Author's Note: Aaand, I'm back! I've been wrangling with my characters the last few weeks because they didn't want to do what I was telling them to do. I finally gave into their demands, and in thanks, they are allowing me to post this chapter. While it doesn't include all of the plot points I had PLANNED for it to (*shakes fists at characters*) it does have us pointing in the right direction, so yay!progress!
As always, here's hoping you enjoy. And thanks for sticking with me over this several week hiatus! You guys rock and I love you all :-D (Also, I wanna give a special shoutout to 'SpitFire' whose reviews I can't respond to because FFN is silly like that, but I want you to know that I cherish each and every one of them!)
It takes closer to four days for the nearest pair of reinforcements to arrive instead of the two he'd estimated. When they show, it's with little fanfare but a whole lot of road dust.
Two women - faces and heads obscured from Mary's view by hoods and scarves - roll up on a single worn-down motorcycle that Mary guesses is made up of parts from at least five others. The machine comes to a surprisingly well-muffled stop near where Bobby and Mary are waiting under a covered lean-to beyond the gate to Bobby's (and Mary and Crowley's too, now, she supposes) home and base of operations.
The pair dismount. The taller one moving the bike off to a little alcove on the side, where it'll be well shaded and hidden away. The shorter one hops in place kicking her feet out and throwing her arms over her head in a shoulder popping stretch that Mary can sympathize with.
"Still riding that bucket of bolts? Ain't you two ever heard of a lost cause?"
The shorter one snorts, the sound muffled by her scarf. "Aww, Bobert! No such thing as a lost cause." She tugs at the cloth around her head to reveal a dust-coated face made older by too much sun and a vicious scar slanting down one cheek and across her chin, just beneath a lower lip turned up in a genuine smile. The dull daylight catches on strands of red hair dancing out from beneath her hood like flames leaking out.
"How many times I gotta tell you not to call me that, girl?" Bobby growls, the smile on his face belying the gruff tone.
The girl laughs, the sound full and pleasant. "Don't know. Keep trying and maybe one day it'll happen." She steps forward, wrapping her arms around Bobby's neck in a tight hug that the older hunter returns with easy affection.
"Yeah, yeah, heard that one before, Charlie."
The hunter - Charlie - releases Bobby with another laugh. "Hey, man! You gotta keep the faith, otherwise what's the point?"
"Hrmph. You keep your faith, I'll stick to not getting dead."
"I find your terms acceptable."
"I'm sure he was real worried, Charlie." The taller woman's voice is familiar, though it's not until she lowers her scarf and lifts up her goggles that Mary figures out why. She swallows down her surprise at seeing a familiar face, distorted as it is by the presence of a milky left eye, and tells herself it doesn't actually belong to the woman her sons had introduced her to what seems like a lifetime ago. "Hey, Bobby."
"Jody." Bobby's voice goes a little soft on the name, and Mary watches as he gives her a brief, but still warm, hug in greeting. "Took you longer to get here than you said. Run into trouble?"
"Hit a patch of tempters a day south from here. You know how it goes."
Bobby whistles. "Still got all your limbs?"
"Of course. What do you take us for, amateurs?" Jody unhooks a set of packs from the bike, slinging one up onto her shoulder, and tossing the other to her companion who makes an exaggerated 'oomph' sound when it hits her with a puff of dirt. The dark-haired woman looks at Mary. "Mary, right? Bobby says you guys are having some angel problems?"
An image of Lucifer and Michael plotting together flashes behind Mary's eyes, and she cringes. "Yeah, you could say that."
"Those feathered assholes are plotting to break reality, 's what they're doing."
The redhead heaves out an impatient sigh. "Can we move this convo indoors please? I've got dust in all my crevices, and I've been dreaming about washing my eyeballs for the last five hours."
"Yeah, yeah. Come on." Bobby leads them to the heavy main door to the base, the pair following close behind with Mary picking up the rear. "Got a decent rain a few days back, so the collectors are nice and full. Should be plenty for you two to clean up some, if you want."
"Yes, please and thank you!" Charlie bounces up and down, more like a kid than the seasoned hunter she clearly is. It makes Mary smile to see that this place - as shitty as it is - hasn't syphoned off all the joy in the world yet.
The lot of them stop for a few minutes at the entry so that Bobby can run the two newcomers through the standard 'no monsters allowed' series of checks. The pair hold out their arms for dousing and cuts with nary a flinch, and tug their collars open to confirm that their anti-demon possession brands are still in place. (The warding to get through the gate is excellent, with devil's traps buried beneath the gravel for good measure. But with all the curveballs this place likes to hurl at them, Mary can't say she disagrees with Bobby's paranoia.)
Once they've been given the all clear, they head in; Mary stopping to secure the door behind them.
It's odd, she thinks, how small a universe it is. She hadn't known this Bobby before she got here, but he'd know her. And now, in walks an alternate version of a long-time friend of her sons, only this one has no idea who she is.
Odd, and if she's honest, a bit unsettling.
Still, there's no denying that she's thrilled by the prospect of having someone - anyone - who is neither an enemy nor her contrast gruff companions around to talk to.
Mary catches up with the trio as Bobby is in the middle of explaining the current water and electrical limitations they have in place ("I ain't saying you can't shower, Charlie. I'm just sayin' you have a two minute limit on the hot water supply.")
As the redhead is arguing her case for "the strategic use of just a teensy bit of magic, Bobert" to allow them all longer showers, Crowley wanders out from the direction of his room, focused on a sheaf of papers in one hand, and twirling an ever present pen in the other. He stops when he realizes that there's a small crowd blocking his way, glancing up briefly at first, and then again with enough speed that it it must hurt.
If Mary thought that she'd been unsettled when she'd recognized Jody, that's nothing compared to the way Crowley's face pales as his eyes dart from Jody to Charlie and back again. He coughs out a humorless laugh. "I need a drink. You lot want a drink?" He spins on his heel, and stalks straight to Bobby's supply of alcohol without waiting for a response.
In the silence that follows, he yanks a bottle off the shelf with a shaky hand, pours something Mary knows is meant to be sipped into a glass, and throws it back like a shot. A second one follows at its heels.
Mary and Bobby exchange a glance, the other hunter's mouth pressing into a tight line. "You actually planning on sharing that bottle, boy? Or were just feigning bein' polite?"
Crowley refills the glass a third time, though this one he doesn't down in one go. He leans against the counter, tipping the bottle in Bobby's direction with an off-kilter smirk. "If anyone wants in on this bathtub swill, old man, they're welcome to it."
"Keep insulting my stock. See how fast you get cut off." Bobby steps to Crowley and tugs the bottle from his grip. Eyes locked on Crowley, he reaches past him to pull a stack of cups off the shelf, and portions out servings for everyone.
In quick order, the sudden heavy atmosphere is lessened, and the earlier debate over showers forgotten, as both Jody and Charlie accept their drinks with nods of thanks. Mary takes hers with a grimace she tries (poorly) to camouflage as a smile. (Because really, Crowley's not wrong about it being bathtub swill. Except she's pretty sure it was made in a sink, not a tub.)
"Ladies, this here is our resident bellyacher, Crowley. Crowley, this is-"
"Jody Mills and Charlie Bradbury." Crowley raises his refilled glass to the pair with a sardonic smile. "Good to see you're both alive and well."
The redhead chokes on her drink, sputtering liquid over her chin. Jody reaches up a hand to smack her back. Her face is calm, but Mary can tell by how wide her eyes have gone that she's as perturbed by Crowley's recognition as Charlie is.
Charlie recovers quick enough. "...um, thanks? But my name's Middleton, not Bradbury." Charlie tilts her head up, a hint of a smile playing at her mouth. "Far as alias options go, it doesn't suck. Could use it and pretend we got lucky enough to live out 451 instead of Revelations."
"Bite your tongue, girl. At least with the winged bastards, we got somewhere to point and shoot."
Jody squints at Crowley. "Have we met?"
"In a manner of speaking." Crowley takes a deep draw from his glass, but doesn't elaborate any further, so Mary picks up the slack.
She slides a step closer towards Crowley, hoping to offer a united front. The urge strong enough that she doesn't bother to question it. "How much did Bobby tell you about our angel problem, and how Crowley and I met up with him?"
Jody pans her gaze away from Crowley and lands on Mary, her one milky white eye providing an discomforting point of focus. "Not much. We haven't been on a secure wire for a while. Not after our last safe house went up in smoke."
Charlie snorts, tapping Jody in her ribs with an elbow. "Putting it mildly. We were already heading out this way when we picked up your signal, Bobby. Hoping for a place we could lay low for a bit. Recoup. Things have gone from regular level nasty to hidden boss level absurd."
"Hell. You two are always welcome, you know that."
Jody lips tip up in a soft smile. "Yeah, we do."
Crowley sips from his glass, tilting his head and shoulders in an loose shrug. "Could be that your bit of nastiness is related to our archangel gang-up."
"Wait a sec, archangel gang-up? As in, more than one archangel? I thought the only one left was Michael!" Charlie half-shrieks at a pitch that makes Mary cringe.
"Bobby what is going on? You said you had an angel problem, but... archangels?" The hand that Jody isn't using to hold her glass curls up into a fist, a muscle in her jaw twitching. "We both know - hell the entire hunter community on this planet knows - Michael killing Lucifer is what started this whole godforsaken mess! And he went through both Raphael and Gabriel to do it. So how can there be another one?"
"Your 'too long didn't read' version of it is this." Crowley snags the bottle back from Bobby, refilling everyone else's glasses and then his own with long, slow movements. "Mary and I are from an alternate reality where it's a little less Mad Max. Before we got ourselves trapped here, we imported our own copy of Lucifer, and now he and your version of Michael have decided to have a go at teaming up." Crowley lifts his newly full glass in a toast at the gobsmacked stares from their guests. "Cheers!"
Sam and Dean make it to Washington as the sun is setting over the Pacific.
They park next to Cas's newest gas-guzzling truck - a beat-up Dodge so in need of a wash that the white and blue paint appears gray - and in front of the little house they last saw months ago through a veil of grief. The building seems softer bathed in the orange and pink glow of dusk. The porch lamp is already lit, like a welcome sign, and pale yellow leaks out through the curtains at the front. Sam can see movement through the gauze, and despite himself, a smile twitches at his lips when he realizes the date.
It's almost Thanksgiving.
The jury is still out on Jack, but Cas is family. And while things may never calm down enough for their lives to be considered normal, it's nice to pretend every once and a while that his brother and him aren't beset with the constant, ongoing chore of saving the world, and can instead indulge in everyday things like visiting family at the holidays.
(And if Sam finds that he can't quite stamp down on an eager, giddy feeling at the prospect of getting their mother back in time for the holiday, well, who can blame him?)
Sam's halfway out the door of the car before he realizes that Dean is simply staring over the dash at the house, tension carving furrows into his forehead and at the corner of his lips. Making him appear older than he is (or possibly closer to his true age, if Sam counts the time he spent in hell, which he doesn't).
"Dean?" He waits a beat, then prods further when there's no response. "Everything all right?"
"Hmm? Oh, uh, yeah…" Dean's eyes flick away from the house, over and out the driver's side window and back again. "Tired, need to get some coffee in me."
While Sam doesn't doubt the truth of the statement, he can see the lie buried within plain sight, but let's it go. He can dig later, if he has to. After they've figured out what's up with the portal visions.
And maybe, just maybe, after they've gotten their mother back.
They've only just slammed the doors shut on the Impala when Jack bounces out onto the front porch with a too-bright smile and an overly-enthusiastic wave. "Hi, Sam! Hi, Dean! It's me, Jack!"
Sam laughs, more at the annoyed huff his brother lets out than at the greeting itself, as ridiculous as it is. As if they haven't met before or talked on the phone dozens of times at this point. "Hi, Jack. Cas inside?"
"Yup! Come on in. Father was just going to teach me how to make popcorn. Do you like popcorn?"
Sam's eyebrows lift towards his hairline at the non-sequitur, but he manages a response all the same. "Umm...sure? Popcorn sounds good. We'll, uh, just grab our stuff and meet you inside."
"Great!" And with that, Jack bounds back inside the house, a happy little hop in his step.
Sam grabs his backpack off the floor of the car, checking to make sure he has his charger, and glances at where his brother is swinging his duffle up onto his back from the trunk, a scowl curving deep lines down around his mouth. "Making popcorn to greet the coming apocalypse. Ain't that just swell?" The disdain coating the words is thick and angry, and - as far as Sam can see - entirely unwarranted.
"Dude. Come on. Give the kid a chance."
Dean slants his eyes at Sam as they scale the steps. "Oh, trust me. I am. You'll know it when I stop."
Sam shakes his head, but drops it. Mostly because he figures Dean is right, and he will know when he stops. But also because he's not ready to give up the pleasant feeling of possibility he's riding at the moment.
Is having popcorn with the son of Satan weird? Sure. But so is everything else in their lives. If Sam hadn't learned to roll with the punches decades ago, he'd probably be dead in a ditch somewhere.
Or...actually. He'd probably be hosting Lucifer, and living in muted, horrified silence inside his own brain.
Sam shudders, the thought grabbing hold of him for just long enough to quell the happy, hopeful sensation he'd been floating around on. God damn it. Even when Lucifer is trapped a literal world away, Sam can't ever quite shake him off.
He doesn't realize he's gone still until he hears Dean call out his name. He blinks back to reality, and sees his brother watching him with narrowed eyes and a frown, the door to the house held open by his heel. "Sammy? All right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, sorry. Just...tired too. I guess."
"Yeah, I'm good, Dean." Sam gives him a smile that's not meant to do anything but end the line of questioning. "Let's get some popcorn."
Dean wrinkles his nose, but doesn't offer any additional commentary.
They follow the sounds of muffled discussion through the living room and into the kitchen, where Castiel and Jack are standing, identical looks of bafflement on their faces as they stare down at a pot on the stove.
Cas gives it a small shake via its plastic wrapped handle. When nothing happens he picks up a package from the counter, frowning. "Something should be happen-" A popping sound interrupts him. Sam watches as a singular kernel of popcorn bounces up into the air from the pan and back down. Followed by another, then another, until an entire riot of corn is popping away.
Cas's frown flips, and laughter barrels first out of Jack, then Sam. Who rushes to their aid as they fumble around for the bowl they had set aside. Together, they maneuver the treat into the bowl, only losing a few pieces to the floor. Sam pops a piece into his mouth, grinning at the taste. "Not bad."
Jack's smile takes over his face as he munches. Cas watches him with fondness before taking a piece for himself, and offering a more subdued, but still pleased response. The expression melts away when he looks towards the kitchen door. "Sam? Where is Dean?"
"What do you mean? He's right-" But when Sam turns back to where he left his brother, Dean's gone.
But then again, everyone else in the room is too, so what's the harm?
The deep dive into the bottle he'd begun with the arrival of the oh-so-familiar pair of reinforcements has broken his previously self-imposed avoidance of over-indulgence, and he can't say he regrets it. Not when his limbs are feeling loose, the constant roar of blood in his ears has dulled to a quiet yell, and the roller coaster ride of emotions he's been on since he woke up human has smoothed out to something closer to a lazy river.
He'd forgotten how nice being drunk could feel.
He likes it.
Judging by the way that the conversation around the room has migrated from world-ending, we're all doomed, aren't angels just the absolute worst, to more benign topics like gross hunting stories, Crowley guesses that everyone else is equally enamoured with inebriation.
"So Abbie and I - that's this hunter I use to run with back home, she's wicked smart, and hot - we caught one in a trap, like a literal bear trap, and when it snapped closed? Just pus. Everywhere! The sludge that came off that thing? Ugh! It was so freaking gross. Blech! Used up half a month's worth of soap getting clean. Worth it though."
The redheaded hunter whom Crowley had known as the adopted kid sister of the Winchesters once upon a time gives a full body shudder, but her cheeks are red, and her smile is wide as she refills her glass. He finds that he's helpless but to smile along with her. Seeing her now, like this, it's easy to see how she was able to worm her way into Dean and Sam's hearts and small circle of family.
He pushes the pang of something that knocks at his own heart down, determined to stay in the agreeable fog of alcohol as long as he can. "Ran into one of those once, few years back. Bit a hole clean through one of my favorite coats while I was distracted with...something else. Luckily, my hellhound - Juliet - took care of it for me, so I didn't get slimed myself. Poor pup was covered though. It was murder getting her clean."
Crowley can feel a sappy little smile settle on his face at the memory. He doesn't try to hide it though. Content to revisit the time through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Which isn't hard, since this particular memory happened back when he was still a little twisted up on human-blood, and Dean was a somewhat regular (if reluctant) fixture by his side. And hell, on this particular occasion, Dean had been the cause of the aforementioned distraction.
Ahh, good times.
A sputtering cough across the way jars Crowley out of the memory he's lost himself in. "Wait a minute wait a minute. Your hellhound? You mean, like a pet?!"
"Mmm. More a companion really. They're very intelligent. And highly loyal. I trained her from when she was just a small thing." He sips on the liquid in his glass, eyes half-lidded. "Miss her terribly. Wonder how she's been these last months without me..."
"No. No no nonono. You're gonna have to back up like, fifty-five steps or something. Where did you get a - a hellhound puppy?! And more importantly why did you have one!"
Crowley squints at Charlie, she must be drunker than he thought. "Where? Where do you think I got her? Hell of course. And I should think the why I had her would be obvious."
Charlie looks from him, to where Jody and Bobby are lounging against one another on the shoddy couch. When no help from that corner is forthcoming, she turns back to Crowley. Eyes wide, and a little glassy, and expression one of pure confusion for no good reason that he can see.
Crowley swivels his gaze towards Mary at the other end of the table, blinking rapidly to bring her into focus when he finds her fuzzy at the edges. "Yes, Mother Mary?"
She huffs at him, blowing a long strand of hair out of her face. "I hate it when you call me that."
"Then why does the corner of your mouth twitch upwards every time I say it?"
"Whatever. Stop distracting me. I had a point you know."
"Please, by all means, point away."
She gestures towards Charlie with the limp wave of her hand. "She doesn't know."
"Doesn't know wha-" Crowley swallows, realization settling over him. "Ah. Hmm."
"Hello! She's still here and would very much like to know, sometime today if at all possible, please!"
Crowley shuffles back and forth on his chair, feeling unaccountably uncomfortable all of a sudden. He considers a half-dozen different ways of explaining, but decides that all of them will take way more effort than he feels capable of at the moment. So instead, he takes another sip of his drink, sucks in a deep breath, and rips the plaster right off.
"I use to be a demon. King of Hell, point of fact. No worries, I abdicated in absentia when I caught this rather fetching case of humanity."
"You were...the King of Hell? Really?"
The edges of her mouth angle downward and she glances at Mary who offers a simple, "It's true" in response. She slides her gaze back to Crowley, looking him up and down like she's trying to find horns, or scales, or something. He opts not to feel insulted by that, given how most of the demons they encounter in this realitydo have all of the above.
When she starts laughing so hard that tears come to her eyes, Crowley decides it's okay to feel insulted.
Insulted, and maybe just a bit relieved.
"Hey Jodes! We're in the presence of royalty!"
"So I heard. Can royalty do Bobby and I a solid and refill our glasses, we're running dry over here."
Mary snickers, and Crowley, well...
Crowley stands and refills their glasses.
"Thank you, Your Majesty."
Crowley gives them a bow, and makes his way back to his seat where Charlie greets him with a grin. "So, hellhound puppies! Deets!" She makes a grabbing motion with her hand. "I need them. Gimme!"
Crowley laughs, and tells her everything he knows.
Chapter End Notes: Seriously though, Crowley and Dean were SUPPOSED to be in the same universe by the end of this chapter. THAT WAS THE PLAN. But, as you can see, that hasn't happened quite yet. *sigh* But I SWEAR TO YOU we are really almost there. Honest.