Himself."

"Himself?" Crowley cocked his head. "Your God's a He? And a bloke named Carver Edlund?"

Dean exchanged looks of utter befuddlement with Sam, Cas, and Jack. "Your God's...not a He?"

"No. Definitely a She. Definitely didn't make the Bible a mass market paperback pulp fiction series, either," Crowley responded, finally finding the first book in the series, entitled The Family Business.(4)

"Well, that's kind of like the Bible 2.0," Dean said. "All the stuff from the Bible still stands. Kinda. The bigger stuff." After some consideration, he amended, "Okay, uh, mainly Revelation got it right."

"At least we have that in common," Crowley muttered, flipping open to the first page. "Great. Homework. Can I have the cuffs off now, please? Seeing as we're working together to our mutual benefit?"

"No," Dean and Sam said together.

Crowley threw his head back dramatically, groaning. "Like your angel said, I could've escaped if I wanted to! It's itching my wrists like anything, is all."

"Shut up," Dean said, pointing authoritatively at Crowley. "Shut up, read, and the four of us will try to work through all these fucking notebooks of Rowena's to see if we can find anything that might be able to send you back without us having to drain an Archangel."

Crowley blew out a long breath, and slid off his sunglasses. He redirected his unnervingly reptilian eyes to the book. "Fine, fine."

Dean watched Crowley as the others began grabbing notebooks at random and opening them up, prepared to try to decipher Rowena's incoherent shorthand. Dean couldn't help but think that the demon came across as so...harmless. Their Crowley had been more friend than foe to them in the last few years, but even then their Crowley had always felt...dangerous. Even at his weakest, even at his lowest, there was something about their Crowley that triggered something in Dean's brain, the instinctual wariness that had been preciously cultivated over the years by both his father and himself.(5)

But, somehow, he didn't get any warning bells with this freaky snake-eyed motherfucker. And he should have. It worried him that he didn't. Some kind of memetic brainwashing thing? To lure them into a false sense of security?

There's got to be more to him, Dean thought. Nothing is ever this simple.


Aziraphale felt almost as though he was betraying Crowley, letting Anathema and Newt into his flat. Logically, he knew the demon wouldn't give a care, under current circumstances, but Crowley had always seemed awfully guarded about his home. Aziraphale had never even been inside the flat himself until they'd successfully averted the apocalypse, and Crowley had been living here for at least fifty years, granted with several updates to the building and decor over that time.

"At the kitchen table, you said?" Anathema asked, wandering Crowley's sparsely furnished but well-stocked kitchen. There were occasions where going out didn't suit them, and they would stay in for the evening. After Aziraphale's less-than-successful attempts at cooking, Crowley had taken it on as his own responsibility. Aziraphale felt a pang of longing for his friend; so strange to be in his home with no trace of the demon to be seen, save his half-eaten breakfast still sat on the table.

6,000 years of Crowley's presence serving as a quiet comfort in the back of his ethereal conscious. Always there, always scheming, plotting, galavanting around the world and causing just enough trouble (or pretending to, at the very least) to stay in the good graces of head office. And now, gone. As if he'd never been there at all.

Oh, if this didn't work, he didn't know what he was going to do.

"Yes," Aziraphale answered vaguely, mind threatening to slip into a blur of melancholy. No, he mustn't lose hope, he reminded himself firmly. Crowley and he had faced worse before. If they could stand up to Satan Himself together, surely a bit of inter-dimensional travel was a trifle in comparison.

"Then this will be the place. Can you sense that reality is weaker here? More fluid?" Anathema leaned against the kitchen table, Newt at her side, who was the picture of apprehension.

Spreading out his awareness, it became quickly clear that the young witch was correct. Where Crowley had been splayed out now seemed less present and physical than anything else in the room, or all of London, for that matter. A single worn hole in the jumper that was the mortal dimension. Aziraphale approached the chair, settling his hands on the back.

"If I'm not back in..." he thought for a moment, "Forty-eight hours, I'm afraid you two would be best suited to find a way to close the portal. If something untoward happens to me, there's no telling whether a greater evil may slip through the cracks. The risk is too high to take." He and Crowley certainly hadn't risked their lives saving the world to let it end some other way.

"Understood," Anathema replied curtly.

"Are you, uh, going to go about it, then?" Newt asked, a cross between interest and dim fear.

"I already am," Aziraphale supplied, letting his eyes slip shut. It was just a matter of digging his entirely metaphorical fingers into that entirely metaphorical hole-in-the-jumper and...tugging...

Aziraphale stumbled backwards when a thin slit of orange-yellow energy opened just to his immediate right, radiating a kind of energy Aziraphale had never felt before. Something distinctly Other.

"Well, to be quite honest, that was easier than I thought it would be," he confessed to Newt and Anathema. He wiggled a bit, straightening his coat. "Now I suppose I'll...just step right through."

"Good luck," Newt offered sincerely.

"We'll be waiting for you when you get back," said Anathema. "When both of you get back."

Aziraphale smiled warmly at her. A sweet girl, especially for a witch. "I'll just be a tick," he said, though that was more of a prayer than a statement.

Without further ado, he dragged in a deep breath into his needless lungs, and stepped through the crack in reality.

 

Chapter Text

The Winchesters, their angel, and their Nephil worked through the night with the ginger witch's notes in relative silence and stillness, only occasionally slipping out of the room to grab a beer, or another tediously long book to use for reference. Jack spoke the most of the four, occasionally asking Crowley innocent questions about his own universe, which Crowley happily answered, as the Nephil was a sight more friendly than his father, or the Winchesters.

"So there was an Antichrist in your world?" Jack asked, head tilted to the side, a bit like a bird.

"Mhmm. Eleven years old. Told his Dad he wanted none of it. It being the apocalypse. Whole thing was brilliant, really," Crowley replied, leaving out the part where he'd been pissing his trousers the entire time. He absentmindedly continued reading through another one of the Supernatural books. He was about thirty in at this point, tearing through them at infernal speed. He was still waiting for them to get good. He had a feeling he would be waiting a long time. "What about here? Got an Antichrist?"

Jack seemed embarrassed by something, and didn't respond. Crowley chose not to pursue the subject further.

At one point, Crowley, listlessly turning yet another page, said, "It's all a bit camp, isn't it?"

Dean and Sam both looked up at him. "What do you mean?" Sam asked.

"I mean...it reads like a soap opera, only with monsters," Crowley elaborated.

"It's our lives. Not a soap opera. And not campy! Real stuff can't be campy," Dean defended, an angry set to his jaw.(1)

Crowley tossed Heart into the finished pile. "Beg to differ."

"Oh, what, like your life is so much more book-worthy," the older Winchester shot back. Strange to be talking to the two of them, now that he'd just read through approximately a year and a half of their lives, plus all the flashbacks to their childhoods riddled with parental neglect and psychological trauma. He'd barely scratched the surface, and he already wondered how these two were still standing.

"Maybe not book-worthy, but less depressing," Crowley replied, picking up Hollywood Babylon with a grimace.

"Yeah, well, we live in a world that keeps trying to end itself. Not exactly Saturday morning cartoons," Dean said, abandoning his current translations of the witch's scrawlings to glare at him. "Newsflash, our lives suck."

"Dean," warned Castiel, glancing pointedly at Jack, who did flick his eyes briefly up to Dean when he said that.

"I mean," Dean amended, "they sucked pretty hard back then. And you haven't even got to when we had to full-on stop Armageddon yet."

"You lot stopped Armageddon?" Crowley asked, not bothering to hide his disbelief. Still, nice, wasn't it, that there was another universe where somebody said, oi, why should we stomp out the whole world? Maybe just don't? Maybe just let things crack on as usual and see what happens?

"We had help," Sam said vaguely, not nearly as incensed about Crowley's ribbing as Dean was. "A lot of it."

"Us too," Crowley said with a short nod. "Witch. Witchfinders. Some eleven year olds. Aziraphale was in a dress. Fun times." Not really fun times, actually quite terrifying times, but tragedy plus time equaled comedy, right?

That got everyone around the table to look at him. "What do you mean by 'us too'?" Castiel asked slowly, narrowing his bright blue eyes at him.

"Well, me and Aziraphale. Uh, an angel. Angel of the Eastern Gate, Principality, etcetera." Crowley brightened, a sudden thought hitting him. "Don't suppose you have a version of him here?"

"Aziraphale? No. We have an Israfel, but he's been dead for years."

Crowley deflated somewhat. "Right."

"You and an angel stopped the apocalypse?" Dean seemed floored.

"Maybe his universe isn't so different after all," Jack said lightly. "An angel and a demon helped save the world here and there."

"Demon helped you out?" The pieces clicked together in Crowley's brain. "Ohhhh. Other Crowley. He helped you muck up the Ineffable Plan, hmm? I like him already."

"Yeah, well, he's dead," Dean said shortly, returning to his work. "Just like almost everybody else we know."

Crowley kept his eyes on Dean for a few more moments before reluctantly redirecting his attention back to the book in his hand. He needed to get out of this universe before the soul-crushing angst of it all started to get to him.(2)


It was well past two in the morning when Crowley sighed loudly, throwing the final book, No Rest for the Wicked, on top of the finished pile. "There. All done."

By this point, Jack and Sam had given up and gone to bed, with the mindset to begin again in the morning. Castiel had excused himself to go search through the file room for something (Crowley was, admittedly, only half-listening), leaving Crowley alone with Dean, the broodier of the two Winchesters.

Dean barely glanced up at him. He shoved Sam's laptop in his general direction. "You've still got like, forty more."

Crowley head-desked. "Please, if you're going to torture me, just torture me. It's better than this."

"You're the one who wanted to be in cahoots."

Crowley sank down petulantly in his chair, crossing his arms. "I thought cahoot-ing would be more exciting. Sitting here in a bunker that could withstand the literal end of the world with a stockpile of supernatural weapons and a whole lot of prophecy behind you." He tapped the surface of one of the books in a restless, irritated fashion. "Wish Aziraphale was here. He would've eaten all this up, rubbish writing or not." He actually just wished Aziraphale would show up and take him home, already, because he was rapidly losing interest in all of this.

"Watch whose life you're calling rubbish," Dean snapped, but there wasn't any real energy in it.

"Weren't you just saying earlier that it sucked?"

Dean paused, but eventually conceded, "Point."

Crowley started in on Lazarus Rising, grimacing all the way, but at least vaguely interested in this particular volume, as it was when Castiel came into play. "Oh," the demon said with sudden realization. "Oh. That's why you're so tetchy. You've been to Hell. For awhile, too."

The human only offered a noncommittal grunt. Crowley watched as he refilled his glass tumbler for the fifth time that night, slowly draining away at a bottle of Jameson. Crowley eyed the liquor, deciding it was a bloody good idea. Not Jameson, of course, that was swill—but he could certainly miracle up his own—

No, no he couldn't. Damn cuffs. He still had enough energy he could squeak out to save his own life with a burst of adrenaline, but the likeliness of him being able to conjure up his own brand to drink, unlikely. So he snatched the bottle from Dean and took a deep draught.

Dean didn't seem pleased. "Dude. Germs."

"I'm a DEMON, idiot. I don't have germs." Crowley swallowed the gasoline-esque whisky with a deep scowl. To be home again, he thought wistfully. With his angel and his good booze. "How long were you in Hell?"

"Keep reading."

"I know you were in there for four months, but time works differently in Hell, at least for human souls." Crowley leaned forward a bit, hand still gripped around the bottleneck. "How long?"

Dean's jaw tightened. "Forty years," he replied at length, tone clipped and formal. "Happy?"

"Not even a little." He drank from the bottle again. Forty years Downstairs was an eternity for a human. How Dean Winchester was walking, talking, and feeding himself was beyond Crowley. Then again, in this barmy universe where God was a He and humans became demons and demons and angels could be killed willy-nilly, he supposed anything was possible.

"And the angel," Crowley continued, trying to lighten the dire mood, "that's how you met him? When he pulled you out of Hell?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah." No bite back that time.

"Romantic."

"He was following orders."

Crowley looked at Dean, really looked at him, on the higher planes. His aura was a great mess. Dark and light and weird stains. Very bright soul. Undeniably bright soul, but looked like it had been rode hard and put away wet. Hell had left a mark on him, but so had something Celestial, and then...something so remarkably Other that he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. Ancient. Older than him, and that was bloody rare.

"How long do these books cover?" Crowley inquired, peering at Dean over the top of his sunglasses.

"Five years."

"And they stop in 2011."

"Yeah."

"Can't imagine what's happened to you since, with your luck."

Dean looked up from his laptop, seeming to think for a moment. "Well, Raphael tried to end the world. Then Cas, kinda. Then the Leviathan. Then Crowley, kinda. Then...uh well there was Abaddon and Metatron, then the Darkness, then Lucifer again, then more Lucifer, and now Michael."

Crowley blinked at him, something Crowley rare did. "And I thought our God was flaky," he muttered.

"Yeah, well, our God was a pretty shit father figure. Then he came back long enough to help with the Darkness, almost died, then fucked off with her to...somewhere. Been incommunicado since."

Crowley reeled back, shooting Dean a look of absolute confusion. "What?"

"The Darkness, God's sister. There at the beginning with him. She got released and tried to end, like, everything." Dean made a wide encompassing gesture with his hands.

"...What?"

"Look, she was trapped in this demonic tramp stamp thing I had, okay, and then when I killed Death—"

"WHAT!?"

Dean just shook his head, giving up. "Never mind. Not important. I mean, it's important, but not to this."

What the hell kind of universe had that ginger witch summoned him to? He suddenly felt immense amounts of gratitude to Her, for the first time in a very long time, for at least not shitting on their world to the degree this world had been shat on. Dealt the worst hand possible, of all hands, and left in the care of two deeply damaged humans and a collection of supernatural entities that seemed to die around them at an alarming rate.

For Hell's sake. He just wanted to be back in his flat with his angel.

Crowley returned his eyes to the laptop, deciding he really didn't want to know the more intimate details. "Sounds fake, but okay."


Dean went to retire to bed at 4am. Crowley was trying not to fall asleep during The Rapture. The only thing keeping his eyes open was the fact that it was, admittedly, mildly intriguing that angels had to take a human vessel in this universe. Seemed ill thought out on the Almighty's part, but still. And only certain humans could hold angels without exploding? Bizarre. Aziraphale would be fascinated by that.

"Okay, I gotta get some shut eye," Dean said with a loud yawn, snapping shut one of the texts he'd been using to translate some of Rowena's scribbles. "Everything's blurring together." He directed tired green eyes to Castiel. "Watch him?"

Castiel nodded, nose deep in a notebook. "Yes. I'll make breakfast in the morning."

Dean grimaced at the thought. "Cas, no offense, but the last time you tried to—"

Castiel pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and waved it. "I found a video on the YouTube, with instructions. An angry British man who shows you how to make scrambled eggs."

Crowley barely managed to stifle a drunken laugh.(3)

After an exasperated mutter of "the YouTube" under his breath, Dean just held up his hands. "Just don't burn the place down." With that, he departed the room, leaving Crowley and Castiel alone.

"Must be an angel thing. Dreadful cooks," Crowley commented idly, taking his thumbs and pointer fingers to try to force his eyes to stay open.

"What are you doing?" asked the angel, casting a confused glance at Crowley.

"Trying to stay awake through this tripe."

"You're a demon. You don't sleep."

"Just means I don't need to sleep, doesn't mean I don't like to sleep."

"But why do you like to sleep? You could be up...doing whatever it is that you do, instead," Castiel argued, the picture of confusion.

"I don't do a whole lot, mate. I've been going out of my way to not do a whole lot for 6,000 years," Crowley replied, finally giving up and slamming the laptop shut. "D'you have a bed or something? Or any horizontal surface not entirely comprised of bees, really. I'll catch a few hours and finish this in the morning. I'm bored rigid."

"If you sleep, I'll have to watch you."

Crowley resisted the urge to head-desk again. But then, an idea occurred to him.

"I'm going to show you why you don't need to watch me," Crowley said, a wicked grin sliding across his face.

"What are you—"

He vanished.

Well, not vanished, really. He was on the floor. He slipped out of the cuffs with ease.

Castiel was up in an instant. "Crowley!" he yelled, and at least the angel managed to say his name right.

With absolute mad glee, he slid up the angel's pant leg.

The angel yelled loudly, stumbling backwards and flipping over one of the chairs in the process, slamming his head back against the hard floor. He scrambled backwards, staring at Crowley in disbelief. Crowley reared up, smiling. Insomuch as a snake is capable of smiling, which is to say, not at all—but he was sure the angel got the idea.

"Ssssssee?" Crowley hissed. "Ssss'not a problem for me to just ssssssslither away. If I wanted to be up to ssssssomething, I'd be up to ssssssomething. So how about a little free will, Casssssstiel? Issssssn't that what you lot are all about?"

Castiel jumped to his feet, drawling his sword that Crowley could sense was some kind of consecrated, Heavenly weapon. He pointed it at Crowley, panic in his eyes. "T-Turn back into your human form," he ordered.

Crowley laughed. Or rather made a sound that, for a snake, was a loose approximation to laughter. "Ssssscared of ssssssnakes, are we?"

"NOW, CROWLEY."

"Fine. You're no fun." Crowley reared back further and melted back into his corporeal form, snake mouth and fangs transforming into the shit-eating grin of his usual body. "So. How about we skip the cuffs, skip the watching-me-sleep, and I just go on and find somewhere to take a nap?"

Castiel didn't sheathe his sword, but did issue a stiff nod of his head. "Fine, just...don't do that again."

Crowley barked out a laugh. "Whatever you say." He sashayed past Castiel, in the general direction of where he believed the bunker's living quarters to be. "See you in the morning, sunshine."

He heard the distinct sound of Castiel muttering murderously under his breath as he walked away. He couldn't stop smiling.


Dean woke the next morning to find four pans full of burnt scrambled eggs in the sink, along with the refuse of some bacon attempts. Jack and Sam sat at the kitchen table with bowls of cereal. Cas looked incensed.

Dean clapped Cas companionably on the back. "Good try, buddy. You'll get there eventually." Dean glanced around. "Where's Sir Hiss hanging out at?"

"Sir Hiss—?" Metatron's pop-culture knowledge implanted in his brain seemed to come back to Cas in a rush, and he nodded, "Oh, yes. From the version of Robin Hood with the animals. Crowley is...well, he's sleeping."

Dean stared at Cas, feeling a tide of irritation rise up in him. "Cas...you had one job..."

"He can turn into a snake," Cas cut him off with a level look. "He slipped the cuffs to prove that essentially, he can do whatever he wants, and we can't stop him. He just wanted to take a nap, supposedly. I've checked on him several times since you went to bed, and he does appear to be sleeping."

"Why the hell does a demon need to sleep?"

"Haven't you ever," yawned a voice from behind him, "heard of beauty sleep?"

A ruffled Crowley stood in the threshold of the kitchen, leaning there in just his v-neck, his suit-jacket slung over one arm. His sunglasses were back on. Dean did immediately think him a douchebag for wearing sunglasses inside, but was grateful not to have to stare into those insane eyes of his any more than he had to.

"If you sleep, do you dream?" Jack asked curiously, mouth half-full of Reese's Puffs.

Crowley shrugged one shoulder. "If I want to."(4)

Sam watched Crowley warily. "I take it you won't put the cuffs back on?"

"I think we can all agree there isn't much point in that," Crowley said with a small smirk.

Sam shook his head, resigned. He met Dean's eyes, and they exchanged a look that said what they both were thinking: this was not a good situation, but there was nothing they could do about it, short of getting Crowley the hell out of this universe as fast as possible.

"I have an idea," Sam announced to the room at large. "We're not getting anywhere with Rowena's notes. I think the ritual really was just some inter-dimensional fluke. So, we need to use what we already know about travelling from universe to universe to deal with this."

"Cool. Great. Too bad we don't have any Archangel Grace—" Dean started, but Sam gave him a pointed bitch-face to silence him.

"When you were running around with Crowley, after you guys got Gadreel out of me...we tried to use what was left of Gadreel's Grace in my body to make a tracking spell. It didn't work, but Cas did manage to extract some of Gadreel's Grace. Which, applying that logic..."

"I've got Archangel Grace in me," Dean surmised, feeling his skin crawl. The fact that there were still...parts...of Michael left behind. He hated it. Extracting them, hell, that would be welcome. "Okay. We'll do it."

"Dean, I should warn you that it'll be painful," Cas broached carefully. "It was excruciating for Sam, and it did trigger...memories, that may have otherwise stayed buried in his subconscious."

Dean just crossed his arms. "I ain't a stranger to pain, or bad memories. If it'll work, let's do it."

Crowley snorted from the doorway.

"Something funny?" Dean glared at the demon.

"Nothing. You're just...well you're just very much the action hero type, aren't you? All machismo and self-sacrifice." Crowley waved his hand in Dean's general direction. "I can just feel the broodiness rolling off of you."

"AJ?" Dean asked, making the concerted effort not to say the automatic, shut up, Crowley! poised on his tongue. All too easy to confuse this demon with the King of Hell when he was being a dick, and confusing this Crowley with their Crowley was asking for trouble. They knew their Crowley; they were running on nothing but hope and prayers with this guy.

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

"Shut up," Crowley mocked Dean's voice.

Dean's left eye twitched. "ANYWAY," he said loudly. "We'll gather up all the other shit we need for the spell—we've still got leftovers from our last trip to Apocalypse World(5), so we shouldn't have to run for much. Then we'll...we'll do the thing."

Dean sensed the others (sans Crowley) watching him with concern.

"Are you sure about this?" Jack asked quietly.

Dean nodded, jaw tight. "Yeah. I'm sure."

Crowley clapped his hands together cheerily. "Great. Let's get this over with then, shall we?"

 

Chapter Text

Naomi sat at her desk. She did a lot of sitting at her desk, nowadays, though she wasn't sure why—with so few of them left, they didn't have the manpower to be concerned about Earth. They'd long ago stopped processing almost any reports, just a few stray things here and there. Sightings of other angels. Occasional miracles that couldn't be accounted for. Nothing ever panned out. Not when they could only send just one or two angels to Earth at a time, lest Heaven stutter and die completely.

As if to punctuate her thoughts, the lights overhead flickered.

Naomi sighed, burying her head in her hands, trying to ignore the throbbing in her temples. She had recovered, mostly, from the drill—but these phantom pains chased her, even now, six years later. Some damage could never be undone. It was moments like this she deeply questioned why she remained here, why she dedicated herself to 'keeping the lights on' as it were—when inevitably, this, like all things, would end. Heaven would collapse and innumerable souls would flood the Earth, doomed to wander forever without hope of salvation.

It was only a matter of time.

Naomi lifted her head just in time to be caught off-guard by an immense bolt of energy, something that seemed to shake the very foundation of the ethereal realm around her. The lights brightened spectacularly, fluorescent white once more, so much so that the walls had a glare to them, for the first time since the Fall. The ground vibrated underneath her, buzzing with energy.

Duma pushed through the glass door to Naomi's office in a rush, eyes frantic, "Did you—?"

"Yes," Naomi said immediately, already out of her chair. "Yes, I felt it."

"An Archangel?" Duma questioned, tentative hope in her voice. "Or...Naomi, could it be...?"

"I don't know," Naomi cut across the other angel, forcing an air of caution on herself, "but we need to find out."


Upon stepping into this new universe, Aziraphale was immediately made aware of two things: one, that it had a strange and pungent aroma not unlike stale male body odor, and two: that he was in a celestial realm. That didn't seem congruent to the angel, but he didn't question it. He knew Heaven when he felt it, or at least something like it. It was no surprise he'd been dumped in the Heaven-equivalent of whatever universe he had torn his way into; reality was thinner in both Heaven and Hell, easier to manipulate, for obvious reasons.

He was just glad he'd stepped into Heaven, rather than Hell. All implicit biases aside, he wasn't much one for fire and brimstone.

When his vision cleared and his surroundings presented themselves in a clear fashion, Aziraphale was perplexed.

A human, probably in his late twenties to early thirties, lay prostrate on the couch, a remote control of some variety in his hand. He stared at the TV screen in front of him, mouth open. He wore a headset with a microphone attachment, and appeared to not have slept or showered in quite some time. The coffee table between the sofa and the television was littered with empty Doritos bags(1) and cans of something called Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel.

"I say, dear boy, what are you doing?" Aziraphale asked, watching the near zombie-like state of the young man.

"Shh, shut up, dude, I'm about to get a Victory Royale."

Aziraphale squinted at the television. The sound of gunfire filled the cramped, odorous room. "Is this...oh yes, a home video game. I tend to forget about these."(2)

"OH YOU PIECE OF SHIT—YOU FUCKIN—"

Aziraphale balked at the tawdry language. Whatever was he so upset about? He looked for a door in the room, and found one, thankfully. He was in Heaven. Undeniably. Presumably this specific human's Heaven. The quality was not for him to say, but he wanted very much to exit post-haste before whatever a Victory Royale was occurred.

He slipped through the door, and into a white, featureless hallway, comprised entirely of neatly labeled doors. Clinical. Barren.

"Yes, definitely Heaven," he muttered to himself. He checked the nameplate on the door he'd just left; Christopher M. Meyers. A quick glance up and down the length of the hallway confirmed it was in alphabetical order. An entire meandering stretch of Chrises, in their own personal paradises. It was not unlike Heaven in his universe, though their Heaven was far less...concrete. The realm outside the hub from which the angels operated was a fluid dimension, reality controlled almost exclusively by the mortal souls that dwelled within. They were not isolated as they were here.

Aziraphale noticed the lights brightening overhead. Hmm. Odd.

He paced down the hallway. He needed a way out, but this seemed to stretch onward into infinity—more and more doors, more and more Chrises. Eventually the Chris M Meyerses turned into Chris N Meyerses, but other than that, each step he took showed him more of the same. He needed to get to Earth. He let out his wings, wondering if he could open up a portal to this version of Earth, but it had drained him quite a bit to open the portal to Heaven in the first place, he knew he didn't have it in him to do it twice in less than ten minutes.

"Stop."

Aziraphale stopped.

Turned.

Two angels stood a few feet from him, dressed in the grey pants suits he'd come to expect of his brethren. Both female presenting, one with olive skin and cascading loose black curls, another with short platinum blond hair and piercing blue eyes. They looked at him with a combination of trepidation and awe. They were both armed with celestial weapons.

"Hello, there! I seem to have lost my way, ah...?" he gestured at them in a manner that he hoped encouraged them to share their names.

"My name is Naomi, and this is Duma,"(3) the shorter of the two angels answered him, a cautious hope in her eyes. "And you are?"

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes at them. Yes, they were angels, but...so weak, he was surprised to find, their auras so much smaller scale than his own. And their wings, visible to him on the higher planes, were awfully tattered, missing all but a few spare primaries, skeletal reminders of what once were likely beautiful visions.

"Oh my," Aziraphale said, a rush of compassion finding him, "What has happened to you two?"

"Happened?" spat Duma. "What do you mean, what happened? You're an angel, surely you know."

"I'm afraid not, my dear," he replied softly. Like wounded birds, these two, with their broken wings.

Naomi took a step forward. "Your wings are whole."

"They are," Aziraphale answered, licking his lips nervously. What had happened in this universe? "I...yours...?" he managed weakly.

"The Fall," Duma said shortly.

"Oh. All—all of you?" But they were in Heaven. How could they have Fallen and still reside here?

Naomi's face went tight. "Yes. All of us." She took several steps closer to him, peering at his face. "You're not wearing a vessel."

"A vessel?" Aziraphale furrowed his brow. What did they mean by that? His corporeal form?

"You created that form."

"I did," he said with a careful nod. "Not to be vain, but I think I did a rather good job of it, didn't I?" he clasped his hands over his stomach. "Awfully hard to get this color of blond right, I tell you."

"What are you?" asked Duma, eyes drilling into him.

"I—I thought that should seem obvious. I'm an angel," he said with a nervous laugh. Were they unable to tell he was an angel? He flexed his hands, not sure how to proceed. He really needed to be getting on with this. "Could you, perhaps, if you'd be so kind, direct me towards the door to Earth?"

They stared at him blankly.

"Gate works too. Portal...egress...or would that be exit...?" he mulled aloud.

"We can't allow you to leave," Naomi told him, no room for argument in her voice. "Heaven is at full power for the first time in years. You've reinvigorated it just by being here."

"I have?"

"You're no ordinary angel," Duma accused, ignoring his blatant confusion.

"I have superiors back home that would wholeheartedly agree," Aziraphale admitted. "Let's—let's start over, shall we?" Aziraphale gave them a curt half-bow. "I am the Principality Aziraphale, Angel of the Eastern Gate. Formerly. And I really do need to be getting to Earth as quickly as possible—"

"There is no angel Aziraphale," Naomi interrupted him. "I know the name of every angel God ever made, and He never made an angel named Aziraphale."

"He?" Oh, how strange to think about. He already didn't like this universe.

"Yes, He. As in God, as in the God who left and never came back," the angel Duma snapped, seeming infuriated by his ignorance.

"Left?" he asked weakly. A Godless universe with broken angels. Good Lord, Crowley, what have you gotten yourself into?

"Whatever you are, you need to stay here," Naomi insisted. "We could power Heaven for millennia off your power alone."

While this was truly stroking his ego, he began to panic. What if they didn't allow him to leave? "I'm flattered, I am, but I must be getting on—"

The two angels stalked towards him. Oh, he knew that look, this was turning into a kidnapping rather quickly.(4)

"Wait!" he held up both hands, struggling to think on his feet. He wished desperately for Crowley; he always seemed to know what to do. Even if his ideas were foolish, he at least always had one or two up his sleeve.

The angels did wait, however.

Aziraphale recalled something Crowley had said to him once. They'd been in Venice. Or maybe Florence. Things blended together, but they were definitely in Italy, and Crowley had definitely said from behind a glass of fine red wine: Temptation's easy, angel. Just offer them what they already want. They do all the work for you.

"I've returned!" Aziraphale squeaked on impulse. Oh God please forgive me please do not smite me where I stand please please this is an emergency, he begged frantically in his head, whether that prayer went to the God of his world or the God of this one, he had no idea. Or perhaps they were both fragments of the same? Questions for later.

Naomi and Duma looked at him as if he'd grown a second head.

"My children," he pressed on, trying to embody some relative Holiness.(5) "I'm so sorry to have left you like this for so very long, but there were other matters of great import that required my attending, in universes far beyond this one." Aziraphale subtly worked a minor miracle to make his eyes and skin glow a bit more. "Now that I'm home, safe and sound, I just need to tie up a few lingering issues on Earth, and then we can begin the work of putting Heaven back together, right as rain."

He dearly hoped these angels had never actually spoken to the Almighty, or this ruse would fall apart rapidly.

Naomi and Duma met each other's eyes, as if both looking to the other to confirm or deny their doubts.

"You can't be God," Naomi insisted, but she didn't sound like she believed it. She sounded like someone who had been given a tiny scrap of hope and wanted so badly to cling to it, but feared it all the same.

Another miracle. More glowing. Aziraphale smiled radiantly at them. "Oh Naomi. You've done so well. Against all odds." He was ad-libbing, as Crowley would say, and doing quite the good job of it. He really did have a talent for acting, didn't he? "And what...what, ah, mighty odds they were." He made a tally-ho gesture. "So, my dears, if you could just show me to the gate to Earth, I'll be back before supper."

"If you're truly God, then heal me," Naomi said suddenly, stepping into his personal space. "Your Scribe, Metatron, attacked me with a drill-bit made of melted down angel blades. It took me years to recover, to put myself back together, but there are still gaps in my memory. Gaps lasting hundreds of years. And the pain has never stopped."

Her eyes were blazing with condemnation, and Aziraphale didn't blame her—he'd be rather cross with a God that just said, oh, sorry, places to be and all that, and then disappeared for—well, Aziraphale wasn't sure how long this universe's God had been gone for, but he could only assess from the desperate angels and how weak the celestial aura of Heaven was, that it had been a very long time indeed.

"Let me see if I can help," he said carefully. Healing, he could do that, but surely any angel could? He didn't know how it would help prove his Godliness, but he supposed he should just be grateful she'd asked him to complete a task he was capable of. He took a step closer to her, and noted that her eyes were a very bright blue.

Aziraphale took a deep breath, reaching his own essence out to Naomi. Duma watched on with interest and apprehension. He could sense the damage in the angel's brain, deep and bruising, but it was nothing he wouldn't be able to fix. Angel blades? Melted down into drillbits? It all sounded terribly macabre. In his universe, nothing could melt a celestial weapon, hence why they usually tended to be ablaze. Seemed a horrible design flaw to make angelic weapons that weren't fireproof, as setting them on fire seemed to be the proper thing to do, righteous fury and all that.

Aziraphale lifted his hands, tips of his fingers resting on her temples.

"This won't hurt a bit," he promised.

And it didn't. And it was over rather quickly, too. With a medium-sized miracle, he healed all the damage done to Naomi, and restored her memory. She stumbled back from him, leaving his hands hanging. He clasped them over his chest, quite pleased. A job well done, if he did say so himself, ignoring the near Fall worthy blasphemy involved in it all. But really, if he hadn't Fallen yet, he doubted very much he was ever going to.

Duma went to Naomi's side. "Naomi...?"

"He did it," she confirmed instantly, with a terse nod of her head. "It's..." she looked up at him, wonder in her eyes. "It's Him."

Aziraphale tried to smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. "It was no trouble at all, my dear. Now, about that gate?"


Crowley was laughing.

Dean didn't like it.

"What's so funny?" Dean asked gruffly, measuring out ingredients for the universe-travelling spell so they didn't fuck it up and end up stuck with Crowley. The demon had done nothing but complain about the Supernatural books, but now he seemed to be actually enjoying himself. Dean almost wished he'd go back to complaining.

"Lovers in league against Satan..." Crowley quoted. "I like Other Crowley," the demon said, peering over his sunglasses at the laptop screen. "Do you know how dull and dim most demons are in my universe? No imagination. No initiative. Shortsighted prats, every last one. They'll spend twenty years corrupting a priest into a wank, when they could just sabotage the ice cream machine at a McDonald's and tarnish thousands and thousands of souls in one go." Crowley pointed at the screen. "This Crossroads King, he had vision."

"He had something," Dean grumbled, preferring not to think about their Crowley if he could avoid it. Still, even after having lost him over a year and a half ago, he so often expected to hear "Hello boys" from behind him anytime they got into a snag. The King of Hell swooping into save their asses again.

Twenty minutes passed, and Crowley blew out a long breath, closing the laptop lid. "Done. Thank G—Thank Somebody."

"Neat. You're all caught up. Not that it matters, because if this works, you'll be gone before sundown," Dean said.

Crowley drummed his fingertips on the laptop. "So, what exactly happened to Other Crowley?"

"He died trying to buy us time to stop Lucifer," Sam answered from across the room, where he was drawing chalk runes on one of the long wooden tables. "We didn't actually manage to stop him, but if Crowley hadn't done what he did, one of us would have had to. He sacrificed himself for us."

"Awfully noble for a demon," Crowley observed mildly, but Dean could tell he was, possibly for the first time since he'd arrived in their universe, very interested in what they were saying.

"He was...complicated," provided Castiel from beside Dean. "He was evil, but he was...also not."

Jack looked up from the Demon Tablet translations that were a chaotic mix of Kevin and Donatello's notes, searching for anything else that could help them get more bang for their buck with the ritual. The less Archangel Grace they had to use, the better. "If he gave his own life to save you guys and save the world, then he can't really be evil, can he?" Jack asked.

"When it came down to it, Crowley was on humanity's side. He loved the world. He didn't want it to end. That's why at the end of the day we always ended up in bed together. We both wanted to keep this rock spinning," Dean said, deciding that was probably the nicest thing he'd ever said about their Crowley. Too bad the demon wasn't around to hear it.

Crowley's eyebrows arched dramatically.

"Metaphorically! Get your mind out of the gutter," Dean chastised.

"I mean, we never really did find out what you and Crowley did during your Summer of Love thing," Sam chimed from across the room.

Oh, for fuck's sake. "Shut up, Sam!" Was he ever going to live his demonic summer down?

Crowley snickered, pushing his feet against the side of the table and tipping his chair back precariously far. "Oh, that's sweet. Even demons deserve to be loved."

"Love is way too strong a word." Dean finished off his measurements of the ground Fruit of Life and rose from the table. "But...if we had a way to get him back, I'd take it."

"Uh, pardon, but...wasn't that what the ginger witch was trying to do when she ended up summoning me?" Crowley asked, baffled. "You all burst in like it was the end of the bloody world."

"No way that Rowena could come up with to get Crowley back would be worth it," Cas explained. "Dark magic always comes with a price, and the price likely would've been Crowley's humanity."

"That's what made him different," Sam provided. "We shot him up with human blood awhile back, trying to cure him. We didn't pull it off, but it changed him. Made him...diet human, I guess."

"Was that after this?" Crowley tapped the laptop again.(6)

"Yeah," Dean answered.

"Seemed like he was already on the humanity train when he helped stop the apocalypse. Got your friend Bobby out of a wheelchair," Crowley laced his hands behind his head. "Downright pleasant, s'far as demons go."

"Yeah, well. There's a lot about Crowley you don't know. And it doesn't matter now." Dean looked to Sam, pushing past the apprehension rising hot and tight in his stomach. "I'm ready when you are. We've still got enough holy blood to sink a battleship, and we have just enough of the Fruit of Life left to pull this off."

Sam finished the chalk markings—something to further stabilize the portal, he explained, a trick he picked up from the Black Grimoire—and nodded. "Okay. We just need some of your hair, Crowley."

"My hair?" Crowley didn't seem thrilled by the prospect.

"You're a demon, just make it grow back," Dean told him.

Crowley rolled his eyes, and yanked out a handful of his auburn hair with a wince. Awkwardly, he rose from the table and brought it to Sam.

"So, uh...guess we gotta..." Dean shook his head. "Fuck it, let's go get a burger and a beer first, I ain't doing this sober and on an empty stomach." He needed something to steel his nerves. He didn't want another dive back into Michael Land. The pain? He didn't give a shit about the pain. It was the memories he was worried about.

Sam seemed to understand. "Okay. No problem." He looked to Cas and Jack. "You guys hold down the fort, and uh...keep Crowley company, I guess."

"Oh, we're not calling it guard duty anymore?" Crowley asked, still massaging where he'd torn out his hair. "Touching. I might cry."

Dean just rolled his eyes. "We'll be back."


Meanwhile, Aziraphale stood in the middle of an empty playground in a Kansas City suburb.

He closed his eyes, stretching out his awareness.

He smiled, and murmured, "Hello Crowley."

Chapter Text

Aziraphale was able to follow Crowley's noticeable aura as far as the small town of Lebanon, Kansas, properly in the center of the state. However, once there, he found himself unable to pinpoint the demon's exact location.(1)

"Something's blocking me," Aziraphale muttered to himself, frowning in irritation. He was not used to his higher senses being stifled in such a way. Thankfully though, as aforementioned, it wasn't a terribly large town. Surely he could find Crowley in forty-eight—well, now about forty-seven—hours. He supposed the only thing to do was just go from place to place and ask if anyone had seen Crowley. It wasn't as if he was terribly hard to miss, especially in the midst of rural America. Crowley's flashy style just barely fit in the high-end neighborhoods of London. Here, he would stick out like a sore thumb.

Aziraphale decided a good place to start would be the local diner. After all, he was feeling a tad peckish.

He inquired with the hostess, both waitresses, and the line cook, to no avail. They had seen no one in Lebanon matching Crowley's description. Not completely surprising; Crowley rarely deigned it necessary to eat if Aziraphale wasn't with him. He would try the local bars next. Crowley seemed to seek out alcohol regardless of the company he kept.(2)

Aziraphale was finishing off his shortstack (complimented by a great deal of whip cream and strawberries) when the bell above the diner door rang, announcing the arrival of two men. Aziraphale glanced in their direction, and recoiled in shock, nearly choking on his strawberries.

What in the name of God are they?

On the surface, two human men. Both tall and stereotypically masculine, dressed in layers of flannel and denim. Ill thought-out wardrobes aside, it was their auras that disturbed the angel so thoroughly. The taller of the two, with hair down to his shoulders, appeared mostly human, but his entire aura was rimmed in dark. Oppressive, sucking, blackness. Like someone had taken permanent marker to an oil painting.

The shorter of the two had an even more alarming air about him. His aura was a complex mixture of infernal and ethereal influence, like a demon and angel had both hopped into the same skin and decided to have a battle over which would remain.(3) Surrounded by darkness, yet enfolded in light.

Well, this certainly seemed like a lead.

Aziraphale took his focus from his pancakes and honed in on the conversation the two were having when they sat down. Angelically enhanced hearing did have its benefits.

"Dean, are you sure you're okay with this?"

"Look, Sammy, I already had Cas go deep-diving in my brain for Michael memories before. This ain't my first rodeo."

Oh goodness. The grammar. Appalling.

"You don't know what he might, you know...unearth. When he extracted Gadreel's Grace from me, it was a horror show."

"Yeah, you're really psyching me up for this."

"I just want you to be prepared. We can look for another way."

"I'm not seeing another way. And if there is, the price is gonna be higher than this."

"And if this doesn't work?" countered the one called Sam.

"Then we're stuck with an ultra powerful demon for a roommate. This has to work, Sam."

Ultra powerful demon! Yes!(4) He'd found someone who had come in contact with Crowley. Two someones. But he had difficulty telling their intentions; it sounded as though they were trying to do something to Crowley. His captors, perhaps? But then, where was Crowley being held at if his kidnappers were out for a bite to eat?

The two men didn't resume their conversation until they'd been delivered their respective meals. "Maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he did get stuck here," the taller of the two broached tentatively, the one named Sam.

"On what planet would it be a good thing?"

"He's strong, Dean. Maybe strong enough to take down Michael."

Michael...? Surely not the Archangel...

"The dude's like a thirteen year old with ADHD. And do you really think he'd help us?"

"I don't know. He's not like any other demon we've met."

Aziraphale smiled softly to himself. Oh yes. They were most definitely talking about Crowley.

"It could all be an act," Dean pointed out, absent any great deal of conviction.

"I don't think it is."

"...Yeah. Me neither." A deep sigh. "Look, let's just—we'll worry about what we're gonna do with him after we try getting the Archangel juice out of me. If that doesn't work, we'll go from there, but...it'll work, okay?"

"Fine. Do you still want that beer?"

"I'm just gonna grab a six pack on the way home."

"Okay."

The two devolved into much more mundane conversation after that. Aziraphale took a great deal of time to finish his food, wanting to time it so he could leave at the same time as the two men. When they rose from their seats and left a twenty on the table, he tried to subtly do the same. He threw a twenty pound note down, then quickly remembered himself and miracled it into American money. He watched the two men leave the diner and head for an automobile of an older make, one he was sure Crowley would have fawned over.

Once outside, Aziraphale heard the engine start. Upon honing in on the car, he was immediately overwhelmed with a wave of love so intense he had to brace himself against the diner's signboard. "Oh my," he exclaimed, hand to his chest. It was rare that he felt affection so intense for an inanimate object. Amazing. And convenient, as it would make the pair far easier to follow.

Ah. But the following part. Best not to fly in unknown skies, and he certainly wasn't about to chase after the car on foot...

Aziraphale calmly strode up to a nearby vehicle. A man had just emerged from the hardware store next to the diner with a small bag of goods, and was just about to pull away from the curb when Aziraphale knocked gently on the passenger side window. He rolled it down, watching him with cautious eyes.

"Can I help you?" he asked roughly.

"My dear fellow, if it's not too much trouble, I need you to pursue that car—" Aziraphale pointed at the retreating black shape in the distance, "and quickly too, if you would."

The human stared at him. "What? No. Who are you?"

Oh, this was going to take all together too much time. They needed to get a wiggle on—there was no telling what kind of danger Crowley might be in. He let out a short sigh. "Apologies," he said, then snapped his fingers. The man unlocked the passenger door, and Aziraphale slid in, taking care to put on his seatbelt. "Now, about that car?"

"Right away," said the man in a monotone, thoroughly compelled. They pulled away from the curb and followed after Crowley's captors.

I'm coming, my dear, just hold on a little while longer.


Castiel entered the strategy room to find Jack alone, still examining Donatello and Kevin's notes. Crowley was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Crowley?" Cas asked immediately, not liking the demon to be out of sight for long. Yes, they'd established that he was staying put mostly to keep the four of them at ease, but it didn't change the fact that they were sitting on the single largest deposit of supernatural artifacts and information on the planet, and no stranger, much less a demon from another universe, should be let loose upon it without supervision.

"Um, I'm not sure. He said something about being bored and walked out," Jack said, not really paying attention to Cas.

"Jack, we can't—"

Jack looked up with a frown. "Cas, I don't think we could stop him even if we wanted to."

Cas said nothing.

"Right?" Jack pressed.

Cas breathed sharply out of his nose. "I'm going to look for him."

It was not difficult to find the demon. The bunker made it difficult to sense much of anything on the paranormal spectrum, but it also tended to be very quiet when not full of hunters, silent save for the hum of the bunker's machinery. When he heard rustling from Dean's room, he knew he'd found Crowley. Cas pressed in, opening the door and finding the demon cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by Dean's vinyl collection, the record sleeves all spread out in front of him.

"Crowley," Cas snapped. "You can't just welcome yourself to other people's rooms."

"What else am I s'posed to be doing?" Crowley asked, brandishing a copy of Quadrophenia at Cas. "Sitting here with my thumb up my arse?"

Cas sighed. The demon was erratic—seeming wholly unhappy to sit for more than a few minutes at a time, to devote any real time to any particular task. He needed constant stimulation by what he defined as 'interesting', and not many things seemed to earn that label from him. "Dean wouldn't want you in his room."

"Well, Dean's room is a lot more fun than Sam's. Does he do anything other than read?" Crowley blew a raspberry. "Can't say much for his taste, though. Does he listen to anything that isn't forty years old?"

"Dean says that all music made after 1979 sucks ass," Cas relayed blandly.

"What?" Crowley looked incensed. "That's—that's just objectively wrong, just purely on the basis that Hot Space and A Kind of Magic came out in the eighties. He's worse than Aziraphale, totally stuck in the past."

"You talk about Aziraphale a great deal," Cas pointed out.

"I—pshh—that's—no I don't," Crowley hand-waved him away. "Most certainly do not. Barely mentioned him at all."

"You bring him up in almost every conversation."

The demon colored around his cheeks. "Shut up." Crowley returned Quadrophenia to its proper sleeve, before placing it back in Dean's record crate. He jumped to his feet, circling Dean's room, picking up random things and turning them over in his hands.

"What exactly is he to you? Are you still allies, even now that your apocalypse has been averted?" Cas asked. He couldn't deny being curious about the demon's relationship with his angelic comrade. He, of course, could criticize very little when it came to working with demons, given the Purgatory Pact, and then all the times he'd worked alongside their Crowley for years afterwards. But he had never developed the fondness for Crowley that Dean had, and this Crowley spoke of Aziraphale with far greater affection than Dean ever mustered for the King of Hell.

"Allies..." the demon mulled over the word. He eyed up Dean's Purgatory blade, hung on the wall. "Flatmates, actually. Nowadays."

"You...live together?"

"You're an angel living with humans. Don't act so surprised."

"But you're a demon."

Crowley just shook his head, snatching the Purgatory blade off the wall and weighing it in his hands. "Guess angels are the same anywhere, hmm?"

Cas narrowed his eyes at the demon. "What do you mean by that? And put that down."

Crowley shrugged, experimentally swinging the blade. Cas flinched. "I'm a big scary demon," he imitated Cas's voice, "fear me mortals, for I am the architect of original sin."

"You are literally the architect of original sin."

"So?" Crowley asked, flinging the blade out when he spun on his heel to face Cas.

"Will you put that down?"

Crowley ignored him entirely, continuing on, "Is that so bad? Letting them see the difference between Good and Evil? Letting them choose?"

Cas remembered Gadreel, in that moment—when Cas had discovered who he truly was underneath his facade of "Ezekiel." Remembered how he'd had to be physically held back from killing him. You broke the world.

A bitter little smirk formed on Crowley's face. "Oh, you really don't like me, do you, Castiel?"

"You may have saved your world, but if you hadn't corrupted mankind to begin with, it wouldn't have needed saving."

"It wouldn't have been worth saving," Crowley hissed. "They'd all still be in the Garden. Just animals, really. I gave them the ability to question. Hell knows questioning Her didn't do me a fat lot of good, but them? Humans are different. When they decide they don't like something, they'll just go...'well, let's fix it then, shall we?'...don't see what's so wrong about that."

"It's in your nature to question God. You're a demon," Cas insisted, not sure what Crowley's point was.

"Wasn't always," Crowley replied with an artful shrug, giving Dean's Purgatory blade one last look before finally returning it to its spot on the wall.

"And when you were human?"

Crowley looked at Cas like he'd grown a second head. "Human? I'm not from this universe, Castiel. We don't turn humans into demons in my world. They spend eternity in Hell, all expenses paid."

"Then..." Cas's brow furrowed in confusion. "Where do your demons come from? Where did you come from?"

That same mirthless twist of lips. "We were angels."

The idea of an angel becoming a demon baffled him. Two extreme ends of the spectrum—how could an angel even survive the transformation? Their very essence was antithetical to infernality. Even the Fallen angels, those who had gone down with Lucifer, they were still angels, just...darker. None survived now, but Cas had fought a few, in the early days, and they were broken, hateful things...but certainly not demons.

"You...?"

"Yup," Crowley replied, popping the 'p'. "Not a good one, obviously, but still an angel."

"Which angel?"

Crowley shook his head, sunglasses sliding just far enough down his nose to reveal a glint of his serpentine eyes. "Mm. Doesn't matter now, does it?" Those same eyes flicked to Castiel, and seemed almost as if they were looking through him. "Puts things into perspective though, doesn't it, Feathers? We've both got black wings. We both Fell. I just Fell a little further..." He snorted in amusement. "My wings are looking a sight better than yours though."

An angel. It was difficult to reconcile that knowledge with his image of Crowley. The Serpent. A demon, a creature of evil. "But Lucifer hated mankind. Why did you side with him in the Fall?"

"Well, he was charismatic, we'll put it that way," he continued to pace around Dean's room, stopping at his night stand to exam the pictures he had there. One of Mary with Dean and Sam when they were small, one of the boys and their father, one of Bobby, one of the brothers, Castiel, and Jack taken recently. "I didn't really go along with all that temper tantrum rubbish of his, but I was like him in that I didn't think God had it all right from the start. Some things seemed tetchy. All it took was me putting a few pointed things in the suggestion box, and, woosh, down I went, with all the others."

"And once you were on Earth?" Cas asked, unable to help his interest, now.

Crowley adjusted his glasses, picking up the picture of Dean, Sam, Cas, and Jack. "Took a liking to them. Couldn't help it."

"But you were aligned with Hell until the very end?"

Crowley shook his head. "Did as little actual demon-ing as possible, really. Hell's just easy to fool. Took credit for things the humans came up with themselves. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade got me almost a hundred years of peace and quiet, they were so happy with me. I never lifted a finger." He placed the picture back down, glancing over his shoulder at Castiel. "What about you? You were with Heaven until the eleventh hour. Why did you Fall?"

"You read the books."

"Ehhhhh," Crowley made a so-so motion with his hand. "I skimmed."

Cas swallowed with difficulty. Their lives now didn't allow for a great degree of self-reflection. His thoughts rarely wandered back to those days of the first apocalypse, of constantly being on the run with Sam and Dean, scraping and scrabbling for any faint chance of being able to stop the End Times.

"It was Dean," Cas admitted quietly. "Sam and Bobby as well, later. But in the moment that I rebelled, it was for him. Michael would've taken his body and destroyed him. Used him as the gun to kill the world. I...couldn't allow that. Heaven was always Right, always Good, but to erase humanity for the sake of a war so pointless, that was Evil. I didn't know anything, but I knew that. And that is what drove me to give up Heaven."

"Just one human?" Crowley seemed vaguely surprised. He sashayed his way over to Castiel. "Being in love with a mortal. That's just asking for pain."

"I'm not in love with Dean," Cas balked at the accusation. "He's—he's my family. He and Sam and Jack."

"You didn't Fall for Sam and Jack. You didn't go to Hell for Sam and Jack."

Cas suppressed a rise of irritation. He was used to people implying things like this. "Dean is very special to me, but in a purely platonic respect."

Crowley just laughed. Loudly. "Oookay, Feathers. Whatever you say." He brushed past Cas. "Now come on. I hear the Winchesters stomping around. Time to get this show on the road."

Chapter Text

Dean sat in a chair in the foyer, restlessly tapping his fingers on the arms.

Sam watched nearby, arms crossed, trying not to show how concerned he was for his brother. This trip down memory lane wasn't going to be pretty, and Dean's psyche wasn't amazing on the best of days. God only knew what reruns of his time as Michael would do to upset the ever-precarious mental balance that was Dean Winchester.

"Stop looking at me like I'm gonna explode," Dean requested, flicking his eyes briefly to Sam with a flash of annoyance. "And don't say that ain't how you're looking at me because you've looked at me like that before when I was literally about to explode, so I got a good point of reference."

Beside Sam, Jack's head tilted at the mention of exploding. Oh yeah, they hadn't told him that story, had they?

Sam sighed heavily. "Fine, fine. But I think I'm pretty well within my rights to be concerned about this."

"Yeah, well, concern or not, this is happening." Dean tilted his head up to look at Cas, grimacing. "Alright, let's get the shitshow on the road."

"I'm on the edge of my seat," said Crowley, who was perched on the table, swinging his feet about and looking for all the world like this was just so tedious and he couldn't wait to get home. Sam couldn't help but find it funny that any demon in their universe would give their right arm (or someone's right arm, at least) to get access to the Men of Letters bunker, but Crowley wanted nothing more than to get out as fast as possible.

Cas bound Dean's wrists to the chair. Dean looked on with no small deal of unease. "At least take me out to dinner first, Cas."

"I thought you already ate?" Cas asked, tilting his head to the side.

"No, Cas—" Dean rolled his eyes, "I mean, what's with the ropes?"

"In case you flail. I warned you this would be painful, and if the needle snaps off in your neck—"

"Enough, enough, I get it," Dean said quickly, wincing. Cas finished his deft work binding Dean, then drew back. The two locked eyes for a moment, both radiating the dread that Sam felt. Dean experimentally pulled against the restraints. No give. "Well, you get a merit badge for knot tying."

Cas retrieved the uncomfortably large extraction syringe.

"That's disturbing," Crowley commented lightly.

"Welcome to our world. Everything's disturbing." Dean leaned back against the chair, closing his eyes and bracing himself. "Okay. Do it."

Cas nodded. "It'll be over soon," he said, in an attempt to put Dean at ease, but Sam knew there was nothing any of them could say right now to make Dean feel better. He would only feel better when the last drop of Michael's Grace was out of him.

Cas leaned forward with the syringe.

The lights overhead flickered.

Sam craned his neck immediately. "Something's up."

A high-pitched whining filled the air.

"The warding," Cas said, rising sharply. "It's being interfered with—someone's trying to break it."

"Who?" Jack asked, glancing around wildly.

Crowley, to Sam's surprise, jumped off the table with a wide, wolfish grin. "Haha! About bloody time." He straightened his lapels. "You can call off the Grace-drain, boys. My ride's here."

"Your—what?" Sam was baffled.

The lights flickered once, twice more—and then the bunker's siren sounded, and everything went dark red.

"You may as well just open the door for him," Crowley said happily. "He'll get in one way or another. Very determined sort, Aziraphale."

"This is your angel?" Sam asked. He noted distractedly that Dean had gone strangely silent, but they had bigger problems to deal with at the moment.

"How is it that he's strong enough to blow through the bunker's warding? We're supposed to be kept safe from all but Archangels," Cas reasoned, not seeming remotely content with Crowley's explanation.

Dean wrapped his hand around Cas's wrist.

Cas looked at him. Sam looked at him. Jack looked at him. Crowley looked at him. Dean sat very, very still.

"That angel's strong," Dean said, voice strangely absent any tone. "I can feel him. But he's not strong enough to break into the bunker."

Cas stared blankly at Dean's hand locked around his wrist. Dean's knuckles were white.

"Dean, what..." Cas's brow drew down in befuddlement.

Crowley froze beside Sam. "His aura."

Sam turned his attention to the demon. "What about it?"

"It's—very not good."

"What do you mean?"

"You were right about one thing, Castiel," Dean continued, "it would take an Archangel to break through the warding."

Horror dawned on Sam and Cas simultaneously.

The whining of celestial energy in the room around them quadrupled. Dean's eyes glowed a bright, unnatural blue. "Long time no see."


"Warded!" Aziraphale raged in the passenger seat of the pick-up truck. "I cannot believe—oh, this is really such a bother."

The human(1) he had compelled to drive him, Earl, watched on, unconcerned and vacant.

Aziraphale hopped out of the vehicle with a frown, closing the door behind him. He rounded to the driver's side and leaned in the window. "My dear fellow, thank you so much for your help—go home and give your wife a kiss on the cheek, and hug your children. They don't blame you for taking the overtime at the shop, but they do miss you so. Remind them how much you love them."

Earl smiled, a look of confusion crossing his face.

Aziraphale waved a hand. "You decided to take a soothing drive in the country to calm your nerves. It was quite pleasant."

Earl nodded, and drove off, not casting a single look in Aziraphale's direction.

Aziraphale turned to his current Problem. A bunker. An underground bunker with a very large, very locked, very warded door. The entirety of the building was warded, actually, but the door in particular.

Everything since Crowley disappeared had been a Problem, but this was easily the most irritating yet. It went without question that Crowley was being held within; that was only the explanation as to how Aziraphale had been unable to sense him down to the exact location. But now the question was, how in the Hell was he supposed to get in? Enochian warding was usually nothing more than a light hindrance to him, limiting the amount and power of his miracles. He couldn't remember the last time he'd actually been barred from entry somewhere. It had been 5,000 years, at least!

With a pout, Aziraphale resigned himself to circling the bunker and trying to find an alternative entry point. As if to add insult to injury, it began to pour down rain. Aziraphale miracled himself an umbrella, scowling all the way, muttering about Murphy's Law under his breath.

The thought briefly crossed his mind that perhaps he could slowly chip away at the warding over time, but discarded the idea upon realizing that would take far longer than the now forty-six hours he had set about before him to bring Crowley home. He needed to expedite his entry. There was also the possibility of waiting outside for Crowley's captors to depart again, and slip in during their exit, but there was a large margin for error in that plan, especially given that he wasn't entirely sure that either of the two men were human, given those bombastic, unnerving auras of theirs.

Whatever he did, it would need to work. This was Crowley. How many times had the demon swooped in to save him over the millennia? Countless times. Surely Aziraphale could manage it just the once.

Aziraphale stopped cold when he'd reached a small glade a short distance from the bunker. Something was...buzzing. The ground shook, almost unnoticeable, underneath him. Aziraphale could sense the warding stretching, stretching...

With a snap like a rubber band, it broke. The resulting shock wave was enough to send him down to one knee. "Oh goodness." Such an incredible amount of power, and now...yes. Yes, his awareness extended easily into the bunker, no longer defended. He detected the source of the enormous angelic radiance, the strange black-outlined aura of the man named Sam, something that reeked distinctly of Nephil(2), a weak, flickering signal of Grace that indicated another one of this universe's broken angels, and then...

Yes. Vibrant. Gold. Serpentine. Crowley.

Aziraphale made for the bunker door without delay.


In quick succession, Dean snapped Cas's wrist, blasted him across the room with a thought, and ripped his hands out of the ropes like they were made of parcel string. Cas let out a loud shout of pain before colliding bodily into the far wall, sliding down to the floor, blue eyes dazed. Dean rose from the chair with a slowly spreading smiling. He cracked his neck.

Sam pulled his gun immediately, pointing it at Dean. "Michael."

Crowley looked wildly at the pistol. "You really think that's gonna stop him!?"

With a flick of a finger, Sam's weapon went flying out of his hand and skidding across the bunker floor. With another gesture, Sam was thrown back against the wall, pinned there several inches above the ground. The same happened to Jack the second he tried to draw his angel blade.

Crowley was rapidly thinking running might be his best plan here.

"This shouldn't be possible," Sam said, straining against his invisible bonds. "Dean would never say yes to you again."

Dean—well, Michael, apparently—just snorted. "You really think I would just leave your brother? Please. Some things are too good to pass up. So, I left myself a backdoor, for when the time came...and here I am." Michael drew Dean's angel blade and spun it between his fingers. "If you'd actually succeeded in extracting my Grace, you would've closed that backdoor, and I can't have that."

Jack growled, leaning his head back against the wall. Crowley detected energy radiating off of him, but Sam yelled, "Jack, don't!" and the Nephil ceased trying to break free. "It's not worth burning off your soul."

Crowley didn't even want to fathom what the Heaven that meant.

"A soul isn't much use when you're dead. I think I'll keep Lucifer's spawn alive, however. He could still be useful." Michael flicked his gaze to Crowley. "Perhaps you could be as well. I haven't decided yet."

"Me? Useful? No, no no. Not, not particularly useful, me. So, s'pose I best just be getting on now, I'll leave you lot to ah, work out your personal issues...don't really want to intrude..." Crowley began slowly backing up towards the door.

"Crowley, do something!" Sam shouted. "You can fight him!"

"He can't do anything," Michael dismissed Sam. He made a flicking gesture with his hand, eyes drilling into Crowley.

Nothing happened.

Crowley let out a nervous laugh. "Fancy that."

Michael finally seemed on the back foot. He tried again. Crowley felt a hint of a breeze. He didn't budge. Oh. Immunity to getting tossed around like a rag doll. He wasn't opposed to that, but running was still awfully tempting.

However, one look at Sam and Jack—and Cas as well, who was now struggling back to his feet—he knew he couldn't in good conscience leave them to die.

Crowley looked Heavenward, as if to ask, why me? "Well, I guess this is gonna be a thing, then...bollocks..." He lifted his fists experimentally. He couldn't remember the last time he'd fought somebody. There had definitely been some bar fights in his time, and a few times he'd even been actually bladdered enough to do something other than snap the other person into unconsciousness and leave with a smug smile, but going toe-to-toe with an Archangel? This was entirely out of his league.

"You're going to take me on?" Michael sneered in derision, prowling towards him. "I thought you were a lover, not a fighter."

"You know, you're an even bigger git here than you are in my universe," Crowley pointed out, hopping backwards as Michael encroached. He supposed he needed a weapon, didn't he? Not that anything would do a great deal of good against an Archangel, but he could at least fend him off until he thought of a better idea.

"Your universe, right..." Michael smirked. "Once I'm done leveling this planet, I'll move onto yours, I think."

"Oh, come on!" Crowley snapped. "I just saved the whole bloody mess, I don't want to have to do it again!"

Michael swung at him with his angel blade. Crowley sucked in his stomach and shifted back on his heels just in time to avoid getting disembowled. Fuck. Here came the fighting part.

Crowley summoned the first thing to his hand he could think of: the strange, crude blade that had been hanging from the wall in Dean's room.(3) He brought it up just in time to block another strike from Michael.

Cas was back up now, rushing towards Michael with his angel blade held aloft in his hand. Before Cas could even reach him, Michael blasted him backwards again, and he ended up pinned against the wall in a neat little row with Jack and Sam. Michael didn't look away from Crowley once.

"I don't know what you are, but I know I'm stronger than you, no matter what universe spat you out," Michael said, circling Crowley. Crowley danced, trying to anticipate Michael's next move. He hadn't been in a sword fight in pushing a thousand years, and even when he had been trundling around England as the Black Knight, he hadn't done a whole lot of actual battling. Usually just miracled a few illusions into the minds of the rest of his party, and stayed back at the nearest lord's keep, half-swimming in their wineskins until everyone returned with memories in their mind of him being quite the ruthless, unparalleled warrior.(4)

"Yeah, well," Crowley flailed for a comeback. "Pfft. You're—you're—"

He didn't have a chance to finish his retort, because Michael lunged suddenly. Crowley turned in time to not get speared in the chest, but the angel blade found itself buried up to the hilt in the meat of Crowley's left shoulder.

"Fuck!" the demon screamed. When Michael yanked the blade out, he dropped to his knees, vision nearly whiting out from the pain, like thousands of tiny, tiny bolts of lightning arcing up and down the length of his arm. The reek of sulfurous blood tickled his nose, and the room spun around him. Oh. Not good. Very bad.

He passed the Purgatory blade from his dominant hand to his right hand, and raised it just in time to stop the oncoming angel blade from sailing through his neck. He didn't want to know what would happen if he got discorporated in this universe. Would he come back at all? Doubtful. Even if he got discorporated in his own universe, it was unlikely Hell would give him a new body to waltz around in, they didn't just pass them out like candy, there was always loads of paperwork, and, well, Crowley wasn't exactly in Hell's good books at the moment—not that they really had any good books to begin with.

A new resolve blazed within Crowley; that was the thing of it though, wasn't it? No matter how much Michael wanted to kill him, Crowley most certainly wanted to live more than Michael wanted him dead. Personally invested as he was, and everything.

Crowley jumped back to his feet, practically on his tiptoes. He pointed the crude blade at Michael. "En garde, you feathered wanker." Forgoing the defense, he pressed the offense, backing Michael up against the table in the foyer until he was forced to vanish and remanifest behind Crowley. Crowley ducked and rolled, avoiding getting beheaded. He whirled around to catch another strike from Michael, who he could tell was getting more and more frustrated by Crowley's continued survival.

Michael landed blow after blow against the edge of Crowley's blade, never hitting home, but now it was Crowley getting backed into a corner. "Why won't you die?"

"Fallen angelssss. Hard to perissssh," Crowley hissed through gritted teeth, straining to hold the angel blade back from his throat. Michael caught him off-guard by landing a punch square to Crowley's jaw, sending his sunglasses flying and dazing him. The next move Michael made was to disarm Crowley entirely.

It was at this point, that if Crowley was focused on anything other than staying alive, he would have heard the bunker door open and the pitter-patter of panicked feet heading their way.

Michael made to bring the angel blade down in a way so as to rend Crowley completely in half.

He swung—

"Let there be light!"

A blinding, brilliant, warm light filled the expanse of the foyer. Michael backed away, shielding his eyes with a groan.

Crowley just closed his eyes, letting it wash over him, grinning like an idiot. "Hey Aziraphale."

Chapter Text

Crowley had all of three seconds to enjoy his friend's return before Aziraphale quickly broke him out of his reverie: "What are you waiting for you great fool!? Stop time!" the angel practically shrieked.

"Oh right, I can do that," Crowley realized, blinking his eyes open. With a great pull on his infernal energies, he threw his hands up in the air, fingers outstretched, then pulled them back down, and everything barring he, Aziraphale, Sam, Jack, and Castiel froze in its place. Which of course meant that Michael wasn't trying to kill him at the moment, instead halted halfway through drawing his hand away from his face, probably to resume that whole trying to kill him thing.

Sam, Jack, and Cas fell from where they'd been pinned against the wall, feet hitting the ground with loud smacks, followed by gasps of relief. The warm celestial light faded, and Aziraphale came pounding down the stairs.

"What on earth were you thinking, Crowley! Going toe-to-toe with an Archangel! Why didn't you stop time earlier?"

Crowley spluttered. "B—wh—well I was under a bit of pressure, wasn't I!? Fighting to save everyone and whatnot and be the big bloody hero? And it's not exactly the easiest thing in the world! Oh, excuse me sir, just realized I forgot to put my socks on this morning, let me just CHRONOKINETICALLY FREEZE THE INEVITABLE MARCH OF TIME—" Crowley spread out his arms, offended. He then quickly snapped his injured arm back. Ooh, that stung. "And me! What about you! Let there be light? Really?"

"Hush, it was the first thing that came to mind. And it worked, didn't it?" Aziraphale arrived at his side and quickly started fussing over him. His hands hovered over Crowley's ripped open shoulder, eyes widening in distress. "Oh, my dear, you're hurt. Badly." He gently spread apart the tattered remnants of Crowley's v-neck and jacket, trying to get a better look at the bloody wound. Crowley was grateful, especially because he was so distracted by the angel touching him that he almost forgot about the screaming pain entirely.(1)

"Healing's your thing, angel," Crowley said, watching Aziraphale's face and feeling as though it had been much longer than just a day since he last saw him. To think they used to go decades, even centuries without contact...but, well, once you shack up with someone, that bit changes, doesn't it? You get used to them, their presence, their laugh, their smile, their smell, the way their eyes light up when they look at you and you've kind of dismissed it for several centuries because they're an ANGEL and they love EVERYTHING, but the way they look at you is just different enough to make you think maybe—okay maybe that was only situationally relevant to the two of them.

"This...what is this?" Aziraphale murmured, peering closer. "I can't heal it."

"Archangel blade," Cas explained roughly. "It's incredibly difficult to heal wounds inflicted by them. They channel pure, concentrated celestial energy—not helped by the fact that Crowley is a demon."

Aziraphale blinked rapidly, seeming to really look at the others for the first time.

"I'm guessing this is your angel friend?" Sam asked, brow scrunched.

"Oh, oh yes, terribly sorry, where are my manners?" Aziraphale withdrew from Crowley, granting Sam, Cas, and Jack with a deep bow. "I am the Principality Aziraphale. And you are?"

"Castiel," Cas introduced himself, "Angel of Thursday."

"The angel of greeting cards was busy," Crowley quipped.

"I'm Sam Winchester, this is Jack Kline." Sam gestured at Dean-slash-Michael. "That's my brother Dean, but—well, you already put together what's inside of him."

"Inside of him?" Aziraphale looked aghast. "Surely not...? Any human would explode under the duress of that much raw power."

"Not my brother," Sam said gravely. "Dean was meant to be Michael's vessel."

"Vessel?" Aziraphale repeated, befuddled.

Crowley groaned loudly, throwing his hands up and once more forgetting his injury. "Fuck—ow!—fuck! We don't have time for a lore dump, I can't hold this for bloody ever! We need a plan!"

"If you're strong enough to stop time, aren't you strong enough to kill Michael?" Jack asked, staring at Dean's frozen self with a great deal of fear. "Or—or at least to make him leave Dean?"

"Aziraphale and I are strong, but we're not strong enough to kill an Arch, in our universe or yours. Trust me, if I could, I'd have already turned Gabriel into a nice pair of shoes back home," Crowley told the Nephil.

Jack shook his head, a wave of emotion rolling off of him—black anger, bitterness. Crowley was good at picking up the Bad Things humans (and human adjacent creatures) felt, just as Aziraphale was so uniquely attuned to love and kindness and all such other sod. "If I still had my powers—"

"It's out of the question, Jack," Castiel cut across him. "You can't burn off your soul. Dean would never want that."

"Dean can't want anything if Dean is dead!" Jack shot back, whirling on the angel. Ooh. Family drama. Crowley shrank closer to Aziraphale, wishing once more that they could just miracle themselves out of here. Which, technically they could do, but, in for a penny, in for a pound.

Crowley cleared his throat. "I really, really don't want to know the answer to this, but—what exactly are you all fretting about with his soul? A Nephil should have a reservoir of celestial energy to do whatever it is they want to do. No soul burning involved."

"It's a long story, but Jack got his Grace drained by his father," Sam said.

Jack began to pace like a man possessed.

Crowley shot a narrow-eyed look at Castiel. "And...why did you do that?"

Cas took a deep breath. "Me being Jack's father is...not as literal as we implied."(2)

"IMMENSE EXERTION OF POWER. SLOWLY WASTING AWAY INTO AN ADMITTEDLY WELL-DRESSED HUSK," Crowley loudly reminded the room at large. The room at large, which, he noted with some concern, was starting to spin around him. Aziraphale noticed his disorientation with concern. "Can we speed this up?"

"Jack is Lucifer's son," Sam said in a rush, sensing the urgency of the situation. "Lucifer took his Grace, it threw Jack off balance, we had to work some bizarre soul magic to keep him alive. But before, when he had his powers—"

"I could do anything," Jack cut in, and Crowley saw a flash of gold in his eyes. "I could have killed Michael."

"Another Antichrist," Aziraphale breathed from beside him. "Seems we attract them, don't we?"

"So what your saying is all we have to do is jump start him, and he can fix this?" Crowley asked, legs trembling underneath him. Aziraphale surprised him by wrapping a steadying arm around his waist.

"We gave him a vial of Gabriel's Grace and it did nothing," Cas said with a grimace.

"Well good thing the two of us have more than a vial," Crowley countered. He indicated Dean. "Can we bind him?"

"Between the angel cuffs we had you in and a ring of holy fire, yeah," Sam replied.

Crowley scooped his sunglasses off from where they rested on the ground and placed them snugly back on his face. "Then let's bloody do it and we'll go from there."


Crowley was using Aziraphale entirely for support by the time the 'angel cuffs' were clamped around Dean Winchester's wrists, and a ring of 'holy fire' burned around him.(3)

"Crowley?" Aziraphale watched the side of the demon's face with growing fear, not sure whether the drain on his energies or the blood loss was the more urgent problem with him at the moment.

"'M fine, angel."

"Okay, okay, you can let it go, Crowley," Sam backed away from the holy fire circle, eyes fixed on his brother. Aziraphale could sense the incredible love in Sam Winchester. That aura of his was undeniably wretched in more than a few ways, but the vibrant, complete love he radiated, not just for Dean, but for Jack and Castiel as well, it was immense and unconditional. Some of the strongest Aziraphale had ever felt from a human.

Crowley had fallen into good hands, hadn't he? Luck of the devil, that.

Crowley snapped his fingers with a shuddering breath, leaning on Aziraphale. Time resumed its usual course, and Dean/Michael's hand fell away from shielding his face. He looked around wildly for a moment, offkilter. "What?" he growled. His eyes fixed on Crowley and Aziraphale after a moment. "Cute parlor trick. Stopping time. But it won't stop me."

"Yeah, well, you look pretty well stopped to me, you winged ballbag," Crowley hissed at the Archangel.

"I'll get out of here," Michael said lowly. "I will. And we'll see if it works a second time."

The fear on Crowley's face told Aziraphale that it wouldn't.

"Cas. Watch him," Sam ordered, setting his hand on Jack's shoulder. With a pointed look to Crowley and Aziraphale, he nodded towards the hallway adjacent to the foyer they currently stood in.

The four set off. Crowley could walk on his own, now, but he clutched at his wounded shoulder as they moved, blood seeping through the gaps in his long fingers.

"We need to at least bind your wound," Aziraphale told the demon worriedly. "I don't know if you can discorporate from blood loss, but we really mustn't test that theory."

"Problems for later, Aziraphale," Crowley replied, strained.

Aziraphale rather thought it was a problem for now.

Sam took them into a room that was filled to the brim with boxes of well organized, alphabetically labeled files, and then beyond, what Aziraphale could only describe as a torture dungeon. He halted before entering, holding a hand out to bar Crowley as Sam and Jack filtered inside the tiny, devil-trapped room.

Crowley immediately sensed his apprehension. "Relax. Devil traps don't hold me. At least not the ones here."

Aziraphale still didn't love what they were walking into, but Crowley seemed totally unconcerned, so Aziraphale trusted his judgement. They walked in side-by-side.

"Michael broke the warding on the rest of the bunker, but not in here," Sam explained. "And hopefully it'll keep him from figuring out what we're doing."

"Why does it matter if he knows?" Crowley asked. "He's gonna figure it out when we try to burn him up, isn't he?"

"If he senses Jack powering up, he—I think he might try to destroy Dean from the inside. He knows Jack's strong enough to get rid of him. Killing Dean on the way out...that seems like the kind of thing he'd do, and we can't risk that," Sam said, voice tight. "Are you two sure about this?"

"Not even remotely, but it's worth a shot," Crowley replied. He flicked his shaded gaze to Aziraphale. "What do you say, angel?"

"It's rare we can't accomplish something when we both put our heads together," Aziraphale said, overflowing with fondness for his demonic friend in that moment. Crowley could have fled this strange underground bunker with its even stranger inhabitants long before trouble began to brew, but he'd stayed. He'd fought for them, to save them, risking himself.

He didn't know why he was so surprised. Perhaps some of that old prejudice rearing its head underneath all he'd learned of late; it really was high time to do away with it entirely, those antiquated notions of good and evil. Just names, really. That Crowley had done this should come at no shock—far more often than not, he was beginning to realize, Crowley knew the right thing and did it, all before Aziraphale even knew what the proper right thing was.

"Come here, Jack," Crowley said, beckoning him with a crooked finger.

The Nephilim approached, apprehensive. "How do we do this?"

Crowley glanced at Aziraphale. "Same as last time?"

It took Aziraphale a moment to understand what Crowley was getting at. He nodded.

Crowley took Jack's right hand in his left, smearing no small amount of blood on Jack in the process. Aziraphale stepped closer, grasping Jack's left hand.

Crowley snorted. "Here we go again. At least it's not Satan this time."

Aziraphale allowed himself an anxious smile. "Small mercies."

"You ready?" Crowley asked, looking at him past Jack.

Another nod from Aziraphale.

Sam waited with crossed arms, standing in the threshold of the dungeon and for all intents and purposes looking as though he was going to be sick. "I hope to God this works," Sam said quietly.

"Hope to our God, not yours—yours kind of seems like a bastard, and not the good kind," Crowley told him, then took in a very, very deep breath. Aziraphale mirrored him on Jack's other side.

Aziraphale felt Crowley's aura flare dramatically next to him, pulling on deep reservoirs within himself, just as Aziraphale was. They both closed their eyes at the same time, and beneath their eyelids danced blue and gold. As one, they reached out to the stuttering remnant of Grace left in Jack's chest, mutated and burnt, affixed poorly to a human soul.

They met in the middle, grazing against one another.

"On three, then?" Aziraphale asked, strained, to Crowley.

"Everything we've got, angel," the demon reminded him.

"Of course, my dear."

"One. Two. Three," Crowley hissed.


Cas could feel Jack coming back down the hallway. He straightened up—it had been months since he'd felt Jack's Grace in such a potent way. Like electricity sparking through the air, like every living thing in Creation was bowing, ever so slightly, to its master.

Michael tilted his head back, seeming to sense Jack at the same time as Cas. "Well. Would you look at that."

Jack stepped into the foyer. His eyes were gold. Flanking him were Aziraphale and Crowley, both looking like they were barely standing. Sam followed up the rear, hopeful but terrified.

"It worked," Cas realized.

"And then some," Crowley said. "Not as strong as our Antichrist, but I wouldn't want to go rounds with him."

"Strong enough to end this," Aziraphale tacked on.

"End this? End me?" Michael turned to look at the four, untroubled to a degree that it sowed apprehension in the pit of Castiel's stomach. "Go ahead and try."

Jack stalked forward, taking it as a challenge.

"But if you end me," Michael continued loudly, stopping Jack in his tracks. "You'll end Dean, too. I'll make sure of it. Do you know how easily I could extinguish his soul? I don't need him alive to possess him. Castiel here is proof in practice of that. I've kept that tortured soul of his swaddled each time I took him expressly for this—for leverage. And if there's one thing I know about you, you Winchesters, it's that you will always choose one another over everything. The fate of the world very much included." He cracked a smile with Dean's mouth, and Cas's blood boiled. "So go ahead, Jack. Kill me. And kill Dean."

Jack froze, mouth falling open. He was at a loss. Cas saw the same thing reflected in Sam's eyes.

"Oh for fuck's ssssssake," Crowley groaned. "Meeting, back in the sex torture dungeon, now!"

Cas decided that for the time being, Michael could be left alone, as long it was only for a few minutes. Between the cuffs and the holy fire, he wouldn't be getting out. He followed after the others, back to Room 7B.

Crowley collapsed overdramatically in the chair that had once held their Crowley for so long, throwing both legs up over the side. "So. What do we do?"

"We can't kill Michael if he's in Dean," Sam began. "Jack, do you think you could rip Michael out?"

"I probably could, but there's no telling what he'd do to Dean on the way out," Jack replied dismally. "I—I don't know what to do."

Cas clasped Jack's shoulder, squeezing. "It's okay, Jack."

"It's not okay. I should be able to do something."

"You can," Sam reassured him. "We just...we have to find a way to protect Dean." An idea seemed to hit the younger Winchester. "Wait. Wait, Crowley, you're a demon."

"Thanks so much for noticing."

"I mean, you can possess Dean."

Crowley nodded slowly. "And...and that will help...how, exactly?"

"You can get Dean to fight back control, and protect him from Michael until he does," Castiel said, catching onto Sam's line of thinking. "Together, you can kick Michael out."

"That uh, well that all sounds great in theory—"

"In execution. Our Crowley saved me from Gadreel. You can save Dean from Michael," Sam insisted.

"If Michael doesn't burn my incorporeal form into nothingness, yes, I s'pect I could—"

"Let me," Aziraphale interjected suddenly, stepping between Sam and Crowley. "I can inhabit Dean and spur him to take back control. It will be far less of a risk to me than it would be to Crowley. Michael is strong, undoubtedly so, but it would take something even stronger to simply smite me out of existence." Cas thought he heard a silent I hope at the end of the other angel's statement.

So strange to see another angel, to see one that wasn't broken, or evil, or both. On the higher planes, Aziraphale's swan-like pearlescent wings stretched out on either side of him, proud and beautiful. He radiated a warm light that reminded Cas dimly of that eternal Tuesday afternoon he had once sought out in Heaven when in need of organizing his thoughts, before he had ruined that like he had ruined so much else in Paradise.

Aziraphale felt like Heaven. What Heaven originally was, before it had all gone so wrong. It left an ache of nostalgia and wistfulness in Cas's chest, something hard to wrap his head around and analyze, harder still to ignore.

"Not happening, angel," Crowley said immediately, sitting up ramrod straight in his chair.

"I am a celestial being—"

"This doesn't bear talking about. You can't get into Dean without permission," Castiel interrupted.

Aziraphale swung around and stared at Castiel with furrowed brows. "My dear brother, I don't need permission to inhabit a human. What decorum dictates and what is actual reality are not the same thing."

Castiel tried to remember the last time an angel had called him 'brother' with anything but disdain. Was it Gabriel? Or Hannah? He wasn't sure.

"In this universe, angels must acquire the consent of their vessel," Castiel informed Aziraphale.

Aziraphale looked at Crowley. The demon shrugged. "It's a weird universe."

"Surely that wouldn't apply to me if I were to try? I've never been limited like that before."

"Only one way to find out," Sam said. Cas looked sharply at him. The hunter held up his hands. "If it gives Dean a better chance, we should do it. Or at least try."

"And how exactly is he supposed to just kick an Archangel out?" Crowley asked, launching up from the chair.

Aziraphale arched an eyebrow at Crowley, hands clasped behind his back. "Well pray tell, what you were intending to do, once inside?"

Crowley gaped wordlessly for a few moments before mumbling, "Was just gonna play it by ear."

The angel gave Crowley a serious look. "Flawless plan."

Jack frowned. "Won't Michael burn out Dean as soon as he sees what we're trying to do?"

Cas shook his head. "No, I don't think so. He's overconfident enough that he'll think he can stop Aziraphale. He knows that if he kills Dean now, we'll kill him. He's using Dean as leverage to buy time until he can escape."

"Stop Aziraphale? Wait, I don't remember agreeing to this," Crowley put in, flustered.

"It's his choice," Castiel replied with an air of finality.

"I'll do it," Aziraphale said decisively. "How hard can it be? Not like I haven't stood against an Archangel before." The angel's words trembled just enough that Cas could tell he wasn't nearly as sure of himself as he was trying to make them all believe. "Just business as usual, really."

Crowley hovered behind Aziraphale, doing absolutely nothing to hide his panic. "Aziraphale, this could go bad, really bad—"

Aziraphale turned to Crowley. "It'll be alright, my dear. Just..." Aziraphale tried and failed to smile. "Just have a little faith."

Castiel watched on with bemusement. Crowley looked terrified, mouth working uselessly and staring at Aziraphale as if his entire world was predicated upon the angel's continued existence. Whatever these two were—allies, roommates—it became eminently clear to Cas that they were far closer than he'd imagined. They were friends.

"You know if anyone else asked that of me, I'd laugh in their face," the demon said at length.

"But it's not anyone else. It's me. So what do you say? Do you trust me?" Aziraphale set pleading eyes on the demon, and Crowley broke.

"Only you, angel."

More than friends, then. Family.(4)

"If we're doing this, we need to do it now," Sam said, breaking the moment between the angel and demon.

Aziraphale nodded, but his eyes were still on Crowley. "You'll need to strike when the moment is opportune, Jack. I'll give you a signal."

"What signal?" Jack asked.

"I suspect you'll know it when you see it."

With that, they returned to Michael, who looked just as smug and murderous as he had before. "So disappointing that I had to miss the team meeting," he drawled. "What half-assed, doomed-to-fail plan did you come up with?"

"That would be me," Aziraphale said promptly, watching Michael with utter unease.

Jack waved a hand, and enough of the holy fire parted to allow Aziraphale to walk inside the circle. Michael made a move to break for it, but Jack had already let the flames connect and become whole once more as soon as Aziraphale was through.

Aziraphale stood toe-to-toe with Michael. It was ridiculous, from an outside point of view—Dean, leather, denim, flannel, sharp jaw and green eyes near black with anger, a towering presence, against the far shorter, soft, English professor-esque man with wispy blond curls and at the moment, a fearful, quivering lip.

"So, you're their best move?" Michael asked, peering down at Aziraphale. "It doesn't matter what universe you're from. I'm stronger than you."

"Yes, well." Aziraphale adjusted his vest. "I've found that often times, strength isn't everything."

The angel lunged in a surprisingly fast movement, clamping hands on either side of Dean's face. They both went down to their knees. "Oh, just—just mind the fire now—!" Aziraphale managed, straining. Aziraphale closed his eyes, and Michael's stolen lids fell shut as well.

They both collapsed to the side like that, Aziraphale loosely gripping Dean's face, the fire just inches away from the angel's hair. He could sense Aziraphale's being had left his body entirely; now waging war against Michael within Dean.

Crowley sank down just outside the ring of fire, legs out in front of him, gripping his destroyed shoulder. He stared dejectedly into the flames.

"Please, angel," the demon whispered, and if Cas didn't know any better, he would have called it a prayer. "Don't fuck this up."

Chapter Text

The first thing Aziraphale saw was a creek. About twenty feet wide and maybe, at its center, about four feet deep. Sundapple glinted off the water's cheerfully burbling surface, and he could make out the flitting shadows of small fish, minnows and the like. It was a warm, late spring day, the protective covering of canopy overhead a verdant, newborn green. The air smelled of life.

"Hungry?"

Aziraphale snapped his attention off of the peaceful surroundings and onto the voice; a blond American woman who looked to be in her thirties passed by him, paying him no notice whatsoever. She was honed in on a man standing further down the muddy little beach with a fishing pole. She was armed with two plastic-wrapped sandwiches.

When the man turned his head, Aziraphale identified him as Dean Winchester. He reeled in his line and gently rested his pole against a nearby river birch. "Oh hell yeah. I'm starving. PB&J?"

The woman handed him one of the sandwiches with a smile. "Like I know how to make anything else."

"Winchester Surprise," said Dean.

"I think you and your father are the only people who ever thought that counted as edible food."

Dean tore a large bite out of the sandwich, chewing with his mouth open. "Hey, don't talk shit on Winchester Surprise."

"I would never dare."

Aziraphale took in more details as the two quietly chatted and ate their sandwiches. Further down the stream he spotted Jack on a rock outcropping, brow furrowed in concentration. Further down still he made out the distant shapes of Sam and Castiel, Castiel perched on a large tackle box, watching Sam wrangle with a trout.

This could only be some kind of placating illusion designed by Michael to keep Dean sedate. The question was, how to break it?

The woman finished her sandwich and took the remaining plastic wrap from Dean, stowing it in the pocket of her windbreaker. "Fill the void?"

"Definitely. Thanks Mom. And, uh—can you go check in on Jack? Watching the kid put worms on the hook like that is giving me an aneurysm. His fingers are gonna look like chip-chopped ham by the time we're done today."

Mom? Surely not. They looked the same age, even with Dean perhaps being on the older side. Was this an idealized, younger version of his mother?

"I'm on it." She departed, leaving Aziraphale alone with Dean, who had not noticed him. Likely a side effect of this ruse of Michael's.

Aziraphale approached cautiously, a hand raised. "Dean Winchester?"

Dean squinted and tilted his head, like he had heard something, but then quickly dismissed it, picking up his fishing pole again.

"Dean," he said, a bit louder, "Your family's sent me."

That same squint. He cast his line out.

"DEAN WINCHESTER," Aziraphale all but shouted.

Dean glanced down the shore at the rest of his compatriots, but no other reaction was yielded.

"Oh, bugger." Aziraphale rounded Dean until he stood in front of him. Dean stared straight through him. "I do hate to do this to a human, but, desperate times..."

Aziraphale forewent his usual appearance, allowing his true form to shine through.

"What the absolute FUCK—"

"So sorry," Aziraphale apologized, snapping back to his typical body as soon as he had Dean's attention. Dean, who was now on the ground, scrambled back against a tree, fishing pole abandoned off to the side, half in the shallows. He whipped out a pistol and pointed it directly at Aziraphale's head.

"WHAT. ARE. YOU."

"An angel, dear boy—and that was my true form. Not the most...aesthetically pleasing sight in the world, admittedly, but it did serve me properly in getting your attention."

"Wh-why were there so many eyes?" Dean asked faintly, gun still held tight in his hand.

"The Almighty was very proud of certain things in the Beginning. Eyes. Wings. Lions. Especially eyes though. She went, ah—one could say overboard, with the eyes."(1)

Dean flipped the safety off on his weapon. "You better start explaining."

Aziraphale noted that the others had all vanished from the creek. Good. Dean was starting to see through the cracks. "My name is Aziraphale, and you're trapped inside your own mind," Aziraphale began without dallying. "The Archangel Michael has suppressed your conscience and taken control of your body. Your family has sent me in to alert you to this so you can take back what is yours and properly toss him out." Aziraphale smiled pleasantly at Dean. "So, ah...just..." he made a vague gesture with his hand. "Give him what for, I suppose!"

"Michael's gone. He left me. He couldn't have jumped my bones again without consent," Dean insisted.

"Apparently a backdoor of sorts was left open."

"Doesn't explain how the hell you're in here. I know I didn't tell some random angel they could hang out in my brain. And I know all the angels that are left, and you ain't one of them."

"Not in this universe, no."

Dean's eyes widened ever-so-slightly. "Wait a minute. Aziraphale. You're AJ's angel butt-buddy?"

Aziraphale was not prepared to unpack that sentence, and they were dreadfully short on time, so he just said, "...Yes?"

"I still don't get how you got in me," Dean said, but he did cautiously lower (but not holster) his pistol.

"The notion that a human can deny an angel anything is strictly a feature of your universe, I'm afraid."

The human's stomach seemed to turn at that. He pushed himself up off of the ground, still keeping a suspicious eye on Aziraphale. "That's pretty fucked up."

"I believe some would argue that's the state of your entire universe, my dear fellow."

"Shut up." Dean looked around wildly. "Okay, so where is the bastard?"

"I...I'm not sure. To be honest, I'd expected him to show up by now."

"I thought I'd watch the show, first."

Aziraphale could almost feel Dean's blood run cold. Aziraphale turned, and Michael was frighteningly close behind him, still wearing Dean's face, but dressed in an outfit far more befitting the late 30s than 20...well 20-whatever-it-happened-to-be-in-their-current-universe.

Aziraphale backed away quickly with a barely stifled gasp, nearly slipping in the mud as he aligned himself side-by-side with Dean.

Michael clucked his tongue, eyes never leaving Dean. "Dean, Dean, Dean. Did you really think for one second that I would just, what? Let you go? Out of the..." he scoffed under his breath, "the kindness of my heart?"

"Go fuck yourself, douchebag. Get. Out."

Michael did not fuck himself, nor did he get out.

"Get out of my head!" Dean said, more forcefully.

"The power of positive thinking is not enough to defeat an Archangel." Michael stalked forward. "Nor is a Principality without a drop of combat experience in his body." He looked pointedly at Aziraphale. "You can go now."

Aziraphale felt an overwhelming sensation grip him, like a great hand had reached down from the sky and grabbed him by the back of the neck, like a mother hauling its newborn kitten to a better place to rest. Aziraphale resisted, but he wasn't sure how long he could hold out. "Dean, this is your mind, your imagination. You are in control."

Michael's cheek twitched in subdued anger, no doubt incensed that he couldn't eject Aziraphale from Dean's mind with just a thought. "I knew that these idiots were, well, idiots, but sending you in to face me—that's stupid even for them."

"Stupid, is it?" Aziraphale was pooling almost all of his power into staying exactly where he was. "And yet, you can't force me out."

The anger unsubdued itself. "Oh, can't I?"

Aziraphale let out a shrill exclamation when the Archangel surged forward and grabbed him by the collar, slamming him bodily into the ground.

Oh, oh no no, no no no. He'd be the first to admit that fighting was very far out of his area of expertise. Yes, he'd gone through the training, just like any other Principality, but that had been 6,000 years ago, and such lessons tend to accrue cobwebs over time, especially if not refreshed upon...never mind the fact that he had, maybe, perhaps, not attended the drills as frequently as was expected of him, preferring to stay in Eden with Adam and Eve. Their company had been a great deal less maudlin than that of his brothers and sisters, so enamored with the world and their home as they were.

Aziraphale mulled on past missteps as Michael jawed him so hard he saw stars. Goodness, he could count on one hand the amount of times he'd been hit about the face in his life, and that was without contest the hardest.(2) Pain was different here, not registering on a physical level, but very much on an ethereal one. The second punch, aimed at his mouth, was doubly excruciating.

Thankfully, Dean chose that moment to tackle Michael to the side, the two of them rolling into the shallows, exchanging punches. Aziraphale wiped a shaking hand across his face, and it came back bloody. He stared, feeling the beginnings of panic. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his own blood.

With a great splash, Dean was thrown head over heels into the creek. Michael stood, soaked, eyes alight with malice. His gaze fell on Aziraphale.

"You never learned how to fight. I hope you learned how to swim."


"He's been in there too long. Something's gone wrong."

"I thought you said you trusted him?" Sam said, pacing the foyer like a caged animal. This rather irritated Crowley, who wanted to pace himself, but thought it would be weird if he and the hunter paced simultaneously.

"It's not about trusssst," Crowley hissed, still sitting on the floor just outside the ring of fire and clutching his shoulder, staring at Aziraphale's expressionless face, his closed eyes. All tension and anxiety absent from the familiar lines and curves of the angel's corporeal form. Like he was just taking a very pleasant nap. If only. "It's about—well, how do we know what's going on in there? We don't."

"He can't kill him," Castiel pointed out from where he stood at Jack's side. Jack, who had been incredibly silent, watching Aziraphale and Dean's motionless forms with just as much intensity as Crowley, though for entirely different reasons, he was sure.

"You hope!" Crowley snapped back at the angel, then shriveled somewhat and added, "I hope."

His heart skipped several beats when Dean twitched, face falling into an expression that greatly resembled pain. Dean shuddered, and Crowley hoped that meant the job had been done, but neither angel nor human woke.

"If Michael was capable of killing Aziraphale, he would have done it the second he stepped inside the circle," Cas continued, catching onto Crowley's fear, "We can only assume—"

"I'm not assuming one blessed thing! This is Aziraphale's life we're talking about!"

"And Dean's," Sam put in, stopping his efforts to dig a rut in the bunker floor and rounding on Crowley. "You're not the only one risking—risking everything, okay? That's my brother in there."

An idea hit Crowley. "Not...everything."

Sam just stared. "What?"

"You said Dean's a—a Heavenly vessel or some codswallop like that? Can handle a lot of welcome and/or unwelcomed guests in his body?"

Cas stepped away from Jack, narrowing his eyes at Crowley. "What are you trying to say?"

Crowley rose on unsteady legs. Whether from blood loss or overexertion, he didn't know, and at the moment, really didn't bloody care. "I'm saying that if you're saying he's not gonna explode, I'm going in."

Crowley made for the circle of fire.

"Crowley, you can't pass the—" Jack began, but Crowley waved him off with an unconcerned hand.

"I won't burn." He glared at the flames pointedly, as if to say, don't you DARE think of so much as singeing a FIBER of these skinny jeans.

Crowley sauntered through the fire without issue and knelt down next to Aziraphale and Dean.

"Haven't done this in a long time," he murmured, placing two fingers just underneath Dean's right ear. "Here goes."

The snake tattoo below Crowley's ear slid to Dean's, and Crowley collapsed.


Nobody could ever accuse Michael of not being able to multitask. He could, quite effectively, drown Aziraphale and Dean at the same time. One hand on the back of each of their heads. And the bitch of being drowned inside a fantasy in your own head, was that you couldn't die, you were just drowned, perpetually. Went without saying, it sucked pretty fucking hard, and judging by Aziraphale's thrashing and water-muted screams, he felt very much the same about their current situation.

Dean was trying his damnedest to take back control, but that was a hell of a lot easier said than done. Especially considering that as of right now, he didn't have an ounce of control.

The hand on the back of his head loosened, ever-so-slightly, and Dean used the opportunity to burst out of the surface of the water and suck in a near orgasmic breath of oxygen. He made to strike at Michael, but was interrupted by—

"The fuck?"

Crowley, appearing out of literally nowhere, and with something that sounded like a poor imitation of a battle cry, drop-kicked Michael in the back of the head. Michael went under with Crowley falling gracelessly on his back, scrabbling for purchase as his sunglasses slid off his face and he too went under the waves. Aziraphale's head broke the surface, finally free, and his face was a mask of pure terror, his blond curls plastered against his forehead. The angel vomited creek water, struggling back to the shore, and Dean was right behind him.

"Oh—oh dear God," Aziraphale managed, hands white-knuckled in the sand.

All Dean heard behind him was splashing. Crowley and Michael tussling underwater.

Dean watched in dim amazement as the creek vanished, leaving only the dry bed in its wake.

"Did you do that?" Aziraphale coughed hoarsely.

"No," Dean replied immediately.

Aziraphale, to Dean's surprise, grinned. "Crowley."

Dean swung his head over his shoulder to look at Crowley and Michael. Crowley was standing over Michael in the creek bed, huffing. "Yeah, that's right. Not so tough now, are you?" Crowley stooped down and collected his sunglasses from where they rested in the now dry, cracked earth. "You're not the only one who can shake things up in here."

Michael got to his feet, pure fucking murder in his eyes. "Are they just going to keep cramming more things down his throat until someone manages to break my hold? Should I be expecting Castiel, next?"

"Wait, wait, how is he moving stuff around in my head when I can't?" Dean asked Aziraphale urgently.

Aziraphale was beaming at the demon. "He has quite the imagination."

Crowley held his sunglasses aloft, but didn't put them back on his face. "No, I'm last in. See, the angel's tougher than he looks, but he's not scary."

"So you're here to...what?" Michael scoffed. "Put the fear of God in me?"

Dean watched as Crowley's eyes lost their faint touch of humanness, and amber filled his sclera, erasing any hint that there'd once been defined irises. "Something a bit lower, actually."

"What do I have to fear from a demon as soft as you?" Michael growled.

Crowley grabbed Michael by the collar and dragged him up so they were nearly nose-to-nose. "You believe that act I fed the Winchesters? Thought you were smarter in this universe. Guess not."

An immediate thrill of alarm shot through Dean; act? I knew we couldn't get this lucky. Find something powerful that actually doesn't want to fuck our shit up.

"And in your universe?" the Archangel countered. "I'm sure you cowered before me there, too."

"You're already dead," Crowley replied with an unaffected shrug of one shoulder. "All the Archs are...except me."

"An Archangel?" Dean repeated under his breath. Was he bluffing, or for real? It would explain the devil's trap and demon bombs not working, but the angel cuffs at least dampening his powers. But Crowley had just seemed so...not Archangel-y.

Michael tried to jerk away, but Crowley held fast. Just how much control did he have?

If he can take it back, why can't I?

Raven-black wings spread out on either side of Crowley, a wingspan of nearly fourteen feet in total.

Michael swallowed visibly. "Demons don't have wings."

Crowley just raised one eyebrow. "I'm not a demon." Lunging, he slammed Michael down on his back, hand still tight on his throat. "Sam Winchester had the right of it the first time."

Michael gritted his teeth, still struggling to gain back control. "Lucifer?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean noted that Aziraphale seemed more delighted than disturbed by all of this. Was the angel full of it too? Was he even an angel? Dean's mind flashed back to the...thing...Aziraphale had originally appeared to him as. If that was an angel in their universe, he didn't want to know what a demon's true form looked like.

"I'd say the one and only, but apparently multiverses are a thing."

"You can't be. The angel, he isn't Fallen."

Crowley looked bored, flicking his serpentine attention briefly to Aziraphale. "Just a pet, really. Thought he was pretty. Shame to kill all the angels. Some still have their uses."

Aziraphale let out an indignant huff beside Dean, but said nothing.

"You're no Lucifer," Michael spat, straining against Crowley's hold. "He's my brother. I would know."

"Would you?" Crowley finally tightened his hand enough to cut off Michael's airway, tilting his head in a distinctly inhuman way. Dean had yet to see the demon(3) blink. "We're both a long way from our universes, mate. I don't know you from Adam, but I know a stuffed-up bird when I see one. And the real rub here is that I already know I can beat you. I beat you before. I beat them all—in my world, the apocalypse is done and over with, and I wonHell won." Crowley let out a half-mad laugh and let his eyes glow just that much brighter. "And now the devil reigns. The old king is dead, long live the king. So really, this is just all a big bloody waste of time, isn't it? We both know how this ends."

That's when Dean saw it in Michael's eyes, eyes that were his but colder, emptier.

Fear.

Crowley turned his head, and his gaze met Dean's. Do it.

Dean shoved himself back to his feet, took a deep breath, and roared:

"GET—THE HELL—OUT OF ME!"

Chapter Text

Dean shot up ramrod straight, jolting Sam, Cas, and Jack out of their anxious waiting. His eyes snapped open. Yellow, with slits for pupils.

"INCOMING!" the words came out of Dean's mouth, but it was very distinctly Crowley's voice.

"I think that's your signal, Jack," Sam said, tensing.

Jack stepped forward, visibly bracing himself. He waved a hand, and the holy fire vanished. He grabbed Dean by the shirt and hauled him up, just as Michael's blue-white celestial formed rocketed out of Dean at a spectacular speed. It tried to make for the ceiling, no doubt to ghost through the concrete walls of the bunker and back out into the world to find another host, but with one finger, Jack halted it.

"This ends now," he said, eyes glowing a brilliant gold.

Jack spread out his fingers, lifting his hands slowly, slowly, until it almost looked as if he was holding Michael in his grip. High-pitched whining filled the air, and Sam was forced to cover his ears.

"You can do it, Jack!" Cas encouraged, taking a few steps back and throwing an arm over Sam's chest, trying to protect him from whatever would come of this.

Jack made a tearing gesture, and white light suffused the room. Blinding. Sam ducked his head, covering his face, and he felt Cas shield him with his body. Sam's entire being shook, his muscles ached, his bones vibrated, his blood seemed to overheat in his veins, and he thought for sure the bunker and everyone in it would be eviscerated in the fallout of Michael's destruction.

But then the light faded, and the shaking ceased, and all was quiet.

Sam lifted his hands away from his face, and Cas backed away from him, wide blue eyes focused on Jack, who was on the ground, flat on his back, gasping. There was no sign of Michael.

"Cas," Sam said the angel's name urgently, "did he—?"

"Yes. He did," Cas said, the relief so palpable in his voice that Sam had to grin. The angel went down to his knees next to Jack. Jack's eyes were open, but his breathing was labored, his skin ashen. "Are you alright, Jack?"

Jack swallowed and nodded. "Y-Yeah, just...I'm gonna need a second."

"I'll get you to your room," Cas said. He looked to Sam and made what Cas surely thought was a subtle gesture towards Dean, but it wasn't subtle at all. Sam caught the meaning either way: get the demon out of Dean and make sure he's okay.

Cas departed with Jack in his arms, carrying him like a baby. Sam approached Dean, who was still definitely Crowley. He sat in the burned circle, legs splayed out in front of him, dim wonder in his eyes.

"He really just—tore an Archangel apart with his bare hands, didn't he?" said Crowley, and Sam really didn't like that voice coming out of Dean's mouth. Evidently voices traveled with occult beings in Crowley's universe. "What a world."

"Right. Um, Crowley, can you...?"

Crowley looked down at Dean's body, as if he'd just noticed his situation. "Oh, yeah. Sorry." He put one hand on Aziraphale's head and one on his own abandoned body. A moment later, Dean fell back, and the demon and angel sprung up simultaneously. Dean gasped, eyes green again. Sam caught him in a hug before he could even stand.

"Are you okay? Michael didn't melt you on the way out?"

Dean clutched at his back. "I'm good, I'm good," he said into Sam's shoulder, his fingers digging into him. "Jesus, fuck. Did Jack—?"

"Michael's dead. He's finally dead."

Dean sagged against him, exhaling loudly. "Thank God."

"What the Heaven did God do? That was all us, mate."

Sam turned his attention to Crowley and Aziraphale, as did Dean. Sam immediately noticed something off; namely that Aziraphale had snake eyes and Crowley's were a glittering blue. The demon and angel seemed to realize this at the same time, looking at one another sharply.

"Wrong body," said Aziraphale-as-Crowley

"Wrong body," agreed Crowley-as-Aziraphale. "How'd we manage to muck that up?"

"It's beyond me, my dear, but if you would..."

"Right, right." Crowley extended his hand, but Aziraphale ignored it, choosing instead to splay his fingers out over Crowley's temples (well, his own temples) and lean their foreheads together. A moment passed, eyes closed and opened again, and when they did, the two were back in their proper bodies, with the snake tattoo slithering below Crowley's ear once more, in its correct resting place.

Dean just shook his head. "What the fuck is up with you two?"

Aziraphale looked perplexed. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Never mind."

Cas reentered the room, sans Jack. "Dean." Cas gave a rare grin, and when Dean stood up, he embraced him.

"What the fuck is up with you two?" Crowley mocked quietly in Dean's voice, and Sam was relatively sure he was intending only for Aziraphale to hear it, but the glare Dean threw him begged to differ.

"I don't know how the hell you guys pulled this off—but thank you," he said, and Sam knew he meant it. This felt like the first true win they'd gotten in a long time. When Dean withdrew from Cas, he turned to look down at Crowley. "And, uh. Just to clarify. You're not actually Satan, right?"

Crowley barked out a laugh. "Oh, don't tell me you bought that rubbish. I made all that up on the spot."

"Rather brilliantly, too," Aziraphale commended.

"Wait, what?" Sam asked, brow furrowed.

"I don't know. Michael was beating the shit out of me and—what was your name again?" Dean directed the question at Aziraphale.

"Aziraphale."

"Too long. I'm gonna call you Az." Aziraphale visibly cringed(1), but Dean ignored him. "Michael was beating the shit out of me and Az, and AJ just walked in pretending to be Lucifer and scared him so bad I got control back."

"YOU scared him?" Cas repeated dubiously.

"What? I'm scary!" Crowley insisted, outraged.

The demon got to his feet, and then promptly fainted from blood loss.

"Yeah," Dean said. "Fuckin' terrifying."


When Crowley woke, it was roughly thirty minutes later. He was flat on his back in the bed he'd slept in the night before, shirtless, with Aziraphale diligently cleaning out his wound with an alcohol swab. Crowley let out a sharp exclamation, jerking away from the angel's gentle touch. "That burns, you know!"

"Crowley, sit still. I'm trying to help you," Aziraphale ordered.

Crowley grimaced, unable to remember the last time he'd had an injury that couldn't be miracled away. He let himself fall back into the bed again, and Aziraphale continued his work, Crowley wincing all the way.

"How are you feeling?" Aziraphale asked softly, concern evident in the small dip between his brows.

"Better. Kind of. Everyone else alright?"

"Jack is resting. He'll likely sleep the next day away. Everyone else is just fine." An amused smile played on Aziraphale's lips. "You've made friends quickly."

"Friends now that we've saved their lives and pretty much their whole bloody universe," Crowley replied. "They had me in a trunk twenty-four hours ago, if you can believe that. Tried to keep me chained."

"Tried?"

"I snaked out on Castiel. Changed his tune."

Aziraphale chuckled. "Of course you did."

"How'd you even get here, anyways?" Crowley asked, arching an eyebrow at his friend. Aziraphale finished, mercifully, with the damned alcohol swabs. He placed a small field surgeon pack on the bed, rooting through it.

"Anathema helped me. First we tried a locator spell, no such luck, for obvious reasons. We determined you were in another universe, and she believed that the fabric of reality would be thinner from where you'd been taken from. So, I just..." Aziraphale made an elegant door-opening gesture. "Let myself in. Ended up in Heaven, but I got down here eventually."

"How was their Heaven?"

Aziraphale expression sobered significantly. "There's...almost no angels left, I'm afraid."

"So a nice one, then?" He could tell he'd said the wrong thing by Aziraphale's stricken face. "Sorry, just kidding."

"They wanted me to stay. I have enough celestial energy to keep Heaven powered, they don't. Given enough time..."

"It'll fall apart."

"Yes."

"Surprised they let you leave."

The angel turned bashful, pretending to be very intrigued with the small suture kit he'd extracted from the field surgeon pack. "Oh, ah. I just exchanged a few words with their leader, and they were understanding of the situation."

Crowley peered at him over the top of his sunglasses. "Just like that?"

"Just like that. Yes. Why would I lie?" the angel said dismissively, voice ratcheting up a few octaves.

"Because you're a bastard. What did you really do?"

Aziraphale muttered something as he extracted the needles from the suture kit, the picture of sheepishness.

"Sorry, what was that?" Crowley goaded, leaning toward the angel.

"I told them I was God," Aziraphale burst out miserably. "It—it was the only thing I could think of in the moment, and—and I was so powerful in comparison to them—"

The rest of the sentence was drowned out by Crowley's uproarious laughter.

"Stop laughing! You pretended to be Satan a half an hour ago!" the angel raged.

"Great minds," Crowley wheezed, head thrown back, trying to force down his urge to continue giggling. Aziraphale started stitching his wound back up without warning, and that did the trick of stifling his mirth. "Ouch!"

"So sorry. Thought I best get to it," Aziraphale said, faux-innocent.

Aziraphale worked in silence for a few minutes before Crowley said, "Thanks. By the way."

Deft hands still working, Aziraphale distractedly asked, "Mm, for what, my dear?"

"Coming to save me. You didn't have to."

The angel halted, almost seeming offended when his eyes met Crowley's. "Of course I had to! It's—good Lord, Crowley, it's you. I could hardly just watch you disappear before my very eyes and not go searching for you."

The way Aziraphale had emphasized you warmed his cold blood infinitesimally.

"It's nothing you wouldn't have done for me. You have done it for me," Aziraphale continued matter-of-factly.

"Never crossed universes for you."

"But you would." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah. I would." Crowley let out a long exhale through his nose, needing a change of subject. "So, when do we go back?"

"The portal should be open another forty-four hours. We can take our time."

"Not too much time. Last thing I want is to get stuck in this mad place."

Aziraphale finished the last suture and made a pleased noise. "There you are. All taken care of. Do be careful not to tear the stitches out."

"No promises," Crowley groaned, sitting up all the way.

A knock came at the door.

"Come in," Aziraphale called.

Dean poked his head in. "Hey guys. How you holding up?"

"Didn't get mind-fucked by an Archangel today like you, so...aces," Crowley responded.

"We're quite well Dean, thank you for asking," Aziraphale said, giving Crowley a strong dose of side-eye. "How are you?"

"Me? Since that son of a bitch is gone, I'm great." Dean cleared his throat, and asked, "So. Uh. Y'all wanna get drunk?"


The post-Michael celebration was in true Winchester fashion; Chinese takeout and all the cheap beer and liquor you could hope for. Aziraphale, horrified by the concept of drinking something that wasn't older than both Sam and Dean, miracled up a bottle of sixty year old Riesling from a vineyard in Turkey, and then added a sushi spread to the night's offerings, which delighted Sam and disgusted Dean.

"We didn't invent fire just to still eat shit raw in the 21st century."

"Suit yourself," Aziraphale said, happily taking a piece of unagi nagiri.

They drank, they ate, they talked, and for the first time in what felt like forever, Dean was having...fun?

Angel and demon alike were boisterous drunks, which Dean got an absolute kick out of. They were gifted with ten minutes straight of Crowley ribbing Aziraphale for apparently pretending to be God to slip past Naomi and get down to Earth from Heaven.

"I wouldn't worry about it, brother," Cas said, a slur to his words after his umpteenth beer. "The last time I pretended to be God, I exploded, and he just resurrected me and didn't say anything."

That earned him horrified looks from both Crowley and Aziraphale.

"It was a whole thing," Dean offered eloquently.

The conversation weaved through both of their universes, catching Aziraphale up on things they'd already told Crowley about, and at one point, Aziraphale said: "I just, don't really understand how you were all able to cope with this. You've been through so much. Most would've buckled under the weight."

Dean, Sam, and Cas exchanged a look.

"Well," Sam said, thoughtfully, "We...we always had each other."

"There's very little the three of us can't accomplish when we set our minds to it," Cas added with something that sounded like pride.

"Usually it ends up making things worse for everyone, including us, but we're a one problem at a time kinda family," interjected Dean, his fingers wrapped around the neck of a PBR bottle.

Aziraphale just smiled. "Human resilience," he said, as if that explained everything.

They stayed up late, well into the night. Somehow Dean and Crowley got into a pissing match to see who could drink more(2) and around 2am, with his forehead plastered against the kitchen table and Crowley victoriously prancing around the room in that weird, nobody-human-would-ever-walk-like-that fashion, Dean admitted his overwhelming defeat.

"You cheated," Dean mumbled.

"Demonic alcohol tolerance does NOT translate to cheating. I beat you fair and square, not a miracle in ssssight. Now pay up."

Dean couldn't remember how much money he'd actually bet, or if he'd bet at all, so he just groaned and threw his wallet on the table. Crowley rifled through it with unrestrained glee.

Sam had long since passed out on the couch. Cas was trashed but still awake, wavering on one of the kitchen chairs.

"Well, we should probably leave them be before we kill them," Crowley said when he'd extracted forty bucks from Dean's wallet.

"It is getting late. You should rest, after the day you've had," said Aziraphale to Crowley, drunk but sweet.

"If you guys are gonna bang in the spare room, you can just say it," Dean said. He heard both angel and demon alike sputtering. He ignored them. "Sleep tight. Or don't. Whatever works for you."

They bid their goodnights and drifted off, leaving Dean with Cas. Cas snorted in amusement and tapped Dean on the shoulder. The nausea in him evaporated immediately, and the room stopped spinning. He lifted his head and sighed in relief. "Man, you couldn't have done that an hour ago? I could've won."

"I suspect Crowley or Aziraphale would've noticed," said Cas gruffly, his voice wrecked from all he'd drank.

Dean rested his chin on his hand, happy Cas had still left him drunk, just not painfully so. "They're really weird, aren't they?"

"I'm sure they think the same about us."

"Probably right." He thought for a moment, then said, "Cas...are things gonna be okay, now?"

Cas blinked blearily. "Are they ever?"

"No, but I mean, like...what do I mean?" He tried to push past the fog in his brain. "Michael's dead. Lucifer's dead. Nick's in jail. We've got hunters on the payroll. A bunch. Jack's super-powered again. Mom, Bobby, Charlie, all back, all kickin', that's like...fuck, dude. Things are OKAY. Things are...things are actually okay."(3)

"Hopefully they'll stay that way."

Dean closed his eyes, suddenly desperately wanting to sleep. "I hope so, Cas. 'Cause I'm getting too old for this."

He jumped when he felt Cas's hand on his shoulder. He looked up at the angel. "Let's get you to bed before you fall over...old man."

"Oh, shut up! You're like a million years old!"

"With an ageless body," Cas reminded him, pulling him up and out of his chair and into a standing position. His legs were little more than jell-o underneath him, but Cas supported him with one arm wrapped around his shoulders and his palm flat against Dean's chest.

"I c'n walk."

"Not well."

They hobbled out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

"Cas?"

"Yes, Dean?"

"You know you're my best friend, right?"

"And you're mine," Cas responded easily.

"I know I'm a dick sometimes. A lot of the time."

"That's just who you are."

"I dunno why you put up with me."

He pushed open the door to Dean's room with his foot. "That's what you do when you love somebody."

Dean didn't know what the hell to say to that. Cas set him down so he was on the edge of his bed, then backed away from Dean, but Dean caught the edge of his sleeve.

"You too," he said, trying to find the words. "I mean...I've never said it before, but. You too." I love you too. Maybe someday he'd be able to get all the words out, but he'd have to be drunker than this.

Cas just squeezed the hand holding onto his trench coat. "I know," he said gently. "Now get some sleep."

Dean released him and fell backwards. He was out in seconds. Cas turned out the light for him.


Crowley and Aziraphale stumbled into Crowley's room in the bunker, giggling all the way. Crowley gracelessly kicked the door shut behind them.

"I still can't believe you pretended to be God," Crowley said between snorts of laughter, leaning against the wall, a bottle of pilfered Jameson, now almost empty, dangling from between two long fingers. "The absolute fucking audacity."

"And you pretending to be Lucifer!" Aziraphale accused back, leaning next to the wall beside him.

"Bet Lucifer isn't gonna hit ME with a bolt of lightning, he's dead here," Crowley reminded him, swigging out the end of the bottle.

"Well this universe's God clearly didn't much care," Aziraphale said with a criminally sly smile. Bastard angel.

Aziraphale eyed the empty bottle and made a tutting sound before snapping his fingers. It refilled, with a notably richer brown liquid than before. Curiously, Crowley twisted off the cap and sniffed.

"Bastille," the demon cooed happily. "Now that's something."

Crowley took a deep draught, and passed it to the angel. The bottle didn't have to go far. Aziraphale was leaning much of his body weight on him, their shoulders pressed against each other. Aziraphale happily sloshed down a bit as well, cheeks turning infinitely redder by the second.

"It's like a vacation, but without any of the fun parts," Crowley mused. "All this," he clarified, waving a hand around at the room at large.

"It's been a little fun. The Winchesters and Castiel are nice."

"I wouldn't use that word. But they're interesting, at least. Angel, have you seen all the BOOKS? You'll lose your mind when you see the library. Books even you haven't seen before. Different universe and all that."

"I'll have to take a look once you're asleep."

Crowley rested his forehead against the angel's shoulder, reveling in the preternatural warmth he radiated. "You should sleep too. Powering up Jack took a lot out of you. Out of both of us."

"I'm fine, my dear."

"Come onnnnnn," the demon said. He set down the bottle of Bastille on the night stand. He then grabbed Aziraphale by the sleeve and tugged him towards the bed. "When was the last time you slept? Since the night the world didn't end?"(4)

"I don't need sleep, Crowley," the angel laughed, stumbling into Crowley, but Crowley caught them and spun them onto the bed, crashing down in a graceless mess of limbs, clashing black and beige.

"It's not about needing, angel, it's about wanting. We're occult—ethereal, whatever—we don't need anything," Crowley said, and became very aware of how close Aziraphale's face was to his, the comfortable sensation of his weight pressing him down into the bed.

"Well...I suppose it couldn't hurt. Just a few hours."

Wow, he hadn't expected to actually win this argument. He chalked it up to the alcohol. Feeling extraordinarily daring, Crowley began sliding Aziraphale's jacket off of him.

"Crowley...what...?"

"You don't sleep fully clothed, angel," Crowley said lowly, surprised by the tone of his own voice.

Aziraphale nodded slowly. He seemed apprehensive, but allowed Crowley to slip his jacket off. Crowley folded it neatly and placed it on the nightstand next to the transformed bottle of liquor, knowing Aziraphale would be furious if he dared to do any damage to his clothes. Next, he lifted (trembling?) hands to the angel's bow-tie, undoing it with the utter lack of skill of someone who has never once, in 6,000 years, considered wearing one.

The bow-tie went on top of the jacket. Crowley disposed of the angel's waistcoat in a similar fashion. At this point, Aziraphale shifted slightly, his thigh between Crowley's legs. He suspected the angel was going to roll over now to his side of the bed, but Crowley had a grip on his collar before he could.

With immense trepidation and one too many butterflies having an ecstasy-fueled-rave in the pit of his stomach, he undid Aziraphale's top button. The angel's hands rested on top of his, stopping his progress.

"Too fast?" Crowley asked, and oh no, now they were doing that thing, that thing where they were saying cryptic things intentionally and leaving them up to interpretation, dancing around meanings that meant too much. Dancing around everything, always, forever.

But, to his shock, Aziraphale shook his head. "No, no, just..." He released Crowley's hands, and Crowley's skin jumped when Aziraphale started unbuttoning Crowley's shirt as well.

He noted their breathing had both grown quicker, shallower, a pool of warmth between them.

His hands skidded down Aziraphale's chest as more skin was revealed, and he wondered idly if he could discorporate from how fast his heart was beating.

Aziraphale managed to get his shirt open before Crowley succeeded with his, and he nearly whimpered when the angel ghosted his fingers down his ribs.

"Angel—" he gasped, breathlessly, fighting with that last button.

The door banged open, and it was like a bucket of ice water getting dumped on the both of them. "Oh shit—wrong—sorry, sorry! Wrong room!"

A very drunk Sam Winchester stumbled away from the door, evidently trying and failing to find his own, but too late, Aziraphale had already flung himself so spectacularly off of Crowley as to have hit the floor and possibly even slid a few feet.

"Ah—right, yes, I'm...just going to go have a look at that library, now, I think—I'll see you in the morning dear, sleep well, sweet dreams."

Aziraphale was out of the room so fast Crowley didn't even have time to try to stop him.

Chapter Text

A few hours earlier...

Jack did, undeniably, sleep for quite some time. It wasn't until late into the night that he woke again, the clock on his nightstand reading 1:13am. When his eyes blinked open, he felt sluggish, but rested. He pushed himself up in bed, yawning loudly. Memories of earlier in the day flooded back to him quickly—the feel of Michael in his hands, that buzzing, impossible, ancient wave of celestial intent—and he had just...torn him in half. Like ripping through wrapping paper on a Christmas present. Like it was nothing.

Well, not nothing. He'd felt totally exhausted afterwards. It had taken just about everything he had in him. But still, he was able to do it. For the first time since Lucifer had stolen his Grace, he could be useful again. Something other than a liability to Cas, Sam, and Dean. He knew they'd been trying to be patient with him, but he'd done nothing but slow them all down as a human. Just another weak point to be exploited. Yet in spite of that, they'd still gone to the ends of the earth to save his life.

He thought this often, but he was very lucky to have them as his fathers.

Jack stared down at his hands, watching golden sparks dance between his fingertips. To be whole once more...what a relief. No more butchered soul magic. All was in balance, as it was intended to be. Half human. Half angel...or devil, he guessed. It depended on how you looked at it.

Jack heard muffled laughter and chatter from deeper in the bunker, and pursued it. He hovered by the threshold of the kitchen, peeking in. Dean was in the middle of animatedly telling a story that Jack had heard at least a dozen times.

"So then the Thule goons drag us in, right, and they put us in front of the Nauhaus guy, and I get lippy with him, and one of the Thule dudes says that I gotta address the Fuhrer with some respect."

Aziraphale gasped dramatically. "No!"

Crowley looked similarly stunned. "You can't be serious."

"That's right, fellas. They resurrected Hitler. So," Dean continued, gesturing wildly with his beer, "Hitler orders us fed to his dogs or whatever, but then Ellie, she's all woozy and shit from the blood thing, but she grabs Sammy's gun and nails one of the Thule. He goes down, I grab the Nazi bastard's gun, I punch HITLER in the FACE," he loudly and proudly emphasized, "then I level my pistol at him, and guess what I say."

"Couldn't fathom," Crowley said, grinning.

"I say, 'Heil this!'—and then I fucking shot him. I. Killed. Hitler." Dean spread out his arms, smile a mile wide. "I killed Hitler."(1)

Sam just shook his head. "He wants to get t-shirts made," he told Crowley and Aziraphale, who were staring at Dean with something like impressed confusion.

"Bravo, dear boy," Aziraphale cooed, sloshing a bit of wine out of his glass. "I did always absolutely detest Nazis."

"Well, no one likes Nazis, do they?" Crowley asked, brow furrowed.

The drunken chitchat filtered to the back of Jack's mind, and he focused on Cas, who watched Dean with a mixture of amusement and undisguised affection. Cas looked more relaxed in this moment than Jack had seen him in the entire time of knowing him. Granted that wasn't a huge stretch of time, but he knew that content and calm were feelings Cas rarely got to experience.

"Take me in his stead. Take me.  I'm the one you want. I'm the one who woke you up."

"You? But you're already mine."

"Not for years. Eons maybe. But if you'll agree, I will go now, and I will go willingly."

"Deal...but oh, but not now. No, no, no, no, no. No, you see, I-I meant what I said. I-I want you to suffer. I want you to go back to—to your normal life and—and then forget about this and forget about me. And—and then, when you finally give yourself permission to be happy and let the sun shine on your face, that's when I'll come. That's when I'll come to drag you to Nothing."

Horror swelled in Jack's stomach, and he ducked back from the doorway, pressing himself against the wall and pinching his eyes shut as panic seized him. What if this was it? There were no other problems on their plate beyond that of their usual—they had a group of hunters to trust and rely on, the job wasn't nearly as much of a death sentence as it once was. Mary, Bobby, and Charlie were all alive and well. Michael and Lucifer were both dead.

What if this was the happiness the Shadow was waiting for? What if, at any moment, it could appear and take Cas to the Empty?

Jack thought they'd have so much longer. He had assumed that if anything was dependable, it was the uncanny ability the Winchesters' lives had of manufacturing pure misery at an alarming rate. But then Crowley and Aziraphale had come, and in such a short time, their Michael problem had been completely done away with.

But Jack knew there was a much bigger problem.

He looked down, once more, at his hands. Focused on the burning and brilliant energy inside of his chest. Could he...could he kill the Shadow? He'd killed Michael with the only consequence being a long nap.

But he'd felt the Shadow when he'd been in Heaven, and it had been...more than an Archangel. Much more. More than a god. The Shadow and the Empty were one in the same; the Shadow was just a ghostly extension that could be used to manifest in other dimensions not its own. But Jack had sensed distinctly that the being was more massive and unknowable than maybe anything else in the universe. At least their universe, anyway.

Jack glanced back into the kitchen, watched Crowley pour Aziraphale another glass of wine with mixed success, a small smile playing on his lips.

They were strong enough to jump-start his Grace when nothing else could...strong enough to do what even Archangel Grace couldn't. Perhaps, with the two of them in tow, the Shadow could be stopped—or maybe at least confined to the Empty, so that it couldn't take Cas before his time. But the strange angel and demon had already done so much for them. Surely this was asking too much. Asking them to risk their lives. They'd never agree.

Jack walked back down the hallway, racking his brain.

Maybe...maybe they didn't need to know the whole truth of the situation. Maybe just the bare bones.

I can do it, Jack told himself, eyes glowing gold. I know I can. If they help me—we can end this. They'll understand when it's all over.


The sun was just forming a thin white line on the horizon when Castiel found Aziraphale in the library, surrounded by several leaning stacks of books. Reading glasses were perched on his nose, and he was, with great care, leafing through Vasa Pessima Mala, an incredibly old lore book on demons that had been in the bunker's library when the boys had first moved in.

Aziraphale looked up at him when he entered, smiling at him. "Hello, brother."

"Hello, Aziraphale." Cas tilted his head, noticing the faint buzz still in his temples from their night of drinking. "Why are you wearing glasses?"

"Oh, these old things?" Aziraphale tapped the side with a finger. "To be honest with you, I just like the look of them. My eyes are perfectly fine."

Castiel took a seat across from Aziraphale at the table. "You seem to greatly enjoy human things."

"Well, is there much else to enjoy in the world?" Aziraphale asked lightly. "Angels and demons haven't made much. Even the things Crowley and I created, it was more...acting as a spark of inspiration to a human with gumption. But humans, ah...endlessly inventive creatures."

Cas nodded, noting the fondness in Aziraphale's voice. "You'll have to forgive me, I...haven't been on Earth very long. Not in comparison to you and Crowley. Not even twenty years."

"Understandable, of course. You're still very new to all this. But I can see you've already developed a similar appreciation for humanity. Or, at the very least, a few choice humans," Aziraphale's eyes held a knowing glint. "I must say, Castiel, I wonder what it's like for you. Crowley and I have had many human friends over the millennia, but we always made sure to maintain something of a distance. Ingenious though they may be, their lives are frightfully short in comparison to ours. Infinite versus finite."

"You're asking me how I'll cope when they're gone?"

Aziraphale pursed his lips. "I didn't mean to be quite so forward about it..."

"I don't know what I'll do. I'll still have Jack. I suppose the two of us will...carry on their legacy, as best we can," Cas replied haltingly.

Castiel felt deeply saddened, to think that someday, Dean and Sam would no longer be here with him. Even if natural causes took them, and not a hunt gone wrong, how many more years would he have with them? Forty, fifty if they were very lucky. He often forgot that in human years, Dean was rapidly approaching middle age. He and Sam both seemed so young to him, still the twenty-somethings he'd met when he first pulled Dean from Hell. Still...children, almost.

But they were anything but, and their lives were likely past half over, by now.

"I'm sorry, Castiel, this is all rather dire—I shouldn't have mentioned it. Merely curious. You and I, we're very..."

"Similar?" Cas filled in. "Two angels who rebelled against Heaven for the sake of the world?"

"Yes. In our universe, I'm...very much alone in that," Aziraphale said, something soft in his expression. "Call me Heaven's Least Wanted, I suppose."

"Be grateful for that much, Aziraphale. Here, half of the angels decided to align themselves with me after the Apocalypse. Nothing good came of it."

Aziraphale looked revolted by the thought. "I should think the Heavenly Host would know better than to ever try to follow me in anything. Of course, if some of the other angels were to come down to Earth, to remind themselves that we were made to be shepherds, not butchers...I would very much like that. But I'm no leader. No soldier. Not like you."

Cas cocked his head, silently questioning.

"I know a warrior when I see one," the other angel explained, "you at least managed that much. I was never quite what Heaven had hoped for."

"I don't think that I was either," Cas responded quietly. "Something Naomi said to me years ago...that I had come off the assembly line with a crack in my chassis."

Aziraphale surprised Cas by shutting Vasa Pessima Mala and looking at him sharply. The angel even took off his reading glasses. "Nonsense," he said firmly, meeting Castiel's eyes. "My dear brother, you saved the world. If that makes you—ill-made, then I shudder to think what would have happened if you'd been properly made." Something sad but hopeful ghosted over Aziraphale's face. "Maybe every universe needs one. One broken angel."

"And one humanity-loving demon," Castiel added.

"Ah yes, I heard you mention your Crowley in passing last night...uncanny that even their names are the same. I do wonder if they aren't just alternate versions of one another. Very different, obviously—for instance, the Castiel in our universe is a dreadful bore."

"On the surface, they definitely have their similarities. I think our Crowley would have liked your Crowley very much. But your Crowley...he's an angel, Fallen or not, demon or not. Crowley was a human who fell to demon."

"A fundamental difference," Aziraphale agreed.

"Yes. But still. They would've been friends. I'm sure of it."

Aziraphale frowned. "I do wish they could have met. I think it would do well for Crowley to meet another demon even remotely like himself. I know meeting you has been...important. For me. I'm more sure now than ever that I did the right thing, stopping Armageddon."(2)

"Even given the state of our universe?"

A faintly anxious look formed in Aziraphale's eyes. "Well, surely that won't happen to us."

Castiel wanted to point out that if you bucked the natural order of things, sometimes there was no telling what the consequences would be, but he didn't want to dampen the other angel's spirits. And their God seemed a great deal less capricious than Chuck—assuming it was indeed a different God. Michael assumed it was all one God, all Chuck, moving from draft to draft, trying to find the proper story. Castiel didn't know if he believed that or not.

Then again, Crowley and Aziraphale's God was a She...perhaps they weren't one of Chuck's universes. Perhaps Amara had constructed her own after departing theirs.

Questions Castiel was still not quite sober enough to entertain at the moment, so he merely said, "I'm sure it won't, brother."

Aziraphale smiled brightly, seeming perfectly content with Cas's weak reassurance.


9am found Sam in the kitchen, blearily making a pot of coffee and trying to ignore the pounding in his head. He hadn't drank that much in months, and he wasn't as young as he used to be. Every time he burped, he wondered if a run to the bathroom was going to be necessary. After a moment's consideration, he placed a kettle on the stove and started making tea as well. Something to combat the nausea while the coffee gave him the energy to do more than lay on the couch for the rest of the day. Plus, it seemed likely that Aziraphale and Crowley would tend more towards tea then coffee, being Brits (or at least Brit-flavored entities.)

Sam stirred when he heard footsteps behind him, expecting Cas. Instead he found Crowley, barefoot and with his shirt unbuttoned halfway, his hair mussed. Still had his sunglasses on, though. Sam didn't understand why he bothered. They all knew what he was, and the creepiness of the snake eyes had worn off pretty quickly.

Crowley sank down into a chair at the table and stared at Sam's back. Sam cleared his throat, uncomfortable, wondering if the demon remembered last night or not. Alcohol probably did a lot more damage to human memory than demonic memory.

After about a minute, Sam determined Crowley did remember.

"You, uh, you do realize you can't actually pierce me with your glares, right?" Sam asked nervously, pouring himself a cup of coffee while the tea boiled.

"You'd be surprised," the demon said, his voice rough from sleep.

Sam blushed. "Look, man, I'm sorry. But why not just..." Oh wow, he was already hating this conversation. "Pick up where you left off? You guys've really never been interrupted before?"

Crowley's lip curled. "You think that was a NORMAL thing for ussss?" he hissed. "It took us six thousand years to get that far, and you managed to cock it up in less than six seconds!"

"Wait," Sam shook his head, absolutely lost. "You—you two aren't together?"

"No!"

Sam stared, trying to reconcile that information with every single interaction he'd seen between the angel and the demon. "Cas was actually right. Wow." The three of them had a brief argument while Aziraphale had been dealing with Crowley's wounded shoulder about whether or not the two of them were an Item, with Sam being very much in the camp of Yes, They Might Even Be Married, Dean voting that they were at least sleeping together, with Cas insisting that they were both wrong, and the two were just close friends.

"So what you're saying is...you were...and I...?"

Crowley did a wonderful job of filling in the blanks. He crossed his arms, and Sam didn't need to see the demon's reptilian eyes to know they were burning with rage. "YES."

"Oh." Sam's mouth formed a perfect 'O'. Skin crawling with how tense the room had grown, Sam tried to act natural and take a sip of his coffee. He promptly spat it all over the kitchen counter, choking. "What—what the hell is wrong with this? It tastes like—" Understanding dawned on him.

He whirled around, the words, "Crowley, did you turn my coffee into motor oil?" ready on his tongue, but the demon was already gone.


Dean could cook, but was passed out in bed, sleeping off his bet with Crowley. Sam could cook, but was too hungover (and also very occupied trying to scrub the motor oil taste out of his mouth) and Crowley just wasn't in the bloody mood, so breakfast came in the form of several platters of cream, chocolate, and fruit-filled pâte à choux that Aziraphale had miracled up for everyone, everyone at the moment being the two of them, Jack, and Castiel.

Even with their stunning lack of ability to pick up on social cues, both Jack and Cas seemed to be at least tangentially aware that something was Not Quite Right between Crowley and Aziraphale, and it didn't take long for Cas to excuse himself to "go check and see if Dean is still alive."

They sat in awkward silence for several minutes, Jack sipping at a glass of milk, Aziraphale seeming to try and then subsequently fail to enjoy his breakfast, and Crowley stared mournfully at his cup of coffee. He'd turned the entire pot into motor oil, but now found himself too glum to reverse the process.

He tried not to be hyper-aware of Aziraphale at his side. Tried very hard not to think about the angel's hands on him the night before, his shallow breathing, the heat and weight of him, the sound he'd made in the back of his throat when Crowley had grazed his hands down his chest.

Tried, anyway.

Jack eventually broke the tense quiet, clearing his throat: "I, um. I know we've already asked a lot of you two. And I feel bad asking for something else, but I wanted to at least bring it up. I might be able to do it myself, but I'd feel better if I had..." he seemed to search for the word, "backup."

Aziraphale blinked in surprise. "I thought we rather tied up everyone's loose ends when Michael was dealt with?"

"We did," Jack confirmed, gazing evenly at Aziraphale. "But, there's just something extra I'd like to do. I don't really want the others to know. They would tell me it's too dangerous, but I don't think it is. Now that I'm back to normal."

"The anticipation's killing me," Crowley mumbled, still glaring at his motor oil. "Just tell us what it is."

"Crowley...I'd like to save your favorite character from the Supernatural books."

Crowley did perk up ever-so-slightly at that, actually letting his eyes slide to Jack. "Save Other Me? Thought he died trying to stop Lucifer the second time? Or third time? Whatever time you lot are on. Love beating a dead horse, your God does. But why d'you want to save him? Didn't he cark it before you were even born?"

"He did, but I've heard stories. I think it would be good to have Crowley back to take over Hell again. Heaven isn't a problem because there's not very many angels left, and the hunters are keeping things under control on Earth. With Crowley back in Hell to stop the chaos, things could...be in balance again, for the first time in a really long time. Also, I think it would make Dean happy, if I could find a way to bring Crowley back without something bad happening because of it, like with how Rowena was trying to resurrect him."

Crowley snorted. "She's lucky she ended up with me in her summoning circle and not something worse."

"What exactly would this entail, Jack?" Aziraphale asked, clasping his hands on the table and leaning forward.

"In our universe, when an angel or a demon dies, they go to a place called the Empty," Jack began.

"Creative name," Crowley snarked.

"It's just a...a really big void. But when Cas was there, I woke him up. So I don't see why we can't do that with Crowley, and then bring him back. He can just find another body, so we don't have to worry about that."

Jack explained it all quite succinctly, but it all sounded far too easy for Crowley's liking. "So we just, go, get him, leave? Doesn't sound like you need us."

Jack pursed his lips, as if weighing his next words very carefully. "There's a...an entity that protects the Empty. That's why I'd like you two to come. I think we can hold him off long enough to get Crowley out."

"And what exactly is this entity like?" Aziraphale asked, clearly concerned.

"Just...a Shadow," Jack said vaguely. "We can handle it."(3)

"I don't know about this," Crowley said, absentmindedly massaging his wounded shoulder. He needed to change the bandage. "Seems dodgy. How did you four get anything done before we showed up?"

"Mostly by making terrible deals," Jack said honestly, something dark dancing in his eyes.

"I think we should help," Aziraphale said haughtily, not looking at Crowley. The angel, as it happened, had not looked at him once since what Crowley was now mentally referring to as The Incident. "Not often someone wants to save a demon...I'm rather in support of it."

Crowley didn't even know where to begin with that statement. "Most demons don't want, need, or deserve it."

"Some do," replied the angel stiffly. Still not looking at him. "Do you think this one does?"

Crowley sighed, looking back at his motor oil "S'pose so. Still got a bad feeling about this."

"It'll be okay," Jack said cheerfully, and he extended his hands to them. "Can we leave now? I'd like to do this before the others realize we're gone. I don't want them to worry."

Crowley made a face. "What could possibly go wrong?" He took Jack's hand.

Aziraphale took the other one. "Really, my dear. Would it kill you to be an optimist, just this once?"

Before Crowley could retort, the three of them were gone.

Chapter Text

Dean, with Cas following close behind, dragged himself into the kitchen. Sam was poking curiously at some kind of weird little cake-type things, looking rough, but not nearly as rough as Dean, who felt a great deal like he had been chewed thoroughly, swallowed, and spat back out by an unspeakable eldritch monster. And given the tentacle-porn incident about a year ago, he had a better concept of what that might feel like than most people.

"Morning," Sam greeted blearily.

"Mmm," was Dean's stunningly articulate response. He shuffled to the coffee pot.

"Where are the others?" Cas asked, casting a glance around the otherwise empty kitchen.

"Crowley and Aziraphale? Haven't seen Aziraphale since last night. Crowley was wandering around a little while ago," Sam responded, running a hand through his hair and deciding on a raspberry filled pastry.

Dean poured himself a cup of coffee that was dangerously close to overflowing.

"And Jack?" Cas's brow furrowed.

"Haven't seen him yet. Is he awake?"

"Yes, I was in here with him before I went to wake up Dean..." Dean could detect the growing concern in Cas's voice.

Great. A Problem to start off the day. Because there always had to be a Problem. With a miserable groan, he chugged half his coffee cup in one go.

"Wait, Dean—" Sam said suddenly. "That might not be—"

Dean wretched the coffee out all over the counter, and partially his bathrobe. "What—THE FUCK—" he roared, slamming the coffee cup down.

"Crowley might've uh, he uh...kinda...it's a long story," Sam said weakly. "It was meant for me, if that's any consolation."

Dean stuck his head underneath the sink faucet, running the water cold in his mouth. Is nothing sacred? So he is evil after all.

"I can't sense Jack," Cas put in, completely unconcerned by Dean's now soiled taste-buds and newly blossoming inherent distrust of what had once been such treasured body fuel.

"He might've just gone for a walk," Sam pointed out.

"I can't sense Aziraphale or Crowley, either."

Dean pulled back from the sink at that. "You're saying all three of them are gone?"

"It...seems so."

Dean took the realization in stride. "Jack would've told us if they were just going on a walk." He looked meaningfully at Sam, then at Cas. "Someone say it. Someone say it, because this time, I don't wanna be right. I don't."

"You think they took Jack," Sam said, eyes darkening.

"There could be a perfectly innocent explanation," Cas reasoned with a faint shake of his head. "I feel as though we're good enough judges of character to have sensed ill intent from them by now."

"Yeah, well, we didn't sense 'ill intent' from you, and you were dicking around with the King of Hell behind our backs for two years. Sam and I are morons, in case you haven't noticed."

Dean could tell the comment stung Cas, and he regretted saying it, but the steadily building panic in his chest had thrown any tact he might've had out the window.

"Trusting people doesn't make you morons."

"That's exactly what it makes us. We let two ridiculously overpowered dudes from another universe walk around a bunker full of supernatural atom bombs and, oh yeah, the fucking ANTICHRIST, and didn't think anything would come of it. Thought they'd just solve all our problems and go home, no consequences." Dean threw the half motor oil filled coffee cup into the sink with barely restrained fury. "When are we gonna learn that there's always, always consequences? I should've known nothing would come that easy, not for us."

"Dean, look," Sam said, not seeming half as worried as he should have been, "to be honest, the two of them seem a lot more interested in each other than anything we're doing."

"Just because they're banging doesn't mean they can't be evil."

"You can't tell me you look at Aziraphale and see evil," Cas insisted.

"Cas, I know you wanna like the guy, because he's another angel that told Heaven to go to Hell, but it doesn't change the fact that they were here, and now they're not, and now Jack's not, so something is up."

"They're not banging," Sam put in, but he said it like it was something of urgent importance.

Dean just looked at him. "Is this really the conversation we need to be having right now?"

"No, Dean, what I mean is—I kind of, uh," Sam's cheeks took on an embarrassed blush, "walked in on them, last night."

"Gross," Dean said automatically, without any real feeling.

"Well, like, Crowley was really angry about it this morning, and I didn't get it, because I just, kinda assumed they'd been together for a long time, maybe longer than we've even been alive, but I guess they're not? And he's um...like, pining. Or whatever."

"Is there a point hiding in here somewhere?" Dean asked tiredly. What did it matter what their relationship status was? They took Jack. They were up to something, and it wasn't anything good. It never was, not with demons or angels.

"My point is, he just...he seems more like a moody lovesick teenager than some plotting mastermind. And like Cas said, you really think Aziraphale's got a bad bone in his body? The guy's like a walking ball of sunshine."

"We've known them for TWO DAYS," Dean reminded the two of them loudly.

"And we spent last night trashed with them like we'd known them for years. You like them, that's why you're freaking out, because for five seconds, you let yourself actually like someone who isn't family."

"I'm freaking out because they took Jack!" Dean burst out, sick to death of the conversation. "We're doing a tracking spell. Or at least I'm doing one, if you two want to just sit here and hope real hard that we happened to meet the only two supernatural beings in the entire goddamn multiverse that don't want to ruin everything, go ahead."

He stalked out of the room, and wasn't surprised when Sam and Cas followed.

"We're not suggesting we do nothing," Cas said flatly. "Only that maybe we shouldn't jump to the worst case scenario."

"Our lives are one worst case scenario after another. Not gonna start second guessing that pattern now," Dean shot back. "Now stow it. We've got work to do."


When they arrived in what Jack called the Empty, Crowley found nothing but darkness.

Well, maybe not darkness, per se; he could see Jack just fine, as well as Aziraphale. But besides that, an endless void of nothing. Black. Featureless. Nothing.

His skin was crawling. "Feels...off."

"An understatement," agreed Aziraphale, though an intense, scholarly interest lingered in the angel's eyes.

"I wondered what it would be like," Jack said distantly. "Cas said it was like this, but...I don't know. It's hard to imagine nothing. But that's what it is."

"Outside the ordered universe, that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes..." Aziraphale quoted in something that sounded almost like wonder.

"No flutes," Crowley said, then made a face. "Lovecraft? Come on, angel."

"What? Ignoring the man himself, he was very good at what he did, with all the suffocating existential cosmic horror. Not something one reads for pleasure necessarily, but he could create worlds with skill."

"Bloody racist, though."

"Who better to write horror? He was afraid of anyone who wasn't exactly like him," Aziraphale reasoned.

Crowley just mumbled something inarticulate in response, then turned to Jack. "So. What do we do? How do we..." Crowley did air quotes, "wake Other Me up?"

"With Cas I just...kind of called out to him?"

"So, we, what? Just yell his name until the right demon pops up?"

Jack seemed distracted. "I guess so."

"Really well thought out plan, mate," Crowley muttered, then spun around in a circle, swinging his arms, "CROOOOOOOOWLEY!"

"Pronunciation, dear," Aziraphale reminded him blandly, before calling out the demon's name himself. Jack joined their cacophony of shouts as well, though the other two were much more understated in their screaming than Crowley. He'd found he'd rather wanted nothing more to scream all morning, and this was a brilliant way to indulge that desire.

After a few minutes, Crowley eventually sagged, irritated. "How long do we have to go at this for?"(1)

Jack stilled. "I don't know. There's really no way to find him...I can feel all the demons and angels here, sleeping...but I never met Crowley. I know what he looks like from some pictures Dean has, but I can't tell which energy signature is his."

"Aren't you just the picture of helpfulness?" Crowley asked sarcastically.

"Crowley, he's trying to do something good, don't discourage the poor lad," Aziraphale chastised him, still pointedly not looking at him.

"Just because it's good doesn't mean it's not a waste of time." He took a deep breath and shouted again, "CROOOOOOOOWLEY! KING OF HELL! KING OF THE CROSSROADS! HELLOOOOOOOOOO! YOUR CHARIOT HAS ARRIVED!"

The three of them all froze when they felt the sudden appearance of a presence behind them, something vague and malformed. Malicious, definitely, and Crowley should know, middle name might as well have been malicious, demon and everything. He could taste that kind of stuff on the air, when it came 'round.

"Will you...shut...up?"

Crowley and Aziraphale whirled around to look behind them; Jack was already facing that direction, staring with wide eyes at the newcomer.

The newcomer who looked...just like Crowley, minus the sunglasses.

"What the Heaven are you?" Crowley demanded. "Steal my style, will you? That's tacky."

His mirror self stared at him, unblinking—not that Crowley himself was much of a blinker, but this thing seemed unblinking in the much creepier way—a quiet rage in its features.

"Did you come here to die?" it asked in something that sounded somewhat like Crowley's voice, but absent any accent, far more nasally, impatient and thin. "Because the little king is sleeping, just like every. Other. Thing. Here. Except me. I don't get to sleep." He jabbed an accusing finger at Jack. "Not since he and his wannabe daddy woke me up. And now here you three are, to add insult to injury."

"This is the Shadow, I presume?" Aziraphale asked, deeply uneasy.

"Yes," Jack answered shortly, and Crowley could feel the terror rolling off of him. Oh, this was off to a great start.

The Shadow strode past Crowley and came to a halt in front of Jack. "So here you are. Let me guess, trying to break Castiel out of his deal? How were you planning to do that, Jack, hmm?"

Jack's eyes glowed their unnatural gold. "I think you know how."

"Deal?" Aziraphale repeated. "What deal? Jack, what is he talking about?"

Crowley wondered precisely the same thing.

Jack didn't answer.

The Shadow stared him down with Crowley's eyes for a few tense seconds before breaking away, snorting. "And you tricked these two idiots into helping you?" He flicked his attention rapidly back and forth between Crowley and Aziraphale, before coming to rest on Crowley. He took a few steps forward. "And you actually bought the story he fed you? A demon who can't sense deception...I expect that of an angel, they're all so...dense...but demons usually know better."

The Shadow reached forward, and Crowley tried to pull away, but the Shadow was too fast, reaching up and snatching the sunglasses off of his face. "But you're not a regular demon, are you? I can see inside that sad little head." The Shadow put on the sunglasses, but made a face of distaste. "Your eyesight is garbage to begin with, and you add these to it?" It clucked its tongue at Crowley. "So insecure, so disgusted with what you are. You love and hate yourself, make a mask of arrogance and apathy and hide behind it, when under it all you've always felt inferior. Not good enough for Heaven, not evil enough for Hell. Neither, less than either. Poor little Fallen Crowley—or Crawly. So desperate to escape what you are you even renamed yourself, even gave yourself wings, wanted so badly to still feel that spark of Grace that was ripped out of you. She doesn't love you, Crawly, that's why She threw you out. You barely even did anything. Maybe the Almighty was just looking for an excuse, huh? Just dying to chuck you out and close the gates behind you."

"It's Crowley." Crowley didn't flinch, didn't look away. Reached into his pocket, pulled out a pair of Valentino's. Put them on. Yawned.

What could the Shadow say to him that he hadn't said to himself a thousand times?

The Shadow, a dark glint of anger in its eyes, snatched the sunglasses back off of Crowley's face, and promptly snapped them in half.

Crowley reached for his back pocket and pulled out another pair, and once again settled them in their proper resting place.(2)

A realization seemed to hit the Shadow, and it backed away slightly, grinning. "I'm just giving you the same old, same old, aren't I? The same riot act you read yourself anytime you dare to be alone with your own thoughts for more than five seconds?"

The Shadow morphed before his eyes, trading out blacks for shades of blond, blue, and beige—and bloody tartan. Crowley dimly registered Aziraphale's sharp intake of breath as the Shadow took the angel's form.

"Theeeeeeere," hissed out the Shadow, once again in a voice that was a rough approximation of Aziraphale's, but wrong and accentless, absent any natural cadence, so distinctly not Aziraphale, so distinctly inhuman.

Crowley tried and failed to swallow past the lump in his throat.

"That's all it takes to put you off-balance, doesn't it?" the Shadow gloated, tilting his head far to the side, stepping closer.

"Get away from him," Aziraphale said sternly, but he reeked of fear. Crowley could feel it; so could the Shadow.

The Shadow ignored Aziraphale entirely. "Poor little Crawly, in love with an angel. Your minds are open season for me, so loud, so wanting. He's all your worst fears all rolled up into one, isn't he? Him dying, him leaving, him rejecting you. You think of a million things a minute, you can never stop that racing, nonsensical brain of yours—but everything always comes back to one angel, doesn't it? Your angel. The hyperfixation to end all hyperfixations. Do you even want him to love you back? Or is this more fun for you, the pining, the waiting, because it keeps you from facing anything real. The real, real, real reality that he'd rather choke than touch you. That he doesn't even think you're capable of love." The Shadow leaned closer, and Crowley noted with revulsion that black ooze was leaking from its eyes, Aziraphale's eyes, stratosphere blue but so wrong in this stolen face.

"Crowley, don't listen to him," Aziraphale surprised Crowley by stepping between him and the Shadow. "He's lying. I can assure you of that much."

Crowley was paralyzed with dread. Because he could hope the Shadow had been lying about Aziraphale, but he hadn't been lying about Crowley—and now the words had been spoken, they were out there, and with mounting misery he realized that now this meant Aziraphale knew. He knew how he felt, and there was nothing he could do to take it back. It was like he'd kept so much in a safe for thousands of years, all labeled neatly with the angel's name, and the Shadow had figured out the combination on the first try, let the light spill in, ruined everything.

If they survived this, it would be the end of them, anyway. He was sure of it.

Crowley watched with something like awe as Aziraphale's eyes began to glow, bright, brilliant.

"Jack, I don't know what you've gotten us into—but I suspect either way, there's only one clear path."

Jack stepped closer. "You're right."

Crowley jumped when Aziraphale threaded his fingers through Crowley's, stepping so that he was side by side with him. "Here goes, my dear."

The Shadow just watched, face almost impassive, though the slightest suggestion of a smirk hung on its stolen lips.

In a rush, he felt a connection between he, Jack, and Aziraphale—mounting power joined as one, growing, expanding exponentially. A star waiting to go supernova, poised on the edge of complete destruction. Just as it had yesterday when he and Aziraphale had restored Jack's Grace.

The Shadow just laughed. "Go ahead and try."

So, they did, and a strange but impossibly bright light filled the Empty, for the briefest of moments, and Crowley poured his entire will and imagination into the simple act of: kill it. Kill it dead.

The light faded.

The Shadow straightened the lapels of its mimicked coat. "Mmm. Tickled."

They all stared in horror.

"I'm NOTHING, you IMBECILES," the Shadow said, stretching out its arms triumphantly. "You can't kill something that isn't alive, you can't kill an absence of being, you can't kill nothing."

"That's a double negative," Aziraphale said faintly, staring off into the distance and clearly overwhelmed by panic. His grip on Crowley's hand tightened.

Jack stumbled away, shell-shocked. "No, no, that should've killed you."

"Well it bloody didn't!" Crowley snapped, teeth gritted, mind a mounting anxious scream of what now, what now, what now!?

"Now, we have a problem," the Shadow continued, "because I can't put Lucifer's spawn to sleep, and whatever you are," he indicated Crowley with a disgusted tilt of his head, "we don't have your particular kind in this universe, so I can't make you sleep, either...but the angel...well, he's got the same wiring that I'm used to dealing with, for the most part..."

"Don't touch him," Crowley tugged on Aziraphale's hand, positioning the angel behind him. He didn't know what the hell he could do—presumably he couldn't do anything—but...he'd think of something, wouldn't he? He always did.

"Oh no no no. You need to learn your lesson. I'm taking the angel. Not killing. Taking. Because if I kill him, whatever's left thereafter would waft on back to his home universe. And that doesn't sound like much of a punishment, if you ask me." He turned his head sharply, an unnatural angle, to look at Jack. "And I WILL come for Castiel. He'll pay for waking me up. He'll pay for all eternity."

Crowley backed up further against Aziraphale, blindly reaching out his other hand, pressing it to the angel's chest and pushing him away from the Shadow, anything to gain distance. "You won't."

"Watch me."

Aziraphale let out a terrified gasp behind him. Crowley turned, and Aziraphale, from the knees down, was sinking into the darkness. Crowley grabbed Aziraphale immediately by his right arm, and Jack was there seconds later, wrapping both hands around his left.

"What have you done?" Crowley demanded of Jack in a hiss that didn't even vaguely suggest anything human.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Jack said, tears in his eyes, "I didn't—I thought we—I thought we could stop it."

"You've got Lucy's hubris," the Shadow said, watching on, viciously pleased.

"Crowley," panic bright in Aziraphale's eyes, brighter than Crowley had ever seen before in 6,000 years, because this—this was something greater than both of them. Not that they hadn't faced that kind of thing before, but this was an entity contained by nothing. No rules, no God. No Ineffable Plan. This was the darkness upon the face of the Earth in the beginning, this was Void, absent Form. "Crowley, Crowley," the angel repeated his name over and over with increasing urgency, clinging to him. "Crowley don't let it take me!"

"Just hold on!" Crowley growled, digging in his heels into—into absolutely fucking nothing, because there was nothing here, this WAS nothing, but he dug in anyway and willed there to be ground or dirt or gravel or anything under his and Jack's feet as they pulled ever harder on Aziraphale's arms. Were he human, they would have ripped his shoulders out of his sockets by now. "I won't let go, Aziraphale, just hold on!"

The Shadow smiled that curling, twisted mouth, the pilfered mouth of his angel. Aziraphale had a slow spreading smile, that began and ended with his eyes, the crinkling of the skin beside them and the brightening of the blue within. His was a smile of childlike wonder or unabashed glee, sunlight warmth and genuine joy that only something like Aziraphale could feel so wholly. Crowley had wanted that smile for years, thousands of them, actually. To be on the receiving end of it, to be able to feel as Aziraphale felt—to feel without restraint. To love without restraint.

Crowley had, once.

But he didn't remember that time so well now. Times when his wings were white, rather than raven black. Times when he had a different name. Maybe even a different face. He wasn't sure.

More black leaked from the Shadow's eyes, streaking down its cheeks. "You can't save him," it chimed in a sing-song voice.

"Watch me, you cunt," Crowley spat, and he lashed his wings out in a rush, in hopes of gaining more leverage with which to free Aziraphale from the Shadow's grip.

"Crowley, he's slipping," Jack warned, complete dread in his words.

A twitch of the Shadow's black-stained cheeks, and he laughed. That laugh that did things with the angel's vocal chords that never should have been done.

"Should we start taking bets on who will let go first?" the Shadow asked, still, still laughing.

Aziraphale was sucked in up to his chest now.

"Crowley—" the angel choked, eyes swimming with unshed tears.

Not here. Not now. Not after everything. Not in a place like this.

He had lost Aziraphale once. Facing a few hours before the end of the world without his best friend had been horrible. But now he was facing down eternity, infinity, absent the other half of his intrinsic being.

Crowley had watched the universe's creation, and several other galaxies besides. Had watched stars burst to life, even created a few himself. Watched whole nebula bleed into existence, strokes on canvas, dust and light and beautiful colors. There hadn't been color before that, and once it had been wrought into reality, he'd fallen in love with reds so quickly, blues and yellows—he might've been the one to call them primary colors first, he wasn't sure. Things were so faded in his memory of that time, recollections covered in cobwebs. Doomed to never recall every intricate detail, every second of that perfect and painless stretch of time before the start of Everything.

She'd made the sun. She'd made the planets to orbit the sun. So critical to all life, the center of it all, and all these little hopeful rocks circling it, eternally, until the day they didn't.

So when Crowley Fell to Earth, he picked his sun and orbited forever after. His anchor. His source of light, of life, of warmth, because without it he was afloat in the endless, unforgiving stretches of space, with nothing.

Crowley could not, and would not, lose Aziraphale. His sun. His blazing star.

Crowley redoubled his efforts, drawing from wells of power within himself, ones he hadn't even known existed. "If you take him, you take me too!" he declared, the entire force of his being behind the statement. "You can put Aziraphale to ssssleep, but not me. And I'll annoy you for the resssst of eternity, you basssstard! I'll never sssshut up! I'll be ssssinging you Queen b-sssssides until you wissssh you had actual earssss you could sssslice off," his sentence degenerated into little more than hisses.

Aziraphale looked up at him then, and he could see a break in the angel; from a desperate, clinging fear, a silent plea of Crowley please you've always saved me don't leave me alone here don't let it take me into something entirely different, something like, go, go, there's no stopping it, don't lose yourself here, let me go, let me go, save yourself.

Aziraphale started pulling away from him. Crowley clamped his hands down all the harder, fingernails biting into the flesh of Aziraphale's hand and wrist.

"Crowley, you and Jack must run," he told him firmly, and there was that brave angel, the angel on the wall, the angel with doubts, the angel who gave humanity the chance to fight back.

"Get bent, angel. I'm never leaving you."

And then, Crowley drew a deep breath, and began to sing—loudly, and offkey: "DON'T YOU MISFIRE, BABY, FILL ME UP—WITH THE DESIRE TO CARRY ON—"

He saw the anger bubbling in the Shadow's mask of Aziraphale's face. "Shut up."

With a minor miracle, he made his voice all the louder: "DON'T YOU KNOW HONEY, THAT LOVE'S A GAME—IT'S ALWAYS A HIT OR MISS—SO TAKE YOUR AIM—"(3)

"Shut up shut up shut up!"

You've known nothing but the silence and the dark for all time. That's all over now. No more beauty sleep.

If there was one thing Crowley knew how to be, it was loud and flashy.

Fireworks started bursting off behind him; firecrackers, roman candles ignited by no one, fountains, any kind he could conjure up in his mind. Every color, every sound, hissing, whizzing, popping.

And he kept on singing.

"GOT TO HOLD ON TIGHT—SHOOT ME OUT OF SIGHT—"

The Shadow covered its ears. "SHUT UP, YOU ANNOYING LITTLE—"

Crowley looked away from Aziraphale just long enough to see a single finger tap on the Shadow's shoulder.

The Shadow turned.

"Hello darling."

And was squarely punched in the face.

The Shadow toppled to the ground with a thump. Behind him stood a man—no, a demon, Crowley quickly sensed—on the shorter side, with a close-trimmed beard, neatly brushed chestnut hair, and dark green eyes. He was clad head-to-toe in a fine all-black suit that Crowley could've pictured himself wearing, complemented by a gray paisley tie.

Forgoing any introductions, the demon skidded to his knees behind Aziraphale, hooking both arms underneath the angel's armpits and adding to their efforts.

Finally, finally, Aziraphale started to budge.

With the Shadow scrambling back up, falling for the momentary distraction, and the added help of Crowley's wings beating furiously, they were succeeding in freeing Aziraphale.

"Get us out of here, Jack!" Crowley yelled, and with one final gust of wind and flap of his wings, the four went flying backwards.

But nothing happened.

They collided together in a heap. And they stayed right where they were.

The Shadow howled with laughter.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale fought good and hard to shake the ice cold terror from himself, to try to pull his fragmented thoughts back into order after his near brush with—well, perhaps not death, but something similarly equivalent and debatably far worse. He had no idea what became of the angels that died in his own universe, but he hoped it wasn't like this, forced into eternal slumber underneath the thumb of this living Void. What an awful, spiteful, lonely creature. He didn't know whether to pity the Shadow, or hate it.

He supposed that it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was finding a way out...though prospects were not looking sunny.

The Shadow finally managed to contain itself, ceasing its laughter. Still wearing Aziraphale's visage, it halted over top of the four of them. His Crowley was at the bottom of the heap, and not sounding as though he was enjoying it very much.

"Can't. Breathe. Don't need to—but—still—" he choked out.

They all fought apart in a tangle of limbs, rolling away from each other with little grace, but Aziraphale kept a firm hand on his Crowley, not wanting to give up that contact. The demon was the only thing keeping him remotely grounded.

Oh, Crowley. He'd fought so hard to save him when it would've made far more sense to run and never turn back. He was overwhelmed by a wave of complete and total affection so powerful he didn't know what to do with it, so he just squeezed the demon's arm and helped him to sit up.

The King of Hell looked wildly between the three of them, green eyes sharp and shrewd. Aziraphale took in his aura in stride, and found it to be much more...menacing, than originally expected. He'd thought perhaps something that felt like his Crowley, but the King radiated a black-veined red storm, powerful and vicious, though not entirely sour. There was a lightness there, something that felt so distinctly like a soul that he couldn't deny its existence. So bizarre, like Sam's soul, which was as vibrant and human as ever, but tainted in a vague way by something strikingly infernal. The King's stood as a reverse; dark with a spark of something better.

The Alternate Crowley spoke in gravel tones, the accent of a Londoner: "If you're the rescue team, pray tell, who's going to rescue you?"

"Yeah, working on that," groaned Aziraphale's Crowley.

"You're working on jack-fucking-squat, kiddos. I don't know how much clearer I can be. Do you need me to draw pictures? Are words too hard? This is MY world. And unlike your God, I like to play with mine up close and personal."

The Shadow was upon them in an instant, yanking Aziraphale to his feet by the lapels of his coat. And then he was face-to-face with himself.

"What're you gonna do this time, Aziraphale? Crowley can't save you. And you've never been great at saving yourself. Pretty sad, needing a demon to hold your hand." Aziraphale shuddered away when the Shadow leaned closer to him, but there was only so much room to pull back under the Shadow's steel grip. "If I want you to sleep, you'll sleep, but now I'm thinking—if no one's sleeping at this slumber party, I could make things interesting. I could make them watch. Do all sorts of fun things to you. You must've wanted a human body for a reason, right? And I hear you can make those bodies do all kinds of crazy stuff. Especially once the limbs start coming off."

The being was so changeable, so erratic, so inconsistent in how it acted, what it wanted.

Or...maybe that was the only way in which it was consistent? It did seem to continuously come back to one thing: a great desire to sleep, and an inability to do so.

"Please," Aziraphale sputtered, the beginnings of an idea forming in his mind, but he needed time to straighten it out.

"Please," the Shadow mocked, and that time he actually made the effort to perfectly imitate Aziraphale's voice. "Are you going to beg me not to hurt you? Do you think that'll work?"

"I wasn't going to beg!" Aziraphale shot back, his pride spurned. "Lovecraft wasn't the only one who wrote about you, you know. August Derleth touched on your existence as well—'the blind idiot god,' was his phrasing, if I recall correctly—"

Aziraphale broke off when the Shadow hit him so hard across the mouth it sent him sprawling.

"I don't care what humans wrote about me. I've never MET a human. I don't WANT to. They're tiny, and whiny, and messy," spat the Shadow, hovering over Aziraphale. Crowley was already at his side, getting him back to his feet, trying to position himself in some kind of protective stance in front of him. And while Aziraphale appreciated it very deeply, the Shadow did have a point: Crowley was always there, perpetually, to save him when he needed saving. That had been the constant thread of his existence, the cosmic irony that held his life together, to have the guardian on his shoulder be a Fallen angel.

"He's not wrong," acknowledged the Alternate Crowley with a faint snort. "Why not just let me go? It's these three that traipsed into your house without asking. I'm merely an innocent bystander—don't even know this lot."

"Oi, shut it!" his Crowley hissed at the other demon. "Not helping!"

"Just trying to make lemonade from lemons, darling. I'm nothing if not a self-preservationist."(1)

"All of you shut it," Aziraphale managed, wiping the blood from his lips and looking up at the Shadow. The creature made for him again, face twisted in anger, but Aziraphale held up a surprisingly steady hand. "Wait. Wait. I can help you."(2)

"Oh, I doubt that." He made to grab Aziraphale, but Crowley shoved at it, sending it backwards a few inches. It reared back up and wrapped its hand around Crowley's wrist, snapping it like a twig. The demon gasped and went to his knees, clutching his now useless right hand.

"Stop!" Aziraphale burst out. He could take abuse, he would take abuse from the dastardly thing, but he couldn't bear to see Crowley hurt. "You want to sleep? We'll help you sleep."

"I have been trying to sleep for two years," it growled in Aziraphale's face. "If I haven't figured anything out, some second-rate angel from another universe won't either. That's you, by the way. If you're wondering. The second-rate angel. Maybe third-rate. Who gives away a divine weapon to humans, anyway?"

"Let me try," Aziraphale insisted in a rush. "Just—let me see if I can't solve all of our problems, yes? Will you be happy if you can rest again?"

"This is some kind of trap," the Shadow said immediately, not even considering his offer.

"How? How could he trap you?" Jack demanded. "We can't kill you, we just tried. We can't leave. We can't do anything. What do you have to lose?"

Jack was a bright boy, when he wasn't being incurably stupid.

The Shadow still didn't look like he liked the idea. "You can't do it. It's not possible."

"Let me try," Aziraphale implored again. "I'm not from this universe. I may be able to do things you can't—or maybe you needed help, have you thought of that? Maybe this is something you can't do alone. And you are so very alone, aren't you?"

"Don't pity me, you pathetic little bird, and worse yet, don't humanize me," spat the Shadow. "No God made me. I was here first. And things were a lot better when I was completely alone, before all the angels and demons started getting killed, and their souls ended up with me because there was no place for them in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory." Something flickered in the Shadow's mimicked eyes, and he relented, "If you're going to try, then try. But if I don't like what you do, we're gonna find out what you look like without skin."

"Understood," Aziraphale nodded.

"Angel," Crowley called, and Aziraphale could tell he was going to say more, but he whirled, cutting the demon off.

"If this doesn't work," Aziraphale said, urgent but decisive, "I want you to know, Crowley—"

"No, no, don't! Don't jinx this with a sappy goodbye!" Crowley interrupted, but Aziraphale wouldn't be stopped.

"It was never for lack of wanting. Never."

Crowley's mouth fell open. Aziraphale wanted to say so much more—could have filled volumes with everything he'd never said to Crowley but should have—but this could be their last moment together, or at least the last moment that one or both of them had all the necessary parts to speak to one another. With the Shadow's love for silence, he suspected their tongues would be the first thing to go if it started taking pieces.

If he had to let Crowley know one thing, it was that his feelings were returned. So very deeply, and for such a long time, too.

Aziraphale turned back to the Shadow. "May I touch you?"

The entity rolled its eyes. "If you have to."

Aziraphale took that as the closest to permission he was going to get. With delicate care, he set his fingertips on the replicate temples, a light touch.

Around them, soft music burst to life, and Aziraphale poured what little miraculous potential he had left into the act. He had overdone it several times in the past twenty-four hours, pulling off far more immense acts of power than he was used to doing, but he prayed, desperately, that he had enough left in him for this. His most important task of all.

Gymnopédie No. 1 lilted its comforting strains through the vast black of the Empty, luscious chords and slow tempo. He'd always loved Satie. He let it flow and fill up the endless stretches of nothing, let it fill himself up, let it flow into the ancient being he'd connected himself to, with just one, overwhelming will behind it all: sleep.

The Shadow's eyes did flicker shut, but it remained awake.

Next came Venus, the Bringer of Peace, the second movement of Holst's The Planets. One of Crowley's favorites. Crowley had never clung to stories like Aziraphale had, but music, since its first whisperings on drums and wooden flutes thousands and thousands of years ago, had always enchanted the demon.

Aziraphale's somniferous magic was obviously working to some degree, because he heard a dull thump behind him, and a glance over his shoulder confirmed that Crowley had passed out, and was now spread flat on his back, sleeping peacefully.

"Jack," Aziraphale murmured, trying not to jar the Shadow from the relative state of calm he'd managed to achieve within it, "Keep our new friend awake, would you?"

He could see the flutter in the King's eyelids, affected similarly by Aziraphale's work. Jack steadied a hand on the Alternate Crowley's shoulder, keeping him standing.

He let Venus play out, moved on to Massenet's Meditation. The Shadow began to sway, gently, with the music. Aziraphale felt himself growing weaker, but he forced himself to stay upright, to keep pouring that singular command into the Shadow. When Meditation neared its end, Aziraphale let it shift into something new entirely, a melody forming in his own head. Something unique, something strange and a little dark but so incredibly hopeful, filled with love.(3)

Amidst the glockenspiel and violins, Aziraphale began to hum.

A few minutes later, Aziraphale felt an absence underneath his fingers. He opened his eyes just in time to see the Shadow shrinking, melting into a black substance, until it dissolved back into the darkness surrounding them.

Aziraphale fell to his knees, gasping, head swimming. The music continued on without his influence, and he had no explanation for that.

Jack's hand was on his shoulder a moment later.

And then they were gone.


"Go grab something of Jack's from his room so we can get this thing working," Dean said, not sure whether he was directing the order at Sam or Cas, but it was Cas that departed the library.

Sam stared down at the table, and the bowl that sat upon it, filled with spell ingredients they'd haphazardly slapped together. Next to the bowl was a world map. If Jack was still on Earth, the locator spell would tell them exactly where.

"Dean," Sam said, brow furrowed in concern, "if Crowley and Aziraphale really did take Jack...what if they took him back to their universe?"

"Then we go back to the original plan, shake me down for Archangel Grace, work a portal spell, and go find him. Go get him back," Dean replied flatly.

"Do you really think we could stop Crowley and Aziraphale?"

"That's a dumb question. We've stopped every other goddamn thing that's ever gotten in our way. They're no different. Doesn't matter how strong they are." Dean tapped Michael's Archangel blade, where it was sheathed at his side. "This'll put 'em down. Plus, we've established they ain't exactly pros at fighting."

"But if everything else about them was an act, why not that, too?" Sam questioned, and Dean could tell his brother still wholeheartedly believed that Crowley and Aziraphale had nothing but good intentions. "Look, I'm just saying—"

He was glad Sam was still capable of that kind of optimism, but Dean had that burned out of him a long time ago. "Sammy," Dean cut across his brother, not harshly, but firm, "do you really think we were lucky enough to accidentally meet two randos from another universe who just solved all our problems, no strings attached?"

Sam sighed. "No, but—"

They were interrupted when three figures came crashing down spectacularly on the library table, smashing the bowl to bits in the process, with a great deal of flailing limbs, raven wings, and swearing. Black-and-red smoke poured through the room, and Sam and Dean reeled back in shock, watching the smoke swirl determinedly towards the nearest ventilation shaft that led to the surface.

Jack rolled off the table, barely caught by Sam before he hit the floor. And Jack was...smiling?

Aziraphale's head poked out from behind Crowley's wings. "I do believe we did it!" he declared with a proud grin.

"Was it waking me up from a nice nap?" Crowley groaned, bleary and annoyed.

"What..." Dean was at a loss. He pointed at Crowley and Aziraphale, then at Jack, then at the ventilation shaft, "...the fuck? That was a Crossroads demon!"

"Dean," Cas's voice called his attention to the hallway threshold, where the angel stood, wide eyed, clearly drawn back to the room by the sounds of commotion. "That was our Crowley."

Dean blanked. "Our Crowley's dead. He's been dead for years."

"Dean, that was him. I'm sure of it. I'd recognize Crowley anywhere—his aura is unique to him."

"Oh yeah," Crowley said, as if he'd just remembered. His wings folded back into the astral plane. Dean noted the demon was cradling his right wrist, which was swelled up to such a size that he could only assume it was broken. "We saved Other Me."

"And we saved Cas," Jack added with a bright grin. "Well—we didn't, not really—you two did." He turned to Aziraphale and Crowley, beaming at them. "Thank you so much—"

Crowley was off the table in a second, and with his good hand, he grabbed Jack by the throat and slammed him up against the wall. "You," he hissed, "are a lying liar who lies."

"I—I'm sorry—" Jack barely managed to choke past Crowley's iron grip.

"Whoa, whoa, Crowley, put him down," Sam said, stepping towards Crowley and Jack, hands raised. "Just tell us what's going on."

"You saved me?" Cas repeated, and he encroached on them as well. "Jack, what did you do? You didn't—please tell me you didn't—"

"Oh, he did," Crowley told them viciously, "an all expenses paid trip to the Empty! Lucky us! Never mind the fact that Aziraphale almost died."

Sam tried to put a tentative hand on Crowley's arm, but the demon's attention snapped to him just long enough to send him flying across the room, crashing into a bookcase with shocking force.

"HEY," Dean said loudly, and he drew his pistol, pointing it at Crowley. "Cut the shit out and explain what the hell happened, or I start punching holes in you, and I'm gonna assume you like that outfit enough to want to avoid that."

"Put him down," Cas tacked on, staring at Crowley, eyes just incrementally brighter than usual.

Crowley didn't seem deterred, but it was Aziraphale's gentle touch on his shoulder that seemed to break him out of his rage. "My dear...he meant well. He's just a child."

Crowley's mouth twitched, his nostrils flared, and Dean could see he wanted to ignore the angel's quiet plea, but he did relent, setting Jack back on his feet and whirling away. Aziraphale caught him with a hand on his chest, then ghosted fingertips over Crowley's broken wrist, healing it instantly. "Please, calm down," the angel said, so softly that Dean could barely hear him.

"I almost lost you," the demon hissed back, just as quietly.

"But you didn't."

Jack massaged his throat, leaning against the wall. "Don't—don't be mad at him. He's right to be angry. I lied to him and Aziraphale. I told them I wanted to go to the Empty to try to bring Crowley back to life, but really, I...I wanted to try to kill the Shadow. I thought if I told them the truth they wouldn't help."

"Well you got that much right," Crowley snapped.

"Why would you try to kill the Shadow? I thought you got it to back off when it went after you in Heaven?" Sam asked, struggling back to his feet, watching Crowley warily.

Jack looked beseechingly at Cas. Cas grimaced.

"Oh, great, we're keeping secrets again. 'Cause that's always worked out so fucking well in the past," Dean said, throwing his hands up. How many times did they have to learn the same lesson before they finally stopped lying to each other?

"I made a deal," Cas admitted lowly, "to save Jack from the Shadow...I promised myself to it. That it could take me in his stead. But, it was conditional..."

"Can't wait to hear this."

"I had to be happy first," Cas continued, ignoring Dean's snide remark, "I had to...be content, and then it would take me to the Empty."

Jack's eyes were militantly directed at his feet. "I thought, with the way things were going...I was afraid..."

"That the Shadow would come for him," Sam filled in. "Why didn't you guys tell us this?"

"I made a decision. I accepted it. I was willing to face the consequences," Cas told them, unwavering. "I did it for Jack. I won't apologize."

"Of all the stupid..." Dean shook his head. "And, what? You actually managed to kill the thing? Isn't it like, pre-God?"

"We didn't kill the Shadow," Aziraphale provided, "we simply...gave it what it most wanted."

"Aziraphale put it to sleep. For the first time since I woke Cas up," Jack explained. "It won't bother us again."

"Okay, and how does our Crowley play into all of that?" Sam asked, confused.

"Before the primordial embodiment of the void decided to pay us a visit, Aziraphale and I were still under the impression we were on a rescue mission, not an assassination attempt, so we managed to get Other Me up. Consider it a bonus." The demon had seemed to cool down significantly, but Dean could tell he was still furious with Jack.

He didn't blame the guy. No one likes getting tricked.

"So..." Sam said slowly, then looked at Dean. "Not a kidnapping."

Crowley and Aziraphale wore matching expressions of bemusement. "Kidnapping?" they repeated in unison.

Dean rolled his eyes, but secretly, he was more than relieved to have been wrong about the pair. "I may have...assumed you guys turned traitor on us and took the kid."

Crowley squinted at him. "Why the Heaven would we do that?"

"I dunno. Figured it was one of those 'secretly evil' plot twist things," Dean said, already hearing Sam and Cas's joint I told you so in his head.

"So...the Shadow is sleeping?" Cas's eyes went distant. "I'm..."

"You can be happy," Jack said, smiling warmly at Cas. "As happy as you want to be. And no one will take you away."

Cas didn't seem to know how to process that, but a moment later, he pulled Jack into a very tight hug, wrapping his arms around the Nephil's shoulders and squeezing.

"You did good, kid," Dean said, and he clapped Jack on the back, as did Sam. "But you're still grounded for lying and nearly getting, uh..." he cast a sideways glance at Aziraphale and Crowley, "...getting our new friends ganked."

Aziraphale brightened significantly at Dean's phrasing. Crowley just rolled his eyes and repeated, "Grounded," incredulously under his breath.

It was at that moment that the bunker door opened with a creak. Footsteps could be heard from above, dress shoes on concrete. They all turned their heads to the top of the staircase.

Dean took in the sight. Identical meat suit. Wearing an identical suit-suit.(4) Like no time had passed at all.

"Hello boys." The King of Hell grinned wickedly down at them, spreading out his arms. "Back by popular demand."

Chapter Text

Well well well.

Back again.

Almost like he'd never left. But those laugh lines on Squirrel were looking deeper than they used to, and Moose(1) had a few more inches on his hair. And Cas, of course, looked the same as ever. Vaguely constipated but steadfast.

Crowley looked down at them and tried very hard to hide the immense wave of fondness rising traitorously in his chest. He still very much needed caught up on how and why he was alive, but clearly, the Winchesters had deemed him fit to save. If he had a heart, it would be full. But he didn't have one, so he settled for a smirk aimed in their general direction instead.

"Group hug?" Crowley offered, leaning on the railing. "Don't everybody start crying at once."

Dean and he locked eyes for a few moments too long for it to not have homoerotic subtext (at least in Crowley's humble opinion) before the elder Winchester redirected his attention to Castiel. "How's he look to you?"

Cas trained his gaze on Crowley. Crowley gave him a little two-fingered salute.

"He's as he was when he died."

"Which, by the by—how long ago was that?"

"Almost two years now," Sam said slowly. "You...do you feel...okay? Feel like yourself?"

"No nasty souvenirs from the Empty, if that's what you're asking," Crowley replied mildly. "You lot may have done it—actually managed to resurrect someone without world-ending consequences." He flicked his eyes to the newbies, the Nephil, the angel, and the...snake. For lack of a better descriptor. "Or at least, sent someone of a higher pay-grade to do it for you."

The Nephil, he had no idea what to make of, other than that it was damned powerful—literally. Definitely the product of a fallen angel. He had a feeling who, but Sweet Hell, he'd hoped that he was wrong. Getting pulled out of the fire by Lucifer's son...there were certain things his pride just wouldn't stand for. As for the other two. Well. A bookish, posh angel and a demon-adjacent creature with the eyes of a serpent. He knew this story.(2) The Winchesters had been crossing universes again. He was far gladder to see Aziraphale and Anthony J. Crowley than he had been to see the Wicked Witch of the West, most certainly.

Aziraphale waved cheerily, and Anthony shot him a tight, sardonic smile.

"About that," Dean said slowly.

"Oh. Is this the consequences part? Suppose we do need a set-up for next season," Crowley settled his chin on his hand, waiting for the inevitable and unavoidable plot twist.

"We actually don't know about any consequences, but, we didn't try to resurrect you. That was all these three," Moose informed him, gesturing at the new members of Team Ill Will.

"And we went out of our way to stop you from being resurrected by your mother," Cas added.

"Twice," put in Dean.

"My m—Rowena?" Crowley repeated numbly. "I thought the bitch was dead."

"Yeah, not so much," Dean informed him with all the elaboration Crowley expected.

Crowley just shook his head in disbelief. "Resurrect ME? She detests me. I detest her. Why would she of all people want me back? Surely she should have been dancing on my grave, musical number included."

"She kinda had a change of heart after you died," Sam informed him. "That's how we ended up with this Crowley," Sam pointed at the Serpent. "Your mom was trying to bring you back again, but she ended up with him instead. Demonic name mix-up."

"And it's just been non-stop fun ever since," said the demon in a monotone. Aziraphale shot him a chastising look.

"Ah yes. Anthony J. Crowley. Your reputation precedes you."

Anthony squinted at him. "It does?"

"Not very well-read in regards to our Gaiman and Pratchett, are we, boys?" Crowley asked the room at large. "You've a book about you here," he directed the comment to Aziraphale and Anthony.

"A book," Aziraphale breathed, delighted.

"Just the one? The Winchesters have dozens." Anthony crossed his arms, looking properly put out.

"So, skip the backstory. I'm all caught up. What's with the brat that bears such a stunning resemblance to our dear Castiel? Been seeding clouds, have we, Kitten?"

"My name's Jack," the Nephil began carefully. He glanced at Castiel, as if looking for a sign it was okay to continue. Cas gave him a brief nod. "I'm, um. Lucifer's son."

Crowley wasn't sure how to react. "Awfully tall for a two year old."

Jack shrugged, seeming self-conscious. "I...I made myself what I needed to be."

"With Castiel as your fake daddy. Adorable. And did you pop out this wholesome and altruistic?"

Jack smiled softly. "I had my family to help me out along the way."

Crowley returned the smile. "I may vomit." He pushed away from the railing in favor of heading down the stairs to the others. "My my. What a delightful turn of events. So glad someone deemed me worthy of being forced back into this absolute hellhole of a universe. Kindness of strangers, bla bla bla."

"Don't be an ass," Dean said tersely.

"Oh, I fully intend on being an ass about this, darling. Castiel nearly blows up the world how many times and still has endless free tickets back home. Me? I selflessly sacrifice my life to keep this blasted rock turning, and not only do you lot NOT try to bring me back, you actively STOP me from being brought back." Crowley halted in front of Dean. "But the real question is why oh why did I expect anything different?"

"I prayed, dickbag. For you. Prayed to Chuck, for you. Begged him to bring you back. So shove it. I tried the only thing I knew how. Not like there's a goddamn precedent for bringing demons back to life," Dean shot back, and Crowley was surprised by that little tidbit of information. Fancy that, a Winchester praying to the Almighty Absent Father Figure on his account.

"My hateful skank of a mother managed to find a way. Say what you will about Rowena, but I certainly got my ingenuity from her."

"Yeah, and what would be the point of bringing you back if you were—" Sam began, but Crowley cut across him.

"As I once was? The apex predator that set hearts aflutter rather than the abject mess I've been since you two decided to make a science experiment out of me?"(3)

"Would you have preferred it that way?" Castiel asked, with a slight narrowing of his eyes.

Crowley couldn't begin to answer that, but for the sake of appearances, replied: "Obviously, you dense bird. But no use crying over the tattered remnants of my demonic nature."

Anthony yawned loudly. "Well, seems like there's a lot to catch Other Me up on, Aziraphale and I will just...ah, let you have a moment, here..."

The angel and demon practically ran out of the room, desperate to escape the melodrama that neither of them were remotely accustomed to.

Dean decided this was not a family conversation. He flicked his eyes to the others. "Give us a second, alright?"

Cas, Sam, and Jack exchanged a look, but they did as they were bid and let them be.

"Is this the part where we hug? Or are you going to try to kill me again?" Crowley asked as soon as the others were out of the room.

"Depends on what you say next," Dean said, crossing his arms.

Crowley rolled his eyes. "Still on trial as always, I see."

"Shut up. Okay? Can you just shut up for five seconds?"

"Not likely."

Dean sucked in a deeply annoyed breath, and Crowley pretended that he hadn't missed irritating the hunter on an existential level. "So...you remember what you said before everything went sideways?"

"I said a lot of things."

"You said you were giving up the throne. Closing the Gates of Hell."

"Rings a bell. That was around the time you threatened to kill me, then impaled me, yeah? Most recent time, that is."

"Oh, what, like we were supposed to let that stunt with Lucifer slide?"

"Do you know how many stunts of yours I've let slide?" Crowley snapped, inserting himself into Dean's personal space. "Want to put my apocalypse count against yours? I'll win."

"Look," Dean held out his hands, taking a deep breath. "I...it doesn't matter now, anyway. It doesn't."

Crowley tilted his head up and stared evenly at Dean. "Then what are you saying, Squirrel?"

"I'm saying that we're good. You. Us. Clean slate. You...you put your chips down in Apocalypse World."

"Finally done second-guessing my loyalties? If only I'd known that all I had to do to earn your trust was die."

Dean deflated. "Jesus, what do you want? A handwritten apology?"

"Oh, that's a start."

"Dick."

"Moron."

Dean swallowed with difficulty, seeming to struggle to find his next words.

Crowley put a stop to the silence for him. "I'll do it."

The hunter blinked, as if he hadn't heard him quite right. "What?"

"Close the Gates. Have to get the throne back first, but...I've become rather good at that, over the years."

Dean leveled a scrutinizing look at him. "Shit. You really mean it, don't you."

"Want to make a deal?" Crowley had a sparkle in his eyes. "Know for sure I'll keep it?"

"Barking up the wrong tree, Crowley."

The demon snorted. "Only because Castiel's already marked his territory on the trunk."

"Don't be gross." Dean scratched the back of his neck. "Okay, so, here's the big question: what are you gonna do when Hell's sealed up? What are you if you're not the King of Hell?"

Well, there it was, wasn't it? The unanswerable question. Years ago, he would've said he was made for that throne, might as well have an imprint of his particularly well-formed ass engraved upon the literally godforsaken thing. How much had he risked to get it? How many bodies had he stepped over? How many dominoes had he aligned so perfectly to lead him there, exactly where he had always felt he belonged?

The corner office. The big chair. In control, now and forever.

If only.

But he wasn't that Crowley anymore, no matter how often he wished he was. Hell knew it had been a simpler time, a better time. But it was a time long past.

So, Crowley merely said, "I'm me."

Dean's expression was difficult to read. "And who are you?"

A small smile played on Crowley's lips, an almost involuntary response. "I suppose that's the thing to find out, isn't it?"

"Well...you're always welcome here," Dean ventured. "If you don't wanna just fuck off on a beach somewhere."

Crowley sighed, rubbing a hand down his face. "Maybe we could all use a vacation."

Dean found himself nodding. "Whole planet isn't about to blow up for the first time in a long time. Maybe we've all earned some time off. Thanks to Az and AJ, we might actually get some."

"They really did swoop in and save all our hides, didn't they?" Crowley smirked. "Beautiful, ineffable bastards."

"So there's a book about 'em here? Would've been helpful to know that when AJ first showed up. Goofy ass walking out of a devil's trap, blowing up a demon bomb in his hands like it was nothing. We thought we had another Lucifer on our hands."

"Far from it. Our dear Anthony is harmless. I'd say Aziraphale warrants more caution than his demonic better half."

Dean deadpanned. "You're kidding, right?"

"Dangerous bloke when he sets his mind to something, I tell you."

Dean just shook his head. "I'll take your word for it." Running a hand through his hair, he asked, "So...what now?"

"Now," the demon said, twirling his fingers. A bottle of Glenncraig appeared on the library table. "You and the rest of the Little Rascals catch me up on the two years you let me rot in the void."


Aziraphale let out a sigh of relief when Crowley shut the door to the spare room behind them. "I did so feel like we were intruding," he admitted, and Crowley's weary nod seemed to imply he felt the same.

"We'll let them all simmer down for a bit. Not big on the high tension situations right now. Had enough of those to last the rest of eternity." Crowley carded a hand through his hair, and Aziraphale noticed a slight tremble to the movement, a concern all on its own. "And I thought the End of the World was bad. That...place..."

"Dreadful," Aziraphale agreed, fidgeting nervously with his pinkie ring. "I've...never been to the more torture-oriented parts of Hell, but...to spend forever, in nothing...I..."

"It's worse," Crowley confirmed. "I, yeah. I think it'd be worse."

Silence fell on them, heavy and stifling. They were used to silences, of course, they'd had hundreds if not thousands over the course of their long friendship, but what had so separated Crowley from any other being he had ever known was that their shared moments of quiet were comfortable. Aziraphale sat at his desk reading, Crowley napping on the couch. A shared train ride to Glasgow, a shared bus ride to London, an evening on the banks of the Tiber with an excellent vintage. So many times they had lapsed into a space where words weren't needed, and they'd both existed before language, so it had never seemed so strange, not to them. They had the rest of eternity to talk, yes? There wasn't always a call for it.

But this particular silence was different. Something new and uncomfortable and thick with the weight of far too many words spoken, and far more yet waiting unspoken.

He feared very deeply that it was Time, and he still, after running over it innumerable times in his head since the Not-Rapture, had no earthly idea what to say to Crowley. The emotions were there. The feelings. They had always been, for both of them. Aziraphale was a being of love, and there were certain things Crowley couldn't hide from him even if he wanted to, and Crowley's love for him was something so overwhelmingly enormous Aziraphale had lived in something akin to fear of it since he first realized what it was. He had written it off for centuries, assuming he and Crowley just happened to be meeting in particularly well-loved places, but around the seventeenth century there was truly no denying the source of this radiant and inescapable love: it was Crowley. Definitively and irrevocably, Crowley.

So bright as to be blinding. So massive he could feel the demon from hundreds of miles away.

Unceasing.

Miraculous.

And Aziraphale had done very little in the interim but run screaming from it.

"You're staring, angel," Crowley noted listlessly, seating himself on the edge of the bed.

Aziraphale cleared his throat. "I suppose I am. Are you...quite alright, my dear?"

"I'm not the one who just almost died."

Aziraphale frowned. "All of our lives were in great danger..."

"You were the one it wanted to take. Or rip apart. Didn't seem like it had that all the way figured out." Crowley took off his sunglasses and sat them on the night stand, rubbing furiously at his eyes. "If Jack wasn't technically a toddler, I would've flayed him alive."

"No," Aziraphale said with a sad but knowing smile. "You wouldn't have."

Crowley glared at him. "Shut up."

He was actually trying to do the opposite of that, but from mind to mouth the flow was so broken he hadn't the courage to speak. Tolstoy occurred to him in that moment, a distantly remembered line: "Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?"

Hundreds of thousands and then some of love stories he'd read surged through his thoughts, from erotica written in hieroglyphics in Early-Dynastic Egypt to A Thousand Splendid Suns, Persephone and Hades to the poem that inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, Paris and Helen, Benedick and Beatrice.

Another line hit him: "I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes."

Maybe Crowley would like that. He did always like Shakespeare's more comedic attempts.

Humans were so telling when they wrote. One could look at the entire discipline of fiction as cleverly told lies, and Aziraphale supposed, in an objective sense, that was true. But beneath those lies and tales and plots and plans, nothing spoke truer to the nature of humanity, the intrinsic desire for love, for companionship, for being understood and tied so deeply to another as to give their own life, and then some. Love, eternally. A common thread through so many stories, and he'd read them all.

And his love for Crowley was not just eternal in the purplish prose sense, but so entirely literal. Six thousands years. And now, with the End Times (or at least the first attempt at them) behind, who knew how long would come after? And Aziraphale saw and knew nothing of the future, not one speck, except for Crowley. Crowley would be there, orbiting him, a faithful planet bound to him, forever. For as long as Aziraphale would have him. Unspoken, but true all the same. Aziraphale was not nearly so ignorant as Crowley thought him to be.

A coward, perhaps. But ignorant? No. If only he could be so lucky.

He could ruin this all in an instant, should he say the wrong thing, and he was so good at that, wasn't he?

"We're not friends. I don't even like you!"

"I'm an angel, you're a demon. We're hereditary enemies."

Crowley interrupted him from his bout of self-loathing reflection. "Twice. In less than two months. Almost lost you. Could do without that."

"Twice...? Oh yes. The bookshop. I'd almost forgotten, to be honest."

The look on Crowley's face told him that the demon very much had not forgotten. "Right."

Aziraphale pinched his eyes shut, so damnably frustrated but still so damnably quiet. "Crowley..."

"Let's just...I'm gonna take a nap. You should too. You're looking all pale and—" the demon gestured vaguely. "You lulled the thing to sleep. Must've taken a lot out of you." Crowley eyed the bed. "I can, uh. Go have a lie down on the couch, if you want the bed."

Aziraphale steeled himself. "I rather think there's room for both of us. On the bed, that is."

Crowley eyed Aziraphale suspiciously. "You don't...have to do that."

Aziraphale was already taking off his coat, folding it neatly before placing it on the dresser. "Do what?" he asked, trying and failing to sound nonchalant.

"I know you don't...want..." Crowley growled in open frustration, and Aziraphale wondered if he wasn't the only one struggling for words at the moment. "Just, ignore what the Shadow said, alright? We don't need to talk about it, and you don't need to try to...fix, anything."

"I'm not trying to fix anything," Aziraphale argued, going for the buttons of his waistcoat. His dexterity had fled him in favor of trembling, so he dropped his hands with a huff of irritation, and asked, "Would you help me out of this?"

"Just miracle yourself out," Crowley said immediately, avoiding eye contact.

"I've rather overexerted myself on that account."

Crowley buried his face in his hands for a few moments, but did eventually rise and approach Aziraphale. "Yeah, because this turned out so great last time," the demon muttered, enormously bitter. But he set about clinically undoing Aziraphale's buttons anyway, keeping a forced distance.

You could end this pointless dance once and for all if you just bloody said something, he thought furiously at himself.

But they only got one chance at this. The Time would only come once, and he could muck it up so badly that...

Oh, he couldn't bear to lose Crowley.

That had been the fear all along, hadn't it? One word out of place, one spotted lingering touch, and they'd find themselves burning in Heaven and drowning in Hell. It had never been worth the risk. To have Crowley, to truly have him...even that was not worth the demon's life.

But Heaven and Hell had washed their hands of the both of them. There were no prying eyes, no infernal or celestial consequences hanging over their heads. No sides.

Just their side.

So why was he still so afraid?

"The Shadow lied. I need you to know that."

Crowley just shook his head. "Pity doesn't look good on you, angel."

"Who said anything about pity?"

Crowley swallowed with evident effort as he removed Aziraphale's waistcoat and deposited it on top of his jacket. He made to draw away, but Aziraphale called him back with, "My shirt sleeves too, if you would be so kind."

Looking like he'd prefer discorporation, Crowley returned to him and reached up to Aziraphale's collar, haphazardly undoing his bow-tie before carefully reaching for the top button of his shirt. "You're not thinking straight. You were almost killed twenty minutes ago. Let's just, sleep. And then try not to think about anything that happened in this bollocksed universe."

"I meant what I said."

Crowley's hands stilled halfway down Aziraphale's shirt.

Aziraphale had never been so scared in his long life.

"You and I..." Aziraphale struggled, floundering, "well, it's always been you and I, hasn't it?"

Crowley stared at some indistinguishable point on Aziraphale's chest, jaw working. "Whatever you're about to say..." He waited desperately for Crowley to finish the statement, and eventually, he did: "Don't say it if you don't mean it. Don't—don't you dare, angel. I swear to Somebody. Don't you dare."

He heard the underlying implication: if you do this, there's no turning back. For either of us.

"I've said many things to you I haven't meant. Hundreds. And I'd take them all back if I could."

Crowley continued unbuttoning his shirt, hands woefully unsteady. Still keeping a militant gap between the two of them.

The shirt came off, joined the rest of Aziraphale's layers. Aziraphale gently set his hands on Crowley's shoulders, then pushed at his jacket.

"I don't—"

"I'll never lie to you again, Crowley," Aziraphale promised with such force he felt a give in his chest.

In a panicked rush, Crowley blurted out, "Just say whatever you're going to say because I'm going to fucking discorporate if you keep dancing around—"

Crowley's jacket thumped quietly when it hit the floor.

Aziraphale leaned forward and kissed Crowley.

Light. Feather-light. Barely a pressure, barely there at all, and then he pulled back.

"I don't know what to say to you, my dear, to make you understand...how completely and utterly in love with you I am, and have been, for so very long," Aziraphale admitted, viciously proud that he'd not only spoken the words into being, but said them with conviction, said them without a single break in his voice.

Crowley stared at him, mouth agape, serpentine eyes so wide they would've looked comical in any other situation. "Aziraphale," he choked.

"I'm going to kiss you again, if that's quite alright," Aziraphale said, not trusting himself to say more, because he was very sure he felt tears building in his eyes and he feared ruining the moment by bursting into hysterics.(4)

Crowley didn't let him get that far. He grabbed Aziraphale by the face and pulled him in with near desperation, crushing their lips together, the hesitant tenderness they'd shared seconds ago gone in an instant. Aziraphale was so lost in the sensation of Crowley's mouth against his and the heat rapidly building between them that he didn't initially realize what Crowley was gasping out in the brief breaks between lip contact.

"I love you, I love you, angel, always, always..."

He continued the mantra as he pressed Aziraphale back against the cold concrete wall, bodies flush against one another.

Eventually, Aziraphale broke away, head swimming, just as Crowley's hands had begun soldiering down his bare chest, nearly at his hips when they paused. "My dear," Aziraphale said thickly, then corrected: "Dearest. I think perhaps we should..."

"Bed," Crowley agreed. "Now."


The lights in the bunker flickered a few times, and Sam was half-sure the building was subtly shaking around them.

Sam looked at Cas. "I'm not imagining that, right?"

Cas's head was tilted in picture perfect confusion. "No. You're not."

"Are you sensing anything bad?"

"No," Cas said again, slowly.

"Well...what is it then?"

Sam could've sworn Cas blushed, before he hesitantly replied, "Just a...small earthquake. Nothing to worry about."

Chapter Text

Aziraphale woke before Crowley.

He had no means of telling what time it was, given there were no windows in the bunker. He couldn't deny his disorientation, as after they'd...consummated their heartfelt confessions...they'd both fallen soundly asleep, and it had not yet even been noon.

It had been quite the morning. To say the very least of it.

Aziraphale tightened his arm around Crowley's middle, feeling no small sense of wonder at the feel of their bare bodies slotted together. To have carefully crafted so many boundaries and barriers over the millennia, certain ways of acting, certain ways of touching that could be called 'acceptable' while never venturing into anything more, anything dangerous...only to shatter it within the span of just a few hours.

He wasn't complaining. In awe, more like.

One moment of bravery was all he had needed, and thank God—or Whomever was responsible—he'd found it when he most needed it.

He nosed at the back of Crowley's neck, cataloging that sensation just as he had carefully recorded every other brush of lips and hands. Filed away to a part of his mind labeled with the demon's name. He kissed Crowley's nape and filed it away similarly.

Wondrous.

But he was restless, and there was no telling how long Crowley would sleep. Unfettered, the demon could go on for years. Not that Aziraphale could possibly let him do that now. He was having difficulty restraining himself from waking the demon up presently, to further explore what they had begun earlier. He rather thought he'd like to do a great deal of that in the very near future.

Comforting, wasn't it, that they could still surprise each other. And the thrilling slash of Crowley's hip bones under his fingertips was indeed a surprise, just as each new facet of him Aziraphale ghosted his hands over was. He had seen and even inhabited Crowley's corporeal form, but to touch, to hold, to feel...so entirely different. So...

He had to roll away from the demon. Crowley needed to sleep off the excitement of the past few days. Undeniably. Aziraphale felt somewhat back to normal, after his dealings with the Shadow, but Crowley might need longer. Over-stimulation frequently drove the demon into the embrace of sleep, and Aziraphale wouldn't interrupt him until such a time that they needed to depart for their own universe.

He really did need to find out what time it was.

He extricated himself carefully from the bed, even though the risk of waking Crowley was relatively low.(1) He dressed himself(2), trying and mostly failing to distance his mind from memories of when Crowley had undressed him—at first reluctantly, then anything but.

A few minutes later, Aziraphale set out from the room, fully-clothed, in search of a clock.

He found the next best thing; Castiel in the foyer, staring half-interested at the screen of a laptop, the lights in the room dimmed.

"Hello brother," Aziraphale greeted him warmly. "I don't suppose you have the time?"

Castiel looked up in dim surprise, jarred from whatever he was watching, something with women in orange jumpsuits. "It's just past midnight."

Heavens, had they really slept that long? And that left them about twelve more hours before they would need to return through the portal, lest Anathema close it and leave them thoroughly stuck in the Winchesters' universe. Aziraphale would like to avoid that eventuality at all costs, even though the temptation to stay and read his way through troves of new literature was indeed an enchanting thought, if not dwelt upon for too long.

Castiel seemed as though he wanted to say something, but was struggling to phrase it properly..."Are you...well, Aziraphale?"

Rather more than I ever think I've been, actually. "Feeling much better. Where is everyone else?"

"I think Crowley is drinking his way through Sam and Dean's liquor cabinet. The boys and Jack went to bed already."

"And you?"

Castiel smiled. "The new season of Orange is the New Black. I do enjoy some human things. Netflix being one of them."

"I never did find television half so charming as most," Aziraphale admitted. "Though I suppose I'll come 'round to it eventually."(3)

"I had an...illness, several years ago, that left me bedridden for some time. It was the only thing that kept me from losing my mind from boredom," Castiel explained before gently closing the laptop. "Aziraphale...I want to apologize for what Jack did. For tricking you and Crowley. It wasn't right, and he realizes that now. You have to understand, he's still—"

"Learning," Aziraphale filled in. "You may find this hard to believe, but I've spent the past several years helping to raise a child. I know that there are always missteps on the path to learning the difference between right and wrong. Still, young Jack's heart was in the right place, and while Crowley would remind me what the road to Hell is paved with, it is my opinion that good intentions should count for something."

"I would tend to agree, but still. He put you two at great risk. In spite of that, though, I...owe you my thanks. My life, really. Jack wasn't wrong. I think if you hadn't done what you did, the Shadow would have come for me, and soon. I've been trying my hardest to be anything but content since I made that deal, but..."

"Contentedness tends to work its way in when one least expects it," Aziraphale said with a sympathetic nod. "In spite of the undeniably awful experience, I'm glad at the result. No one should live in fear of constant reprisal for every small moment of happiness. That would make for an indescribably bleak existence, I would imagine."

Cas nodded gravely. "I agree. I have to say, I feel…"

Aziraphale smiled knowingly. "Free?"

"Yes. Free. For...maybe the first time."

He knew that feeling all too well himself. "I'm glad for you, Castiel. For all I wouldn't want to return to the Empty, now or ever, it was worth it for what's come of it."

"I suppose Crowley and myself should both count ourselves lucky."

Aziraphale hummed, clasping his hands behind his back. "An interesting sort, your Crowley. A bit...harder than my own, but I see their similarities, certainly."

Castiel leaned back in his chair, contemplative. "Crowley told Dean he's planning on closing the gates of Hell. Giving up the throne. Normally, I wouldn't trust Crowley, but given everything that's happened...I think that he truly means it. I hope that after the gates are locked, he finds...something. Like Crowley found you." A small, sad smile. "Love redeems. Or so I've been told."

Aziraphale blinked. "Love?"

"I…" the other angel shifted, clearly uncomfortable. "You...you two, I…"

"Oh." Well he supposed that the assumption wasn't so faulty anymore, was it? "Well. Yes. But, Crowley, he didn't...how to put it?" So odd to speak of such things after keeping tight-lipped for hundreds upon hundreds of years. "He didn't need redemption."

Cas's eyes narrowed in confusion. "He's a demon."

"I've found species doesn't count for much, in all reality. If anything, he…" Aziraphale nervously drummed his fingertips on the back of his other hand. "Crowley always knew the score from the start. Knew that Heaven and Hell, Good and Evil...they were just names. Nothing more. Arbitrary lines. He was always good, in his own way. Perhaps it even comes more easily to him than myself—if only because it's in his nature to question. To decide for himself the difference between right and wrong. He was the one who taught the humans to do it, after all. Me, I—" a flash of a grimace, "well me, I just gave them War."

"What do you mean?"

"A sword...my sword. Gave it to Adam to protect himself and Eve. And every drop of blood spilled in battle thereafter could—I suppose you could say it's on my hands. In a fashion."

"And God? What did He—She—do? You didn't Fall," Cas said, indicating with a tilt of his head Aziraphale's very clearly still white wings, hidden away out of human sight.

"She, ah... She didn't do anything, as it so happens." Aziraphale tried to suppress the tangible loss rising like a tide in his chest. "She asked me about it, once. And that...well, that was the last time She ever spoke to me, actually." He unclasped his hands in favor of fiddling with his waistcoat. "I, well, frankly I sometimes wonder if She kept me down on Earth as...a kind of punishment. Like I wasn't trusted enough to return to Heaven. Turned out in my favor, of course—I do so vastly prefer Earth—but, nonetheless. Makes one wonder what She's really planning."

He had rebelled, taken the side of humanity, tumbled into bed with a demon—and still, he hadn't joined the Fallen.

It would beg the question, was this always what She had intended?

"I ask myself almost every day what our God is planning, and the best answer I've come up with is...He isn't," Castiel sighed. He looked eager to skirt by that subject. "So you're saying Crowley was always...this way? From the start?"

"Yes. It wasn't he who needed to change to save the world—it was me. Crowley has always done quite a good job of two things: listening to his heart above all else, and pretending very much so that he doesn't have a heart to listen to. I...made the mistake of confusing obedience for goodness. Not one and the same. Or, if they are, then I suppose being good isn't all it's cracked up to be. I don't see much good in the end of everything."

A brief smile from the other angel. "I never did, either."

Aziraphale returned the smile. "Great minds, dear brother." Aziraphale exhaled wistfully. "It is a shame Crowley and I have to leave so soon—but perhaps we can engineer a way to visit again, or at least a method of communication so if something goes sideways on either end, we could..."

"Work together?"

"We all have undeniably unique skill sets. Applicable to...unpleasant scenarios."

He was fairly sure Crowley was right about the Big One still yet coming to them; to have the Winchesters and their companions on their side would be an immense comfort. Jack alone could turn the tide in a global conflict between Heaven and Hell.

Oh, he hated to think like this. Hope suited him much better—the hope that maybe this was just the Ineffable Plan all along, and that their story was over, at least the exciting part.

He'd rather had enough excitement for the next century, he decided.

"After this, it's the least we owe you," Castiel agreed readily. "We can figure some method of communication out—Crowley may have an idea. If not him, then his mother."

"We are not," echoed a voice from the shadows, "calling my mother."

Aziraphale and Castiel both jumped as Crowley stepped into the room, glass of scotch in hand.

"Crowley," Castiel acknowledged with no small deal of caution.

"Staying up late, talking about boys, painting each other's nails...and you didn't even invite me. I'm hurt."

"That's not what we were doing," Castiel said flatly.

"Sharing fee-fees nonetheless." Crowley seated himself in the chair next to Castiel, throwing his feet up on the table, all easy and careless grace. Aziraphale still had no idea what to make of the demon king. His relationship with the Winchesters and Castiel seemed tense, complicated, beyond knowing for one who had just fallen into their lives mere days ago. There was some kind of care, there, some kind of complex affection Aziraphale didn't fully grasp.

But the demon seemed unquestionably lonely, and once more, Aziraphale couldn't help but compare him to his own Crowley. Couldn't help but wonder what his Crowley would be like, if they hadn't had each other over the millennia.

Every lonely monster needs a companion.

"Do take a picture, Aziraphale; it will last longer."

He realized he'd been staring and hurriedly looked away. "Apologies, Mr. Crowley," he took care to use the proper pronunciation. "How are you feeling, post-resurrection?"

"Like I have a bloody migraine and have to go wrangle back an entire plane of existence under my control just so I can lock the damned thing up," Crowley groused, sipping at his scotch. "But, also: alive. So." He raised his glass, then downed the rest of it. A snap of his fingers, and it was full again.

"You're drunk," Castiel observed mildly.

"Everyone has their coping mechanisms, Kitten," Crowley shot back without a great deal of energy. Crowley slid his eyes to Aziraphale. "Where's your demon?"

"Ah, quite thoroughly asleep at the moment. I didn't want to wake him."

"Should say not, sounded like you put him through his paces earlier."

Aziraphale blushed so brilliantly he feared he may have been glowing. Oh Good Lord, they heard.

"Crowley," Castiel chastised. "Leave him be."

"Oh, I'm not criticizing. About time somebody got shagged in this fetid pit. And you and Dean both seem as repressed as you once were, so someone had to step up to the plate." Crowley took a deep, long-suffering breath. "Now what is it you think you need my mother for?"

"A method of communication between realities."

Crowley rolled his eyes with spectacular exaggeration. "Of course you lot couldn't want something simple. How long before you'll need it?"

Aziraphale realized Crowley was wordlessly offering his help. "Oh! Yes, well, my Crowley and I must be off by the morning. Our portal back closes at noon tomorrow."

Castiel's brow furrowed. "You're planning on going back through the portal in Heaven?"

"Well, of course. How else would we get back to our own world?"

Castiel's eyes turned urgent. "Aziraphale, you can't take Crowley through Heaven."

"I think they'll let us pass, given their current, erm, faith in me—"

"Demons can't go through Heaven. Not in this universe," Crowley cut in. "Our dear Anthony, if his subatomic makeup is anything even remotely equivalent to a demonic entity here, will be incinerated the second he steps through the gate that leads to Heaven. Same goes for still-living humans."

Aziraphale put a hand to his chest, disturbed by the mere thought. "But surely if Crowley could withstand Heaven in our universe..."

"Different universes," Crowley chimed. "You could be right—he could be fine. Lucifer was a fallen angel, and he could still bumble his way Upwards. But, somehow I doubt you're willing to take that risk."

The demon king was more than right on that account. "Oh dear."

"Now, I know a few things about pumping up demonic vessels," Crowley gestured down at himself, "making them stronger than they have any right to be. Comes with being King of Hell—need somewhere to put all those tasty, tasty Hell souls. I can do a little...work, on Anthony. So to speak. I can't make guarantees, but I can shore up his body."

Aziraphale felt sick to his stomach. "But he could still—?"

"I strongly recommend having him stick a hand through first to make sure he's not going to implode the second you go Upstairs."

Implode. He didn't like the sound of that one bit. "And this...shoring up...would consist of, what, exactly?"

"A great deal of me carving into him with a knife. High pain tolerance, I hope? I know he has that line about sauntering vaguely downwards, but surely Falling toughened him up a bit, yeah?"

"I—" Aziraphale frowned, shaking his head. "That will have to be up to him. I'll wake him; I'm afraid we have no time to waste, now."


Crowley woke to the feel of Aziraphale's breath on his face. "My dear?" the angel murmured hesitantly.

Crowley hazily opened his eyes, the room blurred before sliding into view. Aziraphale was knelt down at the side of the bed, face incredibly close to Crowley's, and his eyes wide with recognizable concern. Now, granted, Aziraphale's resting expression was one of faint concern, but this seemed a tad more urgent.

"What's—" recollections from earlier in the day hit him in a rush. "Oh, we—oh." Crowley swallowed. "That was real, was it?"

The memory of Aziraphale's weight bearing down on him, both of them breathless and taken with one another, seemed real enough, but he'd be the first to admit he had a very vivid imagination.

"Very much so," Aziraphale said, and his face softened into a surprising display of open affection before kissing him lightly on the lips. "Every second. All real," Aziraphale said against his mouth, "but I'm afraid we haven't time to bask in the afterglow."

Crowley withdrew enough to look Aziraphale in his eyes, pretending not to be totally dazed by just that bare lip contact. "How d'you mean?"

"I didn't realize—in this universe, demons can't step foot in Heaven without being incinerated."

Crowley pulled away from the angel and flopped back on the bed, flat on his back. "You've got to be kidding me."

"I do wish I was. The Winchesters' Crowley may have a solution, though it sounds...unpleasant."

"'Course." Crowley looked at his clothes, disheveled in heaps on the floor. "S'pose this means I've got to get dressed, then?"

"I'm afraid so."

"And means we can't go for round two just yet?"

Aziraphale's cheeks reddened. "Focus, Crowley."

"Oh, you've buggered any shot of that for the next century, angel," Crowley said, smiling in spite of himself. Reluctantly, he snapped himself back into his clothes, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles in his shirt. "Alright. So, what've I got to do?"

"I think...carving, is required. Into your," Aziraphale indicated Crowley's chest with a raise of his eyebrows. "Well, your everything, I believe."

Crowley groaned. "Great. Just what I want to wake up to—oh good morning dear, care to get kebab'd by the King of Hell?"

"Nothing so dramatic. No impaling, certainly."

"Small mercies."


The King of Hell wasted no time once Aziraphale had deposited a bleary-eyed Anthony in front of him.

"Strip," Crowley ordered, sharpening one of the Winchesters' thinner blades. They stood in Room 7B, or more specifically, Crowley's old haunting ground behind it, his own little piece of Hell. They'd scooted out the chair, leaving room for Anthony to stand, and for Crowley to circle while he carved in the proper Enochian into him to strengthen his body—hopefully enough to hold against the celestial bombardment of Heaven.

Anthony rolled his eyes, snapped his fingers, and he was down to his boxers. And sunglasses. Of course. "You're not getting full-frontal. Sorry."

"Such tragedy that I'll have to limit myself to artist's renderings," Crowley sniped, inspecting the blade.

"Just get on with it," Anthony complained. "Not as if we even need this. If I can go into Heaven at home, I can go into Heaven here. Devil's traps didn't work on me there, and quite obviously," he noted the devil's trap he currently stood in, "don't do a fat lot of good here, either."

"Yes, well, better safe than sorry—at least your dearly beloved seemed to think so."(4)

Anthony didn't seem to have a response to that. Crowley drew a nick through the devil's trap, so he could step inside. Once he did so, he orbited the other demon, mostly scoping out the canvas, but with a reasonable percentage of less than clean thoughts as well. Not that you could really call any of his thoughts clean, per se.

The other demons crossed his arms, glaring at him. "Don't objectify me."

Crowley barked out a laugh. Perceptive, this one. "Forgive me. Seeing you in the flesh—bizarre. But well-made flesh, inarguably."

"Taken, mate."

"Believe me, I know. Now hold still." Crowley stopped behind Anthony, facing the fallen angel's back. Crowley positioned the blade carefully between his shoulder blades. "Might sting."

"Look, I'm pretty used to—oi, fuck!" the serpent hissed loudly when Crowley dug in the point. "Strictly necessary to go that deep?"

"I should be going deeper, consider yourself lucky," Crowley replied, placing his free hand on the other demon's shoulder, to better steady him.

Anthony sighed. "How d'you people live like this? Just one problem to the next. Been here three days and it's driven me half-mad."

Crowley let a bitter little smile twist his lips. "God only knows," he said cryptically. "We play our parts. We do the song and dance. We live, we die, we love, we bleed, Chuck laughs with a bowl of popcorn in his lap."

"And you?"

"And me?" Crowley parroted back. "I do the bleeding part a lot—the dying on occasion too, or at least fake-deaths and half-deaths, save for the last. Fair warning, darling. The Winchesters usually don't keep friends for long. Use people up till their husks, or stop being useful. Whichever comes first."

"Then why bother hanging around them?" retorted the other demon irritably, as Crowley continued to carve into his back.

Crowley didn't know how to answer that to himself, much less somebody else. "No idea."

"Look, I don't know about you—but in my world, we don't go palling 'round much with humans. They don't live long. They're messy. There's a few I've liked well enough—"

"Freddie?" Crowley cut in. "Always assumed there was a story there."

Anthony completely and intentionally ignored him, pushing on: "—but not the kind to die for. Even if they are...whatever the Winchesters are." Crowley didn't respond immediately, so Anthony filled the silence himself. "Something about your tetchy aura? 'Bout that science experiment you mentioned?"

"Don't come to me for a recap. Not worth retreading," Crowley answered.

"Sensitive?" Crowley dug in the blade a little deeper, and the other demon hissed. "Bloody hell!"

"The Winchesters reignited my soul. A bit. Made me...want things. That I'd known better than to even think to want before."

"Like?"

"This is not the time to have a heart-to-heart."

"Why not? Seems like you need one. Can smell the booze on you," Anthony said, tasting the air with his tongue—or scenting it, rather. Crowley was still blurry on how physiologically snake-like Anthony was.

Crowley's mouth twisted. He wasn't nearly drunk enough to have this conversation. "I'm not like you."

"Funny, but general consensus seems to be that you are, because your own mother thought I was you for a bit when she first pulled me here—"

"My mother is an evil cow. Best to ignore her entirely," Crowley interrupted. He didn't have the mental real estate for Rowena at the moment, much less the concept of her trying to save him. He'd been much happier when they'd been in a state of comfortable, mellow hatred. Burned hot enough to keep them both warm, but not so vicious as to make it so they couldn't work together should the time come.

"I hate you, because if I didn't hate you, I'd love you."

No. Not thinking about that now.

He had drank a lot, hadn't he?

"We're not alike," Crowley reiterated again. "You're...soft."

"Am not!" Anthony raged. "I'm a demon just as much as you—and older, I'd bet, so—so respect your elders! Calling me soft, where do you get off!"

"I read your little book, darling. I know all about you. And I know that you get impulses to rearrange signboards and steal the radios out of sports cars. You glue change to the sidewalk so you can laugh when people bend down to pick it up. You built the M25. Probably your most heinous offense."

"What, now you're going to lecture me about how I should be corrupting priests, or something? Thought you were a big picture type." Anthony seemed almost disappointed.

"Oh, I am. But you and I painted very different pictures."

"What could you have done that's so bad? How many times have you helped the Winchesters save everyone and everything?"

"Doesn't cancel out the several hundred years when I was doing decidedly not that."

"Only a few hundred years, eh? I knew you were a baby."

"I am not. A baby," Crowley growled.

"Well you're acting like a baby, so that makes you a baby."

"Turn around."

"Why?"

"So I can punch you in the face—why do you think? Out of space back here."

Anthony turned with no small amount of grumbling. Crowley restarted on the demon's front, beginning at his sternum. "Is this your thing, then? Guilt complex? What is it with you people? All of you so caught up in the—the man angst. Doesn't it get boring?"

"More than you can imagine." Crowley pursed his lips. "It's always been easy for you. Being...not evil. Not all the way good, sure. No one's all the way good. You've drowned a few ducks. It happens."

"What? I never drowned any ducks. I like ducks."

"Hmm. Well, can't expect the book to be dead-on. Writing's a great deal like driving through the dark and the fog with one headlight. Anyways, point is, you don't get the urge to murder and desecrate, take and destroy."

Anthony was surprisingly quiet, for almost thirty seconds. Blissful until he inevitably spoke again: "You do?"

"Mmm."

"A lot?"

"Never stops."

"...Even...after you...?"

"Yes, even after my soul burst back to life—only now I get to feel guilty about it all. An endless delight."

"Sounds terrible."

"And how."

It was at that moment that Dean trundled into the dungeon, clad in bathrobe and boxers, wiping sleep from his eyes. Anthony turned his head to look at him over his shoulder. Crowley shot him a finger-wave.

Dean just stared, eyelids at half-mast. He opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it once more, to say: "You know what, I...I don't wanna know."

The Winchester disappeared without another word.

"But you helped the Winchesters before your soul thing happened. I did read those bloody awful books," Anthony continued, untroubled by Dean's brief cameo in their—oh sweet hell, we are having a heart-to-heart, aren't we?

"The world weeps for you. And yes, I did."

"So there must've been something not totally wickedly evil about you, right? To want to save the world?"

"No, I didn't want the apocalypse because I'm not an idiot. You can be smart and still be evil."

"But you healed, uhhhhh, what's-his-name—Bobby. Healed his legs up. Didn't have to do that, but you did."

"Are you trying to convince me that I really had a heart all along?" Crowley muttered, going down to his knees to work at the area around the bottom of Anthony's ribs. The other demon had stopped twitching ages ago, either having chosen to deaden his own nerve endings, or just having grown used to the pain. "I had my moments. But I knew what I was, and I was pleased with it."

"So you miss it?"

"Every damn day."

"But...can't you...I dunno. Feel things, now? Better things?"

"Worse things. So much worse. But...I suppose better too, when I'm lucky." Crowley grimaced. "And I so very rarely am lucky. Can thank the Winchesters for that."

Speaking of the Winchesters, Squirrel returned, week old cold pizza in his hand, eyes just slightly more open. "Okay," he said, mouth full. "I'll bite. What the hell creepy ass demon thing are you two doing?"

"Trying to make it so your new friend can go home. The portal back is in Heaven."

Dean blinked. "Oh, shit, I didn't even think of that."

"You? Not considering consequences? Doesn't sound like you," Crowley said sarcastically. He withdrew from Anthony, rising to his feet. He extracted a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped down the blade. "And now..." He handed Dean the blade, then set two of his fingertips on the other demon's forehead. He began chanting low and fluently in Enochian.

The sigils on Anthony began to glow a hot, infernal red, and the demon threw his head back, hissing. Deadened nerve endings could only do so much—this was something cosmic.

After about a minute, Crowley finished the incantation, and the glow faded, the sigils right after it, as if they'd never been there at all.

Anthony shook out his arms. "Am I...good?"

"As good as it gets, darling. But if you burst into flames, don't say I didn't warn you."

"Wow, way to psych him up, Crowley." Dean finished off his pizza by fitting the entire crust in his mouth. "We could just try to do what we did before. Shake me down for what's left of Michael's Grace."

"Yeah, well, if I come back here tomorrow down a hand then that's what we'll have to do," Anthony muttered, snapping himself back into his clothes. He lifted his head, suddenly seeming to notice something. "Wait a minute...Aziraphale's not in the bunker. Where's he gone?"

"He left?" Dean's brow furrowed.

The demon tasted the air again. "Castiel, too."

Crowley sighed heavily. "Dra-ma."


"Are you quite sure this is a good idea?" Aziraphale asked.

"We need her help now. You leave in just a few hours. Rowena will be able to work faster than Crowley because she can create the enchantment herself. Crowley isn't a novice when it comes to witchcraft, but Rowena might be the most powerful witch that's ever lived. If anyone can forge a stable connection between two worlds, it's her."

Cas and Aziraphale stood outside the door of a fashionable apartment in New York that Aziraphale had miracled them to per Cas's request. Rowena had safehouses all across the world, but Castiel knew she'd been using this one most frequently since Lucifer had attempted to kill her just before Jack was born. If she was anywhere he knew about, it would be here.

Though admittedly, the witch didn't seem to want to be found, if the fact that she'd ignored all of Cas's calls over the past two days was any indication.

Aziraphale seemed doubtful. "Witches aren't particularly powerful, in my experience. At least not in the sense that they'd be capable of something an angel couldn't do."(5)

"This is a different world. Rowena is a force to be reckoned with." Cas knocked his fist four times against the door. "Rowena? It's Castiel. I need to speak to you."

Silence.

Cas tried again. "Rowena, it's urgent, will you please just—"

Rowena opened the door.

Looked at them.

"No," she said simply, then slammed the door in their faces.

Chapter Text

"Well," Aziraphale said slowly, "she doesn't seem terribly interested in what we're selling, so to speak."

"She doesn't know what we know." Castiel hammered on the door, his patience seeming to have expired upon the witch denying them entrance to her home. "Rowena! I have information you'll want to hear."

"Away and boil your head!" snapped Rowena from within, her voice muffled.

"Oh, Scottish," Aziraphale observed.

Castiel shot him a questioning look.

"They're an angry people," Aziraphale explained, but it didn't seem to register with Castiel.(1)

The other angel just shook his head, then turned to the door. "We don't have time for this," he said decisively, then held up his hand.

"Wait, what are you—"

Castiel blew the door off its hinges.

Aziraphale blinked. "Oh my."

Rowena was waiting for them when Castiel calmly stepped through the now empty threshold, Aziraphale following hesitantly behind him. "Ah, hello," Aziraphale greeted, fiddling with his pinkie ring and wondering if this was truly advisable.

"We need to talk," Castiel said flatly.

The witch had both her hands raised, purple energy buzzing between her fingers. "I've cursed you before, Castiel, and just because we're a wee bit closer now doesn't mean I won't do it again. You stopped me from resurrecting my son—twice—I want nothing to do with you at the moment." Her eyes flicked briefly to Aziraphale. "Who's the posh jessie?"

"The best friend of the demon you accidentally summoned here," Castiel elaborated.

The purplish energy died down somewhat, waiting. She gave Aziraphale another look, with a kind of shrewd calculation that echoed her son's with great accuracy. "But he's an angel."

"He is. His name is Aziraphale."

"So...you're not here to get me to help you do away with the Serpent, then?"

"No. Crowley turned out to not be a problem. The opposite, actually. He and Aziraphale have done a great deal for us in the few days they've been in this universe."

"This universe?" Rowena's eyes narrowed.

"Yes," Aziraphale said, speaking up. "A small error in pronunciation, my dear, perfectly understandable, but I must commend you—your magic was strong enough to draw Crowley here in lieu of your son. No small feat, to tear open a hole in the universe and yank a demon through."

He wasn't angry at the witch for giving him the absolutely enormous fright that something dire may have happened to Crowley—she had wanted nothing more than to bring her child back to life. How could he begrudge her that? Plus, regardless of the relative stress of the past few days...the end result had been overwhelmingly worth it.

"If you're not here for help, why are you here? You boys never show up on my doorstep if you don't need something," Rowena asked, but she let her hands drop. "Also, Castiel, you'll be fixing that door before you go."

"Allow me," Aziraphale snapped his fingers, and the door righted itself, reattached itself to its hinges, and swung shut with a quiet click.

"A polite angel. Now I've seen everything," Rowena commented with dim surprise.

"We do need your help, Rowena, but it's something small. It's just a matter of needing something now rather than later," Castiel told her.

Aziraphale side-eyed Castiel, wondering why they hadn't opened with, "Oh yes hello Rowena, did you know your son is alive and well?" However, Castiel knew this universe and this witch, and Aziraphale did not, so he let the other angel stay in the lead.

She rolled her eyes. "Of course you do. Did you miss that bit where I said I want nothing to do with you?"

"And did you miss it when I said that I have information you'll want? Which I will tell you..." Castiel stepped forward, closer to Rowena. "If you agree to help us."

She grinned up at the angel. "Castiel, you wee devilish peach, are you trying to extort me?"

"Is it working?"

She bounced her eyebrows. "Sexy." A short sigh. "Fine then, what do you want?"

"A manner of communication between our universe, and Aziraphale and Crowley's."

Rowena seemed faintly taken aback. "Made friends quickly, have we?"

"A lot has happened in a very short amount of time," Castiel replied.

"A brothers in arms sort of situation," Aziraphale added helpfully.

"Does this have something to do with the ever-so-precious information you're going to tell me?" Rowena asked, already weaving deeper into her home, through the living room and into the kitchen. Aziraphale heard distant sounds of cupboard-rifling.

"Partially," said Castiel, following after, and Aziraphale tailed behind him. "Do you think it's something you can accomplish, and quickly?"

"I've got the Book of the Damned, you doaty featherhead, there's very little I can't accomplish. I've been wanting to try this enchantment for a time, anyhow." She produced a few jars and vials of ambiguous ingredients a moment later, and a large bowl. Some things didn't change between universes, it seemed. Witchcraft largely was composed of more-or-less occult baking. "Smart of you to bring your new friend—I'll need his help for this."

Aziraphale brightened, a rise of scholarly interest springing to life in him. "How may I assist you?" he asked graciously.

Rowena tossed him a bit of chalk she had on top of her fridge, and Aziraphale managed to catch it before it hit the ground. "Your name—your real name, the Enochian sigil for it. Draw it on the farther end of the dining table. I'll mop it off later. And Castiel, go to my bedroom, grab the hand mirror on the dresser."

The two angels obeyed the witch. Castiel returned with the mirror, and Aziraphale, with a steady hand, deftly signed his name on the table. A bowl was sat in the table's center. Rowena then instructed Castiel to do the same with his own Enochian name, and Aziraphale passed the chalk off to his brother. Castiel, with a few short strokes, signed his own name on the table's other end.

Rowena worked over the bowl, mixing herbs and liquids from unlabeled jars. The smell in the air was noxious, to say the least.

"A physical object from both universes," Rowena rattled off next. She undid Castiel's tie from around his neck, and he made no move to stop her, though he did look vaguely confused. "Easy enough on our end. Posh Angel, the last ingredient is up to you."

"Something from my universe?" Aziraphale frowned. "I don't really have anything on me at present, save my clothes...would a hair do?"

"Not for this. No biological material."

A deeper frown. With great reluctance, he began undoing his bow-tie. He'd had this particular bow-tie for almost fifty years(2), and he was ever-so-reluctant to part with it—but, the situation called for it, and patently refusing on the grounds of his sentimental attachment to his clothing seemed all-together foolish.

Aziraphale draped it in the bowl over Castiel's tie, with no small amount of wistfulness.

Castiel passed her the hand mirror. "Is this all we need?"

"Yes. Let me double check the enchantment, but it should only take a tick," she replied, swiftly departing to the room beyond the kitchen, a small study by the looks of it. Aziraphale's instinct was to follow, but feared appearing rude, so he settled on inwardly fantasizing about what books Rowena might have in her possession, things he would never see in his own universe.

He went to Castiel's side, asking quietly, "And just to be clear, you do trust Rowena?"

Castiel paused for a long moment before answering. "To do this, yes."

"My dear fellow, that does not inspire much confidence."

Rowena returned with the Book of the Damned, setting it on the counter and flipping it open. Rowena didn't miss the way Castiel's eyes fixed on it. "You can take it if you want, Castiel," she said with a self-assured smirk, "but I've copied it all down. Hundreds of times. Scattered it all to the four winds, dozens of little hidey-holes, and you'll never find them all." She winked. "But nice try."

Castiel offered no response, only frowning.

"Let's get to it then, shall we? Stand by your names. Grab hands."

They obeyed, gripping each other's hands, their names and the bowl between them. Rowena moved towards the table, the book cradled in one arm, the mirror in the other. She tossed it in the bowl, then snapped her fingers, and brilliant blue flames swallowed everything within, mirror included.

She began to chant. Aziraphale identified it as Latin. "Partum un ponte, speculo...hi angeli muta auxilium."

A few more phrases, then a repetition of the first phase, and the flames rocketed high, nearly touching the ceiling. Mercifully smokeless, lest the fire alarms start sounding.

When the fire faded, there was nothing left in the bowl but the mirror, now suffused by a crystalline aura. Castiel and Aziraphale carefully released hands, and it was Aziraphale who picked the mirror up to inspect it first.

"So how will this work?" Castiel asked as Aziraphale turned the mirror over in his hand. He could sense it was enchanted, and heavily, too, but when he looked in it, he saw only his own eyes.

"I'll just demonstrate. Come now, Castiel." She went to the bathroom down the hall, and he trailed after her apprehensively. Aziraphale leaned around the corner so he could see what they were doing. Rowena grabbed Castiel's wrist and held his hand in front of the mirror. "The phrase I started the enchantment with, say that three times."

"Partum un ponte, speculo. Partum un ponte, speculo. Partum un ponte, speculo."

Aziraphale turned his eyes down to the hand mirror, sensing a change. The surface rippled, then revealed Castiel and Rowena, from within the bathroom. Aziraphale smiled a little, lifting a hand. "It appears to have worked. And this will function the same even once Crowley and I return home?"

"No matter where you are in time or space," Rowena confirmed.

"Thank you, Rowena." Castiel said. The connection cut, and then they returned to the kitchen.

"Decide which one of you gets the mirror," Rowena said, "and then tell me whatever precious information it is you think I would want to know."

Aziraphale gazed down at the mirror contemplatively. It wasn't that he considered himself irresponsible, far from it—but, things in the shop that were not books did have the...habit...of misplacing themselves. He could find you any volume he had every acquired in his long life in under thirty seconds, knowing intrinsically where every single book in the shop was, arranged in a scheme only he completely knew or understood.(3) However, other miscellaneous items were not so easily found. Crowley had once lost a pair of shoes in the shop one drunken night, and they had not resurfaced until three decades later. Aziraphale occasionally wondered if the building had, like the Bentley, attained some slight degree of consciousness from being inhabited by a celestial being for so long that it just ate things that weren't deemed important.

"Best that Castiel take the mirror, I think," Aziraphale eventually decided, handing the mirror to the other angel.

Castiel accepted it with a nod before tucking it into one of the deeper pockets of his trench coat. The angel turned to Rowena. "Crowley's been resurrected. He's at the bunker, alive and well."

Aziraphale thought the revelation may have been a little abrupt, but said nothing.

All the color drained from Rowena's face. "You're lying," she spat.

"You've told me before I'm a terrible liar." Cas took a step closer to her. "Am I lying, Rowena?"

She gazed up at him, a sheen of tears in her eyes. Something seemed to shift in her, and she insisted, "Take me to him."

"Ah," Aziraphale raised a finger. "Perhaps, not now? He does still seem to be...processing his resurrection, such as it is." And by processing he largely meant that the King of Hell appeared to have less than zero interest in seeing his mother and had specifically told them not to contact her. Not that he was in the business of listening to demons, with one notable exception, but he didn't think it wise to make enemies in another universe. They had enough in their own to last them a very long time indeed.

"You should wait for him to come to you," Castiel agreed levelly. "Your relationship prior to his death was...complicated, to say the least."

"You tell me my son is alive but you won't take me to him? I'll get myself there if you don't take me, you know I will."

Castiel rubbed a hand over his face. "Fine, but the consequences are yours to deal with. You have to understand he won't be as happy to see you as you are to see him."

Rowena seemed unbothered. "Doesn't matter. He'll see soon enough...things will be different this time."


Crowley sat cross-legged on the counter in the kitchen, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch in his lap, given to him by the King of Hell just a few minutes before with a comment of, "Maybe it'll stop you from bloody pacing for five seconds."(4)

Crowley wasn't much one for reading—audio books were fine, but snake eyes weren't exactly made for squinting at tiny words. Still, given the story was supposedly about he and Aziraphale, he might as well at least flip through. He didn't know how to feel about the cartoonish version of himself splayed over the cover in a 'paint me like one of your French girls' pose, but otherwise the book hadn't been vastly offensive to him thus far, from the bits and pieces he'd read. Maybe not Nice or Accurate, but at least well written.

"But it gets there anyway," Crowley persevered.

"How?"

"It doesn't matter!"

"It could use a spaceship," said the angel.

Crowley subsided a bit. "Yeah," he said. "If you like. Anyway, this bird—"

"Only if it is the END of the universe we're talking about," said Aziraphale. "So it'd have to be one of those spaceships where your descendants are the ones who get out at the other end. You have to tell your descendants, you say, When you get to the Mountain, you've got to—" He hesitated. "What have they got to do?"

"Sharpen its beak on the mountain," said Crowley. "And then it flies back—"

"—in the spaceship."

"And after a thousand years it goes and does it all again," said Crowley quickly.

"You having fun with that?" asked a groggy Dean at the kitchen table, alternating between bites of toast and sips of coffee.(5) Jack sat next to him, minding a bowl of cereal. "I couldn't even make it through ten of ours. Think I gave up around Bugs."

"I read them all, I didn't think they were that bad," said Jack.

"Yeah, well no offense kid, but you're two. You'll develop better taste as you get older. Chuck's books are shit. Makes sense, his whole universe is shit."

"Sorry, weren't you telling me off for saying that just the other day?" Crowley asked dryly.

Dean shrugged a shoulder. "I like you more now."

"Stop, you'll make me go all warm and fuzzy," Crowley said sarcastically. "And frankly, no, not having much fun. These blokes are nothing like us. They're total idiots."

Dean remained notably silent.

They heard the bunker door open upstairs, and Crowley immediately hopped off the counter. He was out in the foyer in a moment. Other Crowley sat at the table with Sam, alternating between a glass of scotch and a crossword, with Sam on his laptop.

"All I'm saying, Moose, is that you have a golden zone—just about two inches below the ears, and when you go out in the sun, you get these lovely natural highlights—"

"Exactly how much attention have you been paying to my hair over the years?"

"Guys," Dean voiced, pointing towards the top of the staircase, and the footsteps steadily approach. Sam and Crowley broke away from their argument to look upwards, and Cas and Aziraphale stepped into sight.

With the ginger witch following shortly behind them.

So THAT was the important business, eh? Family reunion? Crowley had no idea why Castiel would have deemed it necessary to bring Aziraphale along.

Other Crowley stiffened dramatically in his seat, hands frozen inches from his glass of scotch, and similarly, Rowena stopped halfway down the stairs, eyes hitting her son.

"Fergus," she breathed, a complicated expression on her face, somewhere between apprehension and relief.

Other Crowley acknowledged her with a far less positive attitude: "Mother."

Rowena opened her mouth to say more—

Other Crowley vanished.

Aziraphale frowned. "I did wonder if that would be his reaction."

Castiel's brow furrowed. "I didn't think he would leave."

Dean crossed his arms, looking at Cas and Aziraphale. "You guys really think that was a good idea?"

"Good is irrelevant. She helped us, and we owed her this," Cas answered.

"He...was rather adamant earlier," Aziraphale pointed out lightly, before finishing his descent down the stairs and bee-lining to Crowley. "Hello, my dear." His eyes widened when he noticed the book tucked under Crowley's arm. "You're reading it!" the angel beamed.

Crowley reflexively smiled back. "Call me personally invested."

"I'm eager to sit down with it."

Crowley's attention drifted to the notable absence at Aziraphale's neck. "You're indecent," he observed mildly.

"Long story. Tell you later," the angel replied, but let out a quiet yip of surprise when Crowley's hand grazed his neck, and then proceeded to undo his top two buttons.

"Fashion, angel," he explained shortly. "Never do up the top few if you haven't got a tie."

Aziraphale blushed, which delighted every wicked part of Crowley.

Meanwhile, Rowena's face was taut with irritation. "He can't avoid me forever."

"I mean, he's petty and immortal," Sam pointed out. "So...technically he can."

"You can't expect everything to just be okay overnight," Dean told her. "You got a lot of making up to do, and he doesn't owe you anything."

"Oh, look at this! White Knight Dean Winchester has found a new princess to defend!" snapped the witch. "I'm staying here until he returns. He'll come back here eventually, he always does."

None of them seemed particularly bothered by that, and Crowley could only assume the witch had stayed with them before. The Winchesters seemed to have very blurry lines between friends and enemies.

"So this is what you two went to do?" Sam asked, flicking his eyes between Castiel and Aziraphale.

"We actually had a purpose beyond that." Cas retrieved an ornate hand mirror from within his trench coat. "A method of communication between our two universes, so we can remain in contact, and call upon each other if something goes wrong."

"A mutual, cross-reality partnership of sorts," Aziraphale provided, seeming pleased.

Dean bounced his eyebrows. "Cool."

"You're welcome," Rowena said loudly. She sighed and walked through the crowd of them, heading down the hall to where all the bedrooms were. "I'll be in my cups. Tell me if my hellspawn returns, would you?"

"Stay more than three days and we're charging you rent," Dean hollered after her, but she offered no response.

Jack checked the clock. "How much longer do you guys have?" It was just after six in the morning.

"Not long, I'm afraid. We do need to be going," Aziraphale said, with a hint of melancholy. Crowley couldn't claim to be upset to be going home, in any way, shape, or form. This little involuntary trip had its moments, but he knew very well they were pushing their luck staying in what looked to be pretty much a godless universe. He didn't have a great relationship with Her, not after, well, everything. But this had at least served to put things in perspective. She did care. At least enough to not let an absolute mess like the Winchesters' world happen.

"We'll drive you guys to the Gate, just in case things get weird," Dean offered. He turned to Jack. "You're still grounded, so you get to stay here and make sure Rowena doesn't fuck up any of our shit while we're gone."

The Nephil seemed dejected, but nodded anyway. "Okay. I will."

"Oh! Before we get going..." Sam hurried out of the room for a moment, into the library, and returned with a stack of books, bound neatly with string. He offered them to Aziraphale. "I thought you might want some souvenirs. We don't really use any of these anymore—just lore books, but with the way you talk about your shop..."

"I'm touched," Aziraphale answered with a warm smile, accepting the gift from Sam. "Thank you, Sam. I do so appreciate it. They'll be quite literally one of a kind back home."

"I just wanted to give you a garbage bag filled with the Supernatural books, but Sam figured you might like this better," Dean said blandly. "Alright, we heading out?" He looked to Sam and Cas for confirmation, earning nods from each.

"My plants are probably wilting," Crowley mourned.

"I'm sure Anathema thought to take care of them," Aziraphale comforted him gently.

"Let's go." Dean made for the stairs to the garage. Sam and Cas followed afterwards. Jack hesitated, looking beseechingly at Crowley and Aziraphale.

"All is forgiven, Jack," Aziraphale told him sincerely. "It was a pleasure."

Crowley thought that was a bit of an overstatement, but said nothing.

"Thank you," Jack said, voice thick. "For Castiel. I'm sorry for what I did, but..."

"He's your father," Crowley admitted begrudgingly. "Family makes morons of us all."

Jack took that as the closest to forgiveness he was going to get. "Be careful in Heaven."

Crowley snorted. "Always am."

With that, they followed the Winchesters, setting off down the hall, tracking the echoing of their footsteps.

Crowley, with great care, grasped Aziraphale's free hand, the one not toting his freshly gifted books.

Aziraphale smiled.

"I can do this now," Crowley said, with no small amount of amazement.

"Indeed you can," confirmed Aziraphale, looking at him in such a tender way that Crowley thought his heart was like to melt. Every instance of unguarded affection peeled away more and more of him, and he wasn't sure whether he was thrilled or terrified at being stripped utterly bare by Aziraphale.

Both, actually. Probably definitely both.

Crowley smiled back at Aziraphale. "Let's go home, angel."

Chapter Text

Several hours later found the five of them in the Impala, Dean and Sam up front, and all present supernatural beings crammed into the backseat. They were almost at the playground that held Heaven's Gate. Dean glanced in the rear-view mirror, and noticed that Crowley had closed Good Omens for the time being, in favor of staring down at his hands.

"You okay, AJ?" he asked, mildly concerned by the demon's spaced-out expression.

"Trying to decide which of my hands looks better. Gonna use the worse one to test the Gate."

"You're left-handed, clearly you should put your right in," Aziraphale said.

"Yeah, but I feel like my right hand just looks better."

Dean and Sam exchanged a Look.

"It's likely you'll be fine," Cas reminded the demon. "When Lucifer possessed me, he was able to go to Heaven without issue, and he's probably the closest thing this universe has to you."

"Am I blushing?" Crowley deadpanned.

"You can just regrow your hand if it gets smote, can't you?" Sam questioned.

"Dunno. Never had to regrow a limb before," Crowley admitted.

"I did, once," Aziraphale shared thoughtfully. Crowley shot him a confused look. "Oh, you weren't there for that one, my dear. Let's just say I have an aversion to certain parts of Somalia, now."

"Where was I for this?"

"Sleeping, I believe."

"Ah."

They arrived at the playground, and filed out of the Impala.

Crowley blinked. "Sooooo, uh, where is it? The portal thingy?"

"It's in the sandbox. I'll have to contact Heaven to request access," Cas explained. "You read the books—you remember angel radio?"

"Err. Sure. Well, dial up then."(1)

Cas went to the desolate sandbox, but before he could do anything, a figure stepped out of the shadows. An angel—Dean could tell by the workplace appropriate pants suit. She approached Cas, who acknowledged her with a careful incline of his head.

"Duma," he greeted. Okay. Cas had told Dean about this chick, and he already wasn't a fan, but the angels could only be so much of a threat now, with less than ten of them still kicking in Heaven.

Duma's eyes swept over he and Sam, then Crowley and Aziraphale. When her eyes alighted on Aziraphale, she went down to one knee, bowing forward with reverence. Dean placed a closed fist against his mouth to keep himself from laughing, and he could see Sam's own face twitching with restraint.

"Lord. Thank you for returning to us."

Aziraphale was glowing. A miracle, Dean assumed, to further sell the God gimmick. He wondered if Chuck would be offended by all of this, or find it hilarious. Maybe both.

"Of course," Aziraphale said with a tight, awkward smile. "You needn't bow—really, please stand."

Crowley was pretending to be very interested in a monarch butterfly drifting around the swing sets.

Duma's eyes retraced the route they'd performed earlier, this time stopping on Crowley. She took a step back, dimly horrified. "What are you?" she demanded.

Aziraphale had clearly not thought to come up with an explanation for why a demon-snake-ex-angel-whatever was accompanying him into Heaven, and floundered accordingly. "Oh! Yes, well—he's, you see—I—"

"Haven't you ever heard of God's fiery flying serpents? Ministers of divine justice? As close to His feet as the Thrones themselves?" Crowley spoke up.

Duma's eyes widened, never leaving Crowley. "What?"

"It's a thing. Look it up," Crowley bit out. "I'm God's most loyal servant, which means He likes me better, and I outrank you, so quit staring."

"Duma," Castiel intervened, no doubt seeing the incredible potential for error in the whole situation. "We just need you to open the Gate. Azira—our Father needs to return."

Dean didn't miss the sudden doubt in Duma's expression. "Of course," she said slowly. She went to the Gate and held her hand over the intricate Enochian sigil in the sandbox. It glowed a bright and brilliant white, before the portal sprung into life. She looked over her shoulder at Aziraphale and Crowley. "Let me notify Naomi of Your coming. It'll only take a moment."

Duma vanished through the portal.

"She's wise to you guys," Dean said as soon as she was out of earshot. "Definitely. Angels are dumb, but they're not that dumb."

Cas shot him an offended look.

"Most angels," Dean corrected with a roll of his eyes.

"This might be a bad idea," Sam agreed.

"Oh, what can they do to us?" Crowley was already heading for the portal. "The way Aziraphale talks about them, sounds like they're no match for us anyway." Crowley carefully extended his left hand towards the portal. Aziraphale watched on, face a mess of pure anxiety.

"Please be careful—" he begged, but Crowley had already stuck his arm in up to his elbow, and wasn't screaming in total agony.

"Well?" Sam prompted.

"Tingles," Crowley said, withdrawing his hand and eyeing it critically. "No harm done."

Aziraphale let out a loud sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness. I was ever so worried."

The angel and the demon turned to Dean, Sam, and Castiel.

"I guess this is goodbye," Crowley said, hands in the front pockets of his inexcusably tight jeans.(2) "I'd tell you it's been fun, but, what's the line? Jesus cries blood every time you lie?"

"I don't think that's a saying," said Castiel, brow furrowed.

"Well. Either way." Crowley shrugged. "Thanks for the...hospitality."

"Thanks for saving our asses. More than once," Dean said. "And I mean that."

"There's always a room for you at the bunker. You guys are welcome back anytime," Sam tacked on. After a moment of thought, he added, "I'm not sure why you'd want to come back, given everything, but if you do—door's open."

The gratitude seemed to fluster Crowley, who just nodded and said, "Right. Wasn't a problem. I mean, it was. But, you know."

Cas stepped in before an awkward silence could fill the empty playground, striding towards Aziraphale. Cas surprised them all by hugging him.

"Oh!" Aziraphale damn near squeaked at the contact, but returned the hug. Cas withdrew quickly, after one firm squeeze, but kept one hand on Aziraphale's shoulder.

"I owe you my life," he told him. His eyes darted briefly to Crowley. "Both of you," he corrected. "It was important for me to meet you, Aziraphale. To know that I'm—"

"Not alone?" Aziraphale offered, smiling sadly. "It was important for me too, Castiel. We should both count ourselves lucky."

Cas released his shoulder. "Please be careful in Heaven. I think Dean may be right about Duma seeing through your disguise. Are you sure you don't want me to accompany you?"

"I think we should be fine. Even if they stand in our way, I don't think they'll be able to impede us a great deal," Aziraphale said. "We'll contact you once we've made it through. It was a pleasure to meet you all. It truly was."

"Be safe, guys," Sam said, smiling. "Good luck."

Crowley lifted a hand, and then the two turned, and headed through the portal. They vanished, and the portal with them.

"Some of the weirdest dudes(3) I've ever met," Dean commented, scratching his chin. "But, shit...I'm glad we met 'em."

"Me too," Sam agreed emphatically. "You know, it's..." Sam pursed his lips, slipping half-awkward through his words as he continued, "Aziraphale, he's kind of like what I imagined angels would be like. When we found out they were real."

Cas smiled fondly. "You were...in awe, when we first met."

Dean chuckled at the memory. "Castiel, I've heard so much about you, it's an honor," he quoted in what he thought was a spot-on imitation of Sam's voice.(4)"Followed by the world's most weirdly intimate handshake."

Cas's brow furrowed. "Did I not shake his hand properly?"

"Two handed handshake with prolonged eye contact, dude. You might as well have asked him out for dinner."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Hey, you're the one I'd heard so much about him from. If I was in awe, you were in love."

Dean felt his face heat up. "Sh-shut up! Was not!"

His brother just laughed, turning to head back towards the Impala. "Come on, let's head home."


Aziraphale and Crowley stepped into Heaven, and the portal behind them ceased to exist. A long, featureless white hallway greeted them, lined with nameplates. Crowley's skin itched like he had a bad sunburn, but he didn't feel as though he was going to melt from the inside out, so that was nice. He didn't know whether to thank the cross-universe demonic differences, or Other Crowley's warding, but either way: not dead. Wahoo.

"What is it with angels and fluorescent lights?" Crowley complained, swinging his head about. "Pretty sure that was one of Ours. Headache inducing, all that buzzing, never mind nobody looks good in it. Worst selfie lighting."

"Can we focus, please?" Aziraphale asked, a note of faint impatience in his tone. "The faster we get you out of here, the better."

Crowley was unconcerned, thumbs tucked into the shallow pockets of his jeans. "Should we wait for your new friends?"

"I'd rather not. I remember where I came in at, no need for an escort, really—and, as Dean so deftly pointed out, I fear my Godly facade may be wearing thin," Aziraphale confided in him, worrying nervously at the faded edge of his waistcoat. He glanced down the left-hand side of the hallway. "Let's be on our way. Look for the surname Meyers."

Crowley hummed in response, tailing after his angel. He hesitantly took his hand again, and was elated when Aziraphale threaded their fingers together. Not even ashamed of him in Heaven. Miracles, and their strange ways.

Aziraphale stopped short when they'd made it to the upper end of the P names. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

Before Aziraphale could speak again, Crowley was clubbed hard over the back of the head with something—well, hard, clearly—and went down to his knees, the world spinning in over-excited 360s around him. He could barely make out Aziraphale hitting the floor as well, the books Sam had given him skidding across the immaculate linoleum.

"Angel—" before Crowley could say more, he was clobbered again. He slipped promptly into unconsciousness.


Aziraphale felt as though someone had stuck his head in a vice, and was squeezing with great enthusiasm. He groaned, hands lifting shakily to cover his eyes. Even closed, the light from above only worsened the agony that radiated from the top of his spine and well into his temples. He tried to quiet the repetitive throbbing, strongly encouraging his skull to knit back together the hairline fracture it had the audacity to have sustained, and his brain to resume business as usual. Both ignored him entirely.

He felt daring enough to remove one hand from his face, and touched the base of his skull. Blood, a lot of it, matting his hair down. His hand came back sticky. He didn't understand why his powers weren't working. He tried, again, to self-heal, but to absolutely no avail.

He struggled to remember what had happened, but was met with only a blur.

They'd gotten into Heaven...hadn't they? Yes, he was fairly positive they had.

Wait. They.

His eyes sprang open, immediately assaulted by harsh fluorescence. He nearly whimpered, shying away from the light, but he did manage a word—a name; "Crowley."

"Ngk," came a pitiful moan from across the room.

After a bleary moment of consideration, Aziraphale decided that the room was in fact a cell. Not a large cell either, twelve-by-twelve if even that. Crowley was across from him, slumped in a miserable pile on the floor, a small pool of blood leaking from his ear, his sunglasses askew on his face.

Aziraphale crawled on hands and knees to the demon, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Crowley, speak to me, are you alright?" Aziraphale gingerly removed Crowley's Valentino's. Crowley's eyes were open, but his pupils weren't dilated equally, one a thin slit, the other blown to the point that black almost blocked out yellow completely. Crowley's powers were clearly suppressed as well. "Oh, dear."

"Hurts," Crowley managed. He pinched his eyes shut tightly. "W'happened?"

"I..." Aziraphale looked around, taking great care to move his head slowly. "We made it to Heaven, and it seems we're still there. But I think something went quite wrong before we made it to the portal."

"Did you really think we would let you leave?"

Aziraphale looked up sharply, and quickly paid for the action with a sharp bolt of pain to his cranium. Through blurred vision, he made out Naomi, standing in front of the bars to their cell, hands clasped behind her.

"I thought—" Aziraphale began roughly, but then wrangled his voice back into something within the realm of composure. "I thought we had an understanding, you and I. I'm—"

"You're not God," Naomi sneered with open derision. "We were foolish to believe you in the first place. No God of ours keeps the company of...whatever he is." She flicked vaguely disgusted eyes to Crowley. "Never mind the fact that you wouldn't have needed us to open the Gate for you in the first place, if you really were our Father, which you're not. The state you're in now confirms that much."

"Rubbish liar," Crowley murmured to Aziraphale, face pinched in misery, and if he hadn't looked so awful, Aziraphale might have found it within himself to let out an indignant huff. He thought he could be quite the good actor, when the situation called for it.

"What do you have to gain from trapping us here?" Aziraphale asked, his voice low. "We've done nothing to you."

"Other than committing the highest blasphemy there is? Consider this purely self-preservation. With you two here, Heaven can continue for the foreseeable future...and for immortal beings, the foreseeable future is a very long time."

Aziraphale was starting to regret healing the other angel; she seemed far more sharp than she had when he'd first met her. Wickedly sharp. "There must be some kind of arrangement we could come to. We could—we could help you find a way to save Heaven, should you release us. We'd be very grateful."

"Don't promisssse her anything, 'Ziraphale," Crowley said, voice hoarse, struggling to push himself up.

Aziraphale gently pushed him back down. "Rest now, let me handle this."

"You're not handling it," Crowley insisted, seeming to gain back some of his strength.

"He's right, you're not—because there's nothing to handle. This isn't a debate. And your involvement with the Winchesters and Castiel is enough for me to be sure that letting you out of here would spell the end of Heaven, promises or not. The three of them wreak destruction wherever they go, and they have no concerns for Heaven. Castiel went native a long time ago, so to speak. They fail to see how dire our situation is here. If they did, they would have handed Lucifer's son over to us as soon as he was brought into the world."

"Right, you seem like the nurturing, motherly type," Crowley grumbled, and he made to push himself up again. Aziraphale didn't move to stop him this time, knowing that if Crowley was determined, there was little point. "If we're strong enough to keep Heaven running, don't you think we're strong enough to bust out of here?"

"I invite you to try," Naomi said pleasantly, punctuating the statement with a cold smile. "Have a nice eternity, gentlemen."

She click-clacked down the hallway without another word, leaving the two of them alone.

Crowley collapsed back to the ground, clutching his head. "Fuck. Fuck."

Aziraphale bent low, trying to pry Crowley's hands away. "Shh, shh, it's alright, let me have a look at you."

"Not like you can do anything about it," Crowley shot back weakly, but he did remove his hands, letting Aziraphale examine the gore-spattered wound along the length of Crowley's parietal bone. A bad spot for the injury, undoubtedly. Most likely why Crowley was having difficulty so much as standing or speaking, while Aziraphale just had to deal with blurred vision and church bells ringing inside his head, now that he'd regained his bearings.

Aziraphale pursed his lips in worry.

"Don't like that look," Crowley said into the cold floor, and Aziraphale was incredibly disconcerted every time he met the demon's eyes, bright and uneven.

"I need to heal you."

"You can't. Already tried. This...place...holdssss ussss back."

Crowley's hissing gave Aziraphale an idea. "My dear...could you take your snake form? Even with the warding?"

"Wouldn't heal me."

"It may. I'm not sure how a severe concussion transfers to reptiles, but surely it must be less painful than it is for you in your human form," Aziraphale reasoned. "Can you do it?"

Crowley sighed, eyes slipping shut. "Could try."

Scales began to skate over Crowley, starting at his ear and working their way over his face. It took much longer than usual for him to shift forms, but after about a minute, Aziraphale had a large black and red snake in his lap. A quick check, and with a gush of relief, he noticed that Crowley's pupils were once again even.

Aziraphale ran a hand over Crowley's spine. "Better?"

"Sssstill hurtssss. But not assss bad," came the demon's hissing reply. Crowley lazily wrapped around Aziraphale, half-curling around his waist, then slithering up his back to let his head rest on Aziraphale's shoulder. His tongue darted out, grazing his cheek. "We need an esssscape plan."

"That we do." He was still highly disturbed by their current circumstances, but with Crowley coiled around him, he did feel ever so slightly better. "I, ah. I don't suppose you have any ideas in mind?"

"Wassss hoping you did."

"I see."

"You don't, do you?"

"Not at the moment, I'm afraid. You?"

Crowley made a sound that Aziraphale assumed would translate to some kind of thinking noise, were he human. "Maybe one."

The snake departed Aziraphale, and headed for the bars of the cell. Aziraphale blinked; surely it couldn't be that easy to get away? Crowley made to slip between the bars, spaced about two inches apart, but his snout collided with an invisible barrier, a loud bonk echoing throughout the room.

Crowley drew back and tried again.

Bonk.

"Unfortunately, it seems the bars are more for show than anything else," Aziraphale observed.

Bonk.

Bonk.

Bonk.

"Crowley," Aziraphale chastised.

"Ssssorry." Crowley returned to his lap, looking as dejected as a snake could look.

Aziraphale gingerly rested his hand on Crowley's head, hoping he wasn't jostling whatever injury carried over from his human form. "We're in a bit of a predicament," Aziraphale said quietly, trying to shove down the fear rising inside him. An eternity of imprisonment...it was but for the Grace of God he was with Crowley, making the prospect of an infinity in a cell much less crushing, but had they not been trapped together, at least the one who was could count on a rescue attempt.

There was no one coming to save them.

"If only we had someway to get in contact with the Winchesters," Aziraphale lamented. "But, there's no surface in here reflective enough for us to ring their mirror."

Crowley's tongue made an appearance again. "Could make a puddle."

"How would we do that? We've no water."

Crowley just looked at him.

"Good Lord, Crowley, I don't even think I'm capable," Aziraphale said, aghast once he understood what the demon meant.

"Well, I know I am."

"There has to be a better way." Aziraphale's eyes swept around the room, taking in every detail categorically. Surely there was something...

"Angel."

Aziraphale glanced down at Crowley. He'd swiveled his head to grab at something—when he turned back, his abandoned Valentino's were dangling from his mouth.

Aziraphale lit up, grinning. "Oh, my darling boy. Absolutely capital idea." He took the sunglasses from Crowley, holding them in front of his face, reflective lenses turned towards him. Aziraphale recalled the words Rowena had taught he and Castiel. "Partum un ponte, speculo. Partum un ponte, speculo. Partum un ponte, speculo."

Crowley curled around him so he was able to see the front of the Valentino's. They waited with bated breath.

"Pray this works," Aziraphale said tremulously.

"Fat lot of good that'll do."

The mirror surface shimmered, shifted, and he was gazing at featureless tan. The inside of Castiel's pocket, he hoped. There was some jostling, some muttered voices. Then, Castiel's face came into view, seated in the back of the Winchesters' vehicle.

"Hello Aziraphale," Castiel greeted. "Did you make it safely to the other side?"

Castiel was shoved over incrementally, and the Winchesters' Crowley dipped his head in. "So, this is mother's work, is it? I could've done better."

Dean's voice echoed from somewhere out of view. "Ignore him. He just showed up to yell at us about his mom."

"Too bloody right!" snapped the demon.

"Gentlemen, please," Aziraphale interrupted. "Something's...happened."

Castiel's expression immediately turned to one of concern. "What is it?"

Aziraphale turned the mirror so Castiel could see where they were. "We could use a spot of help."

"What's going on?" Sam asked, his voice distant but worried.

"They're in Heaven's Prison."

"Shit," said Dean.

Castiel didn't hesitate. "Crowley. Take us to the Gate."

"Do I look like an Uber driver to you?"

Castiel seized the demon by the collar, one-handed, still holding the mirror. "NOW, CROWLEY."

"Use your big boy words."

"Fuck off!" came Dean's voice.

"Not those big boy words."

"We're coming," Castiel told them firmly. "Just hold on."

The connection flickered out.

Aziraphale lowered the sunglasses, setting them back down on the floor. He returned his hands to Crowley, one on his spine, one at the base of his head.

"We ssssaved them," Crowley said quietly. "Hope to Ssssomebody that they can ssssave ussss."

"They will. I'm sure of it," Aziraphale replied.

But his voice betrayed that he wasn't so sure at all.

Chapter Text

"Do I at least get a tip?"

"Cut the cute, this is serious."

The King of Hell rolled his eyes in Dean's general direction. "Always is, isn't it?" He'd been back for less than a day, and here he was, mired in Heavenly melodrama already. He didn't have the energy for any of this at the moment; and honestly, what a bore. How many times had they been here before?

The four of them walked together to the playground, leaving the Impala behind. Crowley had just teleported the entire car with them, knowing full-well that Squirrel would have had a conniption over the mere notion of having to leave his mobile phallus on the side of a rural highway somewhere.

Before they could even reach the Gate, they were met by Naomi, and another angel Crowley recognized only from the dossiers he'd had his people create for the remainder of the angels left in Heaven; Duma, the Angel of the Silence of Death.

Cheery.

"Come no further," Naomi commanded.

Crowley tilted his head at the sight of her. "So sorry darling, but aren't you supposed to be dead?"

Naomi didn't so much as blink. "Aren't you?"

"Mm. Touche."

Duma dropped an angel blade from her sleeve. "Haven't you destroyed Heaven enough, Castiel? You really want to take back the only thing that could save us? I know what happens up there doesn't matter to you, but the fact that the Earth will be overrunning with the spirits of the dead if Heaven falls should."

"We don't want Heaven to fall," Cas insisted, stepping forward. Crowley didn't necessarily agree wholeheartedly with that statement—he rather thought watching the last of the cloudhoppers sputter and die, along with their Paradise, would be delightful—but he could admit that billions of ghosts haunting the mortal plane was a less than ideal scenario. "But Aziraphale and Crowley mean well. They don't deserve to be imprisoned for the rest of their lives."

"Mean well? The angel tried to masquerade as God, and then sneak that...Serpent...into Heaven," Naomi countered. "Excuse me if I don't believe their intentions were pure."

"They just want to go home," Sam said, voice hard.

"And I want to save mine," Naomi shot back. "Would you hold that against me?"

"Doing it this way, yes," Cas replied adamantly. "There has to be another solution. Crowley and Aziraphale may have some ideas—if you'll let me see them. Speak to them."

"When has it ever gone well, you coming to Heaven?" Naomi asked.

"Yeah, well, we're asking ourselves that too," Dean said, drawing Michael's pilfered Archangel blade from where it was sheathed at his side. "But, what we're not asking is permission. You're gonna let Cas through. We're trying to do this the diplomatic way, or whatever. But we're real good at being undiplomatic."

Naomi drew her blade as well. She and Duma both tensed, clearly ready for a scrap.

Crowley moved so that he stood at an even distance between the two angels and the merry band of morons. "Now now, let's take a moment and think about this, shall we?" Crowley turned on his heel to glance at Naomi. "Exactly...how many times, has someone been able to successfully kill a Winchester? Or Castiel? And how many times have they failed to kill someone who got in their way?"

"You're living proof," Naomi pointed out coolly.

"The only living proof, and not so living until very recently, I might add," Crowley replied, bouncing his eyebrows. "Exception that proves the rule. Everything that gets in the way of these lumbering oafs dies, and usually quite promptly...so, tell me, does it really make sense not to give them what they want, when they'll just take it anyway?"

Naomi and Duma both glared at him, but he could sense their indecisiveness.

"It'll end bloody," he continued, "always does. And how many more angels can Heaven afford to lose?"

Naomi looked incensed, but she did lower her blade. "If we allow Castiel to come to Heaven, the three of you will remain here with Duma. If Castiel tries anything, I will warn her over angel radio—and yes, it will be bloody, but if you move against us, I'm willing to take my chances."


With little else to do, Aziraphale had settled down in a corner of the cell with Good Omens, Crowley curled in his lap. He'd had the book in the inner pocket of his coat, rather compact as it was, so it was currently the only form of entertainment they had. Unlike Crowley, Aziraphale had started from the beginning, like someone actually intending to read the entire thing, and even with the words swimming together before him thanks to his jostled brain, he was thoroughly enjoying the story so far. It was not entirely accurate, but very close in most respects.

He was surprised when Crowley, without warning, returned to his human form. Unprepared, he toppled over backwards with the demon on top of him, letting out a little yelp.

"Sorry—getting to be too comfortable," Crowley apologized, eyes at half-mast, pupils uneven once more, face miserable. "'Fraid if I fall asleep might go unconscious. Need to stay awake."

Aziraphale's brow creased in concern. He set a hand on the side of Crowley's face, brushing a thumb over his cheek bone. "I do hate to see you in pain."

Crowley leaned his forehead against Aziraphale's. "I've had worse, angel."

Cautiously, Aziraphale placed a chaste kiss on his lips. "We need to get out of this wretched place so you can heal."

"Agreed." Crowley pulled back from him, allowing Aziraphale to sit up again. The demon got shakily to his feet, and began to pace in slow, messy figure eights around their cell. Soon enough, he did stop to retrieve his sunglasses, placing them back on his face. Aziraphale tried not to stare at all the blood matted in his hair.

Aziraphale returned to Good Omens, but kept a careful eye on Crowley all the same, noting that the demon was rubbing the shoulder that Michael had ripped open with his blade. Aziraphale suspected that Crowley had deadened the nerves via miracle to dispense with the annoyance, but now, stripped of their powers for the time being, the pain had returned.

As he continued to read, he was more and more surprised to find that it was a comedy, of all things. Aziraphale hadn't taken the past eleven years to be particularly amusing, considering how dire the whole Armageddon business was, and how he and Crowley had so valiantly tried to derail Judgment Day only to fail very, very miserably—and then succeed in the eleventh hour. Surely all that qualified as a drama?

It wasn't a love story either; rather sexless and fraternal, the literary versions of them appeared, but to be fair, in their world, they had at least outwardly maintained that, even if both of them felt very different inwardly. And furthermore, a quick check of the publishing date confirmed that a story like that wouldn't have been in the cards at all, not at the time.(1)

Aziraphale looked up from the book, then at Crowley, a thought occurring to him.

"Would it have…" the angel, started, but then stopped to rephrase, "does it...cheapen it, somewhat? That I waited until after the End of the World, to tell you how I felt about you?"

Crowley stilled his pacing, turning his attention to Aziraphale. "Don't we have more important things to focus on at the moment?"

"Oh, surely. There is ever so much for us to do while we wait in this cell for Castiel to come negotiate for our freedom," Aziraphale replied dryly.

Crowley rolled his eyes. "Cheek." Aziraphale could tell he was processing his question, however. Albeit a bit slower than usual. "Had bigger things to worry about then, too. No point in saying anything if we were both going to die."

"I rather think that would have been exactly the point in saying something."

"Well, I didn't say anything either. So." Crowley blew out his cheeks. "Yeah."

Eloquent as always. "I don't want you to think I'm a coward. Though I suppose I am one, for waiting as long as I did. I don't—I don't want you to think that I'm just now telling you because now it's...easy. Without Up or Down keeping an eye on us any longer."

Crowley looked at him with no small measure of unease, swaying on his unsteady feet. "Is this you now, then? The one who talks about things? Not very English of you."

"It's the cornerstone of a healthy relationship!" Aziraphale protested. He had read enough to understand what was ideal, so far as romance went. And their previous 6000 years of very militantly not talking about things, well...there was some damage to be undone.

Crowley groaned miserably. "I'll go mad if I have to stay in here with you when you're like this."

"Like what?"

"Thinking!" the demon said loudly, but then winced, putting a hand to his head, regretting the volume. "Can we just enjoy this?"

"Being locked in a cell?"

"Being—being a thing," Crowley threw up his other hand to emphasize the point. "Can we at least get through the honeymoon period before we dredge up the six millennia of, you know, whatever."

"But—"

"Look, angel, I don't care why you waited. Doesn't matter, 'cause we're not waiting anymore, are we?" the demon, with stilted and careful movements, dropped down next to him. The smile he wore was strained, but still suitably wicked. Crowley leaned forward and pressed his lips to Aziraphale's, and the angel felt a surge of gratitude that he didn't need his heart to continue his existence, because Crowley's attentions seemed to send it sputtering out of rhythm.

"Still," Aziraphale said, pulling back just enough to speak. "I don't love you for the convenience, dear boy. I need you to know that."

Crowley grimaced. "Hope I'm not convenient. Not very demonic, is it, convenience?"

"You don't have to concern yourself with being demonic anymore."

"Aziraphale. I have an image to maintain."

"You're impossible."

"I make an effort to be. I'm the Demon fucking Crowley." He sat back on his heels, still very close to Aziraphale. "Impossible, inconvenient annoyance to those Above, Below, and humanity at large. Something I can hang my hat on at the end of the day." A thought seemed to hit him at that moment, and he went rigid.

"What is it?" Aziraphale asked immediately. "Are you alright?"

A grin spread slowly on Crowley's face. "Oh. Oh."

"What?" Aziraphale demanded impatiently.

Crowley's laugh was, dare he say, maniacal? "I'm a genius. You're in love with a genius, angel."

"Could you perhaps stop basking in your own glory and just tell me what you've thought up?"

Still giddy, Crowley cupped Aziraphale's face in his hands. "We need to swap in somebody who'll be as much of a power source as the two of us. Something that can keep this version of Heaven up and running. And who do we know in our universe that we'd just love to get rid of?"

Aziraphale's eyes widened. "You can't possibly mean—"

"I do possibly mean, and then some."

"Gabriel—"

"D'y'know how good it's going to feel to see his smug arse sitting in here?" Crowley swiftly kissed Aziraphale again before jumping back up. "Just gotta get Castiel to convince Naomi to let us out so we can go get him."

"You can't just get an Archangel."

"So we trick him! Not like it'll be hard, angels are dense sorts. No offense."

"Offense taken," Aziraphale bristled.

"Look, look, listen, angel—just pretend you've had a change of heart and you want back into Heaven's good graces. Say you're offering me up or something, tie me up—" Crowley bounced his eyebrows, "that could be fun. And then we just, wam-bam, grab him, take him back here, give him to Naomi. He's out of our hair, and we fix Heaven, home in time for afternoon tea." The demon did jazz hands. "It's a good idea. You can't tell me it's not."

"I think that the rub comes with everything that could go horribly sideways between Point A and Point B—"

"Like we've ever bothered worrying about that before." Crowley wouldn't stop grinning. "What could possibly go wrong?"


"There is nothing you can say to get me to let them out of this cell."

Castiel sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was in Heaven's Prison, having a dead-end conversation with Naomi, with Crowley and Aziraphale watching on, hands wrapped around the bars of their cell and looking for the world like they were so far unimpressed with Castiel's ability to negotiate. Cas noted that both angel and demon looked like they'd been bashed over the head with something, and Crowley was swaying on his feet, Aziraphale occasionally placing a hand on the small of his back to steady him. Naomi had not been gentle when she'd captured them.

"Naomi, you can't just trap them here—"

"Without them, Heaven will collapse. I'm thinking of the greater good, Castiel. The greater good of both Heaven and humanity," Naomi responded tersely.

"What if we gave you someone even stronger than us?" Crowley offered, face pressed between the bars. "An Archangel. Better than a demon and a Principality, eh? Plus, you'd like him. Loves a nice pantsuit, our Gabriel."

"If your Gabriel is anything like the one in this universe, he simply wouldn't be worth the trouble," Naomi replied coolly, barely casting a glance in Crowley's direction.

"He isn't," Crowley said, clearly remembering Gabriel from the Supernatural books. "Not even a bit. Easiest guy in the world to get along with. Definitely won't try to break out of his cell and slaughter all of you. Will understand the...importance, of keeping Heaven alive."

Cas had a very distinct impression that Crowley was lying.

"And why should I believe the word of a demon?" Aziraphale opened his mouth to speak, but Naomi cut across him with, "or an angel that consorts with demons?"

"If you won't listen to them, then listen to me," Castiel said, drawing Naomi's attention back to him. "If you'll let them go to their universe to get their version of Gabriel and capture him, I'll stand prisoner in their place. I'm at least strong enough to help keep the lights on."

"Hardly a fair trade." Naomi's eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly.

"Then I'll stay too," Crowley offered in a rush. "You'll have me and Castiel, that's enough, isn't it? Let Aziraphale go."

Aziraphale railed against the idea immediately. "Absolutely not!"

Crowley's attention snapped to the angel. "Shut it! I won't let you rot in here!"

"And you think that I could allow you to offer yourself up in my place—!?"

"I love you, you great idiot. Let me do this," Crowley said, lowering his voice, even though there was no dream of Naomi and Castiel not overhearing.

Cas blinked several times, surprised by the demon's offer. Aziraphale had said Crowley was good—insisted he was, even moreso than himself, but he'd had difficulty wrapping his head around it. He assumed that the Serpent was good in the same way their own Crowley was. Conditionally, and occasionally. Even his love for Aziraphale couldn't truly undue an innate infernal nature...could it?

But here he was. Offering himself up as the sacrificial lamb, with no guarantee Heaven would ever let him go. He hadn't even thought twice.

"I won't," Aziraphale said fiercely. "Out of the question."

"I wouldn't take that deal anyway," Naomi interrupted, clearly not interested in the lover's spat occurring in front of her. "Though...the Nephil might suffice."

"No. You don't get Jack," Cas said immediately. If he took Jack to Heaven, he feared the angels would never let him go, and if he wanted to leave, he would have to cut them all down to do so, which, though he was loathe to admit it, Duma was right on that account: the fall of Heaven would spell doom on Earth, undeniably.

It didn't mean he wouldn't do it for Jack. There was very little he wouldn't do for Jack. But the consequences had to be taken into consideration.

Naomi was nonplussed. "Then they stay. Forever."

Aziraphale and Crowley were both watching Castiel with pleading expressions that didn't even begin to border on subtle, their argument already forgotten.

"Jack owessss ussss," Crowley hissed vehemently.

"This isn't about what's owed and what isn't it. Heaven will never let him go if he comes here," Castiel insisted.

"We did last time," Naomi reminded Cas.

"He was dead last time—and the Shadow presented a far more pressing issue," Castiel replied. He frowned, watching Naomi. "You would really let Jack go? If we gave you their Gabriel?"

"An Arch wouldn't be as powerful as a Nephil, but it would do," Naomi said, not seeming pleased by the bargain, but at seemingly willing to make it. At least, on the surface. "And to be frank with you, if we were to hold Jack here, I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble that would come with it."

"Trouble?" Cas repeated, brow furrowed.

Naomi gave him a dry look. "You and the Winchesters do not excel at letting the people you care for go."

He was almost surprised at the observation. Then again, Heaven had seen far too many times the amount of damage a motivated Winchester could do, and he would agree on this point: he, Dean, and Sam would not rest until Jack was back with them, regardless of the cost Heaven would suffer.

"...It's up to Jack to decide," Cas decided at length. "He's his own person. I'm not his keeper."

"You are, but...fine. Return if he agrees. If not, these two are ours until we find a better solution," Naomi said primly.

"Make sure he agrees," Crowley insisted through the bars.

"Crowley," Aziraphale chided him. "This is a huge risk, it would be wrong to force Jack to take it were he not totally willing."

"I'm sorry, do you remember less than a day ago when he failed to tell us he wanted us to help him kill an unkillable pre-God entity and then we all almost DIED? Because I remember! Vividly!"

"I'll return shortly," Cas said, trying to ignore Crowley's ranting.

"We saved all your arses!" Crowley yelled after him. "Time to pay back the bloody favor!"


Sam, Dean, and Crowley occupied the playground's swing set, all three alternating between impatience, and hoping that no one would question three grown men in a children's playground at ten o'clock in the morning on a Sunday.

"What do we do if Cas doesn't come back?" Sam asked hesitantly, breaching the tense silence that had beset the three of them, only occasionally interrupted by a half-hearted joke from Crowley. Even he wasn't in his usual talkative spirits(2); Sam suspected it had a great deal to do with seeing his mother earlier that morning. He thought of broaching the subject, but didn't have the energy to deal with the guaranteed rage-monologue it would earn him from the demon.

"He'll come back," Dean said.

"What if they take him too? More power for Heaven," Sam pointed out.

"He'd fight his way out."

"We should've given him the Archangel blade."

Dean glanced down at the sword, still dangling from his belt. "Maybe you're right. But still. Cas has gotten himself out of way worse than this."

"If by gotten himself out of, you mean died, then sure," Crowley drawled, "a regular old escape artist, our Kitten."

"Look, I'm trying to be glass half-full, for fucking once," Dean snapped irritably.

"Yeah, but we're on a good luck streak," Sam worried. "That's never a good sign."

"Disgusted as I am to admit it, I agree with Moose," Crowley said.

Before they could discuss the matter further, the sandbox shot out a beam of Heavenly light, and Cas was returned to them, looking none the worse for wear. Sam and Dean were up in a moment—Crowley remained in his swing, idly swishing from side to side, legs dangling.

"Well? What went down?" Dean asked, wasting no time.

Cas looked grim, but unharmed, and Sam counted that as a win. "Naomi is reluctant to let them go," he began.

"But there's a but, right?" Dean pressed.

Cas sighed deeply. "Crowley and Aziraphale have offered to go capture their universe's Gabriel, and exchange him for their freedom. Naomi doesn't trust them enough to let them walk without collateral, however. I volunteered to stay in their place, but she insisted that if she's to let Crowley and Aziraphale ago, she wants Jack. Not me."

Dread sunk into Sam fast and heavy. "No. That's not happening. They've wanted Jack since he was born, and if we give him over to Naomi, we'll never see him again."

"She was insistent that if Crowley and Aziraphale delivered Gabriel to her, she'd be willing to release Jack."

"And you buy that?" Dean asked. "You really, honest-to-God buy that? Can we take a second to remember all the shit she's pulled?"

Cas's eyes flashed. "Well, given all the torture and brainwashing, my memories aren't what they used to be, but I vividly remember being forced to kill you thousands and thousands of times. So yes, Dean, I'm intimately aware of the 'shit she's pulled'," Cas said tersely, with liberal use of air quotes. "But it's not my choice, or yours, or Sam's. None of ours. It's Jack's choice."

"He's two!" Sam spoke up immediately. "You can't put something like this on him!"

"Jack emerged into the world exactly what he needed to be to survive it. It's in his nature. He's an adult. Adult enough to make decisions for himself."(3)

"You know he'll offer himself up, he's too much like us not to," Sam argued. "Cas, this isn't fair to put on him. This is too big of a risk."

"And what, pray tell," Crowley cut in, abandoning the swings, "is our other option? Other than kill all the angels in Heaven, which would take approximately ten minutes?"

Sam, Dean, and Cas fell silent.

"Ah, but there's the rub, isn't it? Cas has himself another little massacre in Heaven, things go very south very quickly, we end up turning the entire Earth into a haunted house. Or, alternatively, we leave our dear Anthony and his beloved to rot in Heaven's Prison for all eternity. Which," Crowley made a face, "is definitely a possibility. Still...does call into question what kind of utter bastards that makes us, after all they've done for our mutual benefit in the past few days."

Sam ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. It would be so easy to just leave Crowley and Aziraphale behind, right the natural order in Heaven, and try to forget about them—try to say that it was an ends justifies the means situation. But he knew that no matter how he tried to rationalize it, it wouldn't sit right with him, or Dean and Cas. They owed Crowley and Aziraphale more than that. They owed them Dean's life, and Cas's too.

They couldn't just leave them behind. And they couldn't wipe out Heaven, not without opening a can of worms that there was no hope of them handling.

"I hate this," Sam said quietly, looking to his brother. "But...do we have any other choice?"

"There's always another choice," Dean shot back harshly. "Whenever someone tells us 'pick A or B' we always pick or, why change that now?"

"Because there is no or, not this time," Cas replied, all the energy seeming to have drained from him. "I stand by what I said. This is Jack's choice."

Dean scratched at the back of his neck, shaking his head. "I don't like this, Cas. Not one damn bit."

"Neither do I. But unless you have another idea in mind...we need to speak to Jack."

Sam wished, desperately, that he had a better plan than this.

But he didn't. And judging by Dean's silence, he didn't, either.

"Are we in agreement, then?" Cas asked tiredly.

Dean looked at Sam, then back at Cas. "He's just a kid."

"We were kids once too," Sam reminded Dean softly. "But that...it didn't spare us from anything."

"Yeah, well, maybe I want to give Jack what we didn't have!" Dean burst out, frustrated. "Maybe I want to do better than Dad did. Maybe I think he deserves a—I don't know, a childhood. 'Cause God knows we never got one. I had to grow up at four. And you, you never...you never even stood a chance, Sammy."

"That's the thing, Dean. Dad decided for us that we were going to be hunters. We never got a choice—but we've always given Jack a choice. And he chose to hunt. He chose to fight alongside us. So he deserves a choice now."

Sam hated this—more than he could explain. But he knew that the three of them, they weren't Dad. They would never force Jack to do anything he didn't want to do. But if he decided for himself that he was willing to take this risk for Crowley and Aziraphale, that was his right.

And like Cas said. There was no or this time. Not one that he could see.

"Fine, fine." Dean scowled. "But I'm against this. Put it on the record—I'm fucking against this."

"Duly noted," Crowley said, only seeming half-interested. "So, shall we pile back in the testament to toxic masculinity on wheels?"

"We only have two hours before the portal back to Crowley and Aziraphale's world closes, so we'll need to go faster than that—can you take us to Jack?" Cas asked, directing his attention to Crowley.

Crowley just looked at Castiel, chin lifted expectantly.

Cas sighed with his entire body, and added, with massive impatience, "Please?"

"Depends. Will my mother be there?" Sam grimaced, and that gave away the game immediately. "Oh! She is! Lovely. In that case, you all can kindly go to Hell. Not interested. I'll not be playing your chauffeur today."

"Come on, Crowley," Sam said, trying to find a middle ground between exasperated and pleading. "Just tell her you don't want to talk to her. You have to face her eventually."

"I went three hundred plus years without a word of contact, you think I can't go three hundred more?"

"You can go that long without her," Dean agreed, "but...you can't go that long without us, and she seems hellbent on staying until you show up again."

"Go back to my old life where you three weren't an excessive pain in my neck? Oh, what an unimaginable tragedy."

"Oh, admit it, Crowley, you know you love us. You wouldn't have done what you did in Apocalypse World if you didn't."

"Has it occurred to you that I just hated Lucifer that much?" Crowley retorted, but Dean had clearly flustered him with his use of the L word. "Love. Please. I'd sooner burn you all alive."

Dean stepped into Crowley's personal space. "No...you wouldn't. Look, you little dickhead, you're back, and you're part of the family now whether you like it or not. So, take us to the bunker, avoid Mommy Dearest if you want, but...either way, you're stuck with us, now."

Crowley glared up at Dean unflinchingly. "I detest you."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean looked at the demon expectantly. "Can we go now?"

Crowley rolled his eyes and growled. "For the love of...fine. But I'm not speaking to her."

"Whatever, dude. Your mommy issues, that's your...thing." Dean made a vague gesture in Crowley's general direction. "Let's go."

Crowley looked skyward, as if to ask, God, why me?

The next moment, he had Dean's wrist in hand. Sam grabbed Dean's shoulder, and Cas grabbed Sam's.

A heartbeat later, they were gone.

Chapter Text

"Any threes?"

"Go fish."

Rowena was bored out of her skull. She'd been in the bunker enough times by now that she'd already stolen anything she particularly wanted from the Winchesters—none of which they'd happened to notice yet, mind—and snooping through their belongings only held so much entertainment. Dean's reasonable stock of porn had been worth a good laugh, but Sam and Cas's rooms were unfortunately lacking in dirty personals.

So. Here she sat, playing cards with possibly the strongest supernatural being still present on the planet. Lucifer's own. The universe did have a terrible sense of humor, didn't it?

"Any Queens?" Rowena posited.

"Go fish."

She drew from the deck. Sipped at her wine. Wished for death. She'd made plenty of grand promises about staying until she saw her son again, but she'd lasted approximately three hours, and she was already tempted to head home. If she popped in unannounced on the Winchesters enough, surely she would catch her son eventually.

Right?

Fergus need only give her a chance. She hadn't changed, not really. She didn't really think people were capable of it, in any sincere way. But how she thought of him had changed, and she could change how she acted. She could be better in that much, at least, like she'd been better in a great deal of things in recent years. She'd helped save the world. No one could call her exclusively evil, not anymore.

Still definitely a little bit evil, though. She'd be scandalized if anyone implied differently.

Maybe it wasn't so much that people changed; just became more of who they really were.

Maybe she could become more of a mother. If she really tried. And she wanted to.

"Rowena?"

She looked up at Jack, who was watching her closely. "Yes?"

"Are you alright?"

She sighed, looking down at her cards. Too many cards. "I don't have the time or patience to answer that question."

Jack opened his mouth to speak again, but it was at that moment that the Winchesters, Castiel, and Crowley appeared at the foot of the stairs.

They were both out of their chairs in a moment. Seemed she wouldn't have to wait in this subterranean hole for long after all. "Boys." She cautiously let her eyes slide to her son. "Fergus."

Crowley held up a hand. "Not now, Mother."

She scowled. If not now, then when?

"Something's wrong, isn't it?" Jack asked, after a quick check of his troupe of adopted fathers. "You guys look like something's wrong."

"Something's always wrong, but things are more wrong than usual," Dean provided, releasing Crowley's shoulder. "Things didn't go great for Az and AJ in Heaven."

"Naomi's trapped them in Heaven's Prison. She intends to use them as a power source," Cas explained quickly. "We're trying to find a way to get them out."

Jack didn't hesitate, brave wee soul as he was. "What can I do to help?"

Sam frowned with his entire body. "That's...that's kind of the thing, Jack. We..."

"They need you to go offer yourself up as a prisoner in Anthony and Aziraphale's place, because Cas's power level doesn't trip Heaven's trigger quite like yours does. Then those two will scurry back to their world, tie and truss their Gabriel, and turn him over to Heaven, whereupon supposedly, you'll be let go," Crowley cut in, evidently wanting to dispel any question of what was to be asked of Jack. "They've already wrung their hands about it sufficiently and decided that the choice is ultimately up to you." Crowley arched an eyebrow at Jack. "Ball's in your court, darling."

"I'll do it," Jack said immediately, ever the hero. "I owe them that much."

"Jack, you need to understand that Heaven might not be willing to let you go. We can't guarantee that they'll stick to the deal," Sam reminded him, clearly wanting him to go in fully informed.

"Might not? More like will not," insisted Rowena. "They'd be daft to let Jack go."

"Ah, but it's mutually assured destruction, isn't it? They keep Jack, they die. But if they die, Heaven spills out onto Earth. It's a lose-lose. These three idiots' immense capability to make any and all terrible decisions in the name of love is the best nuclear deterrent in the world," Crowley reasoned.

"Are you willing to bet the boy's life on that?" Rowena questioned. She wouldn't admit it, but she had developed a bit of a fondness for Jack and his guileless innocence, something so rare and usually very easy to corrupt and manipulate. Had she been her old self, she would have done just that, of course—but she'd thrown in with the Winchesters, for better or for worse.

Probably for the worse, considering that Sam was the one supposedly destined to kill her—but that was a problem for Future Rowena.

"I certainly am, but I've known him for less than twenty-four hours, so." Crowley shrugged. "I assume these three put more stock in Lucifer Junior's continued existence, however."

If Jack had hackles, they would have been raised. "Don't call me that," he ordered Crowley, a flash of gold in his eyes. "And you say it's my choice—if it's my choice, then I choose to do this. It's the only way we might be able to solve this without anybody getting hurt."

"Well, except their Gabriel," Dean acknowledged, tone absent any remorse. "But he sounds like a dickhead, anyway."

Cas approached Jack, face creased with a deep-set worry, radiating 'concerned parent' energy. "Are you sure about this?" he asked softly, searching Jack's eyes.

"I'm positive. We can't just leave them up there. It's wrong."

"A pillar of morality and not even two," Crowley remarked. "Touching. Shall we?"

"Wait, hold on," Dean held up a hand. "I wanna call Az and AJ first."

Cas cocked his head. "Why?"

"Because I ain't in love with the idea of them trying to trap an Archangel on their own. We know they're not strong enough to kill one, and trapping one of the bastards can be tricky—can say that from personal experience. We could bring some stuff from our world over to their world, holy oil, the angel cuffs. Sammy and I could help them out."

"Dean, you can't go through Heaven," Cas reminded him.

"Unless you fancy being incinerated," Rowena chimed.

"Okay, okay, but Az said he just like—ripped a hole in the universe and stepped through, 'cause it was thinner where AJ was pulled through. So what if the spot you summoned AJ to, that shitty old barn, what if we can do the same there?" Dean blinked several times, a realization hitting him. "Man, wish we would've had that idea a few hours ago, wouldn't have had to send the poor bastards to Heaven in the first place."(1)

"It's..." Sam made a face, seeming to mull the plan over. "It could work. But if the tear took Aziraphale to our Heaven, what if a tear from this end takes us to theirs?"

"Their Heaven won't eat you from the inside out," Crowley provided. "No reason you wouldn't be able to pass through. Now, passing through without getting caught, that's another matter entirely."

"I can just as easily go through with Crowley and Aziraphale," Cas said. "There's no reason for you two to risk yourselves."

"No, you need to stay in Heaven, that way if and probably when Naomi and the God Squad turn traitor on us, you're already there, and you can cut your way out with Jack in tow. If you leave Heaven, there's nothing to say they can't do something to keep you out. Shut the tear from their side, close up the Gate on Earth. It's too big of a risk. If you're there already, they can't do shit," Dean argued.

The angel didn't seem to have an argument. "I suppose you're right, but you and Sam going to another universe...it makes me uneasy. We don't have a good track record with this."

"We got out of Apocalypse World, didn't we?"

"Our Crowley and our Gabriel didn't," Cas said flatly. "And we all just as easily could have died."

"The Good Omens universe is hardly so dire," Crowley spoke up. "Think Hitchhiker's meets," he waved around the room, "all this sod, but take out the atmosphere of desperation." Crowley stuffed his hands in his pockets, tilting up his chin. He was thinking. Rowena wanted to know of what. "If it'll soothe your humors, Kitten, I can go with the boys."

Cas seemed surprised, but nodded. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but yes, I think it would make me feel better if you accompanied them."

"I'm coming as well then," Rowena huffed. "You can't escape me forever, Fergus."

"Is that a challenge?" Crowley asked, barely casting her a glance. "Fine. Not as if you can be dissuaded anyway."

"There. We got two demons, an angel, a witch, and me and Sam. Gabriel doesn't stand a chance," Dean said, as close to optimism as he ever got.

"We still need Aziraphale and Crowley's take on this," Sam said, not looking nearly so game as his older brother. "Rowena, is there a way for us to dial them, even though they don't have a mirror?"

Rowena pursed her lips. "Well, technically, yes. It will dial to whatever reflective surface is nearest them. It's not a perfect science. At least in the sense that it's not science at all."

"It'll probably just dial Crowley's sunglasses," Sam reasoned. "Okay, Cas, hand me the mirror. If we're doing this, let's do it."


Crowley rested his head against Aziraphale's shoulder, minding his head injury. They sat side by side, legs parallel, backs to the featureless concrete wall of their cell. The room was cold in the way vacant places were; like there was so much nothing that the only thing left to fill it was stark, frigid air. A chill with a weight to it. Maybe he just felt it more poignantly because of his cold-blooded nature, but he would kill a man for a throw blanket at the moment. Aziraphale would have to do. He was preternaturally warm, and Crowley was mercilessly sucking away his heat.

Aziraphale was reading Good Omens to him, in an effort to keep him awake...to mixed success. Aziraphale still had to nudge him every few minutes.

Crowley just closed his eyes and tried to distance himself from the painful throbbing in his skull.

Neither of them discussed the elephant in the room: what if Cas didn't come back?

Crowley had begun drifting off again, tempted by the enchanting idea of painless, blissful unconsciousness. This time he was startled out of the gentle slide into darkness by the soft press of lips to his. Crowley's eyes fluttered open.

"Stay with me, if you would," Aziraphale requested, taking up his entire vision. "It won't be much longer now."

"You can't know that," Crowley argued weakly.

"Just...have a little faith, yes?" Aziraphale said with a thin smile. The joke wasn't funny, but Crowley tried to return the smile in kind. Aziraphale kissed him again, and that was easier. Even more tempting than oblivion.

"Ew, gross!"

With a sharp intake of air, Aziraphale reeled backwards in surprise, falling gracelessly on his arse.

"What the—" Crowley whipped off his sunglasses, turning them towards him. "Dean!?"

"And friends," said Other Crowley. In the surface of his sunglasses he could see a narrowed view of the bunker's foyer, with Dean, Sam, Cas, Other Crowley, Rowena, and Jack all gathered tightly together to try to fit into frame at once.

"Did we interrupt an intimate moment?" Rowena asked, painted lips curving in a knowing smile.

"We should at least have the option as to whether we answer the call or not," Aziraphale huffed, brushing non-existent dust off his coat and righting himself. "We were—ah—"

"Snogging. Obviously," Crowley cut in. Aziraphale blushed. "What's up? That daring rescue's coming, I hope?"

"Yeah, it is. You're welcome," Dean told them.

"Thank you, Jack, we mean that most sincerely. We know what a risk this is for you, and we—"

"We can do the tearfully-thanking-him-on-our-knees bit when he gets up here!" Crowley snapped. "Now, what is it and why is it important enough to not get here bloody faster?"

Dean rolled his eyes and said, "We were wondering if you two might want some help."


And so a plan was formed. Rather brilliantly, if Aziraphale didn't say so himself.

Jack, standing substitute in Heaven's Prison, with Castiel watching on from the other side of the bars, keeping an eye on Naomi and her angels to make sure they held up their end of the bargain.

Crowley, now fully healed(2), back through the tear in reality and into their world, to halt Anathema from closing it up, so they would still have easy access between their two universes.(3)

Aziraphale, on Earth, now with the Winchesters, their Crowley, and Rowena, back in the barn that his Crowley had originally been summoned to when this whole mess began. Aziraphale had already opened up a new rift, ready and waiting to be passed through.

Crowley had initially not been fond of the idea of the Winchesters and Co. assisting them in capturing Gabriel, but Aziraphale had quickly overridden the demon's protests and readily agreed on both of their behalf. Crowley didn't think much of Gabriel, and thought the right amount of clever trickery would land him in their clutches without much issue. Aziraphale was not so sure. If Gabriel caught wise to them, the result would not be pretty—and he was already likely to distrust them, given that they'd derailed 6,000 years of divine plans just six weeks earlier.

The two of them in a fight against Gabriel was not something he particularly liked to envision. He imagined it would go very much like he and Dean's fight with Michael had. The primary difference between the two scenarios being that at least while Michael was beating the absolute tar out of him, they'd been inside Dean's head, where he couldn't die.

If he and Crowley went toe-to-toe with Gabriel, they definitely, certainly, could die. And yes, Gabriel was a bureaucrat, but he was still an Archangel. It may have been several thousand years since he had actively used a sword, but it had been just as long for Aziraphale as well—and Aziraphale wasn't blessed with the raw power of an Archangel.

He was beginning to think Crowley had allowed himself to become too comfortable in the Winchesters' universe, a world where they were significantly stronger than most other beings, and furthermore, were unaffected by many of the things that could thwart other supernatural entities natural to this reality. Back in their own world, they were still perfectly unremarkable in comparison to plenty of others of their species, able to gain the upper-hand only through his wit and Crowley's not unimpressive imagination.

The bottom-line was: Gabriel wasn't the kind of being you wanted to upset. And capturing him to be held against his will for all eternity would be very upsetting indeed. He would feel immensely better with back-up, especially given the scope of threats the Winchesters had dealt with over the years. Aziraphale knew only the barest details, but what he had heard was enough to instill at least some kind of trust in their abilities. And having a powerful demon and equally powerful witch along was a comfort as well.

They stood in the barn, the four all looking expectantly at Aziraphale.

"Now, herein lies the problem," Aziraphale said. "This rent in space and time, assuming it functions as the first portal did, will open up to our Heaven. Humans in Heaven will look very, very suspicious, needless to say—we have them all quarantined—err, rather, tucked away safely—in their own little individual neighborhoods, microcosms of paradise from which they never stray. So, I'll need to disguise you four."

"As angels?" asked the King of Hell, arching an eyebrow. "Mate, I don't know how to tell you this—"

"Actually, dear fellow, I'm going to disguise you as demons. Recent events have brought to light a kind of working relationship between Heaven and Hell, at least when it comes to matters of great importance. I can't disguise you as angels—you would be caught out immediately. But demons carrying classified information from Hell to Heaven, that may be a far easier ruse to pull off."

"Glad I came wearing my demon disguise."

"I'll actually need to tweak a few things with all of you. All of your auras are...well pure isn't the word I would use, so you won't look overtly suspicious on an existential level, but you'll need animal aspects to pass for demons."

"What, you gotta give us tattoos like AJ?" Dean asked.

"Not quite. Crowley's aspect is rather understated, and that alone makes him stand-out. I'll be giving you more prevalent animal characteristics so you look more...unremarkable, let's say."

"You'll be able to change us back?" Rowena asked seriously.

"In you and your son's case, I rather think you'll be able to change yourselves back," Aziraphale provided pleasantly. "But yes, I can return everyone to their normal selves when all is said and done. Shall we get started?"

"One more thing," Crowley said. He turned to his mother and smirked. Then he snapped his fingers.

Chains rocketed from the dirt, as if brought up from the very earth itself, and clamped around her wrists. Their length diminished by half with a woosh, dragging her down so she was on her knees in the center of the barn floor.

"I'm afraid you won't be coming on this vacation with us, mother. So sorry."

"Fergus!" she raged, tugging against her bindings. "Let me go this instant! I brought you into this world, and—"

"You can take me out? Figured you say as much. Thought things were going to be different this time?"

She was speechless for a moment, floundering. She looked down at her chains, enchanted, of course, then back up at Crowley. "Oh, what, you expect me to take this lying down?"

"No, I expect you to break out in," he made a show of checking his watch, "less than an hour. But by then we'll be long gone, Aziraphale will be back to Heaven(4) to use the other door, and you'll be sorely unprepared to dive into a foreign reality unaccompanied. You'll have to just stay here and guard this side of the portal, like a good team player." A tight, withering smile. "I'll be deprived of your nattering attempts to rekindle our non-existent mother-son relationship. Such a shame."

"Fergus—!" Rowena said again, a great deal louder.

"Could we perhaps address this another time? The longer we wait, the longer poor Jack is trapped in Heaven," Aziraphale reminded the room at large, very eager to skip over whatever was going on between Rowena and her son.

Rowena made to speak again, but Crowley snapped his fingers once more, and duct tape covered her mouth. "Problem solved."

Sam shot Rowena an apologetic look, but seemed to agree with Aziraphale, "You're right, let's get a move on."

"Lovely. Alright, let me just..." Aziraphale stepped up to Sam. He lifted a hand, fingers hovering over Sam's face. "Something that fits..."

"I don't call him Moose for nothing," Crowley said, flicking his gaze to Sam.

"Ah. Quite right."

"Aziraphale, maybe don't—" Sam began to plead, but too late. Aziraphale tapped the side of his head, and Sam winced as antlers sprouted from behind his ears. Not the size of a normal moose's, of course, getting through doorways would be a mite difficult—but large enough to give off the effect.

Crowley let out a snort of laughter, and Dean seemed to be holding back from doing the same.

"Great. Yeah. Thanks." Sam grimaced. "These are heavy."

"Be grateful you don't have an actual animal on your head. Some demons choose to inhabit their beast forms and then just have them ride around on a human body for convenience."

"Right...incredibly grateful."

Aziraphale moved onto Dean, who held up a warning finger. "No antlers."

"Of course not."

"AND—" he grabbed Aziraphale's wrist before he could touch him. "Don't make me a squirrel, either."

Aziraphale had been about to do just that, so he had to rethink his plan. He narrowed his eyes at Dean's aura, trying to find something that would fit. "Alright, alright, let go, I've got it."

Dean reluctantly released him, and Aziraphale gave him a tap.

Dean sighed miserably as his hair shifted to a sleek golden color, and his eyes melted into the large brown eyes of a friendly golden retriever. "You spend a few days mind-melded to a dog one time..."(5)

Crowley was beside himself. He scratched behind Dean's ear, and Dean's tongue fell out of his mouth on impulse, before he promptly smacked Crowley upside the back of the head. "HANDS—OFF! And if you throw a tennis ball, I swear to God I will rip your throat out with my teeth."

"Easy there, boy, wouldn't want to have to get you neutered," Crowley mocked, stepping out of Dean's reach with a vindictive grin.

Aziraphale approached the demon, ready to transform him as well. Crowley watched him with an air of caution. "Nothing too squirmy. I'm no snake."

"I would never. My Crowley prides himself on being the one and only. Never mind the fact that I get a much different impression from you..." Aziraphale touched two fingers to Crowley's temple. Crowley shivered a bit. His eyes slipped shut for a moment, then reopened, golden and cat-like. Small whisker-like indents appeared on his cheeks as well.

"A literal pussy," Dean laughed.

Crowley reached behind him, making a vaguely horrified sound. "A tail? Really?"

"As if they don't already fight like cats and dogs," Sam lamented.

"I actually gave Crowley a lion aspect," Aziraphale informed him lightly. "King and all that. Seemed proper."

As if in agreement, Crowley's smile was positively feline. Aziraphale had sharpened his teeth as well, only adding to the effect. "Oh, you're growing on me, angel."

Aziraphale wasn't sure how he felt about being called 'angel' by anyone but his own Crowley, but he let it pass. "Well, there we are. You're all ready to go. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, and, as they say—I'll see you on the other side."

The three of them lined up in front of the rift.

"So," Crowley drawled. "Who wants to go first?"

Dean sighed. Held out his fist. Sam did the same. Crowley rolled his eyes, but mimicked them.

"Rock, paper, scissors, shoot."

Crowley was scissors. Both Winchesters were paper. The brothers both made similar expressions of dismay and turned to face each other.

"Rock, paper, scissors, shoot."

Dean had gone with paper again. Sam, scissors.

"Son of a bitch," Dean swore. He looked warily at the portal. "Fine...here goes nothing."


Crowley entered back into his own world quite happily, but had exactly zero chance to enjoy it before he was beset upon by what he determined to be a broomstick, a rake, two plungers taped together, and a meter stick, all of which struck him about the knees, waist, and in the case of the taped together plungers, over the back of the head.

"What the Heaven—!?"

"Stop, stop, it's Mr. Crowley!"

Crowley whipped off his sunglasses and stared down at the Them, all lined up in front of him, armed with their respective weapons. It had been Wensleydale who had called for a stop to the attack, sheathing his broomstick. Pepper held the plungers, Brian the meter stick, and Adam the rake, which had done a brilliant job of bruising Crowley's knees.

Newt and Anathema stood by the island counter in his kitchen, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

"They—we told them not to come," Newt managed. "But they got on a bus and came anyway, told their parents they were off at Wensleydale's great aunt's, and Wensleydale's parents think he's at youth camp—we—we were going to send them back, really, but—"

"We're guarding the entire world against tentacle monsters!" Brian declared proudly. "We've made sure nuffin gets in!"

"Except you obviously, but this is your flat, so," Pepper tacked on. "Also, it's depressing in here. Why don't you have any colors anywhere?"

"It's called minimalism." Crowley crouched down to look Adam in the eye. "Adam, what are you doing, going for the knees? What have I told you?"

"Always go for between the legs first and then once they're down, you poke them in the eyes," Adam quoted dutifully.

Crowley smiled and scruffed the Antichrist's hair. "There's a lad."

"You're alive!" Anathema proclaimed, clearly surprised. "Not that we assumed you were dead. Well, I guess we did kind of assume you were dead, and you being in another universe was the only alternative to you being dead. But anyways, we are very happy to see you."

"Erm. Thanks," Crowley said faintly.

"Where's Aziraphale?" Newt piped up.

"Coming. We've uh, got a bit of a situation." Crowley's eyes darted to the Them, looking up at him expectantly. "Can't you lot go outside and play for a second? Adults need to talk."

"We fought the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse and you want us to go outside and play?" Pepper demanded. "On a busy London street?"

Crowley groaned, throwing his head back. He scrambled in his wallet, pulled out forty pounds, and passed them to Pepper, who unquestioningly would be the most responsible with the money out of the four eleven year olds. "Go to the cinema. It's down the street, can see it from the window. Be back before afternoon tea or I call your parents. And yes, I have all their numbers," Crowley hissed threateningly.

"Okay, but when we come back we want to know what's going on. And Aziraphale promised he'd bring back a souvenir and I'm gonna be really cross if he doesn't," Adam warned. "Like, really really really really cross."

"Really really really really really really really—" Brian continued for him, and Crowley massaged his temples.

"Go. Cinema. And PG only!" Crowley brandished a finger at the Them. "And leave the 'weapons' here."

With a great deal of grumbling, the children departed, but as soon as they were out in the stairwell of Crowley's building, they began hotly debating what snacks to get at the cinema.

Once they were out of earshot, Crowley turned to Anathema and Newt. "First off, thanks for the uh, helping Aziraphale save me thing. Two..." He threw himself in his throne, draping his legs over the side. "We...might need to capture an Archangel."

Newt blinked owlishly. "Oh. That. That sounds dangerous."

"It is. Incredibly. But we're bringing some friends to help. If you two want to go home, I don't blame you. But if you want to stick around, what's the line? Many hands make light work, or something?"

Anathema sighed.

Then she went to the kitchen and started sharpening her steak knife.


Dean stepped out into the new universe, Sam behind him, and Crowley at the rear.

"Not exactly what I expected," Sam said, noting a flickering, jaundiced light bulb overhead, illuminating a long stretch of barren concrete hall, almost sewer-like. The smell of mildew and piss pervaded everything around them, and Sam stood in a puddle of something. He tried not to think about it.

A poster was pasted unevenly to the wall next to them: "CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF. YOUR MOTHER DOESN'T WORK HERE. YOU DON'T HAVE A MOTHER."

"Uh, fellas...I don't think this is Heaven..." Dean ventured.

Screams echoed from beyond their line of sight, gurgling and wet.

"No, I'd say not..." Crowley agreed, cat eyes peering around. "...Welcome to Hell, boys."

Chapter Text

Gabriel hated it down here.

Dirty didn't cover it. There wasn't a word in English that did, actually—there was a Tagalog word that was a close approximation, "layogenic"—which essentially meant that all the wonders of the Earth were great in theory, and from far away, but up close? Well, you don't squint at a Monet, right?

Being boots on the ground, so to speak, and having to actually breathe in the smog and smells of civilization? Not a fan.

"Do you think there's any way we could get demoted further?" Gabriel posed.

"Think they just send you to Hell at that point," Beelzebub answered, only half-interested in what he was saying.

They stood together in St. James Park, staring down at the ducks with contempt. He and Beelzebub had both been the defunct scapegoats for the derailed attempt at The End, as they were Crowley and Aziraphale's immediate superiors and therefore, by corporate tradition, were to be overwhelmingly punished in the stead of the people who had actually screwed up.

How was he supposed to know just how native Aziraphale had gone? Much less fallen in love with a demon—granted that was largely speculation, but it was hard to assume anything else. Crowley had clearly corrupted Aziraphale at some point in the past. Who knew how long he had been lost to Heaven? Maybe it was from the very start. They had been down here together for a long, long time. And, come on, was Gabriel expected to keep track of every little thing Aziraphale did? He had his own job to do! He couldn't spend all of his time breathing down one angel's neck! There were millions of them.

It was monumentally unfair. And he had told the Metatron as such, but then there'd been some thunder rumbling and Heavens trembling and the Metatron had gently reminded him that he spoke for the Almighty.

Gabriel had promptly shut up. For all he detested being on Earth, being dead—or worse, Falling—that was even more unpalatable.

"All I'm saying is, if I screwed up bad enough, maybe they'd just put me at a desk somewhere. Menial work. I'd still be in Heaven," Gabriel continued. He idly watched a few nearby humans toss chunks of bread to the ducks. Didn't ducks have trouble digesting bread? Maybe the humans were trying to kill them as some kind of sport. He didn't bother to keep up on their leisure activities anymore. He'd lost interest once they'd stopped cheering at public executions.

"Aziraphale was rubbish at his job," Beelzebub pointed out. "Never sat him at a desk."

"Well we didn't KNOW he was under-performing," Gabriel argued.

"You didn't check."

"Neither did you!" he accused, aiming an equally accusing finger in Beelzebub's direction. "You never checked on Crowley! Obviously!"

"Well, that's why we're both here, izzzzn't it?" they snapped, the fly on their head buzzing in irritation. "Managed to miss that our main operatives on Earth were consorting. Brilliant minds, we are."

Gabriel sighed, ire leaving him. He tugged his scarf tighter around his neck. Not that he could feel cold—he'd left all of the annoyingly realistic mechanisms out of his corporeal form—but it just seemed like the thing to do, with how blustery the wind was getting. "Wanna go for a walk?" he asked tiredly.

Beelzebub scowled. "No."

The two of them walked together anyway.

They didn't like each other. The word hate had been bandied about, but Gabriel didn't usually think about other beings enough to assign that kind of feeling to them. And now that he had how much he hated Aziraphale as a point of reference, he couldn't say he hated Beelzebub. He certainly didn't like them, and they didn't like him, but there was something to be said for being able to stand one another.

He preferred Beelzebub's company to humans, and vice versa. Made the whole 'Earth's lead operative' business at least something close to tolerable.

Side-by-side, they strolled through an open air market. With fall settling into London(1), pumpkins and squash abounded, fruit falling more and more out of season. He'd wanted to argue being stationed in London specifically, but with Crowley and Aziraphale clearly still lurking in the area, it made sense to stay here and keep an eye on them. Never mind that the most easily accessed portal to Heaven (and Hell) lie within the city limits.

He was mostly on surveillance duty. Occasionally getting sent off for a minor miracle or a blessing, a task far more boring now that he'd been forbidden from appearing in his celestial form. Half the fun of helping humans had been scaring them senseless in the process. Meanwhile, Beelzebub had been merely given the order to cause as much trouble as demonically possible. Hell had plans in the works to try to push the world into its own apocalypse. Things were so off the rails now that hands had been forced; the demon lord had nipped off to America more than a few times in the past six weeks, with the explanation, "If Armageddon's going to happen, that's where it'll start."

Gabriel agreed with them, not that he'd ever say it aloud.

Beelzebub stopped in their tracks when they neared the edge of the market, near a fruit stand, mostly covered in overripe bananas and oranges.

One of the bananas was ringing.(2)

Gabriel and Beelzebub exchanged a glance.

"Your people?" Gabriel said, lifting an eyebrow.

Beelzebub's sour expression was answer enough. They picked up the banana, and Gabriel worked a small miracle to avert the eyes of the human running the stand.

"What?" Beelzebub answered shortly.

The banana was evidently on speaker. "Lord Beelzebub," came a panicked voice on the other end—Gabriel didn't know to whom it belonged, he'd never bothered to learn the names of any of the demons in Hell's upper hierarchy besides Beelzebub's. "We—we have a problem!"

"Calm down, Hastur. Just tell me what'zzzz happened."

"There's—demons, we've never seen them before—and, and they're killing everybody!"


Things had gotten ugly quickly.

Sam had been optimistic at first. "Well, it'll be even easier for us to pass through Hell as demons, right? We don't have to pretend to be carrying information, we can just...be. Keep a low profile, get out, go meet up with the others. Aziraphale said that both Heaven and Hell have portals to London."

All great in theory. Less so in execution. They were blown not long into their attempts to blend in with the crowd. 

"Oi, you lot," crowed a demon with a crocodile aspect. "What d'you think you're doing?"

The three of them froze. Sam and Dean, as one, looked to Crowley to take the lead. He was the actual demon after all; if anyone could talk them out of this, it was him.

"Going out for a smoke," Crowley said, face betraying no sign of concern.(3)

"How come I've never seen you 'round here before? You new?"

"Oh, no," Crowley gave a little shake of his head. "Earth-side, usually. Nipped in for new orders."

"From who?"

"Dagon," Dean interjected quickly, no doubt latching onto the first demon name he could think of. They had angels and demons in common from both of their worlds, hopefully Dagon was one of them.

Evidently, that had been the right answer, because the crocodile demon seemed to lose interest in them almost immediately. "Oh. That's alright then." He shot them a perfunctory glare. "Don't be takin' too long out there. Work to be done. Souls to be damned."

"Of course, of course," Sam agreed, nodding along.

As soon as the crocodile demon was out of sight, the three of them merged once more with the stinking mass of Hell's denizens, all breathing a combined sigh of relief.

"That was way too close for comfort," Dean said under his breath. "Seriously, Crowley? Smoke break? I know you can lie better than that."

A ripple went through the demons crowded around them. Heads turned in their direction.

Dean had said the wrong thing.

Murmurs of "Crowley? Did he say Crowley?" sprung up all around them, and the shuffling herd ground to a halt.

"Uh oh," said Sam.

Things had devolved quickly from there, but they found out rapidly that angel blades and Ruby's knife were just as effective at killing demons in this universe as they were in their own. They cut down demon after demon with relative ease, because clearly none of them had been prepared for a battle on their home turf, much less against much better-armed opponents. No one in Hell seemed to be armed, actually, which made the corresponding slaughter all the less panic-inducing.

But they couldn't kill every demon in Hell. Even they weren't that good.

Their streak of (good?) luck didn't last, however. The three of them, soaked in blood, ended up clapped in irons after an echoing snap from somewhere in the distance.

"Two of them are humans, you idiotzzzz!" buzzed an enraged voice out of Sam's line of sight. "You can work miracles! Bloody use them! Can never find good help nowadayzzzz...bring them to the council chambers!"

Soon they found themselves in what looked to be something equivalent to a immensely dirty, disused meat market, with tiers of stone seats leading up to just below the ceiling. Behind them, dusty windows, with crowds of demons behind them, looking on. They were stripped of their weapons, including Michael's Archangel blade, easily the most valuable thing in their possession. Not good. Not good at all.

They were forced to their knees, side-by-side, facing the buzzing individual from before, a fly demon who looked like they had already lost their patience with the three of them.

"Who are you?" they demanded. "You're not demons."

"Actually," Crowley corrected, "I am. Not these two, of course, far too bumbling—but I'm a demon. Through and through."

Not exactly true, but Sam wasn't about to correct him.

"Hastur tells me Fido here called you Crowley."

Dean bristled at the nickname, but said nothing. Mercifully.

Crowley quickly replied, "Pronunciation is everything, love. Name's Crowley. Where I come from, I'm the King of Hell."

Shocked whispers throughout the room.

"SILENCE!" crowed the fly demon, and the gathered demons quieted accordingly. "Never heard of another Crowley, and I've never seen you before. And we only have one King, and that's Lucifer."

"We're not from here. Different universe. I came to...parlay," Crowley began, and Sam could see the wheels spinning in his head. "These two humans are my slaves. Merely wanted them to look the part so as not to arouse suspicion, but because they're idiots by nature, that went out the window rather spectacularly."

"Laying it on a little thick," Sam said out of the corner of his mouth, but a sharp kick from Crowley silenced him. Slaves? Really?

"You expect me to believe you're from another world?" challenged the fly demon.

"Lord Beelzebub," said a frog demon from behind her. "We did find a...thing."

Beelzebub took a deep breath, closing their eyes, as if counting to ten. "What thing, Hastur?"

"A portal. We were gonna draw straws to figure out who has to go through and see if they disintegrate or not," Hastur explained. Sam recognized him from the fray earlier—mainly because the demon was currently missing his right hand, thanks to Sam. And he'd done a lot of shrieking.

"Send one of DD's clones through," Beelzebub ordered. "That's what he's for."(4)

"Yes, my Lord."

Hastur scurried off, but not before grabbing a demon with a—rabbit aspect? maybe?—and dragging him by the back of the collar out of the room.

"Parlay," Beelzebub repeated, peering more closely at Crowley. "For what purpose?"

"Heard through the inter-dimensional grapevine that your lot were having some trouble. Impotent apocalypse and all that. Thought you might want a hand, and my Hell—well, we'd be ever so happy to join forces. Take both of our worlds for our side. Because it is our side, isn't it? Tiny differences, yeah—but Hell's still Hell, no matter the set-dressing." Crowley eyed the room with visible distaste, no doubt thinking of his simple and efficient never-ending line.

"And you expect me to take you on your word alone?"

"Oh, of course not. Sweet mother of Hell, we're demons." Crowley snapped his fingers, and his lion aspect vanished. Sam wished desperately he had done the same for he and Dean.

It also occurred to Sam in that moment that yes, they were chained—but the iron shackles weren't enchanted. Crowley's powers weren't bound.

He was just playing along. Sam wished he knew what Crowley's endgame was, but he had to just hope that Crowley had a well-thought out plan. He'd had a long history of being ten steps ahead of everybody else, so while Sam wouldn't say he trusted Crowley, he at least trusted Crowley not to do anything to get them killed.

A quick but subtle dart of his eyes to Dean's hands confirmed his suspicion that his brother was already dislocating his thumb to attempt to get out of the irons. Sam started to do the same. Maybe Crowley could talk them out of this, but he wasn't about to put all of his eggs in one basket.

Crowley let his eyes flash Crossroads red. "But I think you can tell I've got some power on my side, hmm? And what reason would I have to lie about this?"

Beelzebub narrowed their eyes at Crowley. "Every reason in the world."

"Fair enough. What could I say to convince you of my good faith?"

Beelzebub didn't seem to have an answer for that. They paused to consider the question, but demons quickly began jeering behind and above them. Mostly eager shouts of, "Kill them!"

One of the louder demons proposed, "Feed them to the hounds!"

And thus began a chant of, "Hounds! Hounds! Hounds!"

Beelzebub sank low in their throne, rolling their eyes. "Take them to the dungeons! I need time to think!"

Disappointed boos from the crowd, and one melancholic cry of, "No hounds?"

Then, they were dragged off to a damp, dark, miserable cell—very on-brand, given everything they'd seen in this Hell so far. As soon as the door slammed shut on them, snuffing out almost any visible light in the room, Dean slipped off his bindings and threw them to the side with a clatter. Sam followed suit. With a snap of his fingers, Crowley was freed as well.

Dean massaged his wrists, grimacing. "This is going real fuckin' great. You really thought that line was gonna work? Two Hells working together?"

"They didn't kill us, now did they?" Crowley shot back. "We did have a discussion about gratitude, didn't we? And how you might try it on for size?"

"Can we just focus on how we're getting out of here?" Sam interrupted before the two could devolve into an argument.

"We could just fight our way out. Was going well enough last time," Dean pointed out.

Sam looked over Dean's injuries; he was bleeding badly from several places, and the ring finger of his left hand looked near close to falling off. His face was a mess of bruises, his nose possibly broken. Sam could tell from the flare ups of dull agony all throughout his body that he wasn't much better off. Crowley had already self-healed and looked fine, but he'd been a mess when they'd been escorted to their audience with Beelzebub. Granted, Crowley could heal the two of them—but their odds of killing their way out were pretty slim.

There were thousands and thousands of demons down here. They needed a better plan.

"We need something more elegant," Crowley said, frowning. He moved forward, pressing one finger to each of their foreheads and healing them instantaneously. "Perhaps we give it a mo—our dear fly in chief may consider my offer."

"Where exactly were you going with that anyway?" Sam asked. "What were you trying to accomplish?"

"I was hoping they'd want to see the might of my own demonic army," Crowley said dryly. "Which, doesn't exist—but it would get us back through the portal and on home turf, and we could teleport away and leave my mother to deal with whatever else came through." Crowley tilted his head, a thought clearly hitting him. "Huh. I suppose she'll be having a few demons in her lap in the near future. What a shame."

"She's your mom. You're not worried about her?" Sam asked, brow furrowed. "I know there's no love lost between you two, but seriously, Crowley. You have to care about her at least a little."

"You want to know what I've figured out in recent years, Moose?"

"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me."

"I've figured out that there's no caring a little about anything. You either care, or you don't. And caring...that opens up a whole nasty can of worms, doesn't it?" Sam couldn't make out Crowley's full expression in the dim light of the cell, but he knew it wasn't a happy one. "I could care about her. I choose not to. It's not worth it."

"Why not?" Dean asked, no trace of scorn in his words.

"Because if I do, she can hurt me," Crowley told them with surprising honesty. "I'm all good on that, thanks. Now, back to the matter at hand—"

The cell door slammed open with such a loud bang that all three of them jumped. Hastur stood in the doorway. Next to him was an enormous dog, a nightmare fuel version of a bull terrier, with huge, slavering jaws and wickedly black eyes.

"No. No no no no." Dean was already backing against the far wall of the cell. "Jesus, they're so much worse when you can see them."

Sam had to agree with him on that one. He pressed himself to the wall next to his brother. Weaponless as they were, they had no way to kill a hellhound.

"Lord Beelzebub has decided they don't believe anything you say and it would be less irritating if we just killed you. Have a nice time with the dog. We haven't fed her in a millennia." Hastur laughed, high-pitched and manic, and then slammed the door yet again. "Bye!"

The hellhound growled.

Dean's eyes pinched shut, panic overwhelming him. "Shit, shit, shit, shit."

"Crowley, can you get us our weapons back?" Sam asked desperately.

The demon was standing with his back to the two of them, facing the hellhound.

"Crowley!" Sam repeated, louder.

"We won't need weapons, boys," Crowley told them, sounding the picture of nonchalance. Crowley snapped his fingers, and a large steak appeared in his hand. Sam didn't want to contemplate precisely what the meat was. Crowley tossed it to the hellhound, who snapped it out of the air with glee. "There we are. Not been feeding you properly, have they? Poor thing. This place is begging for the ASPCA."

"Crowley do you seriously fucking think you can sweet talk a hellhound—" Dean let out in a rush, but Crowley merely held up a hand.

"I'm a demon of particular talents," he said simply, then extended his raised hand to the hellhound, who had demolished the steak in seconds. "You know something like you when you see it, don't you? I won't harm you. You need a master, darling, and these buffoons down here certainly don't make the cut, do they? You'd be better off with me, I think."

Another steak was miracled into existence, and Crowley handed it to her that time instead of throwing it. She ate gratefully, but to Sam's surprise, Crowley didn't lose any fingers.

She looked up at Crowley, and gave a questioning woof.

Crowley extended his hand again, palm up.

"C'mere, sweet girl."

The hellhound licked his palm.

"You've got to be kidding me," Dean said, relaxing ever so slightly next to Sam.

"You're the Hellhound Whisperer," Sam laughed breathlessly.

"Always been good with dogs." Crowley scratched idly between the hellhound's ears, and she closed her eyes happily. "A bit of affection can go a long way."

"Okay, so, what...she's not gonna eat us?"

Crowley smiled faintly. "You wouldn't do that, would you girl?"

She barked happily.

Crowley turned to Sam and Dean. "What do you think the chances are that the other hellhounds down here are also horribly mistreated?"


Aziraphale stepped through the portal in Heaven, and out into Crowley's flat. He breathed a deep sigh of relief the second his feet touched the floor in his own universe. Home again. It could only be better if it was the bookshop—but he'd been making subtle changes to Crowley's flat over the six weeks since Armageddidn't, sneaking in a few bookshelves, a warm throw blanket here and there, a better kettle—and it had become as much of a home to him as his personal lair.

Though arguably, home was wherever Crowley was.

And Crowley was here. And hurrying up to him. Crowley paused, considering him for a moment. Aziraphale let out a huff of surprise when the demon hugged him. Tentatively, he hugged him back.

"You alright? Everything go as planned?" Crowley asked into his shoulder.

"The Winchesters and their Crowley should be meeting us here soon. I gave them directions, and I think at least Sam listened enough to remember them," Aziraphale replied, withdrawing from Crowley and giving him a warm smile, touched by his concern and touched further by his openness in expressing it. All of this was frightfully new, and it brought to life a nervous energy in his stomach that made him feel as though he was about to burst.

Crowley returned the smile, but the anxiety was obvious in his face. He wasn't so confident as he'd been before, faintly brain damaged in their cell. "You think they'll be able to slip through our Heaven without getting caught?"

"The ruse of being demons carrying important information should get them far enough. Just tell the angels something about us if they ask, and that'll do, I expect."

"And if it doesn't?"

"They have the mirror. Let's try to be positive, yes?"

"Oh, right, sorry, power of positive thinking is enough to capture an Archangel without him turning us into burn marks on the floor," Crowley said, pulling a face.

"This was your idea, dear," Aziraphale reminded him.

"It sounded a lot better when I was brain damaged."

Aziraphale gave him a wry look, but pressed on: "Where are Anathema and Newt?"

"Sent them to Soho, gave them the key—we need to draw that Heaven-thingy you've got there, get Gabriel to come here. Told them to take a picture of it, couldn't remember exactly what it looked like."

"Surely we could just go to the shop to call on him?"

"You want to try to haul him four miles to the bloody hole in the universe? We don't even really have a way to hold him. We need to get him through to the other side before he figures out what we're up to," Crowley reasoned.

"I suppose you're right...ah, but I may have something to properly bind him." Aziraphale reached into his pockets, extracting the decanter of holy oil and angel cuffs the Winchesters had been kind enough to loan him. "And Dean still has Michael's Archangel blade, so if things go terribly awry..."

"Not much good to us dead, is he?"

Aziraphale aimed a taut frown in his direction. "I meant to wound, not kill."

"Be more fun if we could do both, but," Crowley shrugged. "We still don't know if this stuff'll even work here." With cautious movements, he took the holy oil from Aziraphale's hands. He'd been able to walk through holy fire without incident, but it was meant for angels—and not the Fallen variety.

Aziraphale was similarly worried. The angel cuffs, according to Crowley, had done little other than stifle his powers, and he'd been able to snake out of them with ease. The holy fire hadn't affected him at all. But what about on an angel, rather than a demon?

"I'm afraid there's only one way to find out." Aziraphale miracled a lighter into his hand. "We start a fire, and see if it burns me."

"Are you mad?" Crowley demanded, reeling away from him and clutching the holy oil tighter to his chest. "We've no clue what it could do to you!"

"I could just dip my finger in it, dear boy, it's not as if I want you to set me on fire—"

"What if one drop is all it takessss!" Crowley hissed. "After the—The Incident—I never want to have you in the same room as anything flaming ever again."

Aziraphale softened in spite of himself. He still thought Crowley was being rather over-dramatic, as he was wont to do, but Aziraphale also understood that the demon had gone through something when he thought Heaven, or Hell, or both had erased him from existence, and the bookshop with him. If the state he found Crowley in thereafter was any indication, the demon was...impacted, to say the very least of it.

Sobbing, drunk in an East London bar, hapless, hopeless. Ready to give up.

Ready to die.

"I'm fine, Crowley. They never burned me. Up or Down."

"They could have. They tried to!" Crowley burst out. "I was there, angel, and I saw that smug git look on Gabriel's smug git face and—" Crowley looked away, jaw working. "Starting to have second thoughts about all this."

"We have the Winchesters and Crowley to help. And more importantly, we have each other." Aziraphale gingerly removed the decanter of holy oil from Crowley's hands, setting it down on the kitchen counter. "We stopped the apocalypse, Crowley. Surely we can do this." He put his hands on Crowley's biceps, urging the demon to look at him, rather than staring moodily off into the distance.

"Usually you're the one who freaks out at times like this, why are you so calm?" Crowley muttered, somewhere between curious and reproachful.

"To be honest with you..." Aziraphale allowed himself a cold little smile. "I rather think I'd like to see Gabriel taken down a few million notches, after everything. He tried to burn me...so I'll cage him. Forever."

That brought Crowley's attention back to him, sunglasses sliding down his nose enough to reveal a flash of gold. He smirked.

"What?" Aziraphale asked, brow furrowing.

"Kind of hot when you get all vengeful."

Aziraphale blushed spectacularly, and was in the process of sputtering out a response when suddenly his own reflection in Crowley's sunglasses was replaced with the blurred face of Dean Winchester.

"Oh thank God, they're not making out this time—" he said, panting, made somewhat comical by his canine aspect, "—hi, what's up, uh—real quick—how do you get to the London exit in your version of Hell?"

"Hell?" Aziraphale repeated, floored.

Crowley whipped off his sunglasses and turned them in such a way that he and Aziraphale could both see Dean. "How the Heaven are you in Hell?"

"Portal emptied us out there—look we really don't have time for exposition just—" Barking filled the air, shouts, screams, terrified whimpering. Aziraphale could make out the fast moving figures of Sam and the Winchesters' Crowley dipping intermittently out of frame. "How the FUCK do we get out of here?"

"It's not exactly easy to explain, we purposefully make it confusing, it's Hell," Crowley said. "But look, there's a life-size statue of Dick Cheney caddy-corner to the down escalator—"

"Don't we want the up escalator?" Sam called. More barking.

"Hell's only got the down escalator. Gotta climb it if you want back up—what did you three do?"

"Tell you when we get there. PETA would be proud, let's put it that way."(5) Dean lowered the mirror, and just before the connection cut, he called, "See you topside!"

Crowley's sunglasses returned to their usual mirror surface. The demon lowered them and looked seriously at Aziraphale. "Going fabulously so far, isn't it?"

Chapter Text

Crowley's estimation was, in fact, incorrect. It did not take Rowena an hour to break out of her chains, but rather thirty-seven minutes. Granted, that was thirty-seven minutes of intensive magic, but nonetheless. She lived to defy expectations. Her ability to defy expectations was perhaps the most influencing factor as to why she had managed to survive as long as she had in a world that seemed determined to kill, disarm, or destroy her at every turn.

But she'd been very good at beating the world, ever since the start.

Just as she was preparing to plunge into the portal and go after her ungrateful whelp of a son, someone stepped through the gash in time and space. The universal newcomer looked young, and bizarre—black eye liner leaked artfully down his face, his outfit was a nonsensical hodge-podge, and his hair, inexplicably, stuck up in two ear-like structures.

He radiated infernal energy. A demon, then. And one from Aziraphale and Crowley's universe. Which likely meant that portal Aziraphale had opened did not, in fact, lead to Heaven, but rather Hell. Perfectly on-brand, so far as the Winchesters were concerned.

"Erm. Hi."

Rowena blinked. "Hello...?"

The demon glanced around, not seeming to know what to make of the dilapidated barn around them. "Sorry. Expected to disintegrate. Where am I, exactly?"

She could play this to her advantage, she knew she could. It was just a matter of figuring out how. "A different universe."

"Oh. Well, we figured that much." The demon eyed her. "I should probably kill you, shouldn't I?"

"And why would you want to do that?" Rowena asked gently, taking a softer approach.

"Dunno. I'm a demon, aren't I?"

Rowena smiled kindly at him. "What's your name, dear?"

"Me?" The demon pointed at himself. "Legion, technically. But everyone calls me DD."

"What do you prefer?"

He almost seemed to blush. "I prefer Erik, actually."

Oh. Oh yes. A demon who had named himself. A demon who liked human culture enough to discover dollar store eye makeup. She could work with this. "Well, Erik, what do you want to do? Do you want to kill me?"

Erik scratched the back of his neck. "Well—being honest with you—not really. Don't really see the point. But everyone always says I should do more killing. Toughen myself up."

"And if everyone else told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?" Rowena challenged.

Erik seemed to mull on the question. "I s'pose it depends on whether their bodies would break my fall...?"

Rowena briefly patted his shoulder. "Here's what I'd like to do. I'd like to go through that portal, and find my son, because he's lost on the other side and he needs his mother. And I'd like to do it without being eviscerated by hordes of demons."

"And you want me to help you?"

"Frankly, I want you not to get in my way, because if you do, I'll have to do something nasty to you, and you seem like such a nice boy."

"But what am I supposed to tell them when I go back? Not that they're really expecting me to come back," Erik said, frowning. "I can replicate myself, see, so they do things like this to me a lot."

Rowena tilted her head. "Erik, dear," she broached carefully, and she could tell he enjoyed being called by his chosen name, "what does 'DD' stand for?"

The frown deepened. "Disposable Demon."

She oozed with false sympathy. "That's not very kind, is it?"

The demon bristled. "We're demons. We're not kind. That'd be bad. Or good, rather, which is bad."

She took a few steps towards the portal, near close enough to dip inside. Erik made no move to stop her. "You said they're not expecting you to come back?"

Erik nodded. "Yeah. Said they'd give it ten minutes, and if I didn't come back, they'd just rope off the hallway and be done with it."

Apparently Hell in Aziraphale and Anthony's universe was as on top of things as Hell sans-Crowley in their own world. "Interesting."

His brow furrowed. "What d'you mean, interesting?"

"It's almost like you could just...not go back. And they would never know." She shrugged, the picture of innocence. "You could do anything you wanted, then."

Understanding seemed to dawn on Erik. "I could...jump off as many bridges as I want."

That hadn't at all been what she was going for, but she enjoyed his spirit. "Exactly."

Erik watched her, eyes narrowed, jaw working. Contemplating possibilities, weighing risk. But if he had to even think about it at all, she already had him. Demons, humans, angels, they weren't so different. They all wanted things, things that they didn't say aloud, things hidden down deadly deep. All you had to do was make that private wish a possibility, a reality, and you had them.

Slowly, slowly, the demon backed away from the portal.

He eyed her suspiciously. "And you won't tell them anything?"

"Oh, darling. They won't even know I'm there."

That seemed to comfort the demon. "Well...alright then."

Rowena watched as he hesitantly left the barn, stepping out into the bright, brilliant early spring sunshine. When the barn doors creaked shut behind him, Rowena strolled into Hell, heels clicking all the way.


They did eventually find their way out, even though AJ's directions weren't as helpful as initially hoped—there was more than one life-size statue of Dick Cheney in Hell. To absolutely no one's surprise. Still, the three of them burst out into a London office building soon enough, trailing their pack of friendly hellhounds and unfriendly demons close behind them.

"You remember Crowley's address?" Dean asked, breathless. He hadn't been listening as closely as he should have been when Aziraphale had explained how to get there from the Heaven/Hell escalators.

"Yeah, yeah—he said it's not far from here, eight blocks. Apartment building, sixth floor. Crown Place," Sam provided promptly.

"There's that Stanford memory. Okay, so, just gotta outrun demons for eight blocks. We've done more with less," Dean said, flinging himself out of the revolving door of the office building and onto the damp London pavement. "Home sweet home, right Crowley?"

"I'm Scottish, you idiot," Crowley shot back, glancing over his shoulder. "Faster, would you?"

The three tore down the street, jeering demons staying practically in step with them, only impeded by the growling pack of hellhounds occasionally ripping off a lower limb.

Crowley sped up, taking the lead, demonic nature allowing for a speed Sam and Dean couldn't physically reach. He surprised them both by winding sideways into the street, stalling out the midday London traffic with a series of slammed brakes and blaring horns.

"Get outta the fuckin' road, you cunt!" roared the driver in a nearby taxi.

"Isn't everyone going to question the giant crowd of demons and hellhounds running through the city?" Sam called after Crowley, sliding over the hood of a car that came dangerously close to hitting him.

"They're not seeing this," replied Crowley. "Can't tell you what they're actually seeing, but humans are brilliant at lying to themselves."(1)

A mail van bravely zoomed past, dodging the demons crossing the street. Dean's head snapped to it, overcome by sudden tunnel vision.

Chase it. Gotta chase it.

Crowley slapped him on the nose, growling, "Bad dog!" at him.

Dean shook his head, and managed to break the enchantment of the mail van. Damn dog aspect!

And then they were off again.

"Where are you going?" Dean gasped to Crowley as they sprinted, dodging passerby on the sidewalk, earning nothing more than irritated looks from those they passed.

A gunshot fired off in the background; all three of them instinctively ducked. "Oh, neat! Demons with guns! Love that." They got points for resourcefulness; Dean really didn't like the fact that demons could just miracle shit into existence in this universe. If demons could do that back home, they would have been dead years ago. Permanently dead, anyways. Maybe there'd been more things working in their favor over the years after all; mainly how dumb every fucking demon barring Crowley was.(2)

Another shot. Two more shots. Three more.

"Someone miracle up an RPG!" yelled one demon.

"Please tell me you have a plan," Dean begged Crowley. "'Cause Sam and I can take a lot of hits, but rocket launchers are where I draw the line."

"Of course I have a plan. Who do you think you're talking to?" Crowley once again took a sudden turn, heading down an alley. Gunshots continued to ring out behind them(3) in a cacophony.

"Your plan is a dead-end?" Sam demanded.

"Have a little faith, Moose."

The hounds followed dutifully behind them, and Dean started to see the logic in what Crowley was going for—they'd back themselves into a corner, sure, but they'd also form a choke-point for the hounds to properly eat their way through the crowd of demons, killing the lion's share of them. Or discorporating them, rather, and the bastards couldn't do much to them if they were floating around somewhere, disembodied and useless.

Crowley halted when he hit a brick wall, and turned. "Watch the show, boys."

And they did. The demons, like lemmings, poured into the narrow, dirty alley between a cafe and a notary, and were quickly bombarded by the waiting hellhounds.

Dean and Sam dragged several dumpsters to form some kind of cover against the demons who were still armed unloading on them, and after a few hectic, bombastic moments of gunfire, barking, and screaming, Crowley joined them, passing them both semi-auto pistols. "Demons discorporate as easy as humans die. Do what you lads do best, hmm?"

Dean and Sam happily accepted the weapons, and then did exactly as they were bid. Crowley sat back and watched, seemingly satisfied that he'd done his part.

Some of the demons wisened up enough to run screaming from the altercation, but many stayed, trying to fend off the opposing canines to little effect.

It was looking like they were finally going to win and be able to get on with their lives when a sharp voice rang out in the cramped space of the alley—"STOP!"

The hounds fell back on their haunches. The demons still alive collapsed to the ground, bleeding, either gasping for breath or gasping in pain, not that it really mattered either way. Back-lit by daylight and stomping like they were furious they had to even show up to this bullshit at all, the fly-demon from earlier, Beelzebub, trudged into Dean's line of sight. The demons and hounds alike parted for Beelzebub, the hounds bowing their heads in something like reverence.

Beelzebub stopped about fifteen feet from the dumpster barricade. Dean wasted no time, firing off half a magazine at them. The bullets almost made it to their destination, before stilling in the air and falling to the ground, much like when he'd tried to shoot AJ days ago.

"Thought you could take my hounds from me? They answer to power. And I've got a lot of that," Beelzebub said, unimpressed.

Crowley sprang up from behind the dumpster. "Oh, love, I don't think you know who you're dealing with."

"And I don't care to...oi!" they yelled, and the hounds stood at attention, jaws slathering. "What do you think you're doing? Kill them! You know who's really in charge here!"

Hackles raised everywhere, expect notably the bull terrier hound that had originally been tasked to eat them, who looked at Crowley quizzically, rather than like he was her next meal.

Crowley vanished for a moment, reappearing just a stone's throw form Beelzebub. "Don't move a muscle!" Crowley ordered, voice just as booming, just as commanding as Beelzebub's, eyes blazing Crossroads red.

The air buzzed with demonic energy around them. Dean could feel it—not in any 'sixth sense' kind of way, but in a 'you might want to get out of here right the fuck NOW' flight-or-fight kind of way. Self-preservation had never been much he and Sam's strong-suit, but still, his eyes did wander to the nearby fire escape, a possible exit if they were able to climb to the top before getting killed.

"You're not a Crewman Jones type demon, I'll give you that," Crowley said, "but I'm Crowley. You don't stand a chance."

The hounds seemed baffled, heads swinging back and forth, not knowing who to obey, what to do.

Beelzebub gritted their teeth. "Unless you want your fur as carpet in my office, you'll kill them! Do it, now!"

Dean wasn't much for praying, but it seemed like a good time. Sam lifted his head, accidentally banging one of his antlers on the dumpster. He swore, but then said, "There's gotta be something we can do."

"Like what? Can't shoot them."

The ground began to shake underneath them. Beelzebub's eyes flashed too—also red, but not like Crowley's, rather a multi-lensed fly-esque nightmare. "ATTACK!"

"STAY!" Crowley bellowed back.

But it seemed the hounds were more afraid of Beelzebub than Crowley. They started to stalk forward, snarling, all but the bull terrier hound, who whimpered.

"Crowley, we gotta get the fuck out of here!" Dean yelled.

"I can control them!" Crowley insisted. "I'm the bloody King!"

"Of course you are, Fergus, but you're not the King here," came a sing-song reminder from the fire escape. Next came the sound of heels on metal, and a fluent chant in Chinese.

Beelzebub, and all the remaining demons, froze in place, a vague purple light suffusing them.

Rowena jumped nimbly down from the fire escape, landing with impossible grace and looking very pleased with herself.

Crowley was incensed, clearly, but his next firm, "Stay!" worked on the hounds, and they all calmed, no longer ready to rip their throats out. The bull terrier hound trotted up to him, pushing her nose into his hand, and Crowley obliged her with scratches between the ears.

Sam and Dean both sagged in relief. "That's some really good timing," Sam commended. "Thanks for the save."

"Hardly deserve it, seeing as you all abandoned me without a thought." She stopped next to Crowley. "I could have just left you all. Would have been well within my rights to."

Crowley's lip curled. "If you're expecting tearful gratitude from me—"

"Please. I'm a realist," she interrupted him.

"I don't owe you anything. Not now. Not ever." He shouldered past her, clearly not interested. Sam and Dean rose to their feet, skirting around the dumpsters. Mother and son needed to talk, sure, but he really wished they would pick a different time—they kinda had a to-do list they needed to work on.

"That's fair enough...but I do owe you something," she said, crossing her arms. "Three hundred plus years of something, actually. Consider this me starting to repay the debt."

"You haven't changed, Mother."

"You could have run," she said suddenly.

"What?" Crowley snapped, turning back to look at her.

"You could have run. From this. Would have been well within your rights to strike off into the great unknown as soon as you were resurrected. But here you are, still risking your neck for the Winchesters. Still...trying."

"What is your point?" he demanded.

"You've changed. You're not running anymore—and neither am I. Not from you."

Dean wasn't sure he'd ever seen Crowley speechless before, but the demon truly seemed like he didn't know what the hell to say to that. Sam took the opportunity to break in. "Uh, guys, this is awesome that you're having an open and honest dialogue, and—and you definitely need to have one, not denying that, but—Crowley and Aziraphale are waiting on us, and—"

"Please shut up," Crowley begged him. "Fine. If you're coming, let's go—how long will this spell of yours last?"

"Lovely little Chinese paralytic. Should give us ten minutes." She gestured to the alley's mouth. "Lead the way, Fergus."

Crowley whirled on a heel to face Rowena. "You want to start paying back the debt?" He leaned close to her, anger clear in his expression. "It's Crowley."

Rowena seemed a bit taken aback, but she did nod slowly. "Fine then. Lead the way...Crowley."


Beelzebub was not frozen for the exact ten minutes that Rowena predicted, but rather seven minutes and twenty two seconds, upon which they were unfrozen by the Archangel Gabriel.

Beelzebub sagged when they were free to move their limbs again. Gabriel pointedly kept the other demons immobile.

"Looks like you're having a productive day," he observed coolly. "Hellhounds and demons running through London? Seriously? I know your side isn't great at damage control, but come on."

"This is to do with Crowley and Aziraphale, I know it," they said immediately, shoving past him and stomping back to the street. "Three demons I've never seen before turn up in Hell—one of them named Crowley, says he's the King of Hell—and two of the demons were humans in disguise. I tried to have them killed, and they stole our hounds and broke out of Hell. And they were heading towards that idiot snake's flat." They stopped curbside, fists clenched. "Something's going on here, and I don't know what it is, and I don't like it."

Gabriel turned back to the crowd of frozen demons. With a wave of his hands, they were gone, back in Hell.

"What did you do that for?" Beelzebub demanded.

"It's not really a good look for me, is it? That many demons on the surface?" Gabriel gave them a look as if it was a stupid question to even ask. "You and I can handle this."

"You and I?" Beelzebub repeated. "There's no you and I."

"When it comes to Aziraphale and Crowley, there is. If we both marched back to home office with their heads..." Gabriel raised his eyebrows high. "Redemption, Beelz. If they're causing this much trouble on Earth, we're justified in ignoring the 'hands off' orders, right?"

"Don't call me Beelz. But, maybe you're right." They stretched out their hand, and a moment later, a blade appeared in their palm, strange and three-sided, walking the line between dagger and short sword. "One of the fake demons had this with them."

Gabriel's eyes widened at the celestial power that radiated from it, impossibly bright and powerful, reminding him of Michael's own lance, or Raphael's caduceus. God had never seen fit to give him a weapon. He was the Messenger, the protector of children, the provider of Divine Truth. Which basically meant he had a Horn gathering dust in a closet in Heaven and no useful arm to speak of.

God should've given him the flaming sword. He certainly wouldn't have handed it off to a human.

"Holy water and Hellfire didn't kill them. Maybe this will. It kills demons at the least," Beelzebub explained.

Gabriel carefully took it from them, weighing it in his hand. Experimentally, he sliced a shallow cut on the top of his knuckles. He hissed, jerking his hand away, feeling as though lightning was sparking from the wound back up his arm, to the very center of his being—his actual being, not the well-tailored human costume he wore on Earth.

"Mm. Don't like that." He handed the blade back to Beelzebub, and he let himself smile. "It's perfect."


"There," Anathema said, dusting the chalk off of her skirts. "Done."

"An exact replica," Aziraphale complimented. "Well done, Miss Device."

"I haven't really worked with Enochian before, but the learning curve isn't particularly steep." Anathema deposited the chalk on the kitchen counter, and Aziraphale noted that she had a sharpened steak knife from Crowley's knife block tucked into the belt around her waist. Human she may have been, but he rather thought he wouldn't want to cross the young witch.

"So what do we do now?" Newt asked, pushing up his glasses with two fingers and looking like he was doing a middling job at trying to appear a great deal calmer than he actually was.

"Wait for Other Me and the Winchesters," Crowley said decisively, from where he leaned against the wall, arms and ankles crossed, radiating tension. "Back-up."

"If all goes as planned we won't need back-up," Aziraphale pointed out. "I fooled Gabriel for several thousand years, surely one last ruse is within my capabilities."

"He's wise to us now, though," Crowley argued. "Knows where we really stand."

The silent, with each other, did not escape Aziraphale's notice. "You tricked him well enough in Heaven. And I can lie better than you."

Crowley removed himself from his moody slouch in an instant. "Like Heaven you can!"

"You always believed me," Aziraphale said mildly.

"I don't count! You could tell me the sky was purple and I'd believe you!"

The angel tilted his head in confusion. "My dear boy, why?"

"It's what you do when you love someone," said Anathema. "You want to believe them, always."

Aziraphale and Crowley blushed as one, and Aziraphale felt remarkably guilty, all the more committed to what he had promised Crowley yesterday—"I'll never lie to you again."

Footsteps pounded up the flat's stairs. Newt went to the door, opening it just in time for Sam, Dean, Rowena, and the Winchesters' Crowley to stumble in, accompanied by—

"Oh God!" Newt spiraled back, falling on his arse, glasses askew on his face. "What—what is—?"

Crowley sniffed, unfazed by the infernal bull terrier panting at the side of the King of Hell. "Adopted a hellhound, did you?"

The hellhound woofed.

"Always been an animal lover," explained the King.

Anathema helped Newt back to his feet, her eyes wide and skating over their inter-dimensional allies with awe. "Your auras...what are you? Demons? Humans?"

"Yes, mostly, depends on who you ask, and no," Dean explained, pointing at himself, then Sam, then Rowena, then his Crowley.

"Right, yes, introductions—this is Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, Rowena MacLeod, and Crowley, the King of Hell. Note the pronunciation." Aziraphale then gestured to Newt and Anathema. "And this is Anathema Device and her young man, Newton Pulsifer."

The Winchesters' Crowley inclined his head. "Pleasure, etcetera."

"Oh, this one's a witch, isn't she?" Rowena asked, eyes sparkling. "And a young one. Lots of potential, though, I can feel that much."

Rowena was going for motherly, Aziraphale was mostly sure, but it came off as somewhat predatory.

"Everyone got weird-ass names in this universe?" Dean asked, bouncing his eyebrows in mild surprise.

"Anathema Device...I mean, doesn't that basically mean 'fuck this doohickey'?" Sam posited.

"It's a family name." Anathema looked at Aziraphale. "I'm not sure I like your new friends."

"They grow on you. Like toxic mold," said Aziraphale's Crowley. "Back to the matter at hand, what are we—"

"Wait wait wait," Dean held up a hand, looking back out into the hallway. "Where are the rest of the dogs? Didn't they follow us up the stairs?"

Sam went to the window. "Uh...guys..."

All of them went to the wide bank of windows by Crowley's desk. Sure enough, a hoard of hellhounds were tearing through the street, headed for the cinema down the block from Crowley's flat.

"Adam. Damn it!" his Crowley swore from beside him. "They must be attracted to him, Antichrist and all that."

"But he's forsaken Lucifer as his father!" Aziraphale protested. "Surely that makes a difference?"

"It does, it makes an incredible difference, but not so much of a difference that things that don't understand 'water of the womb vs blood of the covenant' will take notice. They know their master, their real one," the demon replied.

"Adam? The eleven year old? We got a pack of hellhounds heading for a tweenager?" Dean asked, clearly concerned.

"They won't hurt him, but I don't know about everyone who gets in their way—we have to do something," said Aziraphale's Crowley.

Dean turned to his Crowley. "You're good with the dogs, can you handle this?"

"Can I handle it," the King scoffed.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Go. But be careful."

The demon stilled, seeming surprised by Dean's wording.(4) "...Right."

With his new four-legged friend dogging loyally behind, the Winchesters' Crowley left them. As soon as the door shut, Sam turned to Rowena. "Go with him."

"He'll love that, I'm sure," she said dryly, arching an eyebrow.

"Buddy system," Dean said by way of agreement.

She shrugged. "If you insist." Then she followed after her son.

"We need to summon Gabriel quickly," Aziraphale reminded the room at large. "He'll no doubt notice the chaos soon, and he'll be less likely to go with me through the portal when asked."

"Then fuck trying to trick him!" Dean protested. "Let's just dog-pile the son of a bitch. Between all of us, we can take him."

Newt cleared his throat. "Erm...all of us?"

Sam shot him a sympathetic look, then amended, "Me, Dean, and Aziraphale and Crowley." Turning his attention to Aziraphale, he continued, "And from what you've said, it doesn't sound like he's all that battle-hardened, as far as angels go."

"Yes, but he still has a great deal of raw power that undeniably eclipses mine and Crowley's!" Aziraphale argued, voice ratcheting up an octave or two. He wished they would understand that to try to take down Gabriel in an honest fight was beyond foolish—and it was a risk he was unwilling to take. The Winchesters' lives were not worth the slim chance they would succeed in capturing Gabriel.

More than that—Crowley's life wasn't worth it.

Nothing was worth losing him.

"It's safer this way," Aziraphale said, with what he hoped was finality, but finality seemed not to matter much to Dean Winchester.

"Dude, forget safe," he said, shaking his head. "Look, I get it. You and Crowley's way of doing things...sometimes, it's better than ours. Lower casualty count. Less deeply rooted psychological trauma. But...man, don't you ever just wanna go apeshit?"

"Like it's worked so well for you!" Crowley burst out.

"We're alive, aren't we?" Dean spread out his arms.

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "Dean, how many times have you died?"

Dean's arms dropped. "I...lost count about ten years ago."

"And that is precisely my point," Aziraphale said primly. "Crowley can hide you all with a miracle—stow away somewhere in the flat, and I'll handle things from there."

"But if things go pear-shaped—" Crowley began, but Aziraphale cut him off.

"Best not to think that way."

"Actually, since we're here, thinking that way is probably a good idea," said Sam.

"Did he say he's lost count of how many times he's died?" Newt whispered to Anathema, startled.

Anathema looked between Crowley and Aziraphale, clearly having no inkling of what to make of the Winchesters. "You two have a lot of explaining to do when this is over."

"If we survive, I've got a book series you'll just love," Crowley said with no small amount of sarcasm. "And we have to have a back-up plan. If he figures out you're lying, I'll come out and—"

"You'll stay away from Gabriel. You won't go anywhere near him." He would not lose Crowley, not now, not after everything they'd been through, not after finally finding it within himself to tell Crowley the truth about how he felt. This tentative thing they'd brought to life together—simultaneously brand new and old as time itself—was nothing he was willing to sacrifice. Not for anything.

Gabriel could take Crowley. Could hurt him. Could, yet worse, kill him. He wouldn't even allow himself to entertain the thought for more than a few moments, fearing he'd lose his nerve entirely and tell the Winchesters that saving their version of Heaven was firmly a them problem.

Not that Crowley would ever let him do that.

Crowley shook his head, lost. "Angel, don't be thick about this."(5)

"I'm not a child, Crowley. I can handle this. Just trust me."

"Yeah, Crowley. Just trust him."

Aziraphale's blood froze. He turned.

Gabriel stood by the door, violet eyes smug, smile all the smugger.

"Hey Aziraphale."

He snapped his fingers, and time stalled to a halt, everyone in the room frozen in expressions of shock, or in the Winchesters' case, confusion.

Aziraphale stumbled back, wishing desperately he was armed, wishing he had more than the angel cuffs and holy oil stored in the inner pockets of his overcoat. The Winchesters' gifts seemed wholly inadequate now.

"You're probably wondering how I pulled this off," Gabriel said, obviously in the mood for a monologue. "I figured—well, if Crowley could do it, a demon—an Archangel has to be able to do it, right?"

Aziraphale actually wasn't wondering that at all, rather thinking entirely about how he could break Gabriel's hold on the passage of time so his friends could once again move. Better than move, run, because suddenly face to face with an Archangel radiating vindictiveness, he didn't feel half so sure of himself as he had moments earlier.

The holy oil. Maybe he could—? But he would need an opening, need to be able to move without giving Gabriel a window to dodge.

"But then, I figured out the secret," Gabriel wagged a finger, smirking. "You have to have a pretty big Something behind a miracle as strong as grinding time to a halt. A belief...or an emotion...and thanks to you, Aziraphale, I found that." He paused in front of Aziraphale, and leaned his face in close. "I hate you, so, so much. And that gave me what I needed to be able to do this." He gestured around them proudly. "I owe it all to you."

Aziraphale shoved him away. "You tried to kill me once and failed, Gabriel. I didn't think you would be so eager to fail again," he said, trying to convey a confidence he didn't feel. He dove a hand into his inner pocket as subtly as he could, grasping the holy oil. A splash in his face would hopefully break his concentration enough that time would resume moving along.

"You know...actually, I've been thinking about that. And didn't click for me until now—that 'aha! moment'—it didn't hit me until I saw your wings." Because of course, on the higher planes, they were always there, plain to angels and demons, even if humans were none the wiser. "You're not Fallen."

"Almost as if stopping the apocalypse was God's plan all along," Aziraphale said, wrapping his hand around the holy oil, which he and Crowley had carefully poured into a flask so it would be easier to handle, easier to use as a weapon if needed.

And it was needed.

Everything was falling apart.

"Nice try. But if it wasn't the plan before, it is now, and She isn't doing anything to stop us," Gabriel countered dismissively. "Now shut up and listen. Hellfire didn't kill you. Which, okay, made sense if you were on your way to full-blown demon. But you still haven't Fallen. Wings are as white as ever. Somehow." Gabriel's eyes held a malicious, knowing glint. "It's almost like that wasn't you in Heaven. Almost like it wasn't Crowley in Hell, because—" he glanced reproachfully at the unmoving demon, "still looks like Crawly to me. Fallen. Black wings and all."

"His name is Crowley, and he's worth a thousand of you!" Aziraphale said, utterly scathing, a tiny release of thousands of years of black thoughts kept safely pent up in his head. Aziraphale ripped the flask out of his pocket, uncapped it—

He felt a pressure in his stomach, and the base of his spine. Then electricity, agonizing, tearing through him, the real him. He let out a small, broken gasp, felt blood rising up his throat.

What...?

The holy oil fell from Aziraphale's limp hands. Spilled on the ground, barely missing Gabriel's divinely polished shoes. Aziraphale looked down, and the point of Michael's Archangel blade greeted him, stabbing through his abdomen, point glistening red.

"Nice one, Beelz," Gabriel complimented.

"Told you not to call me that," said Lord Beelzebub, who Aziraphale now sensed directly behind him.

Aziraphale fell to his knees. Gabriel towered over him, brimming with satisfaction.

"Surprise," Gabriel said with a vicious smile. "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Hellfire can't kill you...but this..." He bent down, nearly nose-to-nose with Aziraphale. "This will."

Chapter Text

It can't really end like this.

Maybe he was an old fool, he decided as black crept in fast and close on his vision, narrowing his world further and further. Maybe he believed in happy endings. Ridiculous, really, when he thought about it, as he'd known the size of The Story—the original story, the first story—from the very start, and it had never, in any amount of interdepartmental memos or human-crafted books of religious prophecy, had a happy ending. Paradise on Earth, possibly, but in his mind, that was not so happy.

What was Paradise worth without Crowley?

But even knowing that, he'd entertained that ever-so-dangerous spark in the bottom of the box. He'd had hope. Looking at Crowley as they stood together at what was supposed to be the end of everything, and promptly tore up the final chapter and left more than enough room for a sequel, he'd let that spark burst to fire, a belief that maybe the light at the end of the tunnel was more than brimstone.

Maybe there didn't have to be an end to the tunnel at all.

Maybe now, maybe they had forever. The two of them, perpetually, until the laws that held the universe together dissolved and they returned back to the ether from which they were both birthed.

He shouldn't have been so quick to trust hope. But he'd always been quick to trust. Trust in Her plan, trust in Heaven, and he had suffered for that his entire existence, and he suffered for it now, bleeding out on the floor of Crowley's flat with Gabriel and Beelzebub watching him with clinical interest. He would pay for that trust with his life.

Bitterly, he wondered if it all would have turned out for the better if he had just Fallen somewhere along the lines, sauntered vaguely downwards as Crowley was so fond of saying. Though he didn't saunter. No, it would be more of a slow, carefree stroll, stopping to smell the flowers on his way to damnation. Perhaps he would have been a decent demon. He certainly had been a rubbish angel.

Beelzebub wrapped their hands around the hilt of the Archangel blade.

"What are you doing?" Gabriel asked, furrowing his brow in vague curiosity

"He's going to die soon; I want to kill Crowley while he's still conscious. Make him watch," explained the fly-demon with little inflection.

Gabriel's smirk was almost imperceptible, but there all the same. "That's...demonic."

"Obviously." Beelzebub began the process of tugging out the blade from where it was thoroughly entrenched in Aziraphale's internal organs, which he was currently deeply regretting giving himself. He couldn't, in that moment, through the blinding white hot agony, remember what on Earth had possessed he and Crowley to make themselves anatomically accurate.(1)

"It's fitting, though," Gabriel said, stepping aside so Beelzebub had a clear path to Crowley. He glanced at Crowley over his shoulder. "I mean, he's the reason for all of this. Have to give him credit though—tricking an angel into falling for him, even a monumentally stupid angel, that's pretty impressive. No one else has ever done it. But Aziraphale, you really should have known this would happen. Nothing good could come of it. But—" His eyes flicked back to Aziraphale. "You never really were any good at thinking about consequences, were you?"

"Go...go to Hell..." Aziraphale managed.

"Oh, I'm not going to Hell. I'm going back to Heaven, with your head on a stick. Crowley's too. That should get me my old position back." Gabriel grinned. "This is a huge win for me." He noticed Beelzebub's difficulty in prying the Archangel blade from Aziraphale's body, and his face dropped into something more taut, impatient. "Hurry up. He's soft. He won't last long once you yank that thing out."

Soft.

Soft.

Gabriel wasn't wrong, of course. He was soft, and would be the first to admit it—and he greatly preferred himself that way. Cozy quilts and a nice cup of tea, with a dash of honey. Cocoa on a rainy day, book in hand. An old coat kept in perfect condition. More recently, he and Crowley wrapped in warm sheets, all the better to kiss the demon wherever his lips could reach. Aziraphale lived for softness, for the gentle passing of days and the creature comforts that humanity had seen fit to invent, those beautiful, flawed, ingenious creatures.

But it was his appreciation for these things—his love for them—that defined him. His love, especially, for Crowley. Old and precious and so intrinsic to who he was. And his very last sight on this planet, the planet he had adored so, watched grow and change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, would be Crowley dying in front of him.

Crowley had saved him so many times. From the Reign of Terror to the Blitz, the American Revolution to the Mongol conquests, the trenches of World War I to the plague-ridden streets of Barcelona in the 15th century. Crowley had never been soft. Crowley was hard edges and glimmering scales, fluid, infinitely adaptable, carrying a paradoxically kind chaos with him wherever he went. So unlike Aziraphale, who was steadfast and unchanging, sometimes to his own detriment. Aziraphale, who dug in his heels at every opportunity. Aziraphale, who read all of the stories mankind had to offer—as opposed to Crowley, who had always been writing his own, with little interest in constructive criticism.

Aziraphale wrapped his hands around the sharpened end of the Archangel blade, stopping Beelzebub from pulling it out of him. He held on with all he had left, which wasn't much.

Dean Winchester's words rang in his mind, "Don't you ever just want to go apeshit?"

"Admittedly, I've—I've never been...m-much a soldier," Aziraphale said shakily, blood tracing down the curve of his chin. "But...soft...soft doesn't mean...doesn't mean..."

Aziraphale pulled, tugged with his entire self, with every ounce of celestial strength that remained in his rapidly dying body, battling with Beelzebub for the sword impaling him. Because yes, hate was an awfully powerful emotion, as Gabriel had said. Hate could unite, could control, could kill. Hate could tear apart families and rip apart cities, level countries and corrupt utterly. Hate was almost insurmountable.

"Let go!" buzzed Beelzebub angrily, redoubling their efforts to rip the blade out through his back.

He looked to Crowley, frozen in shock. Sunlight streamed in the through the window, catching the red of his hair and setting it ablaze. Through the demon's sunglasses, he could barely make out the suggestion of the gold of his eyes.

There was something more powerful than hate, though.

Aziraphale ripped the weapon out of him by the pointy end, soaked in blood, three-edged blade slicing his hands to ribbons, but none of that mattered now.

Gabriel moved fast, no doubt with the intent to disarm him.

Aziraphale, somehow, was faster. He lunged up, flipping the blade around in his hands, and stabbed it into Gabriel's hip. Non-lethal, he hadn't forgotten their mission. It would hurt like sin, badly maim the Archangel, but not kill him. Jack would still walk free by day's end.

"Soft doesn't mean weak," Aziraphale said breathlessly, staring into the violet depths of Gabriel's eyes. Eyes that spoke of that hatred he'd mentioned. Cruel eyes. Surprised eyes as well. He hadn't expected this, not of Heaven's black sheep angel.

For good measure, Aziraphale twisted.

Time unfroze just as he collapsed backwards.

The world faded to black.


Crowley was not pleased that Squirrel had sent his mother with him.

"I can handle a few hounds by myself!"

"It's a pack of hounds, for one, and two, you didn't seem to be having much luck with them last I found you," Rowena pointed out primly, keeping track with Crowley's hurried footsteps. Insufferable wench. And he'd berate Squirrel later for seeing fit to subject him to the buddy system; he was not Moose, needing supervision wherever he went, lest he die a terrible death. It should be noted, Crowley thought angrily, that the one time he HAD died, it had been his own choice.

No one had ever successfully killed him. And no one ever would.

They passed through the movie theater doors. In the lobby, Londoners milled about. It took Crowley exactly three seconds to realize whatever miracle had been hiding the hounds had dissipated, at least to some degree. No one was screaming in abject horror, but people were surrounding the employees, pestering them with questions.

"Is this some kind of event? Why wasn't it posted on the cinema's Facebook? I would've brought my children!"

"Is it an adoption benefit? I've been looking for a puppy."

"My Gladys is allergic to dogs, this is unacceptable—Good Lord man, the dander, do you have any idea—!?"

Crowley shouldered through the crowd, inserting himself into the personal space of the nearest ticket-taker. "Which theatre did the dogs go into?" Crowley demanded. He didn't exactly flash his eyes, but the benefit of being a demon, you trip that lovely survival instinct in humans when you want to. Something in the back of their little monkey brains triggers, and they just KNOW—ah yes, top of the food chain, I see, yessir, whatever you want.

Or, they run. Fifty-fifty odds.

"Th-Theatre 3," provided the acne scarred youth, eyes wide as saucers. "Two o'clock showing for The Stray."

"Brilliant." And off Crowley went, Rowena tracking in his footsteps, and Crowley's bull-terrier hound not far behind.

Once in the theatre, it took Crowley and his mother very little time to locate the boy whom the hounds were so intent on finding; the Antichrist himself. Adam Young looked mostly as he was described in the book, and even if there had coincidentally been another young lad with gold locks in the front row, his three companions, clearly the Them, would have given away his identity anyways.

That, and the hounds pestering him for pets.

"Adam!" called Crowley over the buzz of the cinema-goers clamoring at the sudden presence of dogs. What they were seeing, he had no idea, but no one was nearly frightened enough to have noticed the actual size of the hounds. Adam looked up, Dog in his arms, the picture of confusion.

"Who're you?" he challenged. "And why are all these dogs here?"

"And why are they so big!?" tacked on a boy who Crowley assumed to be Brian, if the smearing of popcorn butter on his cheek was any indication. Curious that he could see the dogs for what they were; he supposed that the Them's awareness of the supernatural would increase, after their run in with the Horsepeople, or just from their continued contact with Anthony and Aziraphale—who, for two beings supposedly trying to blend into the human droves, were incredibly bad at it, catching attention wherever they went.(2)

"Who I am doesn't matter, but who you are does, my adorable little Antichrist. The hounds are here for you; send them away, and they'll do as you bid." He hoped. If not, he and Mother were going to have to play dog catchers, and he didn't much like that idea.

"There they are!" yelled a voice from the back of the theatre. Crowley and Rowena turned; the source of the voice was Hastur, still de-handed from his earlier scuffle with Sam in Hell. Hastur was accomponied by a barracuda-demon Crowley didn't recognize.

Hastur grabbed his counterpart's arm with his singular hand, black eyes widening. He pointed at Adam with the stump of his right hand. "Dagon, it's him! The boy! Our master's son!"

"Not anymore," Dagon said, shaking Hastur off. "Not according to His Majesty. He's been disowned. Permanently."

"Do we kill him then?" asked Hastur, half-baffled.

"Obviously!"

"Adam dear," Rowena said, turning to the Them. "Now would be an excellent time to encourage your new pets to help."

"Help? How are they s'posed to help?" Adam demanded.

"By killing the people who just said they're going to kill you, idiot!" Pepper said loudly, pointing at Hastur and Dagon as they rushed down the steps. Pepper stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.

The dogs sat.

Pepper pointed again. "SIC 'EM, BOYS!"

"Pepper, actually, maybe that's not the best thing to do in a crowded theatre—" Wensleydale argued tentatively, but the hounds were already off, even Crowley's new canine friend, apparently content to take orders from Pepper as well. Why, Crowley had no idea, but he wasn't one to look a gift hellhound in its large, slobbery, pointy mouth.

The dogs attacked. Crowley turned away. Rowena watched with a head tilted in interest. Bloody madwoman.

Hastur and Dagon's screams died off as they were discorporated, sent back to Hell sans their bodies.

The humans were starting to catch on that maybe something wasn't above-board about all this dog business, if the panicked shouts and people running for the door were any indication.

This was when Adam stepped in.

His eyes flashed red—not the luminescent gold of young Jack's eyes, something blood-red and frightfully powerful, a different energy all-together, though no stronger or weaker than Jack's, Crowley would say—and Adam's voice rang out in the theatre, "STOP!"

The humans halted, all of them, men, women, and children alike, and they turned, practically frozen in their obedience. The hounds, jaws slick with blood, looked to him as well. Silence fell in the theatre, with the exception of the movie still valiantly continuing in the background, the characters blissfully unaware of the events unfolding underneath the enormous screen.

Adam focused on the hounds first. "You've all got to stop being so hellish. It's scarin' people."

Promptly, the many different shapes and sizes of hellhounds morphed into perfectly cute, non-terrifying dog breeds. Newfoundlands, Greyhounds, Samoyeds, Huskies, Golden Retrievers, an occasional Labradoodle, and one very fat Corgi.

"Smaller," Adam encouraged, though he seemed pleased they'd listened thus far.

And then the theatre was chock-full of puppies. Crowley's hound had obeyed the order as well, shrinking down to bite-size. Crowley sighed, knowing later that he would have to command the hound to grow bigger again, should it decide to continue padding in his footsteps, but for now, a puppy was acceptable. He scooped up the hound, carding a hand down its spine.

Pepper seemed to understand what Adam was going for. "It's Free Puppy Day!" she declared. "Everyone gets to take home a puppy, and they're all potty-trained and have their shots, isn't that right Adam?"

Adam seemed on the verge of telling Pepper even he couldn't promise that, but he nodded anyway. "Take whichever one you like! Except this one," Adam said, nodding down to Dog, who was happily nuzzled into his arms. Adam cast a brief glance at Crowley, and added, "And the one he's got. Can't have that one either."

Hmm. Perceptive child.

The humans broke out of their trance, cooing over the hoard of perfectly non-infernal puppies.

"And you're all going to be really good dogs, okay, and you'll be good to your families and love them loads," Adam said, a final command for the former hellhounds. Dog woofed his agreement.

Crowley and Rowena weaved through the delighted new dog-owners to the Antichrist and his friends.

"Well done," Crowley complimented. "They don't even seem to notice the dismembered corpses in Row F."

Adam shrugged. "They don't want to see it, so I won't let them," he answered, as if it was simplicity in itself. Adam narrowed his eyes at Crowley. "You're a demon, aren't you?" His gaze switched to Rowena. "And you, you're a witch like Anathema."

"Got it in one," Crowley said. "We're friends of Crowley and Aziraphale. You should probably come with us."

"Why would we come with you when you haven't even told us your names? Mum says not to talk to strange adults," Brian argued.

"Actually, Mr. Crowley and Mr. Aziraphale are really strange adults and we talk to them all the time," Wensleydale pointed out sagely.

"Name's Crowley. Note the pronunciation. I'm the King of Hell. This is Rowena, she's an insufferable, nagging—"

"I'm his mother," Rowena finished cleanly with a pleasant smile.

"Two Crowleys?" Pepper questioned.

"Oh, I get it, it's like how in our class there's Brian G, and then I'm Brian C. What's your last name?"

Crowley deadpanned. "Crowley."

"Crowley Crowley?" Wensleydale said, baffled.

"You can call him Fergus if you like," Rowena said, and Crowley briefly contemplated killing her.

"Mother, did we not JUST have this conversation?"

"You told me not to call you that, you didn't say anything about other people—"

"I hate you. Stop talking." Crowley turned back to the Them. "We need to go."

The Them were amicable enough, and the group of them, along with Dog and Crowley's new hound, departed the theatre.

"What's your dog's name?" Brian inquired, reaching down to scratch the hound's ear.

"Haven't named her yet." Crowley contemplated for a few moments, then decided, "I like Beatrice."

"Shakespeare again?" Rowena arched an eyebrow. "Better than Growley, I suppose."

Damn the Winchesters. Of course they'd told her about that. "Just because I'm consenting to your presence doesn't mean I won't kill you. It was a clever name."

"Do you have a cat named Meowley as well?"

"MOTHER—"

"A pig named Sowley," Adam added with a grin.

"Cow named Cowley," put in Wensleydale.

"Chicken named Fowley—" Pepper joined in.

Crowley groaned. "This is why I detest children."(4)

"Actually, we're not children, we're tweens technically, and Brian's going to be twelve next week cos he got held back a year—" Wensleydale began, but they were interrupted when the corgi hound ran in front of Crowley, tripping him up and sending him flat on his face.

Crowley peeled himself off of the ill-smelling floor of the cinema lobby to see the corgi giving Pepper an affectionate lick on the nose. Pepper smiled widely.

"This one likes you," Adam declared. "You should keep him."

"I don't know if Mum will let me—"

"She will," Adam cut across her. And he was right, of course. She would.

So the corgi came with them, bounding along with Dog and Beatrice as they rushed back to the flat. He could only hope nothing had gone pear-shaped while they were gone.


The flat turned into chaos the moment time unfroze itself. Crowley took in the details in flashes.

Dean and Sam, reaching for their guns, "what the hell!?" leaving Dean's lips the second he could speak again.

Newt, ducking behind the counter. Anathema, knife in hand.

Gabriel on the floor, clutching his hip, growling in pain, blood seeping through the fabric of his pants, the Archangel blade buried there. Beelzebub trying frantically to tug it out.

And then Aziraphale, also on the floor, also leaking blood.

But a lot more.

And he wasn't moving.

And his eyes were closed.

Crowley moved with inhuman speed, at Aziraphale's side in a blink. "Angel? Angel!?" He grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him. Over his head, bullets flew at Beelzebub, fired by Sam and Dean. They stuttered and dropped to the ground, failing to get within a foot of the demon.

Aziraphale didn't respond. Crowley checked his pulse. For one single moment that seemed to extend onward into infinity, he detected nothing, but then—there, a thready beat, distant but hammering along. He'd been stabbed by the Archangel blade, it was the only explanation, he would have discorporated otherwise, which was a horrifying thought all by itself. There would be no new bodies waiting for either of them, not anymore.

But this was worse. This was so much worse. Because it wasn't Aziraphale's body dying, it was Aziraphale dying. Dying under his hands, growing colder by the second.

Gabriel screamed bloody murder when Beelzebub finally wrenched the Archangel blade from his hip. They rose to their feet in a rush, spinning on a heel to slash at Dean, who reeled back just in time to avoid losing most of the top of his head. Sam tackled Beelzebub down, wrestling them for the blade. Gabriel was struggling back to his feet, eyes glowing vehement purple, teeth gritted in rage.

"What did you do to him!?" Crowley shouted, jumping to his feet and whirling on Gabriel. "You bastard, what did you do?"

"Talk to the demon. If anyone asks, I had no part in this," Gabriel managed, sweat drenching his forehead. "Of course, no one's going to ask you, because you're going to be dead here in a second." His lips twisted in a smirk. "God willing."

Crowley launched himself at Gabriel, wings bursting out from his shoulders without him so much as lending a thought to the action. They barreled into Anathema, who'd been creeping up on Gabriel with the knife. They crashed down in a tangle of arms and legs, colliding with Sam and Beelzebub. This was a great deal like bowling, Crowley decided, only less fun (which was saying a lot) and the pins were a mixture of beings both natural and unnatural trying to kill each other.

More gunfire, surely from Dean, but Crowley couldn't be fucked to care, couldn't be fucked to care about anything—much less their promise to return an alive Gabriel back to Naomi.

It didn't matter if Beelzebub had done the deed. Gabriel had allowed it, probably relished in it.

Gabriel, who'd sneered at "Aziraphale" in Heaven. Don't talk to me about the greater good, sunshine. I'm the Archangel Fucking Gabriel. Gabriel, who'd rather burn Aziraphale than understand him. Burn the traitor. Burn the traitor.

Crowley had lost his glasses in the fray, and when he locked eyes with Gabriel, he could see a fear reflected there, no doubt shrinking in the face of pure gold murder. Crowley dug his hand into Gabriel's hip, fingers driving into his fresh wound, and the Archangel roared in pain, shattering every inch of glass, every light fixture in his flat, raining down shards on the lot of them.

Crowley punched Gabriel in the mouth as hard as he could. Blood spattered across the floor, and then Dean was wrestling him away, one hand fisted in the back of Crowley's suitcoat, the other holding the holy oil.

"We need him!" Dean reminded him gruffly. He splashed Gabriel with the holy oil, burning his skin, then tossed the decanter away with a clatter and jumped on the Archangel, armed with the angel cuffs, which he must have liberated from Aziraphale.

However, Beelzebub disentangled themself from Sam and grabbed Dean before he was able to follow through, making to throw him into the portal still glowing valiantly in the middle of Crowley's flat. Getting chucked through would of course burn the hunter into billions of ashes before spreading his atomic remains throughout every universe there was. Something to be avoided.

But thankfully, before Crowley could so much as move, Anathema let out a battle cry, and finally managed to stab the steak knife into Beelzebub, right between their shoulder blades. The fly-demon swore, dropping Dean, but blasting Anathema and Sam both away with a flail of their hand. Sam collided hard with Crowley's throne, head slamming against the hard gold of one of the armrests, and slumped to the floor, unconscious.

"Sammy!" Dean shouted, but he didn't go to his brother, instead returning to Gabriel to fight the angel cuffs onto his wrists. He caught an elbow to the jaw, and Crowley was sure he heard a crack.

Anathema had crashed into the counter when she'd been thrown, but she was back on her feet in a second, swaying, but not discouraged. "You're gonna have to do better than that."

Beelzebub grabbed Anathema by the throat, clearly unhappy with the recent stabbing. "I hate witchezzzz," Beelzebub buzzed, teeth bared. Anathema choked, trying to budge Beelzebub's arms, but their hold was firm. And Beelzebub still had the Archangel blade.

Newt, ever-chivalrous, grabbed the first thing he could—and that was one of the copper pots that dangled from a rack above Crowley's oven. He started whipping them indiscriminately in Beelzebub's direction, trying to distract the demon enough to buy Anathema time to wriggle out of the their grip. Unfortunately, it did little other than irritate the demon, and they pointed the Archangel blade in Newt's direction, no doubt intending to turn him inside out to stop the annoyance permanently.

Crowley grabbed fistfuls of the other demon's coat, tearing them away. Anathema dropped to the ground with a gasp, massaging her throat. Dean rolled away from a now-cuffed Gabriel at the same moment, breathing hard and covered in a fresh layer of bruises.

Crowley yanked Beelzebub close. "You stabbed my best friend."

Beelzebub sneered, "So what if I did?"

"Well, now I have to kill you," Crowley told them.

They didn't seem shaken by the claim. "I'd like to see you try. You never had it in you. You've never been a demon, not really. Hell didn't burn enough Heaven out of you. You've always been wrong...err...right...never mind. Whatever a demon is supposed to be, you were the opposite of that. What I'm saying is you're shit at being a demon." 

Crowley smiled with every single one of his teeth. "Oh, Lord Beelzebub, trust me—I'm all the demon I need to be."

And then, Beelzebub was gone, replaced with a single buzzing fly. The Archangel blade (and the steak knife) clattered to the floor.

Crowley pinched the fly's wings between two fingers. It buzzed furiously.

"I guess this won't technically kill you," Crowley said to the fly. "Just discorporate you. But you see, now you've made me angry. And I want you to think of this, every time you put a foot topside, that I'm up here. Waiting for you. And next time, I'll have holy water. You can ask Hastur...I'm a demon with a spray bottle."

He looked at Aziraphale on the floor, growing paler by the second.

He crushed the fly between his thumb and forefinger, cast it to the side, wiped his hand on his pants.

And then he went to his angel. He laid hands over the wound, closing his eyes.

"You can't heal that, it's from the Archangel blade," Dean told him, out of breath and crouching next to Sam, cradling his head and inspecting the wound along the back of his younger brother's skull.

"If I can discorporate a Lord of Hell like it's nothing, I can heal this," Crowley spat. "I have to."

"No, he needs to go to a human doctor, and hope like hell they can stuff his guts back inside of him before he dies," Dean told him roughly.

Crowley angrily snapped his fingers in Sam and Dean's direction. Sam's eyes opened instantly, and he let out a breath of relief. Dean's hand came back bloody, but with a quick inspection, he saw that Crowley had completely healed Sam's rattled brain. He'd fixed the hairline fracture on Dean's jaw as well, though Crowley doubted the hunter noticed through the adrenaline. 

He wiped their demon aspects as well; Crowley wasn't quite so amused by them anymore. 

Crowley summoned every drop of power in him, just like he had in the Empty—and he put it all into Aziraphale's injury, muttering under his breath all the while—"please, please, I'm begging you, if You're up there, don't let him die, don't let him die, not after all this, I can't do this without him, please, please, please—"

He still prayed to Her. Now, and ever since he Fell. He never stopped. Some part of him, miniscule and sad and buried very very deep, believed that maybe, if he talked to Her enough, She would answer, someday. If She could just see he hadn't MEANT to Fall...he didn't want to tempt them to evil, no, just free them. Because what did it all matter without free will? Without the choice to do good, what did good matter?

He'd wanted it all to matter. He wanted meaning for the humans, for himself.

She had to have wanted them to stop it, The End. He refused to believe in an oversight that massive—She was all-knowing. She must've been aware, from the start, exactly what would happen when the dominoes were tipped over. She must have known he would Fall, he would tempt Eve in the Garden, he would meet the strange angel on the wall and think, s'pose this is as good a place to Fall as any and subsequently build an altar for Aziraphale within himself, lighting candles that would never go out, even when he wanted them to.

Maybe that was one of the things that had drawn him to the angel. If She knew about their friendship, all the time spent together over the years, and allowed it to continue without casting Aziraphale out or striking Crowley down, perhaps there was hope for him yet. If he was allowed near one of her creations, one of her angels...well, closer to thy God and all that.

She'd let them save the world, together. So surely it couldn't end like this? What was the bloody point of it all if he lost Aziraphale now?

Could She really be that cruel?

With a panicked flick of his char-black wings, he knew that yes, She could.

Crowley sagged, spent. Aziraphale's wound was still gaping, still bleeding. He had accomplished exactly nothing. Dean was right.

"What kind of sick cosmic joke is this!?" Crowley exploded, head tilted to the sky. "Is this punishment? For what? For stopping it? If you're going to punish someone, punish me! He didn't do anything! The only thing he did was—he never did anything—he—he just loved me, and what's so wrong with that?" He spread out his arms, inviting retaliation from above. "If you're gonna kill someone, kill me! I ruined them all, every last one of the humans, I'm responsible for everything from the corruption of mankind to bloody Twitter—he doesn't deserve this!"

Dean grabbed him by the shoulder and whirled him around. "You gotta get it together. He has to go back to Heaven," he nodded at Gabriel, who was seething on the ground, looking worse by the minute.

"Heaven?" Gabriel repeated, caked in sweat and blood and closer to human than Crowley had ever seen him. "Why are you bringing me to Heaven?"

"Not this Heaven, asshat. A way worse one. You'll have a blast," Dean told the Archangel.

"You're expecting me to leave Aziraphale—!?" Crowley burst out, but Dean interrupted him.

"Aziraphale needs a human hospital, and fast, or he's gonna die. I ain't gonna sugarcoat it. But you gotta get this bastard where he needs to go so we can get Jack and Cas here—and if human doctors can't save Aziraphale, maybe Jack can. But we can't get him back until we make the trade, and you're the only one who can go to Heaven."

"I—I think he's right. He needs to go to hospital, it's not far, I can take him in Dick Turpin—" Newt began, but Anathema shot him a look that indicated now was maybe not the best time to try to reason with Crowley. Smart girl.

"I'm not going anywhere without him," Crowley hissed.

"Every second we waste going ten rounds about this is another second he doesn't have. You gotta go, and you gotta trust us to take care of him," Dean said in a voice that brooked no argument.

"Trust you?" Crowley repeated incredulously. "Not with this. Not with him."

"We trusted you," Sam countered, rising from the ground with a grunt. "We trusted you with all of our lives."

"And me, Sam, and Cas? We don't trust anyone. Not easily. We trusted you to have our backs, and you did. Let us return the favor," Dean implored. "I ain't gonna let him die, AJ. I promise you that. And I don't go back on my promises."

Dean stretched a hand out to Crowley. Crowley stared at it.

Trust humans with a dying Aziraphale? Trust that when he returned from Heaven, Aziraphale would still be here?

"I've always saved him," Crowley said, numb and terrified, anger dying down to a low heat.

"It's our turn," Dean replied evenly. "I'm trusting you to get my best friend and our kid back. Trust us to keep your boyfriend alive. Seems like an even trade."

Slowly, Crowley grasped Dean's hand.

"I'm a demon," Crowley reminded him.

"I know. You'll kill me if he dies. Only fair." Dean squeezed Crowley's hand hard, then released. "Take Dick-for-Wings and get him where he needs to go, but snap us to the nearest hospital first, we don't have time to drive."

Crowley looked around the room. Newt and Anathema, ruffled and perhaps in shock from the knockdown, drag-out supernatural brawl they'd been involved in. Sam and Dean, sure and steady, but urgent all the same.

Four humans. Well, three humans and a witch. But basically all humans. And three Americans, for Hell's sake.

Crowley bent down close to Aziraphale, brushed a lock of hair off of his forehead. He let his hand rest on the angel's cheek.

"Angel, I need you to hang on until I get back," Crowley whispered, hoarse. "Okay? Hang on for me, and I—well, we never did have that picnic. I'll pick out a nice wine for us. We can go before the weather turns."

Crowley registered somewhere in the back of his mind that he was crying.

He pulled himself away from Aziraphale with gargantuan effort, and his eyes went back to the humans again.

"Don't fuck thissss up," he ordered. He waved a hand, and they were gone, reappearing with Aziraphale in the Emergency Room at the Royal London Hospital.

He snatched Gabriel by the collar and dragged him towards the portal.

"You'll pay for this," Gabriel growled, weak from blood loss and pain.

In a monotone, Crowley replied: "I already have."

Chapter Text

"What the hell happened!?"

Anthony's flat was in shambles; all the light fixtures had been blown out, and Crowley's over-sensitive nose wrinkled at the scent of mercury. The windows too were shattered, leaving the floor a minefield of glass. Glass, and holy oil, and blood. Oh yes, there was a great deal of that too, splattered on the counter, the gaudy throne that Crowley privately envied but would never say as much aloud, and in pools on the floor. There were pots and pans everywhere, and Crowley couldn't even guess at the reason why.

Among the wreckage lay the Archangel blade, crimson-slicked. A steak knife, too, which looked like it had been used for equally stabby activities.

"We've been gone not fifteen minutes!" Rowena burst out from his side. She looked as stunned by the state of the flat as Crowley was.

Pepper peeked around Rowena. "Is...is that blood?"

Crowley and Rowena shared a brief meeting of the eyes, and Rowena turned, making to usher the Them into the hallway. If only she'd been so protective over him as a child. He couldn't count how many times he'd walked in on her exsanguinating cattle.

"Did someone die?" asked Brian, but Rowena shushed him.

"Are Mr. Crowley and Mr. Aziraphale okay? What about Newt and Anathema?" demanded Adam.

"Everything's fine, dearheart, hush now, just wait here for a moment, hmm? Name your new pup, she needs a good name..." Rowena's voice faded to a muffle as she pointedly closed the door to the flat behind her, leaving Crowley and Beatrice alone in the chaos.

Crowley stooped down, scooping two fingers through one of the largest pools of blood. He stuck it in his mouth, tasting for a clue.

"Angel," he muttered to himself. "But which one?"

Beatrice had gone to the other puddle, and growled when she sniffed it. Which meant the lion's share of the gore in the room came from an angel. They must have gone through with their plan to summon Gabriel, but why not wait? And this much blood...he'd be dead, surely, if they'd used the Archangel blade. And that would nullify their deal with Naomi.

He rose back to his feet. Where had they all gone? Not a body in sight...

"Mother," he called. "Get back in here."

He heard the Them arguing over names for Pepper's new dog outside. Rowena took the opportunity to slip back into the flat. "A scene like this doesn't bode well," she commented.

"Yes, I also have eyes," he snapped. He pointed at the blood pools. "Can you find out who these came from? Angelic to be sure, but I don't know what angel."

She looked at the first, larger puddle, then the second. "The first is the posh angel. The second, I've no idea."

"How can you tell it's Aziraphale's?"

She gave him an almost disappointed look. "Really, now, Fer—Crowley. You say you have eyes, but you're not using your real ones."

He rolled said eyes, but did flash them to Crossroads red, taking a closer look at the blood. Indeed, one had the gold-and-blue lightness of Aziraphale's aura, while the other radiated a deep, rich purple.

"Light and fluffy. Surely he's not the only angel flavored that way."

"Perhaps not, but he was in the room when we left. What more proof do you need?" she asked thinly, crossing her arms. "Or are you just hoping that it isn't his?"

"No one wants to see their favorite characters disemboweled," Crowley replied distantly. "Kill your darlings, I know...but, well. Always had a soft spot for the dumb bird, at least on page."

Of course he had. An angel who had bucked the forces of Heaven, favoring humanity, and more specifically, an unusual demon with a love for the creature comforts of the modern world. He liked Aziraphale for the same reason he liked Castiel, not that he would ever deign it necessary to tell Castiel that. Wouldn't want a jealous Winchester after him.

"We need to find him," Crowley said, brushing his thoughts aside. "If he walked out of here, he must still be alive."

"Or his body was carried out."

"And thank you for that dash of cold water," Crowley retorted. He knelt once more next to the puddle. "It was still warm..." He whistled to Beatrice, and the hellpuppy doddered over. He looked her in the eye. "Alright, pup. Take a sniff, hmm?" He tapped the floor.

She did as she was bid.

"Good girl. Now can you take me to him?"

She barked, and turned for the door. Crowley allowed himself a brief, satisfied smirk. He scooped the Archangel blade up off of the floor. He extracted a handkerchief from his breast pocket and cleaned it off. Discarding the now red-stained handkerchief to the side, he stored the sword up his sleeve where he would usually keep his own angel blade, were it not still somewhere in this universe's Hell.

"Field trip?" he arched an eyebrow at his mother.

"It better not be far. These heels are not made for long distances," she told him.

"Obviously the biggest of our problems right now is your footwear." He opened the door to find the Them still debating names.

"If you want a strong woman, why not name her after Margaret Thatcher? They called her the Iron Lady," Wensleydale said.

"Margaret Thatcher was a WAR CRIMINAL, do you have ANY IDEA what she did in Northern Ireland—!" Pepper began with no small deal of spirit, but Crowley cut in.(1)

"We're going for a walk. Keep close to us." He headed down the stairs with Rowena, Beatrice in the lead, and the Them tracked in their wake.

"Are you going to tell us what happened now?" Adam asked from behind Crowley. "Something bad went on in there. I can feel it."

"I don't know what happened," Crowley told the boy honestly. "That's what we're trying to figure out."

"Are Crowley and Aziraphale dead?"

He saw little point in trying to lie to the son of Satan himself. "They could be. We'll know soon enough. Now shut it before you scare your friends."

Adam looked over at the rest of the Them, Wensleydale and Brian's wide eyes, and Pepper's sudden and uncharacteristic silence, no doubt wondering and fearing what 'something bad' might have occurred.

Crowley, too, was wondering.

And Crowley, too, was fearing.


"Where are you taking me?"

"Shut it."

Crowley drug Gabriel by the collar down the irritatingly long, sterile hallway of the alternate Heaven, leaving a bloody streak in his wake. He had not stopped moving once, treading onward with a single-minded determination.

He had to get back to Aziraphale.

"A different universe," Gabriel coughed, sickeningly pale. "What, wrecking one wasn't enough? You wanted to go on a streak?"

"I didn't wreck anything, you arse-licking tosser. Aziraphale and me, we saved the Earth, not that you give a damn about that—and we saved this one too. Because apocalypses are stupid. Pre-destined ends are stupid. I—j—just ends in general are stupid!"

"This is what you get," Gabriel spat back. "This is what you get for messing with divine plans, for bucking the natural order. You're lucky God didn't strike you both down as soon as you tried to interfere—"

"And you?" Crowley turned on a heel, pulling up Gabriel so they were nearly nose-to-nose. "Your big reward for being a company man is spending the rest of eternity in a cell in a different universe. That's where I'm taking you. This Heaven is all out of angels—we told them we could fix that for them, oh yeah, had the perfect angel for the job. If your divine plan is so bloody great, if it's what She wanted, why is She letting this happen to you?" Crowley smiled nastily. "But, then again, it's all ineffable, isn't it?"

Gabriel didn't seem to love the idea of eternal imprisonment. "You think you can trap me?"

"Doesn't matter if I can. But these angels, I think they can, and they will. It's either lock you down, or the lights go out. Good motivation to never let you see the other side of the bars ever again."

Crowley returned to his march, trailing the Archangel behind him. He couldn't waste time taunting him.

"We can talk about this," Gabriel said, changing his tactics. "I can—look, if you take me back now, maybe I can do something for Aziraphale."

"Bite me. You can't heal yourself, let alone him."

"He's going to die. I could do something. Maybe—maybe petition Her."

Crowley just shook his head. "If I wanted to get a lecture from the Metatron, I'd call him myself. God won't help you. Won't help me." A pause, a swallow. "Won't help any of us."

"That's blasphemy," Gabriel pointed out with little feeling.

"Yeah, well. Wouldn't be my first time," Crowley muttered. Finally, he found the elevator that would lead them to Heaven's prison. He dragged Gabriel inside, leaning him in the corner and hitting the button for the basement floor—Heaven's basement, hardy har har. Insert something philosophical here.

The elevator trundled downwards. The only sound in the confined space was Gabriel's harsh breathing.

"You can't really love him."

Crowley let his eyes slide to Gabriel, again letting himself consider killing him, deal be damned. Not that he had the means, anymore. "I never told them I'd bring you in with a tongue."

"Demons can't love," Gabriel insisted, undeterred. "For Heaven's sake—angels can't. Not like that. It's disgusting. We're supposed to be better than that."

"Just because you can't doesn't mean Aziraphale can't. Doesn't mean I can't."

"I'll accept faulty wiring for Aziraphale—but you? You Fell. Anything good got burned out of you in Hell. So what are you getting out of this? Out of him? What do you want? Power? Control? Or just to sow as much chaos as possible, and pissing off Heaven wasn't enough? You don't know when to stob rebelling."

Maybe he didn't. But as long as there was something worth rebelling for, why ever stop? But Gabriel would never understand that, and he'd never felt the need to explain himself to anyone.

"What we wanted," Crowley hissed. "Was to be left alone. So much for that."

"You take me, you'll never be left alone. There's still time to turn back," Gabriel pressed. "You don't have to do this."

"No, I don't. But I want to."

"Why?"

The elevator doors dinged open. Crowley grabbed Gabriel again.

"Because," Crowley replied. "It'll make you miserable—and oh, that'll keep me warm at night, knowing you're rotting in here, forever and ever and ever."


Castiel and Naomi sat in her office.

It had been an uncomfortable few hours. She had left Heaven's Prison, citing work to do, and Cas had accomponied her, not wanting her out of his sight until Jack was released. If left alone, Naomi could scheme, which Cas would and could not abide. This meant returning to the office where he had been tortured for—well, in Heaven, time was immeasurable, but Cas was confident that Dean would deem the period of time Naomi had been peeling back layers of his being to scrape at the underneath as a "damn long time"—and Cas believed that to be an accurate description.

There were clocks on the walls. The hands never moved. Naomi had discovered minimalist office aesthetics in the late 80s, and never looked back.

"Why do you still work in here?"

Naomi was reading over something, prayer read-outs from Earth, most likely. She looked up, disinterested. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Because you were almost killed here. Most people would find having their brain drilled into a traumatic experience," Cas said mildly.

Naomi sighed. "That's where you've always stumbled, isn't it, Castiel? We're not people. We're angels. We're a different species. Trauma? It doesn't even register."

"Do you just view your life as a series of events, some pleasant and some unpleasant, with no greater meaning? No lasting effects?"

"There were lasting effects. But not emotional. Because I'm not emotional. Most angels aren't. At least those of us who haven't Fallen," she responded pointedly.

"Angels are as susceptible to folly as humans. The Fall should have proven that much to you."

"The Fall which...you caused, if I remember correctly."

Cas didn't have a response to that. Naomi returned to her paperwork.

Time, or the nearest Heavenly equivalent, crept by.

"Do you ever grow tired of this?" Cas eventually broached.

He could feel Naomi's irritation at being interrupted again. "No. I am fulfilling the purpose for which I was created."

"But God doesn't care if you continue fulfilling that purpose. Do you realize that? I met God. God...He doesn't care, Naomi. He hasn't cared in a long time."

"And if I don't do this?" she snapped. "There's no one else fit to lead. If not this, then what would I do?"

"You could do what the other angels did. What I did. Walk among humans. Know them. Protect them. Be a shepherd."

"Forgive me if I'm wrong, Castiel, but I think there were only two humans you were ever terribly interested in protecting," she reponded.

"I care for more than Sam and Dean."

"Yes. You care for Lucifer's son as well. And a witch. And the King of Hell. Your standards for company leave something to be desired."

"Jesus kept strange bedfellows."

"You're comparing yourself to Jesus now?"

"That's not what I meant."

"I see."

Mercifully, Naomi received a call on angel radio at that moment—Duma informing them that Crowley had arrived with Gabriel. Cas sagged in relief. Crowley and Aziraphale had held up their end of the bargain, and Jack would be freed. Also, he wouldn't have to be stuck in a small room with Naomi anymore, and that sounded very nice.

Castiel knew something had gone wrong the second he saw Crowley.

"What happened?" he asked quickly.

Crowley radiated panic. He didn't have his sunglasses on, and his unnervingly reptilian eyes were blatantly distraught. He was smeared with blood, his hands, his shirt sleeves, everywhere.

And Aziraphale wasn't with him.

"I'll explain on the way. We need to hurry. Things went bad." Crowley deposited a disgruntled Gabriel at Naomi's feet. "Open up the cell."

Crowley and Aziraphale's Gabriel was as diametrically opposed to the Gabriel that Cas knew as was physically possible. He was cashmere and fine suits, hard jaw and cold eyes—purple eyes? Bizarre.

Gabriel began begging Naomi immediately. "Come on, I'm an angel, we're on the same side—what are you doing working with demons?"(2)

"I'm doing what I have to. I imagine you would do the same in your own world, if your Heaven is anything like ours," Naomi said, as pitiless as Cas expected.

Jack pressed his face to the bars, clearly picking up on how troubled Crowley was, just as Cas had. "Crowley? Is Aziraphale okay?"

"On the way," Crowley repeated with a hiss. "Let him out."

Naomi hesitated, and Castiel wasn't surprised. It wasn't in the other angel's nature to sacrifice such a powerful game-piece on the board. Gabriel was no small power source, but even he would pale in comparison to Jack.

Crowley noticed as well, and would not have it. He inserted himself into the angel's personal space, baring his teeth.

"Let. Him. Out. Or we're going to have a problem. A very big one, right now."

Castiel stepped next to Crowley, standing side-by-side with the demon in a show of solidarity. Naomi's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them, considering her options.

"Let me out of these cuffs!" Gabriel insisted. "We can take them, come on."

Naomi looked down at Gabriel, unimpressed by his current state. "I doubt you could stand, much less fight." With a resigned frown, she removed a key from her pocket, and unlocked the door to Jack's cell. Jack stepped out quickly, moving to embrace Castiel as soon as he was freed. Cas let out a long breath of relief, clutching the back of Jack's jacket.

"Yes, yes, very sweet—can we speed this up?" Crowley said, pacing furiously around the two of them.

Duma and Naomi seized Gabriel, dragging him into the cell Jack had just vacated.

"No—listen—you're making a mistake!"

"I've made plenty of mistakes," Naomi said, slamming the cell door shut on Gabriel. With key in hand, she relocked the door. "I don't think this is one of them. There's hope for Heaven now. We have a future." Naomi looked to Cas, Jack, and Crowley. "Go, now. Before I change my mind. And I would prefer not to see any of you in Heaven again."

Cas decided not to mention that he would most likely be coming back through Heaven to return home when all was said and done. A problem for later. "Fine." He considered Naomi for a moment. "Thank you...for keeping up your end."

"I'm not above reason, Castiel."

"Come on!" Crowley growled, winding his hand into Cas's trenchcoat and yanking him back towards the elevator. "We're on a time-table, here!"

However, contradicting his own words, Crowley grounded to a stop, turning to Naomi. "The books," Crowley said suddenly. "The books Aziraphale had when you took us—where are they?"

Naomi blinked. "What?"

"The books!" Crowley repeated, louder. "We had a big stack, all bound up. What did you do with them?"

A look of understanding passed over Naomi's face, and she waved a hand. The stack appeared on the ground in front of Crowley. "These? I didn't do anything with them. We have no use for the Men of Letters' antiques."

The demon grabbed up the books immediately. "Good, right...Aziraphale, he'll—he'll want these to read. When he's better."

Then Crowley turned again, and tore off. It was all Castiel and Jack could do to keep up.


Things happened very quickly once they were in the ER of—well, whatever hospital Crowley had miracled them to.

Dean scooped up Aziraphale, and with a quick order of "Legs! Grab his legs, lift 'em up, it'll slow down the bleeding—" to Sam, Aziraphale was held horizontal between the two of them, Sam elevating Aziraphale on his end. Next, Dean barked out, "You! String-bean! Shirt, now!"

"Sh-shirt—? Oh, yes, the bleeding, right, got it, yeah—" Anathema helped Newt work out of his sweater, and once he was free of it, Anathema balled it up and pressed it to Aziraphale's grieviously bleeding wound. It began soaking Newt's sweater almost immediately.

Activity buzzed around them, so much so they'd been thus far mostly unnoticed, except by a nearby security guard.

"Does he need to be seen?" asked the guard in a thick northern accent.

"What do you think?" Dean snapped. "Where do we take him?"

"Here, follow me, check-in desk, right this way."

They followed the guard through the milling crowd in the ER waiting room. The woman behind the desk glanced up at them over the tops of her cat-eye glasses. "Do you need to be seen?"

"YES," Dean said emphatically. "Right the fuck NOW."

"He'll have to be triaged. Has he been here before?"

"Doubt it," Sam answered.

"What's his date of birth?"

"No idea," Dean replied.

"Approximate age?"

Dean, Sam, Anathema, and Newt all answered simultaneously.

"Forty-eight," said Dean.

"Forty-two," said Sam.

"Fifty," said Newt.

"Forty-six," said Anathema.

The ER clerk stared at them. "I'll just put unknown then. Name?"

"A. Z. Fell," provided Anathema. Must've been Aziraphale's human name, or whatever, like AJ's 'Anthony J. Crowley' gimmick.

"And the A. Z. stands for?"

They all blanked on a response.

"Aziraphale," Sam spoke up at length.

"And the Z?"

Sam's mouth moved wordlessly.

"Ziraphale?" Newt put in faintly.

A strange look from the clerk. "Aziraphale Ziraphale Fell?"

"It's religious—can we speed this up?" Dean groused. "We need a doctor out here, now!"

"What happened to him?" she asked, long nails clacking on her computer keyboard.

"Stabbed. He was stabbed. Does that warrant you calling someone?" Anathema pressed.

The clerk finally went from unflappable to flapped. "Stabbed? He's a crime victim?"

"It depends on your definition of crime but, well, yes," put in Newt.

Dean's eyes went to Newt's sweater, where Anathema was pressing it into Aziraphale's stomach. It was already drenched, clearly doing fuck-all good. "Shit. He's bleeding out, fast."

The clerk reached for the phone, quickly dialed an extension. "Yes, switchboard—I need a rapid response in the ER."

Barely twenty seconds passed (and the clerk's hopeless question of, "Who's his primary care physician?") before a voice blared over the hospital PA.

ATTENTION. ALL PERSONNEL. RAPID RESPONSE, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT.

ATTENTION. ALL PERSONNEL. RAPID RESPONSE, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT.

ATTENTION. ALL PERSONNEL. RAPID RESPONSE, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT.

Seconds later, they were swarmed by an army of people in scrubs. The doors to the emergency room proper opened, and a bed was rolled out by a rush of nurses. Aziraphale left Dean and Sam's hands in an instant, moved onto the bed. Wristband on, and then questions, dozens of them, by a nurse herding them away from Aziraphale as he was rushed down the opposite hallway, obscured by the rapid response team.

"How long ago was he stabbed?" the nurse asked them.

"Five, ten minutes? Not long," Dean said. "Can we go with him?"

"Not right now. Just looking at him, he's probably already gone into hemolytic shock. They'll transfuse fresh blood into him while the surgery team scrubs up, and then they'll get to work. Does he have any allergies to medication that you're aware of?"

"No," Anathema said definitively. "No allergies to anything."

"History of arrhythmia?" questioned the nurse.

"None." Anathema seemed to have taken the reigns, and none of the three men had any reason to try to stop her. Newt looked like he needed to be seen himself, with how pale he'd turned, and Dean and Sam were both preoccupied thinking of ways to get to Aziraphale without being hauled away by security.

"Any prior medical conditions—"

"Absolutely none whatsoever," Anathema interrupted her. "He's been...blessed...with perfect health his whole life."

And then the other nurse was off, promising to update them when she knew more. They all watched her go, and Dean had never felt more useless. Moreso than even when they'd been forced to take Jack to the hospital over the winter, because at least then, there'd still been some hope for supernatural remedies. But they didn't have a magic fix for this. Aziraphale's life was well and truly in the hands of the strangers who had just taken him.

And Dean didn't like that.

"We've only known him for a few days," Dean said dimly.

"I know," Sam acknowledged, clapping him on the shoulder and squeezing. "But...he's our friend anyway."

"Crowley will want to see him when he gets back. I don't think they'll be able to stop him," Newt pointed out, and Dean noted he was shaking.

"No, they probably won't," Dean agreed. "Come on, let's sit down. There ain't nothing for us to do, not right now."

"If you don't mind," Anathema said as they found chairs to take as their own in the waiting room, "I'd like to hear what happened to them in your universe."

Dean took a deep breath, settling his hands on his knees. "It's a long story..."


Jack didn't like what he saw when they arrived in Crowley and Aziraphale's universe, but he didn't have a lot of time to let his eyes wander over the disastrous state of the apartment they'd stepped into, because mere seconds after they arrived, Crowley grabbed he and Cas by the wrists—and in the next blink, they were standing in front of the ER entrance of an enormous hospital.

Crowley immediately made for the doors, but Jack halted. "Wait..."

"What is it, Jack?" Cas asked, turning to him.

"Nothing worth waiting for!" Crowley burst out, waving aggressively for them to follow him.

Jack didn't move. "No...I—I feel...something like me?"

A kindred energy. Massive and powerful, touching everything around them with its presence, not necessarily changing anything, but, maybe ever-so-slightly molding it to a more pleasing shape. It wasn't malicious, no. Not anything pure, either. Something ambivalent, changing by the second, adapting, learning, growing. It reminded him of how he'd felt when he'd first been born, still learning to understand the world. Curious. Feeling things out.

A dog rounded the corner of the hospital and made a bee-line for Jack. It came right to him, pawing at his knee and looking up at him with eyes that begged for pets.

Jack bent over, confused. "Hello...?" He scratched the dog's head, and that seemed to be what it was going for.

"Dog! Come back!"

From the same alley that the dog had emerged came a troupe of children, followed behind closely by Rowena and her son, and two other dogs, a bull terrier and a corgi.

Jack's eyes landed on one of the boys, golden haired and blue eyed. Not so different looking from him.

As soon as their eyes met, the boy stopped cold, too. Jack's hand stilled on the dog, who whined impatiently.

"Do we really have to have a meeting of the Antichrists moment?" Crowley groaned from behind Jack.

"Lovely. Someone to catch us up," called the King of Hell. "What on God's steadily-growing-less-green-Earth happened in your flat?"

"Aziraphale's dying. There, you've caught up," Crowley said. "And the last best hope he's got is the fact that we're friends with two Antichrists."

The boy came to Jack. Jack stared at the boy, and the boy stared back.

"Who're you?" asked the boy, reaching down to scoop the dog up in his arms. "And why does Dog like you so much?"

"My name's Jack Kline," Jack replied quietly, still in awe of seeing someone who didn't seem so...so alien, in comparison to him. "What's yours?"

"Adam. Adam Young." Adam seemed just as caught off-guard by Jack as Jack was by him. "You're...like me."

"I think I am," Jack agreed tentatively. "You're...?"

"Yeah. His kid. But not really. He was a bad dad. Never around. My real dad's loads better."

"Mine tried, but. He wasn't very good, even when he was around." Jack allowed himself a cautious smile. "I—I think my real dads are better, too."

"You have more than one dad? Cool!" said one of the other boys. "Wish I had more than one."

Crowley screamed in frustration behind them.

"I think we have to help Aziraphale," Jack told Adam.

"Okay," Adam nodded. "Dunno how, though."

"We'll figure that out as we go." Jack turned to Crowley. "Lead the way."


AJ didn't waste time with pleasantries once he found Newt, Anathema, and the Winchesters.

"Where is he?" AJ demanded.

"Everything went fine in our Heaven," Castiel provided from behind AJ when he saw Dean's questioning look.

"Yeah, I got that," Dean said when he saw Jack, a group of kids—presumably Adam and his friends—with Crowley and Rowena bringing up the rear, filtering through the ER entrance.(3)"He's in surgery."

AJ apparently didn't like that answer. "Not anymore. We've got two Antichrists. They've got to be able to do something."

"What happened to Aziraphale?" Adam demanded.

"I hope someone here's got a PG version of this, 'cause I sure as hell don't," Dean said, not sure whether to direct his pleading gaze towards Sam or Anathema.

Anathema knelt down in front of Adam. "Aziraphale got into a fight with the other angel you met at the airfield—Gabriel. He got hurt. The doctors are taking care of him, okay? You don't need to worry."

"Oh, he needs to worry. We all need to worry," Crowley insisted, practically vibrating with agitation, anger, fear. Every bad thing, all at once, and Dean understood. He'd been there. God, how many times had he been there? With Sam, with Cas, with Jack. With everyone.

"Archangel blade is an archangel blade. There ain't nothing we can do but—" Dean began, but AJ cut him off.

"If you say pray, I swear to Somebody—"

"I was gonna say wait," Dean interrupted.

"THAT'S WORSE," AJ's voice was steadily getting louder. "I am not waiting out here while a bunch of humans take tiny pointy things to him and mess him up even more—"

"Do we need to do some deep breathing exercises?" Rowena asked cheerfully from Crowley's side.

"Alright, I don't know if you've noticed, but me and Sam are a 'bunch of humans', and we've done okay for ourselves—"

"Okay!" AJ raged. "Since the second that mad ginger witch dragged me into your universe—a universe that somehow manages to have a God even more capricious than the one in this universe—let's see, we fought an Archangel, almost died, got tricked into a field-trip to a dimension of pure nothingness, almost died, got trapped in your Heaven, almost imprisoned for eternity, got back here, fought Gabriel, almost died—so what, EXACTLY, is your definition of OKAY!?"

"We could've let you rot up there!" Dean shot back, getting in Crowley's face. Yeah, so they'd dragged Az and AJ into their mess. They had that effect on people, but the two of them could've walked away at any time. They chose to help. They chose to get mixed up in their bullshit. Dean wasn't about to take the blame for all of it. "We could have let you two sit in there for eternity, but instead we risked Jack and Cas to get you out, so how about you—"

"Enough." Sam pushed them apart. "This doesn't help anyone. It sure as hell doesn't help Aziraphale."

AJ growled, then made to stalk away. "I'm going to him."

"W-Wait, Crowley," Newt called him back. "My mum had her gallbladder out here a few years ago. There's an observation gallery for surgeries. It's ah, it's supposed to be for other doctors, families aren't supposed to go back, but my dad snuck in there. You—you probably could too."

"I'm not observing anything. I'm stopping it," AJ said fiercely. "You two," he pointed at Adam and Jack. "You're coming with me."

"Okay," Adam agreed readily. Jack frowned, hesitant, but nodded all the same.

"You're not seriously going to interrupt a life-saving surgery in the vague hope that these two will be able to do something?" Crowley said, finally breaking his silence, as he'd seem content to watch AJ and Dean go ten rounds from a distance. "Love blinds, I know, but be realistic. There's things even Antichrists can't do."

"He's right, this isn't wise," Cas agreed.

"I don't give one blessed shit about wise," AJ snapped back.

"I want to help Aziraphale," Adam put in.

"Can we come?" asked one of Adam's friends excitedly.

"No!" came a chorus from every adult in the waiting room.

"Mother," Crowley sighed. "Take the children to the vending machines, would you?"

"Oh, I'm the baby-sitter now, am I?"

"Making up for your hundreds of years being a terrible parent in every imaginable way," Crowley replied lightly.

Rowena grumbled, but she disappeared with the Them all the same.

AJ was off, apparently not inclined to listen to any of them any longer. Adam followed after without question, but Jack hesitated. He turned to Dean, Sam, Cas, and Crowley.

"What should I do?" Jack asked, anxiety plain on his face. "Is this the right thing?"

"What do you think the right thing is?" Cas questioned.

"I don't know, that's why I'm asking you," Jack replied tersely.

"I think you if go and bust in on that surgery, Aziraphale's dead for sure," Dean said, not in any mood for teaching Jack a life lesson.

"But Crowley's going to do that with or without Jack," Sam pointed out.

"So I need to be there if things go wrong," Jack said slowly.

"Whatever you're going to do," Crowley said, "I suggest you do it quickly."

Jack seemed to make some kind of decision—what it was, Dean didn't know, but before he could ask, Jack chased after AJ and Adam.

"I don't like this," Anathema said. "Adam shouldn't be mixed up in all this. He's just a kid."

"Yes, well, the world would be a better place if children didn't have adult circumstances thrust upon them, but neither of our universes work like that," Crowley told her.

Newt grabbed Anathema's hand and squeezed. She squeezed back, shoulders rigid with tension.

"Now what?" Newt asked.

"Now..." Dean ran his hands over his face, feeling exhausted down to his bones. "Now, we wait."


Crowley and Adam found the observation gallery quickly enough. He'd put the security guard on watch outside the OR to sleep with a snap of his fingers. He planned to do the same thing with the surgery staff.

He could barely make out Aziraphale through the scrubs, through the glaring lights, through the blood. But when an elbow moved, he saw a glimpse of blond curls, closed eyes. His heart pounded painfully in his chest. He usually kept it beating just for realism's sake, but he had no control over this. It slammed over and over again at his ribs, and he felt his hands clench at his side.

"Hope you've enough of your not-father left in you to do this," Crowley told Adam.

"It's not his power. It's mine," Adam said, not necessarily arguing, just stating a fact.

The door to the observation gallery slammed open behind them, and in came Jack.

"Crowley—"

"I wouldn't try to stop me right now, if I were you," Crowley warned, not bothering to turn around. He raised a hand, ready to knock out the surgery staff.

Jack grabbed his wrist.

Crowley's head snapped to the side with unnerving speed. "Let go of me," he hissed. "I'm not scared of Lucifer, and I'm not scared of you."(4)

"Just look, Crowley," Jack begged him. Jack gestured down at the operating room. "That monitor there—those are his vital signs. They've got him on all kinds of IVs, stuff that's helping to save him. They're stitching him up from the inside."

"And if they screw up, Aziraphale's dead!"

"He's been in there for a half an hour at this point. If something was going to go wrong, it probably would've happened already," Jack reasoned.

"Probably," Crowley scoffed. "Let me go."

"He's right," Adam spoke up unexpectedly.

Crowley looked down at him. "Pick a side, would you?"

"Why'd you try to save the world?" Adam challenged Crowley. "You thought humans were worth something, right? And the angels and the demons and everybody didn't really think like that. But people can be clever, and kind, and wicked smart. Surgeons go to school for a long long time and they save people every day, and I reckon loads of 'em are worse off than Aziraphale is."

Crowley shook his head. "I'm getting a lecture from an eleven year old."

"Sometimes adults are thick," Adam deadpanned. "Even demon adults."

"He doesn't need to be saved, Crowley," Jack said, grip still iron and unyielding on Crowley's wrist. "He's already been saved. See? They're stitching him up."

A glance down to Aziraphale, prone on the table, chest bared, and indeed, they'd knitted up the wound in his stomach, evidently finished up with his insides, and now just cinching up the outside.

Slowly, slowly, Crowley's heart began to settle.

"Something could still go wrong," he said faintly. He blinked, starting to come back to his senses, at least somewhat. "Guess they are sort of brilliant, aren't they? I dunno what half the things down there do. And humans just, came up with all that. Made anesthesia and scalpels and big brights lights and...just made everything they needed. Don't even think Aziraphale had anything to do with any of this, no divine spark. They just...did it."

Crowley and Jack exchanged a look. Jack hesitated for a moment, but he released Crowley's hand.

"They might let you see him in the PACU," Jack told him softly. "You should go back to the waiting room, talk to the charge nurse. Say you're Aziraphale's husband."(5)

"...Husband?" Crowley repeated, not really registering the word.

"Or partner," Adam put in. "That's what my mum calls you, partners."

Because of course Adam's parents assumed he and Aziraphale were a couple.

With another thud in his chest—as if his heart just wanted to remind him that it was there—he realized that, yes. They were a couple. They were partners.

And Crowley wanted to see his partner. Now.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale woke slowly, groggily. He wasn't much accustomed to waking at all, as he so rarely slept, but he knew this was not how it was supposed to go. He found himself drifting through a fog, trying to find his way out, but not really having the energy to do so.

"I think he's waking up," an unfamiliar voice said from nearby, sweet and feminine.

"About time," came another voice, a very, very familiar one.

Aziraphale grunted, somewhere deep in his throat. He registered pressure in his hand...not just pressure, no, a hand in his, long slender fingers slotted through his own, and squeezing. Maybe a touch too tight.

"Angel?" Crowley still sounded so far away, but the demon's voice called to him, and he fought with his eyelids to open. They split apart incrementally, just enough to be blinded by fluorescent lights. He cringed and turned his head to the side.

"Bright," he managed.

"Angel, thank Somebo—" a pause, and then, "Thank humanity, I s'pose. I thought—I thought you—"

"Slow down, dear," Aziraphale requested, voice hoarse. He was slowly becoming more and more aware of his body. "Still catching up."

"Right, right, sorry." He heard Crowley mutter something to the nurse about giving them a second, and she abided, if the corresponding footsteps were any indication.

Crowley clasped Aziraphale's hand between both of his. "What's the last thing you remember?" the demon asked quietly.

That was an excellent question. He remembered...ah, yes. They'd been in Crowley's flat. Arguing. Over what to do, how to handle the Gabriel situation—

Aziraphale grimaced. "Gabriel. And Beelzebub. I recall being stabbed." With monumental effort, Aziraphale lifted his head enough to look down at himself. He lifted the thin sheet over top of him, peeking down the front of his hospital gown in an attempt to get a glimpse of his stomach. He spotted the staples, the area raw and red and freshly mended. Oh yes. He was starting to feel that now, a dull throbbing in his gut.

Aziraphale fell back against his pillows, and Crowley briefly dropped his hand to tuck the sheet back over him. "You're alright," Aziraphale said, looking up at Crowley with dim wonder. "I was so worried..."

"A Lord of Hell eviscerates you, and you worry about me?" Crowley flashed him a fleeting smile, something that met at the intersection of relieved and terrified.

"I always worry about you. You can be reckless," Aziraphale told him, brow creasing. "What happened? After I..."

"Gave Gabriel what-for? That was brilliant, by the way."

"Yes, I rather thought so," Aziraphale laughed weakly. "The others...everyone is okay?"

"Everyone's fine. Great. In the waiting room. Only family's allowed in here," Crowley explained, nodding to the small post-surgical ward they were in.

"Family," Aziraphale repeated.

"Erm. Yeah. I uh, told them—might've said I was your husband. You know, just standard demonic manipulation type stuff. Don't need to talk about it. So anyway—"

"You are my family," Aziraphale interrupted him, shakily raising his other hand to grasp at the first thing he could reach, which happened to be Crowley's forearm.

Crowley looked like he was trying very hard to process a great deal of feelings at once. Evidently said processing didn't go well, as his response was, "Ngk."

"Though I do say we should at least go on a date before we talk about marriage," Aziraphale joked.

"Picnic?" Crowley asked, and he seemed to loosen, some of that tight fear in his features draining.

Aziraphale gently removed Crowley's sunglasses, folding them and setting them at his bedside. He returned Crowley's smile, not dropping the demon's eyes, now that he could see them. "I think a picnic would be lovely."

Crowley leaned forward, something seeming to snap in him. He pressed his forehead against Aziraphale's temple. "I really did think you were done for," he told him lowly, a quaver in his voice. "Couldn't bear it. If you. You know."

"Will you hit me if I say that God must have a plan for me?"

"Might."

They both laughed. And then they kissed, and that was quite nice.

"I love you," Crowley said when he broke away. "You stupid, mad, brave angel."

"I've never been called brave before," Aziraphale acknowledged, eyes still half-lidded, and feeling a bit giddy between the medication he was no doubt on and Crowley's kisses.

"Well you are. Don't forget the stupid and mad parts though. Stabbing an Archangel—"

"Wouldn't be the first Archangel we've gone after in the past few days. I recall walking in on you having a sword-fight with Michael."

"Didn't say I wasn't mad and stupid, too."

"And brave," Aziraphale added meaningfully. "Always brave, Crowley."

Crowley grinned broadly at him. He heard the pointed clearing of a throat from across the room. Crowley blinked. "Oh, right, yeah—you need to get checked up on. I'll catch you up on everything after, then we'll worry about getting you out of here." Crowley slid his sunglasses back on as the nurse approached.

"Surely they won't let me go home tonight?" Aziraphale asked, befuddled.

Crowley smirked. "We'll see."


"You really did just take everything, didn't you?"

Crowley and Aziraphale stood in the doorway to Crowley's bedroom in his flat. Or, what used to be Crowley's bedroom, but was now a fully-functioning hospital room, with all contents therein miracled there by Crowley. Sans the bed. He wanted Aziraphale to actually be comfortable while he recovered. And of course, there were books piled high on both bedside tables, to keep Aziraphale occupied.

"A week in the hospital. Please. You'd lose it. 'Specially with how little you sleep," Crowley pointed out, thumbs hooked in the miniscule corner pockets of his jeans. "We'll keep this stuff around 'til you're back to normal."

Aziraphale huffed out something close to laughter. "We've matching scars, now."

Crowley didn't understand him at first, but then Aziraphale reached over and lightly tapped his shoulder. "Mm. Kinda forgot about that," Crowley admitted. "Bit sad that getting impaled was low on my list of concerns, past few days."

Aziraphale rubbed his forehead. He looked like hell, still drawn and paler than usual, but he was back in his normal outfit, and that was something. Crowley would be keeping him in the wheelchair for a few days at least, though, much to Aziraphale's consternation. He wasn't about to risk any ripped stitches, inside or out.

"Want me to get you into bed?" Crowley asked, leaning down and making sure the question had just the edge of suggestion to it.

"I thought you were concerned about me ripping stitches?" Aziraphale replied knowingly. "But, yes...the humans have come a long way so far as medication is concerned. This morphine, I tell you—oh, dear boy, I feel like I'm melting."

"Better than moonshine and bone saws," Crowley said, wheeling Aziraphale to the bed. "Alright, come on then."

He scooped Aziraphale up in a bridal carry, as if he weighed nothing. Demonic strength, etcetera. Came in handy once in awhile. He paused before laying the angel down in his bed.

"Never again," Crowley told him. "No more faffing around with the Winchesters."

Aziraphale smiled at him. "You like them," he accused.

"I do not."

"You do. I do, too. I daresay we've made friends, Crowley."

"Some friends!" the demon hissed, lying Aziraphale gently down in his bed. "You want tucked in? Bed time story? Sing you a lullaby?"

"Missing Warlock, dear?"

"Maybe. How about a cup of tea?"

"Oh, I think that'd be lovely." Aziraphale leaned over to the bedside, searching for something to read. His hand paused in mid-air when he realized what was in the stack. "Crowley."

"Yeah?"

"You...the books," Aziraphale said haltingly. "The books Sam gave to me."

Crowley slouched, a faint red tinge to his cheeks. He pretended to be very interested in a scuff mark on his shoe. "Thought you'd want them."

The warmth of Aziraphale's smile melted Crowley into little more than a puddle. "Oh, Crowley."

Crowley had no intelligent response for the angel. "Uh, tea. Right. I'll be back in a tick."

And then he went out into the chaos of the rest of his flat.

A massive tent could be seen in Crowley's solarium, underneath the verdant leaves of his plants—it was the kind that suburban parents took along on camping trips with their children, ones that had windows and hammocks and mobile generators to run tiny TVs off of, the kind of tents that let you forget you were camping, which seemed to be what humans were into, nowadays. He had stocked it thoroughly with snacks and games, and the Them were currently inside, armed with high powered flash-lights and seeing who could make the best shadow puppets. A bigger shadow could be seen within the tent—they had dragged Jack inside, insisting he play with them. Jack had seemed unsure at first, but pleased nonetheless.

The main room was a mess of cots, miracled in for all relevant humans. Rowena was in the shower, Dean, Sam, Cas and Other Crowley had gone out to walk Beatrice and Pepper's new dog, who she'd named Dorothy.(1)

No more broken glass and blood. All cleaned up. And no more portal, either. Jack had seen to that.(2) They'd be taking the Hell portal back, which could come with its own problems, but it was the only real option, as only Cas and Jack would be able to go through Heaven without being incinerated.

Newt and Anathema were at the door, bags over their shoulders and ready to head home.

"You sure you don't want us to stay?" Anathema asked.

"You two are probably dead-tired. Go home. And, err, thanks. For helping Aziraphale find me," Crowley said.

"You're our friends," Newt said simply, with that trademark nervous smile.

There was that word again. Friends.

"And you can definitely give the Them a ride home tomorrow?" Anathema's voice was stern, and she peered over the top of her glasses at him.

"I was a nanny for six years, I do know how to handle children," Crowley reminded her. "I'll take them home in the Bentley tomorrow morning."

"And you'll go the speed limit."

"Well..."

"And you'll go the speed limit."

Crowley rolled his eyes. "Take all the fun out of it, will you?"

Newt and Anathema bid their goodbyes to the Them, and then to Aziraphale, and then to Crowley, who waved them off from the door and wished them safe travels. When they were gone, he went to the stove, intent on making that tea he'd promised Aziraphale.

Just as it came to a boil, the Winchesters and their angel came trudging through the door, Dorothy scuttling behind them. Beatrice was nowhere to be seen.

Sam blinked at the living room. "Wow. Looks a lot better than when we left."

"Most demons like the blood-and-gore aesthetic, but I'd like to think I've got finer tastes," Crowley called over his shoulder. "Where's Other Me?"

"Said he was 'clearing a path' for us to get through Hell when we leave tomorrow. No idea what that means. Not sure I want to know," Dean said with a yawn.

Sam pressed an ear to the bathroom. "Ugh, I can't believe Rowena's still in the shower," he groaned.

"These looks don't come easy, Samuel! Not at my age!" hollered Rowena from within.

Crowley snapped his fingers. Another door appeared a few feet away. "There."

Sam stared a for a moment, then shrugged. "Cool. Thanks." He dipped into the newly miracled bathroom, where Crowley made sure he would find fresh towels and clothes to change into.

Dean turned to Cas. "Wish you could do stuff like that."

Cas didn't seem amused by the comment. "Yes, I can think of many times that being able to will a bathroom into existence would have been helpful." He departed the living room, heading for Crowley's bedroom. "I'm going to check on Aziraphale."

Crowley let him go. Aziraphale would enjoy the company, no doubt. And he did have an ever-growing soft spot for Castiel.

Dean trundled up to the kitchen counter, leaning next to Crowley. "Hey."

Crowley grunted a response, then said, "Tea?"

"I hate tea. But Crowley and Rowena will probably take some."

Crowley poured four cups, trying to find the right thing to say. "Look...what I said..."

"High-stress situation," Dean said, mercifully cutting off his miserable attempt at an apology. "I get it. Trust me, I do."

Crowley turned to look at Dean dead-on. He seemed exhausted, had his fair share of cuts and bruises from the past few days. And from all accounts—this was just the Winchesters' lives. This was their day-to-day, every day, ad nauseum, with very little respite in between. He was struck again by the tenacity of humanity; how had these two not given up and called it good enough long ago?

"You kept your promise," Crowley said quietly. "So...thanks." He was doing a lot of thanking today. That was something new.

Dean pointed to Crowley's liquor cabinet. "Can that be my thanks?"

Crowley snorted. "All yours, mate."

"Sweet."

"Pour me a glass, too."

"Got it."

Two glasses of scotch waited on the island once Crowley returned from delivering Aziraphale his tea—and a cup for Cas as well, not that he was sure the angel would drink it.

Crowley grabbed his glass, and Dean grabbed his. "Cheers. To saving everyone's asses. No casualties. Well, other than Michael—but fuck that guy, am I right?"

Crowley laughed and clinked his glass against Dean's.

"So," Dean said after a few sips. "We'll keep the mirror."

"Yeah?"

"And you've always got those dumbass sunglasses on, so...just a call away. Kinda."

Crowley scrutinized Dean. "You're saying if something happens, ring you? Something not good?"

"I'm saying your Lucifer and your Michael are still kicking around. I'm saying that Beelzebub's probably pissed and ready to kill you, and knows where you live."

"Please. They're all too afraid of us to try anything," Crowley waved him off, trying to quell his own concern at Dean's words—Aziraphale had told him after he woke up from his surgery that Beelzebub and Gabriel were wise to the fact that he and Crowley may have swapped places for their trials. Which meant that someone could be knocking down his door with holy water, and Aziraphale's with Hellfire.

But, he had literally crushed Beelzebub last time they crossed paths, and so far as Hell or Heaven were aware, they'd wiped Gabriel from the face of the Earth. So, hopefully that served as enough of a nuclear deterrent to keep forces from Above and Below away—so long as he and Aziraphale didn't make any antagonistic moves towards either side, of which they had no plans of doing.

What they wanted now, more than anything, was some goddamn peace and quiet.

"Still. We've got your back, if you need it." Dean drummed his knuckles on the countertop. "And...if we need you?"

Crowley groaned. "Quid-pro-quo, is it?"

"You can just say no."

"Your high-and-mighty King of Hell says you use people up 'til their husks," Crowley said, still watching Dean intently. "Any truth to that?"

"We don't use people...but...yeah, people who hang out with us, they don't have that long of a lifespan, usually. I'm not gonna pretend it ain't like that, because it is," Dean told him honestly, and Crowley could see a hundred deaths reflected back in his eyes, eyes that looked far older than forty.

Crowley stared contemplatively into the depths of his glass. "If you need help," he said slowly. "I'll come. But not Aziraphale."

"Shouldn't that be up to him?"

"No. Not this." Crowley drained the rest of his glass. "I can't lose him. I won't lose him. Especially not now."

Dean nodded slowly. It wasn't the answer he wanted, but he wasn't going to argue, Crowley could tell that much. "I get it."

"Oh yes, I've seen you and Castiel. I suspect you do get it."

Dean's eyes widened comically. "The—the fuck do you mean, me and Castiel? We're not—we're not, you know. We're not like you and Aziraphale."

"Aziraphale and I weren't like that until literally yesterday," Crowley pointed out mildly, enjoying watching Dean squirm. "Then again, Other Me seems to fancy you too—and I've never been one to discourage polyamory—"

"I'm straight!" Dean exclaimed, voice strangled and face turning redder by the second.

"That's what Freddie told me too, first we met."

"Who the hell is—wait holy shit did you know Freddie Mercury!?"

And thus came a flood of over-excited questions from Dean, which Crowley answered as best as he could, and he even found himself smiling a few times, as he refilled both he and Dean's glasses thrice over. Eventually Rowena joined them, then Sam, then Cas, and then there were many drinks, and they migrated into Aziraphale's room so he could join in the conversation. They stayed up late, talking, exchanging stories. Celebration wasn't quite so thick in the air as it had been the night after they'd stopped Michael—it was something different.

It was the feeling of being among friends, just because you could.

Crowley decided, begrudgingly, that he liked it.


By the time the King of Hell returned to the now unwrecked flat, it was nearly five in the morning.

All was quiet, save for Dean's log-sawing snores. The Winchesters, Jack, and Rowena were spread out on a variety of cots, all sleeping peacefully. He sensed the Them in the solarium, burrowed into sleeping bags in their tent, dreaming of things that only children could dream of. Innocent things, hopeful things. Dorothy promptly left Crowley and slipped through the flap in the tent to curl up next to Pepper. None of the children woke, though he heard a quiet yip from Dog.

Beatrice stayed loyally at Crowley's side.

Crowley swung his head around the room; not a creature was stirring, except for Castiel.

He sat on the edge of Anthony's desk, which had been shoved up against the window bank to create more room. In his hands was Good Omens.

"Standing guard, Kitten?" Crowley asked lowly, padding over to join the angel.

"Trying to be quiet and let the others rest," Castiel said pointedly, glancing up at him. "Don't wake them."

"I would never dare." He seated himself next to Castiel.

"Crowley left a cup of tea in the microwave for you," the angel informed him.

"How sweet." Crowley snapped his fingers, and the tea was in his hands, warm again. "Enjoying the book?"

"Yes..." He glanced up at Crowley. "It makes me wonder."

"Wonder what?"

"How many other universes are out there. How...even when we feel most alone, we're not, not really."

"And makes you wonder just how many gods there are," Crowley tacked on. "Is our dear Chuck universe-hopping, or are there millions of apathetic almighty entitities out there, playing poker for infinite stakes with the lives of their so-called children?"

"Maybe God in this universe isn't like that," Cas said. He gently closed the book. He was almost finished. Angelic reading speed. "It seems like...their God had a plan. And Crowley and Aziraphale followed through, and they got a happy ending."

"And now you're wondering where yours is?" Crowley guessed.

Cas didn't seem to know how to answer that. "Maybe this is it. Michael's gone. My deal with the Shadow is broken. You're back to take care of Hell. Jack is healthy, and happy, and has his powers restored alongside his soul—maybe this is our happy ending."

"Do you really believe that?" Crowley asked, genuinely curious.

Cas closed his eyes, seeming to deflate. "No. Not really." He set the book down on the surface of the desk. "So, what did you do in Hell?"

"Ah...rearranged some pieces on the board. It's a long story. But we'll have safe passage in the morning."

Cas looked at him sharply. "What did you do, Crowley?" the angel demanded, in that holier-than-thou-I-shall-smite-thee growl of his.

"I simply put a better offer on the table for the average working-class demon. Starting bonuses. Infernal wage increase across the board. Performance-based advancement. And I convinced them that I am bigger, meaner, and scarier than their Dark Council."

"And how exactly did you do that?"

"Well. Anthony convincing Michael he was Lucifer may have given me some inspiration..."

"You convinced them you're Lucifer, from another world?"

"I heavily implied it. And the Lucifer in this world didn't step in to stop me, so." Crowley smirked. "All's well that ends well, Kitten. We'll go home unhindered, and I'll have an army to retake Hell and restore order."

"And when Hell's yours again? You'll still give it up?"

Crowley hadn't allowed himself mentally to get quite that far yet. He always liked the taking of things, the working upwards, the chase. But he knew himself well enough to be aware of the fact that once he sat on that throne again, he would be right back where he was years ago. Miserable. Empty. Alone.

No. That beach sounded better and better.

"I've no interest in ruling. Not directly. May keep the title just because, if I do say so myself, it's quite fitting. But I'll pick someone else to rule. Someone you lot can have a working relationship with, keep the cogs moving right. Someone not ambitious enough to try to cut me down," Crowley explained.

Castiel looked like he was fighting a smile. "You have changed."

"No, I haven't."

"You have."

"...No, I haven't. And shouldn't you be disappointed? Still waiting on that promise of yours to carve the heart out of me, Cas. No one likes a tease."

And then, Castiel did allow himself to smile, and he said, "Shut up, Crowley."


When morning came, Crowley miracled up a suitable breakfast, and the flat was ripe with chatter and laughter and forks scraping plates. He had just grown accustomed to the Aziraphale-esque noises in his flat, and now this? He felt like he was running a hostel.

The Winchesters ate their own weight in bacon and eggs, and then declared that they needed to get going.

"Positive you don't want me to go with you?"

"I've got your Hell well in hand," the King provided smugly. "We'll be fine."

"Famous last words," chimed Rowena.

Dean stepped forward. "Okay, goodbye for real this time." Before Crowley could protest, Dean hugged him.

"Oh. This is a thing," Crowley said dimly, patting Dean on the back. And lo and behold, a hug line formed, because this was apparently how the Winchesters did things with the people in their lives, and he and Aziraphale received a squeeze from all but Other Crowley and Rowena.

"We don't do hugs in my family," the demon provided. "But it's been fun."

"Perhaps having you appear in my summoning circle wasn't such a bad turn of luck after all," added Rowena.

"Depends on your definition of luck," Crowley replied with an arched eyebrow.

"Please, do call us on the mirror when you get home, so we know that all of you are safe," Aziraphale requested.

Dean snorted. "Okay, Mom."

"We'll call," Sam promised.

Jack lingered nearby, the Them gathered around him.

"Do you have to go?" Adam asked, with just the slighest touch of petulance.

"I do...I'm sorry. But, maybe I could come back and visit sometime," Jack told Adam.

"That would be wicked," Adam said, eyes lighting up. "You promise?"

The Them pestered him as one—"Promise? Promise? Do you promise?"

"I promise," Jack called over them, smiling. "I will, okay? And you can show me that clubhouse you were talking about."

The Them cheered.

And then, the Winchesters and their friends were out the door, Beatrice toddling in their wake. Out of Crowley and Aziraphale's lives just as quickly as they'd entered, it seemed.

"How come we can't go with them?" Brian whined almost as soon as the door was closed. "I want to see another universe."

"Me too. And if they can go through the portal, why can't we?" said Pepper.

"Bet it'd be loads better than that field trip to the nuclear plant," Adam concurred.

"Or the one to the dairy farm," Wensleydale piped up. "That manure smell was actually really difficult to get out of my clothes."

"I'm afraid it's just not safe," Aziraphale said apologetically, trying to let the children down easy. "You're far too young. Wandering through other universes just isn't age-appropriate, you must understand."

"Hey, wait a minute," Adam said, seeming to remember something. He turned to Aziraphale. In his wheelchair, the two were eye-level. "You said you'd get me a souvenir. What did you bring me?"

The look on Aziraphale's face told Crowley that he had entirely forgotten the boy's request. "Ah, yes, well..." He blinked. "Oh! Oh, I did bring you something, where did Castiel put it...?"

Aziraphale rolled his way to Crowley's desk, scooping up the copy of Good Omens that rested there. He handed it to Adam. "This is from their world—and I think you may like it." Aziraphale smiled brightly. "You're in it, you know. All four of you."

The Them were delighted, clamoring over the book.

"Come on you lot, you can start reading it on the way home. Your parents are going to be expecting you back from...well I've already forgotten the lie you've told them, but they'll be expecting you back from somewhere," Crowley said.

The Them all said goodbye to Aziraphale and told him they hoped he'd get better soon and that it was wicked cool that he got stabbed and survived and a mix of other chatter that Crowley could only make out half of. Then, with Dog and Dorothy in their wake, they trundled down the stairs.

Crowley turned to Aziraphale. "You'll be alright for a few hours?" Crowley asked, already feeling a thrill of anxiety of leaving Aziraphale alone in his current, vulnerable state.

"Tickety-boo, my dear."

Crowley leaned down and kissed Aziraphale. When he pulled back, he said, "Never gonna get used to that."

"And I'll never grow tired of it. Now go— imagine the trouble the four of them can get into between here and the curb."

Chapter Text

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.

Sam smiled.

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."

"Other universe—"

"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?"

"Among others."

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?

"Everybody dies."

"Not us."

"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."

"We'll see."

A tonal shift; or a cosmic one, if you like: "Is that a threat?"

"No."

"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."

"I guess."

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.

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THE END

(...but nothing ever really ends, does it?)