Cue the Dramatic Entrance

Summary: Dean is absolutely certain Crowley is just waiting to make a dramatic entrance, with a perfectly timed "Hello, boys." Isn't he? Post-13x13 vignette. COMPLETE

If there is one thing Dean Winchester is good at, it's denial. Might even call it his modus operandi. Odds stacked against them? Dean's certain they can hack, shoot or burn their way through. Another apocalypse on the horizon? After facing down so many of those, they've surely got this one in the bag, no matter the personal cost. One of them going darkside? There's going to be a way back from the edge, even when it seems like all hope is lost.

Death of someone they care about? Then he drinks, and fights, and keeps pushing down the grief and the guilt and the loss until they're just another dull thud of heart against rib cage. That constant echo of faded friends in his chest, saying 'do it for us, do it for us,' and he can't tell if they mean keep fighting or keep on living.

Dean's good at denial, and he knows it. But for once, he's certain that's not what this is.

Because Crowley's not dead. Why the Hell would he be? For a pair of moronic, self-serving, pretty boy plaid pillows, stuffed with drama? He can hear Crowley huff at the very thought. Dean knows from experience, with all the come-backs and near-misses, that there is no way in Hell that the King of Schemes, of snark and self-preservation, offed himself in some convoluted combination of noble sacrifice, spiteful retaliation, and barely disguised resignation.

So Dean doesn't grieve so much as patiently wait for the demon's return. He knows that's a part of losing someone – that sense of impermanent loss. Dean keeps waiting for the doughbag to saunter into the bunker, as if nothing happened. Crowley's just off someplace else, and the bitterness that evolves isn't so much about the utter unfairness of it, as much as about how inconsiderate it is of the demon to keep the Winchesters in the dark like this. That's not denial; its practicality.

Because Dean is absolutely certain Crowley is just waiting to make a dramatic entrance, with a perfectly timed "Hello, boys."

Isn't he?

Dean's not going to give Crowley the satisfaction. Not after the son a bitch put him through all this angst, as if the damned demon deserves Dean's pity, or gratitude, or regret. Dean's determined to wait Crowley out, however long it takes. Sitting in the bar, getting some breathing room from his brother and that boy-shaped nuke in the motel room upstairs, Dean types a text and releases it into the void.

If you're alive, I'm at some dive, having a drink. The Black Spur. Sound familiar?

This isn't the first text message he's sent since the rift closed and the pyre burned to smoldering ash, one body missing among the mourned. Even as every one of his messages go unanswered, Dean can't bring himself to drink a final toast.

Then Cas returns. There's no words to express Dean's relief. Or his sense of vindication. And he silently adds another item to their already lengthy list of impossible tasks.

Because there's a place called the Empty, which hosts all the angels and demons that ever were, sound asleep and yet eagerly waiting. It took the offspring of an archangel to pierce through that supposedly eternal slumber. Their little nephilim doesn't have a connection to the wayward demon, doesn't think to call out to him as he did to his anointed parent. Dean doesn't ask him to try. Now that he knows some place like the Empty exists, Dean comes to believe it's only a matter of time before they fire a shot through that thin veil, just like he and Sam have crashed through all of reality's other impediments and misplaced constraints.

They'll wake Crowley up, and then there will be Hell to pay. Because waking in the Empty, Crowley may be alone, but he would also be in his element. If his years of being a constant, sometimes tolerable rock in the Winchesters' proverbial shoes was anything to go by, annoying an ancient, cosmic entity would be well within the demon's skill set.

Dean just needs to pull his weight, for once, where the demon is concerned. Once he figures out how to set an inter-dimensional alarm clock, Crowley will have everything else well in hand. And Dean can take comfort that, in his own way, he's been right. So Crowley's dead. But he's not gone, not really, not forever. The doughbag took a nap, leaving the others to deal with a cheery, nougat-loving abomination and attempting to open a portal to apocalypse world. Fucking typical.

Strange that Dean knows exactly what Crowley would have to say about that endeavor. How he would rant and rave about how much they had all sacrificed – that he had sacrificed – to keep this reality safe from the ravages of that one; how monumentally stupid it was to even consider endangering everything for one person; how typical it was of the Winchesters to risk the whole world for one of their own. How, though he knew it would once again pit himself against the boys, Crowley would likely threaten to use the entirety of his power and resources to stop the Winchesters from haphazardly slashing at the bindings of reality.

And Dean would wonder at the weirdness of his life: that the King of Hell is now the protector of the world, and the Winchesters its potential destroyer.

It will work, his denial promises him. And so Dean is willing to persevere.

Then Jack is gone, too.

They'll find him, of course. Temperamental kid with powers like that, only a couple months on earth and way too many good intentions not to inadvertently cause a lot of bad, it won't take long. Though Sam doesn't say it, there's the benefit of a bit of breathing room. And though Dean would never admit it, he's more disquieted by Jack's absence than he is by whatever catastrophe the nephilim will unleash.

Alone in his room, the untutored ugliness of Bon Scott's voice railing joyfully against the death that was just around the corner, Dean considers praying to Amara. Why the Hell not? Chuck certainly didn't answer, the useless louse. That twisted bond he and the feminine embodiment of annihilation share has to be worth something, right?

And Amara did bring Mary back. Maybe Cas, as an angel, would have been beyond her abilities. But a demon? Dean can't fathom that being a problem. After all, Amara's indirectly responsible for Hell and all of demonkind – her particular brand of divinity leaking out of what would become the Mark, infecting Lucifer, who created Hell and demons. Her dark essence is the same oily smoke forming the perverted spirit of a damned soul.

And that, Dean admits to himself, is the problem. That is why he holds back from actually offering up the words in semi-supplication. Because Amara might be able to bring Crowley back, but she might also bring back him back wrong.

His old, sinister self, from before the aborted cure.

The thought makes Dean's stomach hurt, in a way he can't quite explain.

Then again, Dean thinks as the track changes and Blue Oyster Cult begins to sing about all the things home is and isn't, and about giving the devil his due, Crowley coming back less than congenial wouldn't be that difficult a situation to reverse.

They'd have to cuff him, of course, the moment Crowley appeared. Oh, they'd let him get his trademark line out. But then it'd be the cuffs, and he and Sam would drag the protesting demon down into the familiarity of the dungeon, with its fortified chair and small supply of purified blood. They'd shoot Crowley full of the good stuff – not enough to make him human; Dean wouldn't take away Crowley's right to make that choice. Just enough to bring him back to himself. Just enough to restore the complicated, unquestioning, surreal friendship between an embittered hunter and a demon teetering on the edge of humanity.

The longer it takes Crowley to make that dramatic entrance, the more Dean seriously considers it.

Just as Dean's working up the nerve to bow his head to the Darkness incarnate, the impossible happens. Their mother is alive. Alive and trapped in an alternate dimension, full of kamikaze angels, horned monstrosities, and a landscape bleaker than Hell and Purgatory combined.

Dean is practically euphoric.

Because Cas isn't dead. And Mary, though estranged in some nightmarish reality, isn't dead. All the broken pieces of his little family are mending themselves back together. And for once, it feels like the universe is on their side. They're going to bring everyone home.

Including Crowley.

If anyone can survive an angel blade to the gut, it's Crowley. If there's anyone who can survive an angel blade to the gut, the devastation of an apocalyptic world, and convince an army of rag-tag survivors to rescue a complete stranger from the grip of an itinerant archangel, while waiting for rescue himself, its Crowley. If there's anyone who can find their own way back across dimensions, covered in blood and grime and determination, disdainfully brushing off his coat sleeves as he makes his grand entrance, its one particular son of a bitch.

Dean imagines Crowley made human and stumbling through a ravaged landscape. Imagines him encountering Bobby. The two of them, making their way towards a small human encampment, Crowley aware every step forward is one farther and farther away from actual salvation. Crowley in the camp, worming his way into the inner circle; Crowley convincing the survivors to make a tactical advancement across the wastes; Crowley quietly plotting how to find Lucifer, obtain revenge, rescue Mother Mary, and get the two of them home.

Crowley, struggling with his restored soul. Holding on to hope. Waiting for the Winchesters.

Dean's not going to let either his mother or the demon down.

After they get the two of them out of there, Dean and Crowley will talk. Crowley will say, he's not much better as a human than he was as a demon. Because as much as he wanted to save Mary for her own sake, he also knew the boys would come for her. That Mary was his ticket out of that grimy, washed-out dystopia. And Dean will weigh his words carefully, considering. He'll take a drink of the fine Scotch they're imbibing in – a little welcome home present – before deciding that having sacrificed himself for the greater good, Crowley is due a little honesty.

And Dean will say, that just shows what a bad friend I am. He'll wait till Crowley meets his eyes, before adding, that you thought we wouldn't come save you for your own sake.

Then Sam allows Rowena to make off with a page from the Black Grimoire. That may cause a serious debacle in the future – scratch that, it's absolutely going to cause some world-ending scenario – something Dean is willing to loosely define as good might come of it as well.

Somewhere out there, protected by byzantine spells and insuperable defenses, and the very latest in advanced, high-tech, top-secret government-grade security, are the bones of Fergus Rodrick MacLeod.

Better a son that hated her, she had said, than a dead hero.

Dean considers picking up the phone, putting in a call to Rowena. Telling her not to bother with the bones and whatever spell she's cooking up. Because Crowley's not dead.

He's already back, self-resurrected, no doubt about it. He's holed up somewhere, waiting out this new shit-storm, tinkering with the perfect moment to let the boys know he's alive and well. Crowley's living the life of luxury, not giving a damn. He's barely making it by, offering aid to another pair of hunters as a misguided means of amends. He's alive, and that's all that matters.

So when he's alone and had a few drinks too many, Dean calls and calls. One day, Crowley is going to pick up. It's going to be just after the next ring. Or the next. Or the next.

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