Crowley gets his last delivery finished and flees Chicago like his life depends on it. Lucky bastard that he is, he gets three whole days on the run before something happens.
Over that time he's never anticipated that the "something" would be a moment so undignified as vanishing from the abandoned house in which he's squatting midway through sitting on the couch, but that's what it is, and he deals with it by scrambling to his feet with a glare.
It's then he realizes the roar he's hearing is dance music from the speaker ten feet away, and, as his glare lands on a waitress wearing just about nothing, he knows where he is. He's in a strip club.
"Just one more for me, scotch on the rocks, thanks," he says to the bewildered waitress, as though he's been here for hours and she'd be insane to think otherwise. What the blessed Host is going on?
Out of nowhere a tall, blonde Englishman appears. "This way, Crowley," he says, taking him by the shoulder with a friendly grip. "Relax," he advises next, and guides him towards a table for a party of five. "I'm not a demon or an angel or anything that wants you dead."
"Oh, well, I'll take your word for it," Crowley says blandly, prepared to wind up dying in a strip club of all places, but stops cold when he sees a waitress is moving another chair to the table for a seat next to Aziraphale.
"Hello," Aziraphale says jovially, as though it makes sense for him to be happily seated in a strip club and oh no Crowley's starting to recognize the other faces at the table. "Come, sit."
Thisisatrickis all Crowley can think, but finally he comes up with something to say. "What is going on," he hisses, and yanks the chair out to sit in a bit of a sulk.
"We'll explain," his tour guide interjects, and waves like some sort of idiot, and then Crowley just stares at him, realizing.
"You," he says, speechless otherwise.
"Me," Adam Young says, and grins with a mouthful of perfect white teeth. "You remember my friends, right?"
He's in a strip club with the Antichrist. And Aziraphale.
Crowley glances to the former angel, still completely boggled. "And you – "
"Quite well, thank you for asking," Aziraphale answers, cheerful as anything. "You might want to answer Adam's question." He raises his eyebrows at Crowley.
"Um," Crowley starts, trying to recall the question, then said, "oh right, the friends." The girl, the geek and the idiot, he thinks, but thankfully edits himself before he speaks. "War, Famine, and Pestilence."
"I'm not War," the woman who'd once been the girl with the twigs and twine fires at him once she has the opportunity. "It's Pepper."
"Wensleydale," the bespectacled man in the nice, if ill-fitting suit introduces himself, and the idiot waves and says, "Brian."
Crowley stares at them. "And?" he prompts. "Forgive me if I'm not too keen on a reunion, but I've never been the sort to ask for trouble."
"You're right, he has changed," Wensleydale says in an undertone to Aziraphale.
"Oh, please," Aziraphale scoffs at Crowley, not without affection. "Since when?"
"I don't go out and find it, it... chases me down," Crowley points out, losing steam as he talks. "I, ah. Fine."
Adam hands some money off to the stripper who comes to dance by them, absently, bigger concerns on his mind apparently. "I brought you here so we could talk openly," he tells Crowley.
"You brought me to a strip club to talk," Crowley repeats.
"It's not for the atmosphere," Pepper says wearily, her expression speaking volumes about how little she wants to be sitting on a sticky chair at a girlie bar. "We did it for Aziraphale."
"It's the last place they'd look for him," Adam says, with that supreme self-confidence that must mean the whole thing was his idea.  "And they can't find him. We need him. The Prophet says so."
Crowley shakes his head. "No, no, no, the Prophet's finished," he hurries to correct them, "whatever you're hearing, it's wrong. The Apocalypse was averted."
"That's the first time I've ever heard optimism from you... ever," Aziraphale feels the need to mention. "You think that Heaven will give up that easily? That they won't do anything to free Michael and Lucifer and make way to Paradise?"
"This is the only crowd I'd ever have to explain this to but there's a difference between wanting something and being capable of achieving it," Crowley explains with painstaking condescension.
Aziraphale is unmoved, still focused. "Well, we're not giving up as easily as you are."
"We," Crowley echoes. "You and these humans?"
"There's only one way they could open that cage, and the five of you are the only ones capableof stopping them," Aziraphale says directly, just as the speakers begin to blare out AC/DC's Hot Blooded, like this isn't totally insane.
"Just so you know, you've completely lost it," Crowley informs him.
Aziraphale shrugs humbly. "I learned from the master."
Now he's just annoyed on principle. "I have never been THIS obsessed, all right? Fine, say that hypothetically I'm listening – "
"No, you're listening," Pepper says, patiently menacing in that way only women can manage. "Starting now. And not talking."
"The spunky girl act was great back in the '80s but you're getting a bit old for it now, love," Crowley retorts, and that's just about when his throat closes completely and Adam Young is just smirking. Oh.
"That's right," Adam says casually. "Sit back and listen now."
Aziraphale goes on once Adam nods to him. "Heaven wants to tear everything down and build it back up again. Hell will want Lucifer freed. So they'll be after souls. Souls they can use to feed the Horsemen and bring them back to power."
Crowley opens his mouth and then recalls that he can't talk and gives Aziraphale a look that says everything for him.
"We want you to run Hell," Adam says simply. "So. Yes or no?"
This is blackmail, he wants to say in outrage, but the whole point is that the Antichrist can make him do whatever he wants – and that's when he remembers that fucking Heaven above there are two of them out there. That explains Jesse Turner's use of "we."
Not important. He nods.
"Congratulations," Aziraphale says, and offers a broad smile in something akin to pride. "You're going to be the King of Hell."
Crowley has been the King of Hell for the longest two weeks of his life. The upside of being King is the power from the neverending supply of souls, while the downside is the usual "everyone wants him dead" thing. Really, it balances out, but assassination attempts get old after a while.
The funny thing about downstairs is that the whole thing kept working for about a day and a half in Hell's time even after the cage shut on Lucifer's stupid face. No one can beat Hell for the comfort of routine and predictability, except maybe Heaven.
He's taking a quick nap when he's all of the sudden summoned, and he sighs when he recognizes the tidy little room that Aziraphale calls his own in the house Adam Young shares with the other three brats. "You know how emasculating this is?" he asks rhetorically.
"No," Aziraphale answers despite the nature of the question, and takes a seat in the nearby computer chair. "We need to talk."
"No we don't, everything's going well, I'm going back," Crowley rambles off and heads for the door; then he feels the devil's trap close around him once his hand is on the doorknob. "You bastard."
The former angel smiles grimly. "Let's talk," he says then, and reaches for a stack of paper sitting on his desk, then offers it to Crowley. "Check the marked page."
Crowley opens the document to the sticky-noted page and starts to read. "Oh no, it's Carver Edlund again," he notes the style with distaste, but keeps reading before Aziraphale snaps at him or something.
"Castiel," Rachel said gently, and drew the other angel's hand away from his sword. "He's gone."
"I refuse to believe it," Castiel ground out, his heart in his throat as he did his best not to face the truth. "Balthasar is a great soldier – "
She fell silent, and he brooded, staring out with a thousand yard stare into the sky of his favorite Heaven. "He was bested," Rachel said finally, "and Raphael seized the armory, Castiel. We must pay our respects and return to the war."
Crowley tosses the manuscript back on Aziraphale's desk. "Your point?"
"Heaven's at war," Aziraphale says in prompt answer. "And Raphael is going to win... and then you'll have to contend with him in defending the cage."
"Oh no," Crowley says before he can stop himself.
"That's right. Raphael. You're doomed."
"I'm not doomed," he tries, but it's too big a lie even for him. "Oh, fine," he concedes gloomily, "I'm doomed, you seem to have an idea, I'm listening."
"If Raphael has Heaven's armory, it's just a matter of time before he wins the war." The angel thumbs the manuscript. "The best thing you can do is arm yourself, and you'll need souls for that."
Crowley raises his eyebrows. "Angel. I'm King of Hell, you know. I have my share."
"Not enough," Aziraphale says bluntly.
"No," he admits without missing a beat. "But you aren't going to say 'deals,' are you? If you say deals I may just faint."
He gets a stony look for that. "No. You both need souls in order to stand a chance in this war – "
Crowley stares at Aziraphale. "Both? You can't possibly be suggesting – "
"Yes," Aziraphale says. "You and Castiel."
"I don't like the new you," Crowley decides at that instant.
Aziraphale shrugs. "That's because it wounds your pride that I have plans and you don't."
"Stop it with the honesty and – do you really want himrunning Heaven? Castiel?" he demands.
"He won't end the world and that's all I really care about," Aziraphale says.
"Where are we supposed to get – " No, he recognizes that look on Aziraphale's face. "You wouldn't."
"I would," Aziraphale says blandly, "if I could."
"Have I mentioned turning human has made you fucking insane in the last ten minutes?"
"Purgatory." The angel lifts the carpet square and breaks the devil's trap. "Once you find a way in, you divvy the souls up, you put things right, and we can worry about damage control later."
"Listen to you," Crowley says, vaguely impressed, and steps back onto the regular carpeting.
"Yes. You've been a terrible influence." Aziraphale stops him moving to the bed and assures him, "but I don't mind."
After all the fear, paranoia and everything else that comes with running Hell, he's forgotten what contentment feels like – what it means to want something and to get it and the simple enjoyment of it all. It's too human to be comforting, disturbing on a whole new level, but Aziraphale gets close, stays close, and Crowley shuts up his cozy body language before this turns into Nicholas Sparks on him with a kiss.
He's struck for an instant about how much he's craved this, craved him, craved something,someone, instead of just plans and power and pride. Luckily, he throws it off once Aziraphale's teeth seize onto his lower lip, and surrenders to sensation.
Everything is backwards, Aziraphale aggressive, snarky and full of guile, Crowley the chess piece on the board to be manipulated, but somehow this is what they were all heading toward.
He can only imagine what the Prophet will have to say about them. Hopefully nothing at all.
As though it wasn't bad enough being King of Hell crouching in hiding from a couple of prettyboy humans after faking his death because Castiel fucked things up again, Crowley has to deal with ANGELS.
Plural. Multiple obnoxious self-righteous soldiers of Heaven. The Arrangements worked because there was only one angel and one demon involved, but now their motley crew of humans and Antichrists includes asecondangel.
Crowley doesn't like him. At all.
"I like the teleport bit," Balthazar is blabbing on to whoever's listening now that Adam's snatched him from wherever, "but next time a little warning, I was in the middle of a very interesting orgy with an acrobat and a few yoga instructors."
"Little ears," Aziraphale says severely.
"What's an orgy?" Jesse asks with interest.
"Something grown-ups do," Adam says, instantly dismissive, and snaps his fingers to ignite the holy fire around the angel. "We know what you have."
Crowley can't let that pass. "A sex addiction that would make the Marquis de Sade blush?"
"Oh no, Aziraphale, we're making your boyfriend jealous," Balthazar cracks without missing a beat. "I'm sure you understand that at his age, he just can't – "
"I'm King of Hell, you know," Crowley mentions acidly.
"You have the weapons," Jesse cuts in, to the point. "We want them."
Balthazar starts to open his mouth with an expression that has absolutelynot,awaitmycleverretort written all over it, but then it seems to dawn on him where he is, who he's with, and that this really isn't a request. "They're hardly mine to give," he answers instead.
"No," Aziraphale says, and at a glance Crowley can see a smile that more closely resembles the humble, unbroken angel he'd known for millennia than anything he's seen cross that face in months. "They're mine."
Crowley takes entirely too much pleasure from the way the angel defers to Aziraphale then, but then he adds, "You want your sword back you'll need some grace to go with it."
"I appreciate your concern, but I've sorted it, thank you," he returns politely enough, and sends a furtive look to Adam, who's unmoved. "Lead the way."
"Woah," Chuck Shurley says from the doorway, his astonished look lit by the holy fire. "Balthazar. Hi."
"Do I know – oh," Balthazar says, and starts to laugh. "You – you're working for a prophet?"
"No one's working for anyone," Adam says firmly. "We're working together."
"Says the Antichrist Mark I," Balthazar fires back.
"Stop talking," Crowley says as directly as demonly possible. "The Antichrist said jump, you say how high, we're trying to clean up the mess that the Winchesters and their angelic buttboy started, so playalong or by Heaven above I'll tear you to shreds, don't think I won't."
"He's right," Aziraphale admits, and Crowley smirks.
"To the Batmobile then," Balthazar says flippantly, and blows Crowley a kiss.
When he takes a step forward to do something about it, Adam freezes him in place. "No," he says, like he's chiding his hellhound. "Chuck – have another story for us?"
"Uh… yeah," Chuck concedes, and looks at Balthazar. "I thought you'd be taller."
"I thought you'd be a better writer."
"Balthazar," Aziraphale sighs. "Don't aggravate the prophet."
"Well. He's right," Chuck has to admit.
Balthazar sobers. "Castiel needs all the help he can get, and he's not asking for any. What's the plan?"
"Nothing we can tell you," Aziraphale says with a note of apology in his voice. "But I'll keep the weapons safe. For Castiel, when he's in need."
"Great. Fine. What are you doing here?" Balthazar asks Crowley without a bit of humility. "Did loverboy here flutter his eyelashes at you and say 'you're my only hope'?"
"Shut up," Jesse says, and Balthazar's mouth closes instantly, against his will – then, so does Crowley's. Bugger. "And go."
Crowley has the presence of mind to throw his hands in front of his face as a blinding flash of grace overwhelms Aziraphale's vessel, and then both of the angels are gone.
It takes a lot of effort not to be visibly happy for the once-again angel. Pride and desire are supposed to be bad, hellish traits, not good ones that go with objectively positive things. But this complicates things again, Heaven and Hell; well. Things will never stop being complicated.
Adam immediately turns to Jesse. "You can't be so impatient. Not with these powers, that's the road to... bad things."
"I'm tired," Jesse says, and looks to Crowley. "It's not fun anymore."
"Kid's got a point, it's getting old," Crowley feels obligated to agree once his tongue is loosed. "Can't you two break into Purgatory somehow?"
"That's not how stories go," Jesse answers before Adam can say a word. "What's the point of reading a story if someone can just make all the problems go away?"
"Deus ex machina," Adam says knowingly, and nods to Chuck.
"It's cheap," Chuck agrees.
"You just made Aziraphale an angel again and that's not cheap?" Crowley asks rhetorically.
Chuck shrugs. "Status quo is God."
"Besides, he's not the hero," Jesse interjects helpfully. "He's a helper. This is Castiel's story. And yours."
Crowley can't argue with that. He's the only one of their lot who's made it into the prophecies in any official manner. "Well then, I should check on my Heavenly business partner, shouldn't I." He flees before anyone can stop him.
There's nothing scarier than being a main character. That's when the problems start.
"How many times am I going to have to clean up your messes?"
It's both encouraging and discouraging at once that Castiel doesn't seem to know what he's doing at all. He almost finds it endearing, except when his mistakes start to pile up into a big mess of fuckery that only Crowley can fix.
"You'll never understand," Castiel says, and his wings flinch with irritation at the edge of Crowley's vessel's vision. "It's a demon's job to sow destruction and chaos, an angel... is meant to glorify God's creation."
Crowley lounges back on the jukebox, and swipes a bit of blood from the counter to thoughtfully taste it. "You're keeping the Apocalypse from ending God's creation."
"Am I," Castiel says, flatly rhetorical, and Crowley almost pities him for a moment before he regains his senses.
"I said as much, didn't I?"
Castiel stretches his wings out and paces. "You are, after all, known for your trustworthiness."
"You angels have gotten so snarky," Crowley comments.
"And you would know Heaven's sarcasm level how exactly?"
Oh, he let that one slip far too easily. "Just a guess. War makes the best of us into monsters."
The angel sends him a poisonous look. "Thank you for your input," he says stiffly, then goes on in a firm tone, "but I think that's enough."
He likes that; it's enough to make him laugh and imitate the crack of a whip. "Oh, the nipple clamps next," he requests.
"I don't understand what you're saying," Castiel answers directly, not sounding very pleased about it anyway.
"Look at you, so much to learn." Crowley drinks. "If only you weren't doomed to this whole God thing, I'd fuck you senseless. Twice." Castiel says nothing to that, so he goes on. "A night."
Castiel is stern through his embarrassment and awkwardness, and that's just adorable. "That's enough."
Crowley smirks. "Really? Because I could manage some more."
"What we have here is a business arrangement," Castiel says, snappish now, "nothing more."
"Right. This is the property of the Winchesters," Crowley says slowly with a gesture to Castiel's rather pretty vessel, aggravating as he can manage. "Can't be unfaithful. I'm sure that Dean isn't sleeping his way through the fifty states, after all – "
Castiel tenses as Crowley speaks and finally cuts him off. "It isn't like that."
"Keep telling yourself that," Crowley advises him. "Denial is 99.9% effective and makes feelings and lust go far, far away. It has so far, hasn't it?"
"If you haven't got anything more to say about the war I'm leaving," Castiel says in a tone that could make milk curdle.
Crowley just grins. "You're fighting for the right to do what you want," he points out to the angel. "If what you want is to screw someone, that's a motivation, not a shame."
Castiel looks and sounds weary as Crowley does now. "Says the King of Hell."
That raises some questions. Crowley lights up a fag and glances up at Castiel as casual as anything. "You have no idea who I am, do you?"
The answer is drier than is really necessary. "Fergus McLeod."
Crowley snorts in disbelief. "You fell for that?"
As usual, the angel's slow on the uptake. "I... have not fallen."
"Burning the bones works," Crowley says simply. "But I was never a human. Not really."
"I don't understand," Castiel confesses, albeit reluctantly.
He sighs, and explains with blatant condescension, "You were trapped in your vessel. So was I."
"And you died of old age."
"I made a deal to get back into Hell," he admits grudgingly. "I'm much older than you think I am, kitten."
"I am not your kitten," Castiel answers flatly.
Crowley scoffs. "You're whatever I want you to be and you know it."
Castiel gives him the coldest, least amused look he can manage and vanishes without another word, and Crowley just shrugs it off.
"You can come out now," he announces to the diner in general, and after a pause, Jesse sidles out from back in the kitchen.
"You can't find me, that's not how it works," he says grumpily.
"You were trying too hard to hide, mate." Crowley blows out a smooth stream of smoke and ashes out his fag. "So. Conclusion?"
Jesse looks blank. "What?"
"The Winchesters just killed the Mother of All Monsters; what are they going to do next?" he cracks.
"Things are going wrong," Jesse says, and screws up his face in an apparent effort to remember something. "But I can't talk to you now. You're still in play."
"But – " The kid's gone. Everyone's vanishing on him today. "We're not actually chess pieces," he shouts after Jesse, and heads to the crossroads nearest Aziraphale's book "shop." He needs a place to hide.
All Hell breaking loose would be a mercy, Crowley has to think, compared to Purgatory. Better the underworld you know. He's heard rumors about the sort of things that live in Purgatory, and none of them would find even an archangel-powered Castiel too tough a chew toy to gnaw on.
There are things worse than demons, or Lucifer, or even the Mother of all Monsters. Things that God locked into Purgatory and threw away the key before he ever created Hell; things that go beyond "monster" right into "scary beyond the comprehension of anything sentient."
Leviathans. He remembers when they roamed the earth and had their pick of beast or bird outside the Garden itself, and the angel who played gatekeeper against them with his sword aflame.
It's enough to make a demon go mad, or possibly on a very long holiday somewhere wherever those scary bastards aren't.
At least, aren't yet.
Aziraphale is testing his flaming sword, its grip, its balance, when Crowley drops in on him. "Careful, you could kill someone with that thing," he tells the angel.
He watches Aziraphale twist the sword with his wrist and swing, his eyebrows raised in spite of himself. It's a good look on him. "That's the intent," Aziraphale says, breezily oblivious as always.
Crowley stares at Aziraphale, uncomprehending. "No, no no, we're waiting this one out."
"I'm hardly going to allow Leviathans to overrun the planet when I have this." Aziraphale levels the sword at Crowley and gives a demure shrug as he lowers and sheathes it. "I fought too hard for this Creation to allow it to fall to something as low as these... these bottom-feeders," he finishes distastefully.
"And here I thought you'd quit the berseker routine once you were all graced-up," Crowley says blithely.
There's a split second where Aziraphale seems to be smiling despite himself, but then Chuck Shurley appears with a wad of folded paper in his hand. "Uh," he says, glances down at his bare chest and boxers, and looks nowhere near embarrassed enough considering the situation. "Hey!"
Aziraphale gestures without much thought to Chuck and a tartan robe materializes around the prophet's half-naked body.  "Which one this time?" he asks casually.
"My money's on Adam," Crowley says offhand.
"Neither, sorry," Chuck says, quickly tightening the robe around his waist. "No idea how I got here, guys, but I have something important to tell you."
Crowley leans over to Aziraphale to crack quietly, "This should be good."
"You were more fun to write when I thought you were fictional," Chuck informs him, with some deference despite the sentiment.
"I get that a lot," Crowley answers.
Aziraphale ignores him. "What is it?"
Chuck's scruffy face breaks out into a grin, and Crowley's stomach drops metaphorically to his feet at that, because the human sense of humor has always been a source of horror for him on a daily basis. "You have work to do," he says, and offers the paper to Aziraphale.
Crowley is willing to allow Aziraphale the pleasure of reading, especially considering it's Chuck fucking Shurley's first draft and he enjoys having a working brain, but he has to ask after a second, "What, what is it?"
Aziraphale's face shines with hope and understanding, and that's a good sign for everybody but Crowley and his vacation plans. "Witches," he says simply, and smiles. "We need witches."
 Well. It does, actually.
 He doesn't know what Dean Winchester has to complain about. He doesn't have to squat in abandoned houses like some sort of homeless junkie, does he?
 He's had dreams like this. About Aziraphale, not the Antichrist. That'd be weird.
 A clear sign he's beholden to a pencil-pushing job whether he likes it or not.
 Wearing a hemp bracelet around his wrist much like the crown of grass that'd beaten Pollution more than twenty years ago, no less.
 This happens to him a lot.
 Crowley's first thought is "He's too young to understand that sort of thing," but he's thirty-something. He's probably fucking the ginger.
 Of course. Him and these humans. Aziraphale's always been a fan of the underdog.
 Which if he's to be honest is intoxicating to the point of being overwhelming.
 A British angel. Crowley's never liked knock-offs.
 The look Crowley gets in return is the clearest sign he's ever received that he'll be getting laid tonight.
 It's disgusting. What was he thinking?
 As though he's remotely better than Crowley. Please.
 No, really. This is not a metaphor, it's an actual sword that's on fire.
 Tartan? Again? Really? It's 2011, not 1911.