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A handful of dirt from your home.

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In retrospect, waking up in Hell both is and, conversely, isn’t a surprise.

It is Hell, too. Crowley briefly entertains the notion that it’s not, that it’s some other realm or illusion attempting to subvert his senses. Except Hell has a certain metaphysical presence about it. Not just the omnipresent reek of blood-iron and sulfur, or the endless screaming of the damned, but something deeper. An oppressive weight and interconnection, like a gargantuan web spun from dying stars. It’s indescribable but unmistakable, and Crowley doubts it could be replicated, even assuming something were to try.

He sits up.

He is, or has been, lying on the scalding basalt floor of a room. He’s alone (surprise number two), and something about the room is . . . familiar (surprise number three). It takes him far too long to place his location, his head still reeling from the spell and guts still clenching from the feel of the blade sliding between them.

This is his office. His old office, from when he was merely King of the Crossroads, not of all of Hell. His desk is a massive slab of blackened, malformed bone, the skulls of the souls that form it open-mouthed as they shriek silently in the agony of their mutilation. Reams and reams of skin-vellum scrolls cascade down across its surface, tiny ornate script detailing endless terms in bleeding red. The walls are vaulted carvings of basalt and obsidian, lit with hellfire. Even the old water feature is there in the corner, writhing as it bleeds endless falls of blood into a churning pool of magma.

Crowley’s dactyli click on stone as he stands, his claws going to his belly, searching for the wound that should’ve killed him.

It isn’t there. The skin is unblemished, ventral gills gusting red-hot breath and the teeth of his lower maw laced and unbroken. Crowley scowls, eyes narrowing and fingers drumming against the blood-iron of his tassets. Old office, old clothes. No wound. His connection to Hell is different, too. He can feel the seething blood-mist of the Crossroads, but nothing beyond it. Certainly nothing of the ragged, dissent-torn tapestry he’d been clutching prior to—

Prior to arriving here.

It’s the contracts on the desk that fit, if not the last piece of the puzzle, then at least the last piece of its outline. Crowley still has no idea of the how or the why but at least he can be sure of the where and the when. Because here, in Hell, the demon known as Crowley, King of the Crossroads, holds within a grey-scuted claw a fresh-inked soul contract, dated July 13th, 1993.

On Earth, the man who stares back at Crowley from the mirror is an almost-stranger. It’s his meatsuit, the one he died in. Crowley knows that, can see the familiar similarities in the shape of the eyes and nose and jaw. But it’s younger than he’s ever known it. Thirties at the most, a good decade and change short of the sort of skins Crowley likes; too smooth and too lean and too raw. It’s also unoccupied, and there’s a strange, almost synthetic feel around the edges of it. It doesn’t have the lived-in worn patches of a human meatsuit, and Crowley suspects it must have been created by whomever or whatever threw him back here.

There are frustratingly few clues re. that little ontological mystery. Hell is as Crowley remembers it having been, as a debauched morass held between Lilith’s gaping thighs, dripping in anticipatory lust for its master’s release. The Cage and Seals hold, Lucifer seething within, unlamented lieutenants like Alastair and Azazel plotting around the edges. Crowley has been cautious, at first; concerned, perhaps, that something of his . . . altered state may have bled through. The fifth tedious conversation extolling the “imminent freedom of our Dark Father” had both put said fears to rest and forced Crowley topside in a vain effort to escape the drooling adulation. Somehow, he’d forgotten just how . . . disgustingly earnest it’d all been. The phantom pain of the blade still smarts beneath his ribs and the memory of Lucifer’s sneering face will, he thinks, forever be the bucket of ice water that will douse his ardor for engaging in yet another cum-and-blood-soaked orgy in the name of Hell’s erstwhile Lord.

Then again, said angel’s visceral disgust at such an act could be seen as a mark in its favor. Hm.

In the end, Crowley keeps the meatsuit.

The biggest surprise is the work; Crowley’s old job, as lord of the Crossroads. He has other plans—or the starts of such—but plenty of time and, in the interim, running business-as-usual seems the most efficient way of avoiding suspicion. He doesn’t relish the task, metaphorical horns worn down to nubs from the endless grind of being King (his actual horns still curve thick and strong from his skull). And somehow, in all of that, he’d forgotten things hadn’t always been so, well. Hellish.

He enjoys working the Crossroads. Loves it, even. He’s good at it, for one—better now, in fact, than he ever was—and the work is rewarding in its simplicity. Selling sin to saints, collecting souls, fattening Hell’s coffers on the endless hubris of mortals and their Chuck-given free will. Even managing his other demons seems simple; far easier than trying to undo millennia of Lucifer’s indoctrination or lead an army against Amara.

Of course, Hell is still hell, and has its own downsides. Such as the stunning lack of cell phones and Google, and also having to deal once more with Lilith.

Crowley was never enamored by the latter’s personality, although had always considered both her libido and her large and copious number of breasts enough to make up for it. Her habit of calling Lucifer’s name while Crowley fucks her had never bothered him before, though now, he has to confess, is starting to become a problem. Soon, he might need to implement some kind of mitigation. A ball-gag, perhaps? He’ll think about it later. For now, he’s standing unseen and unheard in a hot and dusty driveway on Earth, watching a familiar black car roll up to a familiar, and no less run-down, house.

Honestly, Crowley’s proud that he’s managed to put this off for so long.

The car comes to a stop. Then the doors open, and a man steps out.

Crowley would be lying to say he was well-acquainted with John Winchester, despite the man’s brief stay in Crowley’s realm. Today, under the gleaming South Dakota sun, Winchester seems to bring with him his own cloud of oppressive gloom. He feels both fragile and dangerous, in the way of all career hunters; warded and broken and paranoid. He looks older than his years, hair greying and face lined. Hard and cold as a shattered bottle of rotgut.

He slams the door of the Impala, straightening and looking around, paranoid to a fault, even here. Then he gestures, and two more figures emerge from the vehicle.

They are . . . small. Crowley—who has little to do with children—isn’t prepared for just how much. Nor for the way his phantom death-scar flares at the sight, a bright lance of something so sharp the only word Crowley can think for it is pain.

The boys cluster at the feet of their father. The taller one—for a moment, habit makes Crowley think “Sam” before logic kicks in—mimicking Winchester’s expression, while the actual Sam simply looks towards the nearby house with wide-eyed longing.

The nearby house, whose door is cracking open.

“They don’t grow while you watch them. Trust me.”

Crowley does not startle at the sound of Azazel’s voice, too-close and rasping. He doesn’t even turn, although he can feel Azazel’s presence, all clicking bones and the flapping of flayed skin.

“So I’ve heard. Though the way things are going, I’d be worried the little one isn’t going to grow at all.”

Azazel’s laugh is a dry rasp, like sandpaper on exposed bone. “Hard to believe, isn’t it? What it is. What it will be.” The naked lust in those words forces Crowley to repress a shudder, limbs shifting and leaving six deep grooves in the dust. Briefly, Crowley imagines overpowering Azazel and throwing his bound body at the feet of the men in front of him. It’s a useless fantasy—with hindsight, Azazel is remarkably unimportant—but, nonetheless . . .

“I still question the wisdom of this,” Crowley says instead, something like a plan forming in his mind. “Allowing the vessel to be raised this way.”

Azazel’s bones shift in a way that suggest a shrug. “The vessel must be strong for our Lord.”

Crowley looks at the gangly scrap that will, one day, grow into Sam Winchester. You’ll regret that, he thinks. Whatever else happens, I’ll make sure you do. Aloud, he tries: “Strong in body, yes. But strong of mind, or will?”

“Careful, Crowley. It almost sounds like you think a human a match for our Dark Father.”

Oh, I think you’ll find quite a few things are a match for your pissant Daddy, Crowley does not say. Humans first among them.

“Of course not,” he says instead, head dipping in affected deference as he allows an appropriately respectful pause. “And yet . . . Perhaps it would be wise to . . . hedge our bets. At least so the others don’t interfere, when the time comes.” Shit. Crowley has no idea whether Azazel knows about Dean. Crowley can’t even remember if he’s supposed to know about Dean.

Azazel shifts again, bonedust flaking from his withered body as he does. “What are you scheming, Crowley?”

Crowley just makes a thoughtful sound, and disappears.

The last thing he sees before he does is a startlingly young Bobby Singer, staring right at the place he’d just been.

It is laughably easy to track down the Colt, so much that Crowley wonders why no one bothered to before. The gun feels heavy and cold in his meatsuit’s hands—it’s far too small for his actual claws—and after that it’s only a matter of waiting. Of picking his time.

It comes two weeks later. The Bobby of this time is more active than the version Crowley remembers, though it’s still rare he spends more than a few days away from Sioux Falls. Rare, but not unknown, which is how he ends up hunting down a nest of vampires on the outskirts of Peoria. Or, more accurately, how the vampires end up hunting him; by the time Crowley arrives, Bobby is being dragged out of a closet by his foot, out of ammo and out of luck, about two minutes from feeding a family of five.

Crowley gets off two shots with the Colt before Bobby has produced some kind of knife from his boot and the remaining vampires, suddenly cognizant that they’re about to be outnumbered, abruptly try and flee. Bobby gets one in the back of the head with his knife while Crowley picks off the other two, after which there’s a long, drawn-out silence. Bobby, still on the floor, is staring like he’s seen a ghost and so Crowley forces his meatsuit’s eyes to widen and his hands to shake as he blurts out: “That was my tailor!”

Bobby blinks, just once, then his mouth curls up into a smile.

They end up in a diner, one of those awful roadside things that hunters seem to gravitate to like Winchesters on a bad plan. Crowley forgoes Bobby’s offer of one of the greasy, sloppy excuses for a burger, and instead nurses a single cup of atrocious percolator coffee. (Espresso. That’s the other thing he misses. He could travel to Europe in a heartbeat, of course, and seemingly will have to, for at least a decade or so.)

“So how long you been huntin’ for?” Bobby asks, eyeing Crowley across the table. Not with suspicion or hostility, just . . . assessing. Crowley wants to return it—wants to try and map the contours of the face he knows against this younger version—but resists, for appearance’s sake, and looks at his watch, instead.

“Er, three hours?” he says, huffing nervous laughter. “I, erm. You do this a lot, I take it?”

He glances up, and Bobby nods. Sweet sin, but he’s handsome. He always was, of course, albeit in a different way. Crowley wouldn’t say he prefers this version more, but he can still certainly appreciate it all the same.

“Right,” says Crowley. “‘This’ being, er. What, exactly?”

Bobby looks at him a moment longer, and Crowley can see the moment he makes the decision to talk. To let Crowley—to let whomever he thinks Crowley is—in on the game. “Huntin’,” he says. “Huntin’ monsters. Things that hurt people.”

“Back before,” Crowley says. “Those . . . things. They were—”


“Right. Vampires. Of course.” Crowley huffs our a breath and leans back into the sticky plastic of the booth seat. “Bloody hell,” he says. “Vampires are bloody real.”

“More ’n just that,” Bobby says. “Ghouls, ghosts, werewolves . . . Demons. You name it.”

“Blimey.” Crowley’s laying it on thick but, well. It’s actually sort of fun. He was never much of an infiltrator—working the Crossroads, most of the humans he deals with know exactly what he is, no use pretending otherwise—but he can see how some demons get so into playing mortal. “And you . . . kill them?” he asks. “Go all”—he mines stabbing something—”Buffy Summers on that nonsense?”

Bobby smirks. “Well,” he says. “It’s Bobby Singer, but I s’pose that’s close enough. Though I think I’m a few years past pullin’ off a cheerleader skirt.”

When Crowley laughs, it’s both very real and very much accompanied by some exciting mental images. So much that it takes him a moment to realize he is not, in fact, supposed to know Bobby’s name. Nor does Bobby know his.

“Rick,” he says. “Rick MacLeod. If we must do nicknames, I’ll take Spike over Giles.” So he may have watched a little Buffy in his day. So salt him. It passed the time. And was worth it, he thinks, to see the way the corner of Bobby’s eyes crease as he tries to hide a smile.

“Stickin’ to the Brits, huh?”

Crowley shrugs one shoulder. “By choice, luv,” he says, pet name dropping out thoughtlessly. He leans closer, eyebrows raised as if confiding a secret. “The accent’s fake.”

Bobby gives a bark of laughter, sharp and rich in the otherwise quiet diner. “Hah! Scottish?” he guesses.

Crowley leans back again. “I suppose the name gives it away.”

“Why’d’ja change it? Yer accent, I mean.”

Another lazy shrug. “I’m in sales,” Crowley says. “I need a certain level of trust with my clients. And no one trusts a Scotsman to be generous.” This, as it happens, is true. One of the earliest things Crowley learnt, in fact, once he finally made it out of the Pit.

“Makes sense,” Bobby says. “People assume a lot about a man, based on things like that.” There’s a seriousness in his gaze, Crowley thinks, that belies the glibness of his tone.

“No one suspects the local beer-guzzling, redneck mechanic of being a secret vampire-slayer, I take it?”

“Hey!” Bobby says, but he’s smiling. “And no, no they don’t.”

When the food comes, it’s exactly the disgusting pile of slop Crowley was expecting, and Bobby inhales it like a stranded astronaut gasping air.

“Forgot how damn hungry nearly dying makes me,” Bobby mutters, when he catches Crowley staring.

Crowley just looks down at his third cup of (still awful) coffee. “I suppose you do that a lot then? Nearly die?”

Bobby pops a chip into his mouth and considers. “Beats the alternative. So they tell me.”

“Hm. It’s just . . .” Crowley looks away, tries his best impression of awkward indecision. “If a bloke were to, say . . . Start doing this a little more full-time . . .?” He trails off, lets the silence speak instead.

There’s a pause, then: “Interestin’ gun you had, back there.”

Crowley nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. It’s, um. An heirloom.”

“Mmh,” says Bobby. Then: “It’s a hard life. And ain’t no one gonna thank you for it.”


There’s another of the not-quite-awkward pauses. Crowley lets it go where it will, lets Bobby use it to come to whatever conclusion he’s bracing himself for.

“Right.” And then, of all things, Bobby reaches for his wallet, and flips out a business card.

It’s a cheap thing. Printed in ugly font on bad paper, some sort of bulk order from some dirge-worthy strip mall. SINGER SALVAGE, it reads. Then, beneath that, Bobby’s name and a phone number that, Crowley discovers, won’t change for the next two decades. “You got questions,” Bobby says, “you call. You wanna know how to put something down, you call.” The briefest of pauses, then: “You just . . . just wanna hear a friendly voice, you call.”

Crowley nods, telling himself the racing of his meatsuit’s heart is nothing but a reaction to too much terrible coffee. His hands definitely don’t tremble when he reaches into his own jacket pocket to pull out a card in turn.

Bobby takes the card with both hands, then studies it for a moment. “If, er . . .” Crowley tells himself he’s not at a loss for words. He doesn’t do loss for words. “Likewise,” he says. “For, er. For whatever that’s worth.”

And then Bobby looks up, smile as big and honest as a fist in the gut, and says: “It’s worth a lot. Trust me.”

And—for the briefest moment, in the deepest part of his shriveled heart—Crowley believes in a world where that could be true.

Surprisingly, it’s Bobby who calls first. Not that Crowley knows it, given the huge black hellphone on his desk doesn’t have caller ID, because nothing has caller ID in this primitive craphole of a century and, okay, maybe Crowley’s a bit testy from having to listen to another one of Lilith’s rants, coupled with a pile of contracts his incompetent imps have fucked up, so it hasn’t been a great morning and maybe his snarled, “What?” when he answers the phone is a little aggressive.

There’s a pause on the end of the line, then a soft noise like someone trying to suppress laughter. “Well. I was callin’ to see how you were, but I guess I got my answer.”

The smooth drawl is both so familiar and so unexpected that it feels like a Crowley’s just plunged the shredded, boiling remains of his soul into a bucket of ice.

He sits back on the pile of bloated souls he uses as cushions, eyes blinking arrhythmically. “Er . . . Bobby?”

“One and the same.”

Pushing aside a stack of contracts reveals the chronometer sitting at the corner of his desk. It’s a complex device of spinning rings and clicking gears, designed to track time both above and below. It’s been, what? A week, topside. A little longer, perhaps. Crowley was going to give it at least two before calling, but it seems Bobby’s beaten him to it. Huh.

“If this is a bad time . . .” Bobby starts.

“No!” A little too vehement, dial it back. “No, er. It’s . . . it’s good to hear from you.”

“Good. Good, just . . . thought I should check in, y’know?” Somewhere, behind Bobby’s voice, Crowley can hear other voices shrieking. Children, not the damned. “See how you’re holdin’—” Bobby starts, before being derailed by a tumultuous crash and, away from the receiver: “Hey, you brats! What’d I tell ya ‘bout touchin’ that!”

Crowley feels the edges of his fangs press against his gums in a grin. “Kids?” he prompts.

Bobby sighs. “Ain’t mine. Their dad, well. He’s another hunter. He leaves ‘em here when he’s off doin’ something stupid.” Bobby’s tone, Crowley thinks, indicates his general opinion of the elder Winchester’s level of relative intelligence.

“That’s generous of you.”

A sound like the shifting of fabric, and Crowley can practically see Bobby’s self-conscious shuffling, hat tugged down to hide the pinking of his cheeks. “Ain’t nothin’,” he says. “Their mom . . . a demon got her, nearly ten years ago now. John’s been huntin’ it ever since, but the road ain’t no life for kids. And I got a big ol’ house and none’a my own to fill it. So . . .” Another shift of fabric.

Crowley drums his claws on the desk, considering, then says: “And Mrs. Singer?” A pause, then: “It’s just . . . you were wearing a ring . . .”

“Yeah,” Bobby says, quieter. “She, uh. Demon. Again.”

“I’m so sorry,” says Crowley, because he supposes that’s the sort of thing humans say to one another.

Bobby sighs. “It is what it is,” he says. “She was my in to the life. Didn’t know no better back then. Managed to exorcise the bastard that took her, but lost her in the process. And that demon, well. Suppose it’s still kickin’ around Hell somewhere.”

“You didn’t kill it?” Then: “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“‘S alright. And no, didn’t know how to, back then. They’re tough bastards, demons. Ain’t easy to put one out for good.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” says Crowley, living testament to the assertion. “Have you though about tracking it down? The demon, I mean.”

“Every damn day,” says Bobby. “But then I look at John, and . . .” He trails off.

“Right.” There’s a bone quill in an inkwell within reach, and Crowley takes it to scrawl a note on a nearby stretch of vellum.

“Listen t’me,” Bobby says. “I called to ask how you were holdin’ up, not dig up this old shit.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” Which is true enough, although Crowley would much rather listen to Bobby over a nice bottle of Scotch while bathed in flattering mood lighting. But he can be patient. “And . . . it’s odd, I suppose. Get up, go to work, pretend nothing has changed.”

“I hear ya.”

“How do you deal with it? How do you not just . . . scream it out to everyone you meet? Knowing what’s out there, knowing what’s coming?” It occurs to Crowley, once the words push past his fangs, that he may, in fact, not be speaking exclusively in “Rick’s” character.

“If any of us knew the answer to that,” Bobby says, “then things would be a helluva lot easier. This life, it’s . . . consuming. Easy to get lost in it. Gotta make sure you keep a’holda somethin’ outside. Somethin’ . . . somethin’ good . . .” His voice trails off.  Crowley wonders what he’s thinking of.

“Well,” says Crowley, “I’ve got a bottle of good Scotch and a corporate box for the Mets. It’s a start.”

Bobby laughs, soft but genuine. “No offense, but you don’t strike me as a baseball guy.”

“Hah! And no, hate the goddamn game. Hell’s cricket it is”—true on both counts—”but the free booze and canapés make up for the boredom.”

“And here’s me with just my sprung ol’ sofa, warm Bud, and shitty ol’ TV.”

Crowley knows for a fact that Bobby would rather go sober than lower himself to Budweiser, although he also supposes the craft beer market isn’t quite yet what it will be. So instead he says, “Well, if the monsters ever bring you to New York, you give me a call and we’ll see what we can do. Bring those boys of yours, if you like.”

There’s a brief pause in which Crowley has just enough time to wonder if he’s laying it on too thick, then Bobby says. “Yeah. Yeah, I uh . . . I’d— they’d love that. Thanks.”

“Anytime, luv,” says Crowley, and means it.

“You wanted to see me, Boss?”

The demon is nothing special, almost disappointingly so. Just another one of the malformed legions of black-eyed runts, twisted red limbs dotted with charcoal grey scutes and nubby horns barely taller than its skull.

“Mm, yes. Do you recognize these humans?” Crowley hands the demon a photo from his desk; a blown up reproduction of Bobby and Karen, young and laughing.

“Er . . .” says the demon, squinting its lopsided eyes as its tiny little mind tries to connect the dots. “Yeah. Yeah, Boss. I remember. Bitch was a hot piece a’meat, y’know. Great ride. Got exorcised, but worth it to watch that dumb motherfucker”—he taps the image of Bobby—”blow snot crying while he did it.” The demon hands the photo back. “Why, Boss? You got somethin’ planned for ‘im?”

“Something like that.”

“I want in,” says the demon, prick thickening and drool spilling in its enthusiasm for the thought of imminent torment. “Owe that faggot fuck for what ‘e did to me, yeah? C’mon, Boss. Gimme a chance.”

“If you insist,” says Crowley. Then he opens the maw in his belly, lunges forward, and bites the sniveling piece of shit clean in half.

A month later, Bobby invites him out to their first joint hunt. Nothing exciting, just some ghouls in Ohio, and if Crowley didn’t know any better he’d be tempted to think of Bobby’s muttered excuses of “being in the area” as some kind of awkward attempt at flirting.

Crowley, of course, is nothing if not receptive to any sort of flirting Bobby may or may not be sending his way, as well as perfectly prepared to pretend he’s spent all day driving. He even has a passel of tales of “other hunts” he’s been on in order to make convincing small talk. Some of said stories are even true. Or true enough.

There are, surprisingly, parts of the charmingly euphemistic “family business” that Crowley finds appealing, i.e. the parts where he gets to kill things. He’s never considered himself a man enamored towards physical violence—it’s a means to an end, not an end in itself—and yet it’s undeniably therapeutic to tear through a helpless ghoul whose last, panicked realizations bloom like supernovas behind its dying eyes.

On the other hand, is digging graves.

“I don’t see why we can’t just burn them,” Crowley grouses, imagining the dull thwackof the spade as it hits dirt is the sound of a severing neck. Lucifer’s, perhaps.

“You ever smelt burning ghoul?” Bobby says, pausing to lean on his own shovel. “‘Cause, you burn one, both you and everyone in a five mile radius will know. That’s if you can even get ‘em to light.”

“Trust me, if it’s flammable, I can burn it.”

Bobby just laughs, wiping the back of a hand across his brow. The upside of all this, Crowley supposes, is the hot, heavy night air has prompted Bobby to remove his shirt for their current exercise. The body underneath is deliciously built; a perfect blend of the thick muscle that only comes from manual labor sat comfortably beneath both a generous thatch of pale hair and the softening paunch of advancing middle age. Not quite yet ripe but fast approaching it, enough that Crowley’s head swims with the thought of throwing Bobby to the dirt right there and doing, if not every wicked thing he can think of, then at least a solid sampling.

“Take a picture, why don’t’cha. It’ll last longer.”

Crowley blinks, tearing his gaze away from the taught cables of Bobby’s forearms. “Sorry,” he lies. “Sorry, just . . .” He waves a hand vaguely.

Bobby just snorts, and goes back to digging.

Afterwards, they retire to what Bobby optimistically calls “a bar.”

“I s’pose it ain’t what you’re used to in New York,” he says.

Crowley just snorts. “You’d be surprised.” He hates New York, always has. The place is like a little pustule of Hell, popping into the mortal Realms, filled with half-damned souls desperately digging downwards. The fact so much of his work comes out of that cesspit only proves his point.

The bar’s selection of whiskey is only slightly worse than its selection of beer, but it does have a list of supposed cocktails on a special menu entitled LADIE’S NITE. Crowley orders something made primarily of sugary pre-mix and vodka, and that comes furnished with a sad, broken little paper umbrella. Bobby orders bourbon.

Then they talk, and they drink, and they talk some more. Bobby tells stories about hunting and the young Winchesters and the oddball customers who occasionally stumble into his day job. Crowley talks about work (albeit in euphemistic terms) and former lovers and the things he still finds strange about America. Bobby smiles, lazy and easy beneath the pulled-down brim of his ever-present ball-cap, and somewhere somehow two hours have vanished and Crowley hasn’t felt this way since—

Well. For some time.

It’s pushing into the small hours by the time Crowley gives into his meatsuit and goes to hit the head. He feels strange as he crosses the grimy bar. He barely remembers being human enough to be drunk, but he thinks perhaps it felt a little like he currently does. Wired and floating, hot and cold, solid and shattered, all at once. He shouldn’t trust the euphoria, he knows that, he does. The few times he can remember something similar had all ended in catastrophe, and he knows he should run, turn tail and bolt from the bar, scuttle back to Hell and rethink this . . . this whatever this retrodden existence is.

He knows all of that. He isn’t stupid. But he is a demon; a creature of passion and appetite by definition. And right now, tonight, his mind is swimming with the dance of Bobby’s throat as he laughs and the thick cords of his hands as he claps Crowley on the back or grasps at his forearm.

(It’s not you he’s seeing, silly boy, says a voice in Crowley’s head. It’s “Rick.” It’s adorable you’d think a man like that would so much as look at you, if he knew what sort of thing you really were. The voice sounds like Rowena. Crowley decides to ignore it.)

He’s washing up, staring at the still-uncanny face in the mirror when the door behind him opens and closes, and a hot weight presses itself against Crowley’s back.

“Tell me I’m wrong.” Bobby’s voice is a dark rasp against the shell of Crowley’s ear, breath enough to send skin shivering and laughter bubbling like blood from a punctured lung.

“Never, darling.” Crowley arches his neck, his spine. Groans when he feels the broad span of hot hands press against his belly and between his thighs. When Bobby’s teeth scrape against the stubble of his neck.

“Though so. You’re a bastard tease, you know that.”

Crowley just laughs in response, unresisting as Bobby manhandles him into a stall and slams the door. The place smell like piss and regurgitated beer and it’s absolutely perfect, perfect because they’re chest-to-chest and Bobby’s hands have worked their way under Crowley’s coat and have tugged open his tie and are tearing at the shirt buttons beneath.

“Only dumb asshole I ever met hunts things in a goddamn suit,” Bobby huffs, teeth scraping against Crowley’s neck.

Crowley throws his head back, enough to hit loud against the door. “Harder,” he orders. “You won’t hurt me. But no blood.”

Bobby obeys, teeth sinking into the soft flesh over Crowley’s jugular, fingers tugging hard against the heavy-gauge ring in Crowley’s nipple. “Ain’t you just fulla surprises. Am I gonna find more?”

Crowley huffs, lifting his hips and pressing the hot brand of his trapped cock against Bobby’s thigh. “Are you going to look?”

“Damn right I am.”

This time, Bobby kisses him properly, and once again it feels like drowning. Crowley groans into it, fingers fisting in Bobby’s hair, the stupid hat long-since knocked to the floor. He opens his mouth and Bobby floods into it, silky and warm, devouring and ravenous, teeth biting hard at Crowley’s lips even as his tongue soothes over the marks.

Bobby’s hands, meanwhile, have tugged open Crowley’s belt and made short work of the fastenings of his trousers. Crowley’s prick springs free as soon as it’s able, cockhead rosy and gleaming and drooling at it arches longingly against Bobby’s hands.

“Knew you’d be a big bastard,” Bobby growls.

“Just for you, darling.”


“Guilty as—”

But then Bobby’s mouth is on him again, and there’s no more talking.

Crowley’s prick sits fat and happy in Bobby’s hand, jerking and drooling as gun-rough fingers tease the heavy PA ring that weighs at the head and bounce across the Ladder down the length of the shaft.

“Jesus,” Bobby mutters, hot and wet and startled against Crowley’s mouth. “You got a license for these things?” Except he punctuates it with a tug against the ring, and Crowley’s mind is too occupied to think of a clever reply.

He’s too occupied to do much of anything, really, other than buck and writhe and moan against the rattling stall door, fingers of his meatsuit fisting and un-fisting uselessly against the metal. He wants to touch Bobby with his hands, his real hands—wants to feel Bobby against his real hide, his real tongues, his real prick—but doesn’t dare. If Bobby notices, if he stops or pulls away, then—

“Ssh. Ssh, darlin’. I gotcha.” The kisses soften, silky along Crowley’s neck and cheeks, dusted with the alternating whisper-scratch of Bobby’s beard. His hand on Crowley’s prick works itself into a rhythm, slow and firm, and Crowley’s loses himself to it, hips rocking and breath coming in gasps.

The sound of Bobby pulling open his own fly bounces, harsh and loud, off the tiled walls of the restroom. But the feel of the hot, thick bar of flesh as it presses against Crowley’s own prick steals his breath and has him jamming his eyelids shut against the red he knows must be boiling there. It feels like he’s waited an age for this, an eternity. Something he’s dreamed about and lusted for since that first ridiculous kiss, years ago and years hence. That had been Bobby proving a point—proving what he’d been prepared to do, how far he’d been prepared to go to help his boys and help the world—and still it had been a tiny gust of bliss in the endless burning of Crowley’s Hell. This, though? This is standing at the gates of Heaven itself, adulation and exhalation bearing down until Crowley is drunk from it, from the bliss of being wanted, if only for a moment, not for what he can do but for who he is. For who he could be.

Bobby is grunting as he thrusts, swearing softly, unused to the feel of smooth steel rutting against his cock. He smells like musk and sweat, ripe and male and amazing, and Crowley buries his nose against Bobby’s neck to breath it in, sensations stoking the tight-hot ball of pleasure that pool below his belly.

It’s Bobby who comes first, biting a curse against Crowley’s shoulder as his hot cum floods over his fingers, slicking their pricks. The thought of it sends shivers of pleasure through Crowley’s limbs and he’s following not long after, stall door banging as his hips buck with the motion of Bobby’s hand.

Afterwards, Crowley feels dozy and pleasure-drunk in a way he rarely does—rarely has the luxury of doing—held up less by his limbs and more by the heavy weight of Bobby, pressing him against the door.

“Fuck,” says Bobby, into the silence, and he sounds as stunned as Crowley feels.

“Give me ten, darling,” Crowley says, in reply. “Then I’ll see what I can do.”

They duck out the bar by the back exit. They hadn’t exactly been quiet in the restroom, and neither feel in the mood to confront a force of Good Ol’ Boys and their self-appointed moral judgement.

Crowley feels . . . light. The dull stars above seem to gleam like supernovas and the hot air against his skin sends sense-memories of Bobby’s breath shivering down his spine. He should be disgusted with himself, he thinks, and maybe will be, later, when reality inevitably reassert itself. But for now, he loses himself in his role; of Rick, literary-agent-cum-monster-hunter, alive and disheveled and freshly fucked, tumbling in a pile of limbs and suppressed giggling into Bobby’s beater of a truck. Bobby peels out of the parking lot like the Heavenly Hosts themselves are on their tails, which they’re not, of course, but for some reason seems an important part of whatever game they’re both suddenly playing.

The truck has a bench seat and so Crowley splays out across it, head worming into Bobby’s lap. He gets a wry smile for his trouble, thick fingers working into his short hair.

“You got somewhere to be?” Bobby asks.

“Nope.” Not tonight, at least. If Crowley can have nothing else, he’s going to have tonight.

“Good,” says Bobby, and Crowley closes his eyes, losing himself in the rattle of the engine and the feel of warm, thick thighs beneath his cheek.

It’s their first hunt. It’s not their last. They see each other regularly after that, Crowley always finding some thin excuse to spend the weekend in Sioux Falls and Bobby never pressing for details.

He’s nervous the first time he steps into Bobby’s home. The place has always been a minefield or traps and wards, and while Crowley used to know most of their locations—or used to will know, he supposes—he isn’t sure how much the years had changed them. Quite a lot, as it turns out, but in the sense that the house now is barely warded at all, and certainly not against demons. Which Crowley supposes presents its own set of problems, and one he intends on fixing.

He’s looking through old tomes, in fact—things someone like Rick could have conceivably come across by chance—to “loan” Bobby for exactly that purpose when Lilith corners him.

“The hunter,” she says. “Really?”

Crowley shrugs, not bothering to look up. Lilith, as usual, is ripe and naked, breasts swollen and reeking of sex, and yet somehow the though of her stirs nothing but vague annoyance. Strange, Crowley thinks. Lilith may be endlessly inventive with an ovipositor but Crowley would take a quick, vanilla fumble with a human—with his human—over another aeon-long orgy any day. He thinks he should be disgusted with himself, but can’t seem to manage even that much. He’d think he were going soft if not for the fleshy clots of blood that still cling to his claws and belly from his earlier “one on ones” with a line up of his particularly dull-witted subordinates.

“He’s close to the vessel,” Crowley says, in response to Lilith’s question. “And less . . . volatile than the father.”

“Azazel said you were scheming something.”

“Always, darling.”

Lilith hisses, claw lashing out to hook beneath Crowley’s chin, piercing through hide and muscle and fat, yanking his head up and around to by the jawbone to look at her.

“Don’t forget yourself, little thing,” she says. “You are my whore, and through service to me you serve our Dark Father.”

Crowley takes one of Lilith’s free hands in his, and dips his head to press his fangs in a bloody, lipless kiss across the knuckles. “But of course, my Lady.” His voice is thick and slurred from the blood and the claw that still hooks his jaw. It helps to hide the contempt. “I seek nothing but your ascension to your rightful place at Lucifer’s side.” Not technically a lie; he’d happily bury them both in the same grave.

Lilith huffs, withdrawing her claw from Crowley’s flesh and sliding it further down his neck, hard enough to leave bloodied grooves. “Then on your belly, whore. And exalt your mistress as she deserves.” The thick, cloying scent of her dripping cunt leaves no question as to what she means.

Crowley just grins, setting aside his books, legs clicking on the stone and he lowers himself beneath her. “Gladly, my Lady,” he says and, for the first time, it isn’t so.

He does end up taking some books to Bobby’s, and brings a cover-story with them.

“—acquaintance who’s an antique book dealer. I’ve no clue if they’re real or not, but I can think of worse places for them than your library either way.”

Bobby snorts, flicking idly through the first book as he leads Crowley into his den. “Ain’t much of a library.”

This is true, at least in comparison to the piles of tomes and journals that it will become. Crowley just shrugs. “Well. Best start somewhere.”

For dinner, Bobby makes a kind of chislic that, to Crowley at least, tastes more like something he’d find in Turkey or Greece than Flyover, USA. They eat it with cold beer that isn’t terrible and a salad suspiciously like tabbouleh—Bobby is both a decent and surprisingly adventurous cook, which Crowley can certainly appreciate—chatting amiably while the grainy cathode ray TV plays old (or, rather, brand new) episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street. And when their plates are cleared and their bottles empty, they press together on the old sofa, Crowley’s eyes closing in bliss as Bobby’s firm weight settles between his thighs.

There’s no rush, so they rut together, slow and lazy, half watching TV detectives solve TV crimes, half basking in the heat and warmth of each others’ skin. And for the first time, Crowley entertains the notion that, perhaps, he really is dead. And it’s cliched, and awful—certainly not a thought worthy of a demon—but if there is a version of Heaven he can reach, Crowley hopes that this is it.

They are so caught up in each other, in fact, that they don’t notice the entrance of John Winchester until he’s pounding down the front door.

“Singer! Singer, open the goddamn door!”

“Fuck!” says Bobby, who then proceeds to fall off the sofa with a crash.


“I’m alright, I—”

“Singer! I can hear you, you sunovabitch! Open up!”

“Fuck. Fuck fuck.” Bobby lurches to his feet, tugging down his shirt and zipping up his jeans. Then, louder: “I’m comin’, I’m comin’. Jeezus, you asshole,” as he staggers towards the racket.

Cursing under his breath—apparently the Winchester sense of timing was heritable, who knew—Crowley begins to readjust his own clothes, before following Bobby to the house’s entry.

He arrives just in time to see John Winchester barrel his way through the door with a: “Singer, goddamn you! There’s been a— who the fuck is that?”

Crowley raises his eyebrows, meeting Winchester’s stare. Bobby looks between them, then back again, tension as thick as a rucksack’s funk after a long hunt. Finally, he sighs and says: “John, Rick MacLeod. Rick, John Winchester.”

Not missing a beat, Crowley dips his head. “Charmed, I’m sure.”

John, meanwhile, just looks at Bobby with a sneer. “One of your ‘special friends’, Singer?”

Crowley has something sharp on the tip of his tongue, but Bobby just rolls his eyes and says, “Go fuck yourself, Winchester,” like this is some sort of regular occurrence. Which, for all Crowley knows, it might be.

“Get rid of it,” John growls, shouldering his way past Bobby and further into the house. “We got business.”

It occurs to Crowley he has no intention whatsoever of leaving Bobby alone with a drunk and ornery John Winchester, and it seems Bobby has the same idea when he says, “Rick’s in. Anythin’ you can discuss with me y’can discuss with him.”

This results in a growled sneer from John, who lunges back, producing a revolver from sin knows where and pressing the cold barrel of it up under Crowley’s jaw.

“Jesus, fuck, John!” says Bobby, taking a half-step forward, wide-eyed and unsure.

Crowley decides he appreciates the concern, even if he isn’t worried. Winchester reeks of booze and can barely stand upright, for one thing, and his gun is loaded with Kmart-issue lead slugs, for another. A bullet up the jaw would, indeed, be inconvenient, but hardly something Crowley would lose sleep over.

“Y’think y’r a hunter, do you? Y’pansy-ass faggot.”

Winchester may be extremely drunk but, nonetheless, quite a substantial number of things about his eldest son click into place. Crowley just raises one eyebrow and says, “I’m sorry. I must’ve missed the part of orientation where they mentioned over-compensatory heterosexuality as a prerequisite.”

John growls at that, and shoves forward, although Crowley is spared the quandary of whether to react when Bobby decides he’s had enough, and hauls Winchester bodily away.

John hits the opposite wall with a crack, and Bobby steps between him and Crowley. “What the fuck are you here for, John?” he growls. “Talk quick or get the fuck off my property.”

Winchester looks between Bobby and Crowley, beer-soaked brain coming to a conclusion with painfully obvious effort. Finally, he says, “Somethin’s been ripping open chests in Wisconsin. Real bloody-like. Only clue is it leaves behind a single black claw in—”

“Lamia,” say both Crowley and Bobby. Then they pause, each blinking at the other in confusion.

Winchester, it must be said, seems similarly thrown. “Er . . .”

“Rosemary and salt, darling,” Crowley adds, recovering first. “Blend, cook well, then douse your little problem like she’s a Sunday roast.”

“Right,” agrees Bobby, nodding. “Else a blessed knife, if y’can find a priest.”

“Oh, yes I suppose. If you must.” Priests. Ugh.

“You need someone to take the boys?” Bobby adds, almost hopeful.

John looks between them, expression fluctuating between poleaxed and suspicious. “I . . . er . . .” Another glance. “Yeah. Yeah, sure.” He backs towards the door, eyes lingering on Crowley in particular, before making some sort of gesture with his free hand through the jamb. From the yard, Crowley can hear the heavy sounds of the Impala’s door and the low murmuring of young voices.

“I’ll be watching you,” John hisses, at Crowley. “You so much as breathe funny near my boys, and—”

“Yes, yes. Shotgun, shovel, shallow grave, et cetera.”

“Fuck you. Think y’r so goddamn clever, don’t’cha? So much better’n the rest of us.”

This, Crowley thinks, is an interesting philosophical position, given the circumstances. But he suspects intense theological debate is out of John Winchester’s current level of sobriety, if nothing else, and so says: “Well. We’re all worm food in the end.” He can even dig up his own rotting bones to prove it.

Dean and Sam, meanwhile, have shuffled into the cramped hallway, standing clutching bags in front of Bobby, who has a hand on each boy’s shoulder. Dean looks like he’s recently lost a fight with a doorknob and Sam is valiantly trying to bite back tears. Both are cowering back against Bobby, while simultaneously trying to make it seem like they’re not.

“All right, John,” Bobby says. “You get outta here now. Go sober up, for godssakes. The boys’ll be fine here, long as they need.”

John gives a tight nod, then, to Dean: “No slacking, you hear me? You know your drills. You and your brother. If you skip, I’ll know.”

“Yessir,” Dean says, mostly to the wall.

“John . . .”

“Fine, fine. You watch yourself, Singer.”

This is, apparently, the John Winchester version of thank you, the man in question in stumbling out of the house thereafter, one last threatening gesticulation to Crowley as he goes. The four of them watch the Impala as it vanishes down the drive, swerving in a way Crowley suspects even this gangly, undercooked version of Dean finds horrifying.

It’s Crowley who breaks the silence with a: “Well. That was the legendary John Winchester.”

Bobby just sighs, closing the door and grumbling, “He ain’t that bad. When he’s sober.” Then, louder, “Boys, this is Rick. ‘E’s a hunter, too. Rick, Sam and Dean.”

“Charmed,” says Crowley, while the boys in question mutter vague greetings at their shoes.

They vanish into the house after that, to set up beds and brush teeth and various other human miscellanea. At a temporary loss, Crowley makes a start on the dishes; a chore he still finds novel enough to be amusing. And rewarding, for that matter, once Bobby re-emerges fifteen minutes later, alone, and presses himself against Crowley’s back in a tight, exhausted hug.

“Long day, darling?”

Bobby huffs, face buried in Crowley’s hair. “Sorry,” he says. “This ain’t exactly the romantic evenin’ you were here for.”

Crowley makes a thoughtful sound, patting one of Bobby’s hands and placing another plate on the rack to dry. “I’ve had worse.”

“Than bein’ greeted with a gun to the goddamn face?”

“Like I said, I’ve had worse.” Honestly, being threatened with firearms is practically his Winchester meet-n-greet tradition.

Bobby kisses the back of his neck all the same. “Thank you.”

“For what, darling?”

“Y’know. Not killin’ John. Doin’ the dishes.” A pause. “Just bein’ you.”

Crowley’s heart does not skip a beat. That’s a stupid mortal cliche that doesn’t happen in the real world. And if it does, well . . . it’s probably some sort of defect in his meatsuit. Sign of an imminent heart attack, perhaps.

(It’s not you he means, sneers the cruel little voice. It’s Rick. Everything he cares about is a lie. Imagine how he’ll react when he finds out . . .)

“ . . . Rick?”

Crowley turns, dropping the cup he’d be wiping back into the sink as he presses forward and kisses Bobby, stupid and desperate. Pathetic. Except for the way Bobby returns his ardor, in kind and then some, until they’re both flushed and panting.

“Well,” Bobby says when he breaks away, grinning soft and stupid. “Dunno what I did to deserve that, but I ain’t complaining.”

His rough fingers caress Crowley’s cheek and Crowley leans into them, eyes fluttering closed, want and longing raging infernos inside him. Such strange appetites, for a demon, to desire such simple, tender things as comfort and closeness. And yet, here Crowley is.

Bobby leans forward, laying a soft kiss on Crowley’s brow. “C’mon,” he murmurs. “Let’s go to bed.”

“Your boys—”

“Are sleepin’, or pretendin’ to.” When Bobby pulls back, there’s s sparkle of mischief in his gaze. “So you’ll just have to be quiet. Y’think you’re up to it?”

And Crowley, eyes closed and head tilted back, says, “For you, Robert, I could be up to anything.”

A month later, the boys are still there.

“Persuaded John to leave ‘em for a bit,” Bobby says, voice subdued as the subjects in question aren’t far away. “Get ‘em enrolled in a school for more than a few weeks. God only knows how long it’ll last, but . . . I gotta try.”

“You’re a good man, Robert Singer,” says Crowley, who knows one when he sees one. Professional assessment and all that.

It’s 2:15 on a Saturday afternoon, and the four of them are taking a post-lunch stroll in downtown Sioux Falls. The weather is starting to lose some of the oppressively hot edge, the season Crowley will never not refer to as “autumn” creeping in around summer’s edges.

“I’ve been thinkin’,” Bobby says, once he’s recovered from his aw-shucks hat-tugging. “‘Bout the whole huntin’ thing. I ain’t gettin’ any younger, and chasin’ ghosts across the state ever week . . . it ain’t what it used to be.”

“Thinking of retiring?” asks Crowley, who knows Bobby is doing nothing of the sort.

“Naw. Well, maybe. Semi-retired. I figure . . . maybe there’s more good I can do, y’know. Behind the scenes.”

“Logistics and support?”

“Right,” says Bobby. “‘Xactly.”

“Mm. It’s been a problem with the American hunters for a while,” Crowley muses. “Your central coordinating infrastructure, such as it was, was taken out fifty years ago. This current rugged solo man nonsense is all very Jack Kerouac but it does make you rather easy to pick off one-by-one without the others noticing.” Speaking from experience. Maybe too much experience, given the look Bobby’s currently shooting his way.

“So you . . . think it’s a good idea, then?”

Interesting question. More organized hunters equal more dangerous hunters, equal more of a pain in the arse for Hell. On the other hand, Crowley’s minions have always been something of a periphery concern when compared to, say, the various legions more likely to torment the pious and humble, rather than indulging the whims of the already-wicked. Lucifer’s followers, in other words. Something the world could always do with less of.

Not to mention, anything that keeps Bobby out of imminent danger ranks very highly up the “pros” ladder. Which is why Crowley says:

“I think it’s an excellent idea, darling. And I think you’ll be excellent at doing it.”

Bobby spends a good hour outlining his plan. Crowley recognizes it immediately as being, in essence, the modus operandi of the Bobby he first met, and contributes his own additions in spots he’s always thought could use some improvement. They buy ice creams for the boys (and themselves), and let Sam loose in a bookstore. The entire afternoon is . . . pleasant.

Of course, that means it can’t last.

They’re back home, preparing dinner (Bobby) and drinking red wine (Crowley’s) when the shouting starts from somewhere out the yard.

“Hell was that?” says Bobby, knife in one hand, potato in the other.

The sound comes again, and this time Dean’s anguished voice is clearly audible. Calling for his brother.

“Shit!” Bobby’s out the door so fast Crowley would almost have sworn he teleported, and Crowley himself isn’t far behind. The pair of them—Bobby still brandishing the starch-smeared knife—find Dean amidst the maze of junked cars. Dean has his own knife drawn, eyes wide and frantically searching. Of Sam, there’s no trace.

“Dean!” Bobby sounds to a halt in the dust. “The Hell’s your brother?”

Dean is bleeding. A split lip and a gash across his forehead. When he speaks, blood flicks from his mouth. “They took him!” he says. “They took Sammy!”

Somewhere, dimly, Bobby is saying things like “who did?” and “where?”, though it all feels rather distant. Distant like the part of Crowley that’s glad the humans are paying too much attention to each other to pay attention to him, because he’s quite sure his eyes are smoking red and his shadow is flaking ash.

There’s blood on Dean’s knife, the boy getting a good slice in on Sam’s assailants before they returned the favor. It’s blood Crowley can smell a hundred yards away; dark and sulfurous and reeking. It’s the smell of home, of Hell. The smell of demons.

Crowley growls, heavy and inhuman. Loud enough that the humans hear, and turn to look. By then, Crowley’s already gone, leaving nothing but a ring of burnt-out dirt on his wake.

He’s going to kill them. Whichever morons took Sam, whatever they thought they were doing, Crowley is going to track them down, flay them alive, and make a goddamn g-string out out of their hides. Have their skulls as chamberpots and feed their dicks to his hellhounds and use their bloody finger bones as toothpicks!

He arrives back in his office in a fireball of rage that scatters contracts and kicks up a wash of blood from the fountain that soaks both the wall and, of all things, a demon that’s cowering in the corner.

“Get out!” Crowley roars, throwing the demon back against the wall with a wave of will. “Out!”

“My Lord!” The demon falls to the floor, or at least as much as it’s able over the distended, writhing mass of its belly. “My Lord, please! I have . . . I have a gift! For you!”

“Not now, moron! If you aren’t gone by the time I’ve finished describing what I’m going to do to you, I’ll—”

“Itsthevessel!” the demon blurts, all at once. Then it vomits the contents of its belly all over the floor.

Crowley stops, staring. Because there, on the floor of his office, shivering and covered in bile, is Sam. And that great bonfire of rage that’s built itself in Crowley gut turns off like a light, leaving nothing but smoldering embers behind, white-hot beneath the soot-covered surface.

“Talk,” says Crowley. “Now.”

The demon is one of Crowley’s; Brain, if he recalls correctly. Middle management type, relatively loyal and not entirely brain-dead. Shame, really.

“It’s the vessel,” Brian says, claws running nervously against the sagging flesh of his empty belly. “The meatsuit. Lucifer’s meatsuit. I know you want it, getting close to the family and all. Figured you were . . . biding your time. This way, though. This way, you don’t have to. Alibi, right? Nabbed him right under his idiot brother’s nose. Little bitch shanked me but he was no trouble, no trouble at all. Brought this one straight to you, Boss. Whatever you’ve got planned, I’m one-ten percent with you. Those black-eyed fucks, they’ll never see you coming, right Boss? When Lucifer rises, the Crossroads will be right there with him. Red or dead.”

“Indeed,” lies Crowley. Then: “And this was . . . your own initiative?”

Brian puffs up, allegorically speaking. “Yes, Boss. Just for you, Boss.”

“All by yourself, without any help?”

“That’s right. Solo job, planned and executed.”

Crowley moves closer, puts a congenial claw on Brian’s shoulder. “Well,” he says. “I have to say, I’m impressed”—true enough, in a sense—”and you know I always think initiative should be rewarded.”

“Serving you is it’s own reward, my Lord.”

“Good,” says Crowley and, in one quick motion, tears off Brian’s head.

Disposing of the body is easy; that’s what the magma in the fountain is for, and soon Crowley’s office is thick with the smell of fast-charring demon. Now, for the hard part.

“Was he telling the truth, about working alone?” Crowley asks the room. Then, when the only answer is a whimper from somewhere under his desk: “I only ask because if any other demons know you’re here, I’m going to have to kill them, too.”

No response, just hiccoughing little sniffles.

“Well, think it over.” As he talks, Crowley moves to the side of the room, where one wall is dominated by towering shelves and cabinets. Archived contracts, mostly, but also a stash of luxuries from the surface. Including bottled water (Hell has none of its own) and a pile of plush, black towels (useful after a relaxing afternoon in the bloodspa). Crowley takes one of each and walks back around to the front  of the desk. Sam has managed to worm his way beneath the privacy screen so is visible only as a tangle of limbs and shadow. Crowley places the water and the towel down with reach, then steps back.

“Apologies for the lack of facilities, but water is a little short down here. As it is, I’d suggest you wash up sooner rather than later. I suspect that bile is starting to itch. When you’re ready to come out, let me know and I’ll take you back to Bobby.”

A pause, during which Crowley pretends to peruse some of the old books that line his shelves. Books that may be of interest to Bobby, in fact. Hm. Crowley will have to bring some up.

A soft scuffling is the only indication that Sam is on the move. Crowley continues flicking through tomes until he hears: “It won’t work.”

“Mm?” He turns. Sam is standing, damp towel almost bigger than his body wrapped around his neck. He’s keeping the desk between them, eyes wide with fear and gleaming with determination.

“Being . . . Pretending to be nice,” Sam says. “I won’t fall for it. I won’t do what you want!”

“And what, exactly, is it that you think I want?”

Sam doesn’t answer, eyes flicking between Crowley and the office door.

Crowley gestures towards it. “It’s not locked,” he says, “though quite heavy, I will warn you. And even if you manage to open it, we’re in Hell, mooselet. There’s is literally nowhere to run to. I promise you, everything out there is much, much worse than anything in here.” A pause. “To you.”

“My brother will be looking for me,” Sam announces. “And Bobby.”

Crowley waits for the and Dad, but it doesn’t come. Interesting.

“Yes,” he says. “I know. When you’re ready, I’ll take you back.” He gestures towards the chronometer on the desk. “No rush. Time runs a little faster here than upstairs. You’ve only been gone a few minutes.”

Sam is shivering beneath the towel. Shock, Crowley assumes, because if there’s one thing Hell is not, it’s in need of extra heating.

“I . . .” Sam frowns, staring intently down at the half-empty bottle of Fillico, fingers picking at the crystals adorning the glass. “I don’t get it,” he says eventually. “The other demon, it . . . it said I was a ‘vessel’ . . .”


“Of . . . of what?”

“I think you know.”

Sam looks away, trembling hitting harder now. “L-Lucifer,” he all-but whispers.


“I . . . I won’t!” Stronger, now. “I won’t do it! Whatever you want from me, I won’t help you! I won’t help any of you!”

“Excellent,” Crowley declares. “That’s the ol’ Winchester spunk!”

Sam blinks, unsure and unbalanced, so Crowley comes forward, knuckles on the flat of the desk as he leans over it. “Tl;dr, Lucifer wants something from you. I want you not to give it to him.”

“Why?” Sam’s little button nose screws up in confusion. “And what’s ‘teél deár’?”

“You’ll find out when you’re older. And because if you do, Lucifer will destroy your planet and everyone on it.”


“In very short, because Daddy Luce is an arsehole.” Crowley rears back, gesturing as he begins to pace. “Sin forbid that I speculate on the contents of his deranged whatever it is angels have for brains, but I believe he feels destroying humanity will force his daddy out of hiding.”

“You mean God?”

“Yes, mooselet.”

“Will it?”

“I would assume not, given past evidence.”

Sam scowls at this. “Why would God hide? Why wouldn’t He help?”

“You’ll have to ask him the former yourself. As for the latter, I never said he wouldn’t. ‘Mysterious ways’”—Crowley makes the air quotes—”and all that.”


It’s said so earnestly and with such awe that Crowley actually laughs, harsh and surprised. “No, not the angels; you’ll find they’re just as deranged as their big brother. Assuming you can even find one, which is a trial and a half in itself.” Crowley leans forward, enough to tap a claw against Sam’s chest. Sam, the little scamp, does a bang-up job of pretending not to flinch. “I mean you, pet. It will be hard and it will hurt—oh, how it will hurt—but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the universe is very firmly on the Winchesters’ side. Get yourself ninety-five percent of the way there and, wink-wink nudge-nudge, your friend in the highest places might just send you a miraculous five.”

Sam seems to consider this, head tilted and nose scrunched. His shivering has stopped and he seems more confident. Sweaty from the heat and a little rashy from the bile, but that’s neither unexpected nor life-threatening. A thought occurs—one Crowley really should have considered earlier—though executing on it involves getting to the drawers in his desk, so:

“Can I get to my desk?”

Sam shuffles back a little, which Crowley takes as permission. As he’s unlocking the top draw with the heavy ring of keys hanging from his faulds, Sam blurts:

“Do you know who killed Mom?”

“Yes, mooselet, I do.”

“Why? Why did they do it? Is it because of . . . of him?”

“In a sense, yes. Hell has obsessed over your birth since before it occurred, because Lucifer obsesses over it. When Azazel came to mark you as an infant, your mother disturbed his work. I suspect he thought killing her would prevent her from . . . sharing her family business, shall we say. Making you an easier mark. No one counted on John doing it in her stead.”

The euphemism does not go unnoticed. “Mom . . . Mom was a hunter?”

“Yes. Born and bred, from a long line of the same.”

“Dad . . . he never told us that.”

Crowley shrugs. Honestly, he can’t remember if John even knows; it wasn’t ever something that came up. “Mary wanted you to have normal lives,” he says instead, because that he does know. “From what I understand, she wanted a normal life. It’s why she and your grandparents, ah. Weren’t on speaking terms.”

“You know a lot of stuff.”

“It’s my job,” Crowley says. “Information is power, as they say.” He finds what he needs and takes it, re-locking the drawer. Then he holds the chain out to Sam. “Here, take this.”

Sam looks at the item in question, then at Crowley, then back again. Finally, tentatively, he does as instructed.

“What is it?”

The blood-iron necklace that had looked so delicate in Crowley’s claws looks heavy and brutal in Sam’s. The whistle that hangs from it is thicker than his thumb.

“Blow it and see.”

Crowley has always found that very human battle between curiosity and mistrust to be be both fascinating and one-sided. So it is, then, that Sam eventually capitulates, and blows the whistle. No audible sound emerges and he winces in disgust.

“It tastes like blood,” he says, which is true. The name “bloodiron” isn’t just for PR, and resources in Hell are both scarce and almost exclusively of the human variety.

Crowley doesn’t answer, however, because Sam’s shadow has already started to boil and ripple and solidify, rearing up even as the boy yelps and tries to back away. He ends up bumping into the desk, hands scrabbling for some kind of weapon, as six red eyes and a jagged maw of drooling, molten magma open a foot above his head.

“Juliet,” Crowley says, and the hellhound’s ears swivel to attention even as she still stares at the boy holding her whistle. “This is Sam. Sam, Juliet.

Juliet noses closer, sniffing at her new ward, and Sam of all things, holds out a hand to allow it. His fingers tremble, though Crowley thinks it might be from excitement as much as fear.

“She’s . . . a hellhound?”

“That’s right. Juliet, luv, Sam here is very important to Daddy. I want you to look after him, understand?”

“I’m not allowed to have a dog!” Sam blurts, inexplicably. His hand has buried itself in Juliet’s ruff, and she gives an appreciative whine and lowers herself to the ground for easier scratching.

“You can only see her because this is Hell,” Crowley explains. “Upstairs, you won’t even know she’s there. But if there are more . . . little incidents like today, blow the whistle and she’ll tear any more self-starters to shreds.” He watches Sam; honestly, he thought he’d have to put more of a hard sell on the followed-by-hellhounds idea, and is fascinated by the boy’s easy acceptance.

Sam nods, although mostly he’s focused on rubbing at Juliet’s chest and shoulders, much to her delight. She keeps trying to lick him in turn, and Crowley tells himself he is not feeling aggrieved that her affections are so easily won.

They return to the surface not long after, Sam clinging to Juliet’s neck like he never plans to let go. Crowley leaves the pair in the scrapyard maze around Bobby’s, watching as Sam blinks and readjusts himself to the feel of the air and Juliet’s new invisibility. After a moment, the boy squares his shoulders and heads back towards the house.

Crowley beats him to it, bursting through the door, books in hand, with a: “Here. Everything I had on demons.”

He interrupts an argument, Bobby and Dean facing each other down with matching expressions of thunderous stubbornness.

“—our father!” Dean is saying (yelling). “He deserves to—”

“Rick!” Bobby throws one parting, “Give it a rest, Dean,” and darts over.

Crowley hands him the books. “I don’t know if they’ll help,” he says, “but there might be something.”

Whatever Bobby is about to say in reply is cut off as Dean shoulders his way between them, mumbling something incoherent and ignoring Bobby’s protest of, “Hey!”

The door has barely slammed when Bobby is placing his new books on a side table and lifting his cap to run a hand through his thinning hair; a gesture that turns into him holding his face in his hands as he mutters, “John is gonna kill me. Bullet between the eyes, straight up. Bury me out back right next to Dad.”

“Oh,” says Crowley. “No, I don’t think so.”

Bobby sighs, and lifts his face from his hands. His eyes are red and he looks more miserable than Crowley’s ever seen. Which is really saying something. “You don’t know John,” he says.

“No,” admits Crowley. “But I know we’ll find Sam. There has to be—”

It’s about this time Dean’s yelling starts, all over again.

“The Hell—?” Bobby shoots Crowley one last, unreadable look, then bolts out the door.

Crowley follows at a more leisurely pace, already certain of what he’ll find: Dean, clinging desperately to the dazed-looking Sam, the dark shadow of Juliet looming patient and waiting just behind.

Sam is dehydrated (from Hell) and his skin has erupted into a nasty rash (from being swallowed), but he’s otherwise fine. He clings to Dean and to Bobby with the desperation of a sinner on salvation, and the former at least returns the attention in kind.

Once showered and changed and fussed over, Sam tells a very truncated story of his abduction; only that he thinks he was in Hell and remembers talking to someone, before “waking up” in Bobby’s yard. He mentions neither Juliet nor the whistle, although Crowley can sense the bloodiron of the latter where it’s been hidden in the pocket of Sam’s now-discarded jeans.

For safety’s sake, Bobby does a variety of the usual tests on Sam, who reacts neither to silver nor salt nor holy water.

“God only knows what was done to him,” Bobby mutters. He and Crowley are in the kitchen, ostensibly making hot cocoa, while Dean continues to interrogate his brother in the den.

“I think God might be looking in the wrong direction, darling,” says Crowley.

“Well, He sure as Hell ain’t paying attention here. Jesus, Sam. Boy’s barely double digits and he’s been to goddamn Hell.” This is muttered more at the countertop than anything, Bobby gripping it tight enough to send his knuckles white and the cords stand out sharply along his forearms. Normally, the sight would be of great interest, though the way Bobby’s shoulders shake puts somewhat of a dampener on Crowley’s mood.

“ . . . Robert?”

“I told myself . . . I told myself I could do right by them. That they’d be better off here than with John. I told John they’d be better off. Safe. Stable. They could go to school, be . . . be normal kids, for Christssakes. Like I’d know any goddamn thing about being a— a father. Like I’d know better’n John what his boys need, what’s good for them, what’re the right choices to keep them safe . . .”

It occurs to Crowley that Bobby isn’t really talking to him; he’s just talking. Out loud, to the universe. Still, Crowley thinks carefully before saying: “Those boys adore you, and that we’re even having this conversation shows their faith is hardly misplaced.”

Bobby turns at that, big hands landing on Crowley’s shoulders as he shakes—just slightly too hard—in time to his words. “Hell, Rick. The kid was in Hell. I know you don’t get it but—”

Crowley raises his hands, placating. Not pushing Bobby off but certainly ready to. “Trust me, Robert. I understand very well. But whatever happened, the boy is back and very little the worse for wear. Whatever the intent of taking him, nothing seems to’ve come of it.”

Bobby does release him, then, stepping back and looking away, fidgeting with his hat in the way he does when trying to come to a difficult decision. Finally, and with one last glance towards the den, he says, voice low:

“There’s . . . there’s somethin’ you should know. About Sam. Somethin’ he don’t know about himself, or shouldn’t know. Somethin’ almost no one knows.”

Crowley doesn’t have to feign his surprise, eyebrows raised as he prompts, “Go on . . .”

“Sam is . . .” Bobby looks away, then back again. “He was marked. By Hell. When he was a baby. A powerful demon fed him a drop of its blood. They, uh. They thinks he’s gonna be the one to let daddy Lucifer outta his Cage and go to war against Heaven and Earth.”

And, again, Crowley doesn’t have to feign his surprise. He didn’t know Bobby knew all of this, at least not yet. “I see,” he says. “And Sam . . .?”

“He’s just a kid, Rick. He should know this stuff eventually, but . . . but I was hopin’ he’d have more time to just . . . be a kid. Not this Boy King’a Hell garbage.”

Oops, Crowley thinks, albeit with much guilt. “The more the boy knows,” he points out, “the less the shock of it can be used against him. And if he is as you say, then it would seem likely Hell would send an agent to . . . try and ingratiate itself into his life.” Ruby had done it before, after all. To an unfortunate level of success.

Bobby rubs a hand down his face in frustration. “I know,” he says. “I know, I just . . . You’d think I’d be better at this.” Muttered, almost as an aside.

“It’s up to you, of course,” Crowley continues, “but if it were me, I’d tell the boys. Both of them. If nothing else, Sam should know this one little misfortune doesn’t define him, no matter what Hell may try and claim. The machinations of demons and angels aren’t inviolable inevitabilities. The sooner your boys learn it, the better.”

Bobby sighs, then nods. He’s leaning back against the counter now, weariness of the day pressing down, aging him. Making him seem more the old soldier Crowley first met, proud and ferocious and determined. “And John?” he finally asks.

“Ah.” Yes, John. The man Crowley’s more used to thinking of as an offscreen plot device rather than a disaster that could come crashing back into their lives at any moment.

“John . . . doesn’t know,” Bobby says. “About Sam. I don’t think, anyhow.”

“How do you think he’d react?”

“I . . . John loves his boys but sometimes I think he loves the thought of killin’— of killin’ whatever got his wife more. Dwellin’ in the past like that, it can make a man stupid. Make him make . . . bad choices.” Bobby looks away again, arms crossed and fidgeting. Then: “Secrets’ll be the death’a this family . . .”

“Perhaps,” says Crowley, who has a non-trivial stake in the matter, “but I suspect that, for now, it can be a problem for later.” He moves closer, pressing himself against Bobby and running a consoling hand up the man’s back. Bobby holds out for a heartbeat, then sags, sighing, into Crowley’s embrace.

They hold each other for a moment, doing nothing more than that. It’s not the first time but, as with every time, Crowley wonders at how . . . strangely thrilling it is. To cling to another being and have it cling back in turn, to comfort and be comforted. He has indulged most every wicked vice Hell has to offer—repeatedly, with gusto—and would gladly do so again. And yet still it’s somehow this that makes him shiver. He doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t know if he wants to understand it; can’t quite shake the feeling that doing so would mean something inside him has fundamentally changed. Or broken.

(Or worse: healed.)

After a moment, Bobby pulls back and plants a whiskery kiss on Crowley’s forehead. “Thanks,” he says, and Crowley grins against the flannel of his shirt.

“Anytime, darling.”

“Yeah, you say that now, but . . . well. How’re you at makin’ cocoa? Looks like I got an awkward chat to have.”

Sam takes the news about himself as well as can be expected, given he’s hearing it for the third time and the delivery source is Bobby, instead of demons. Dean goes kind of surly and quiet for a few days, but hovers mercilessly in Sam’s orbit for the entire duration. After that—after demons or apocalypses fail spectacularly to emerge, for what is perhaps a multiverse first—things settle down.

The world turns, Hell boils. Crowley juggles the Crossroads in between weekends spent with Bobby and the boys, as the air grows slowly colder and ripens with the rich scent of falling leaves. Sam hits the fourth grade running and even manages to make a small circle of misfit friends. Dean spends most of his time in junior high getting into fistfights with anyone unfortunate enough to consider him easy prey. He also bombs dreadfully in History, at least until Crowley—who not only lived through many of the events in the textbook but also was or is acquainted with many of the players—bites the bullet and plays tutor.

John comes and goes. He takes the boys for short stints, mostly on weekends, which Crowley’s libido can’t complain about. The joint hunts have him less enthused, and he drops some of the nebbish ingenue persona purely to keep himself sane. Still. It’s only after he bails them out of a besieged panic room with a hasty spell to de-animate the zombies outside that John so much as gives him a second glance. Accompanied by a suspicious, growled, “What’re you supposed to be? Some sorta witch?”

“No,” says Crowley, honestly. “But Mother was.”

“Yeah? What’s she think of her boy hunting her kind, then?”

“No idea. She loathed me from the moment I was conceived and the feeling is mutual. We haven’t spoken in decades.” Decades of decades, and it occurs to Crowley, for the first time, that his mother is alive. He tells himself he doesn’t care, and almost manages to believe it.

In October, Crowley picks up a needle and thread for the first time in centuries and sews Sam a Halloween costume (Dean is currently in the “Halloween is a lame holiday for normies” phase of hunter adolescence, which Bobby seems to think is both normal and very amusing).

“Y’know. You’re actually pretty good at this,” Bobby observes from the couch, watching Crowley lay out sections of fabric on the floor.

“Better tools,” Crowley says, which is true. He even has a secondhand sewing machine, fixed up by Bobby because, “a motor’s a motor.”

It’s strange, Crowley thinks, how much he ends up . . . not hating the process of measuring and cutting and sewing. Sam sits with him most of the time, watching in rapt fascination, and so Crowley explains about bias and fit and how to make sleeves sit right beneath the arms. When Sam finally shows his finished outfit to Bobby and Dean, gushing with youthful enthusiasm, Crowley feels an odd sense of . . . He isn’t really sure. Pride, perhaps, except . . . not in the way he’s used to. He made something with his own hands and it was loved by its recipient, and the only payment Crowley gets is a crushing hug that, of all things, causes a hot lance of feeling in the death-wound he hasn’t thought of in months.

The next day, Dean tentatively approaches, retracts his former statement, and asks for a matching outfit. Which is how the boys end up walking the streets of Sioux Falls on Halloween, dressed in the red and green overalls of the Super Mario Bros. (sic).

Later. Sam is at a friend’s house (guarded by the ever-watchful red gaze of Juliet), Dean is ostensibly asleep (but really has crawled out the window, to patrol for any ghouls of the less-than-costumed kind). Crowley, meanwhile, is enjoying the feel of old flannel sheets against his back and the gentle trailing of Bobby’s fingers across his chest. It has, all things considered, been a surprisingly pleasant night.

“Thank you,” Bobby says into the quiet, apropos of nothing.

Crowley opens his eyes, to see Bobby staring down at him, soft but strangely pensive. “For what, darling?”

“For bein’ good to the boys. They had fun tonight. They need more’a that in their lives.”

“It was hardly altruistic,” Crowley lies. “The gratitude is more than worth it.” He leers up at Bobby, hips rubbing against a solid thigh, to punctuate his point.

Bobby just chuckles, leaning in for one of the brief, soft kisses Crowley would never have dreamed of desiring and can now never dream of giving up.

“You know, Sam asked me a helluva thing earlier.”


“He asked if I thought a demon could ever be good.”

The lazy contentment leaves Crowley like air from a gut-punch, although he’s had enough practice not to show it. “Oh?” he says instead, carefully unperturbed. “And? What did you say?”

Bobby is silent for a moment, brows creased in thought and not meeting Crowley’s eyes. “I told him I thought it would be hard, real hard. That everything about Hell is set-up to try an’ stop it, to try and even stop demons from even thinkin’ it might be possible. So for one to even get the idea . . .” He trails off. Then: “And I said that, maybe, even if a demon did get somethin’ like that into its head . . . that maybe what a demon thought was ‘good’ might not look quite like what a person would expect.”

“Moral relativism,” Crowley quips. “How quaint.” He tells himself the uneasy feeling in his gut is just from eating too much abominable candy corn.

“Ain’t that,” Bobby says, voice slow and careful. “Not exactly, just . . . There’s a lot of things it could mean, ‘bein’ good,’ and I reckon some’a them might be easier for a demon than others. Bein’ loyal, maybe, or . . . or protectin’ and bein’ generous to what he sees as his. And maybe it don’t wanna be ‘good’, exactly, anyway. Maybe it just wants to be . . . different. A different sort of demon.”

“You’ve . . . ah. You’ve thought about this, I take it?”

Bobby shrugs. “I think it’d be lonely,” he says. “That demon. Demons . . . they like to pretend they’re rebels and rule breakers. But they ain’t. They’re just Lucifer’s lapdogs, doing what they’ve been told without really thinkin’ much about it, scared of the fiends above. Any demon wants to break outta that, he ain’t gonna find no help at home. And who else is gonna trust a demon, give him a chance, help him when he needs it?”

“That all sounds rather hopeless.” Crowley is not . . . He is not. Whatever he could be feeling, he isn’t, and he grins to prove it.

And then, of all things, Bobby says:

“Few decades back, there was this video store. Not a Blockbuster or whatever, just a store. Run by two old . . . Chinese, I guess. Man and his ol’ lady. Didn’t speak much English, and there was a shelf right down back had all this stuff straight from Hong Kong. No subtitles, but . . . Hell, I lapped that stuff up. Used to save up everything I could and think I watched the whole lot, even though I couldn’t speak a lick’a the language.

“There was one film, though, I really loved: Xi you ji. Musta watched that thing a hundred times, damn near wore out the tape. Eventually, the owner, he tried talkin’ to me about it. I admitted that I had no idea about the plot, so he explained it to me.”

“Three demons,” says Crowley, because he knows the story. “Escorting a priest on a holy journey.”

“Right. But not just that. They’re doin’ it with the blessin’s’a the Buddha. And in the end, they’ve all changed enough to earn their way back into Heaven.”

“Its a novel,” Crowley says. “Sort of the Chinese version of King Arthur, culturally speaking.”

Bobby gives him a rueful grin. “I know, smartass. I read it.”

“Oh,” says Crowley who, as it happens, has not.

“Anyway,” Bobby says, “I reckon if some guy five hundred years ago can write a story like that, and a whole continent of people can love it so much . . . I think for a demon that wants to be somethin’ else, somethin’ better . . . Well. I think maybe he might have the Buddha blessin’ him for tryin’.”

And Bobby is . . . he’s so close. So close, and so warm, and looking down at Crowley with such an expression that a very small, very stupid part of Crowley thinks, Maybe . . .

He gets as far as opening his mouth, stuttering the start of a, “Bobby, I—” when he’s cut off by a kiss, and a firm body pressing him into the mattress.

“But you know, I can think of better things for you to do than listen to an old man ramble.” Crowley feels the breath of the words in his mouth and the scratch of a beard on his lips, and all thoughts of soul-bearing confessions are chased away by a hot hand between his thighs.

“Oh,” Crowley says instead. “Oh, yes.”

Bobby’s lips work their own pilgrimage, down the column of Crowley’s throat and across his chest. When they encompass a nipple in hot, wet heat Crowley arches his back with a moan, then descends into laughter as Bobby uses his teeth to pull on the nipple ring, hard enough to hurt.

“Yes! Oh, darling, yes!”

Bobby bites, and the pain is good. It’s beautiful and everything and it slices through Crowley’s nerves, fogging his brain and making his prick jump, or try to, because Bobby has a thick finger pushed through the ring at the head and he holds it down with a, “Nuh-uh,” that has Crowley squirming and fisting his fingers into the sheets.

“Fuck, you’re easy, ain’t’cha?” Strange, how fond those words sound when Bobby’s the one saying them. How awed. “Barely need to touch ya and you’re already pantin’ for it.”

“For you,” Crowley corrects. “Only . . . only for you.” He means it to come out smooth and playful and feels a flush of shame when instead it sounds broken and needy.

Except all Bobby does in turn is press closer, finger withdrawing to allow Crowley’s prick to leap upright, curving thick and hot against his belly. “You’re amazin’,” Bobby murmurs, fingers teasing up and down the raised bars of the Jacob’s Ladder. “I don’t—” He cuts himself off, with a kiss, deep and hard and desperate. Crowley spreads himself beneath it, hips thrusting up into Bobby’s hand, lips open and tongue caressing. He can feel Bobby’s soul, pulsing bright as the sun, warm and infinite and aching. Crowley’s taken hundreds of souls in his day; shivering, cowering things. None were anything like this, this gleaming power that reaches out, like it yearns to touch the blackened, shriveled chunk of coal that’s all that’s left of Crowley, when everything else is stripped away.

Against that, Crowley has nothing to give. And so he opens himself to receive; body softening, thighs spreading. Bobby sighs, appreciative, hands working over Crowley’s belly and chest, stroking the length of his prick and hefting the weight of his balls. Crowley keens, high and wanton, and Bobby chuckles and growls, “Turn over.”

Crowley obeys instantly, instinctively. Rolling to his belly, lifting his ass and spreading his knees, begging with his body. He’s been called a whore and a slut more times than he can count and he is—he knows it, has taken that and worn it and made it his crown—but somehow, no matter what he does, how desperate he gets, it never feels that way here.

“So good,” Bobby is muttering, voice the exquisite agony of rock salt in an open wound. “Gonna make you feel so good.”

Crowley believes it, and cries out when Bobby’s strong fingers clamp into his ass and pull apart the cheeks. When he feels the scratch of Bobby’s beard and the lick of a hot, wet tongue, Crowley thinks he begs. Pathetic, except Bobby never make him feel that way. Bobby makes him feel strong, even when he’s breaking. Powerful, even when he’s helpless. Pure, even when he’s sobbing into a pillow, hips in the air and a tongue buried in his ass.

“More.” His voice sounds shredded. “Please. More.”

Bobby chuckles, and Crowley feels it up every inch of his spine. Then a thick finger, breaching inside of him.

“Like that?”

Not enough, not nearly enough, but it’s a start, and Crowley pushes back against the intrusion. Or, rather, he tries to; Bobby’s other hand is holding Crowley’s hip, keeping it still. So he pushes with his mouth, instead, blurring a litany of needy curses, trying to get more, harder, make it hurt, tear it open, it’s just flesh, just a suit just a mask it isn’t meI’m here I’m deeper inside waiting please just

Bobby takes his time, licking and probing and pushing and kissing, the filthiest purest intimacy that makes Crowley’s insides burn. Hotter than hellfire, stronger than the shudders of pleasure his meatsuit gives at the expert internal rub and stretch of Bobby’s fingers.

Bobby is murmuring words, soft and gentle nonsense. “Ssh, let it go. It’s okay. You’re with me. It’s okay.”

And that’s the worst part, Crowley thinks; it is okay. This awful, terrible trust that shudders through him, anathema to everything he is, everything he’s made himself to be.

When Bobby pulls away, Crowley whimpers. His ass feels empty and raw and he lifts it, wanting something, anything to fill the void. Bobby chuckles at his reaction, running a hand down Crowley’s spine and cupping his balls and slapping his ass, hard enough to smart. “Be patient,” Bobby admonishes, playful and amused. “I’m gettin’ there.”

“Want— want you now,” is Crowley’s barely coherent reply. He doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to come back to himself. Not yet. Not when his ass feels slick and gaping and his prick is a hot bar between his legs.

He gets another slap for his impertinence, and moans as Bobby hauls him up by the hips and manhandles him where he’s wanted. Crowley just rolls his eyes back and allows it, pliant and unresisting as Bobby knocks his knees further apart and spreads his ass cheeks with a grip hard enough to leave bruises. That’s all the warning Crowley gets as, in the next moment, Bobby is driving forward, blunt cockhead breaching through the tight ring of Crowley’s ass.

It hurts. Bobby has slicked his own prick but he isn’t gentle and Crowley doesn’t want him to be. Not in this moment, not when instead he can feel as big as a goddamn tree trunk, splitting Crowley’s meatsuit up the middle, driving and pounding.

Crowley’s never been quiet during sex and, with the boys gone, Bobby makes no moves to stop him now. Just gives Crowley’s ass another hand slap as he drives between it, then reaches around to curl a fist around Crowley’s straining prick.

When the fire in the pit of his belly builds into an inferno, Crowley loses himself to the feel of it. Orgasm breaking like the cracking of a caldera, spilling over Bobby’s fingers and onto the sheets in long, thick white ropes. Crowley’s spine tightens with the force of it, then sags, limp and exhausted, once it’s done. He gives one final shuddering moan, cheek and shoulders smashed into the pillow as Bobby continues to pound into his unresisting body. It’s good, in a different way than the orgasm, the nerves of Crowley’s meatsuit buzzing and humming in satiated contentment.

Then, with one final gasping moan, Bobby’s orgasm breaks over him, as well; dick pulsing where it’s buried deep inside. Crowley sighs from the feel of it, eyes sliding shut as he’s lowered back to the bed. A moment later, the bedsprings all gasp in unison as Bobby throws himself down on the mattress.

One moment, then two. Then the feel of a big, slightly sticky hand, running up the length of Crowley’s spine.

November arrives in its usual crash of changing weather, preemptive Christmas decorations, and glut of end-of-year-terror inspired soul contracts. Crowley praises the concept of sin itself that time runs sideways in Hell; it means he’s able to get in a good, solid month or so of work before the anniversary of Mary’s death. “Rick” has not formally been invited, but he does know that Bobby intends to take the boys out to Mary’s gravestone, as some kind of human ritual of closure. As with all dramatically auspicious days specifically and, in fact, most days in general, Crowley has A Bad Feeling, capital letters intended, about this, and so has sworn to keep an eye on the mortals he might, if pressed, be tempted to refer to as “his family,” quote-unquote. He has a device with which to do so: a sort of magical scrying tool common in Hell and nicknamed a Palantir by demonic nerds who, in Crowley’s opinion, need to read and/or watch more broadly.

In other words, getting a summons from Azazel on the morning of November 2nd is not in Crowley’s game plan. And yet it happens, and so Crowley goes, up to the surface, to the sort of decrepit, defiled church Azazel loves because, quite honestly, the moron has no taste.

Azazel is wearing a priest, the demon Crowley will now forever think of as Meg standing by his side. More of Azazel’s brainless minions line the shattered pews, watching Crowley with ink-black eyes as he walks the length of the nave. “Quite a little gathering,” he says, centuries of practiced nonchalance keeping his voice steady despite the growing sense of unease. He’s taken to leaving the Colt at Bobby’s, which is both smart (if Azazel’s already figured out the gun’s true purpose, Crowley will have an excuse not to immediately hand it over) and incredibly stupid (Crowley can easily take down a room full of simpering, black-eyed mooks with nothing but his own hellfire and claws, but Azazel himself might prove a challenge).

“Well,” says Azazel, “you know, this is a special day.”

“Ten years, isn’t it?” Crowley agrees, to show he’s been paying attention.

“The hour of our Dark Father’s release grows ever nearer,” Azazel intones, with ponderous seriousness. “Soon, this world will be ours.”

It already is, you braindead moron! Crowley does not say, or even really think. He’s gotten very good at not thinking certain thoughts over the years.

“Tell me, Crowley,” Azazel says, shifting tack, eyes flaring pus-rotten yellow. “Did you think it would work?”


“Would what work? I mean, probably yes. But, it’d be a little helpful to know the specifics.”

Azazel moves, faster than Crowley can follow. From the chancel down to the crossing, and in by the time Crowley can blink Azazel has his meatsuit by the throat, held a good foot off the floor. Crowley doesn’t react. He is very, very good at not reacting.

“Look at you,” Azazel sneers. “Lilith’s sycophantic little whore. What did you think you were doing, I wonder? Cozying up to the vessel. Did you think it would matter? That when the Dark Father rises he would favor you?”

And what Crowley thinks is: Oh, thank sin. The moron has no idea.

“The sad part is,” Azazel continues, “your little plan is quite . . . cunning, in its own, vicious way. Not quite so sporting as I’d originally intended, but . . . It has its own merits. And you your own use. Once you’ve been taught to remember your place.”

As it turns out, Crowley can’t take out an entire church of Azazel’s worst. He was right about Azazel, although by then it seems a particularly cruel consolation.

The torture is, as far as these things go, both predictable and strangely banal. Meg does most of the work, severing fingers and optical nerves, stitching lids and lips, flaying open his prick. It doesn’t hurt, exactly, because damage to stolen flesh never does, but it is . . . irritating. It’s not like the body will be easily replaced and, Crowley’s attachment to it aside, he has no idea how he’d try and sell the change to Bobby.

Meg also sews something into Crowley’s meatsuit that stops him from abandoning it, and that worries Crowley more than her blade or hammer. It means they have something planned for him, that the disfigurement of his flesh is exactly that. Something for show. He doesn’t recognize the magic—it’s a long stitch of runes rather than a single brand—but it’s the only thing they do that touches his true self. Whatever it is, it’s going to leave a scar, and that annoys Crowley almost as much as the rest of the damage. Vandals. Showy sin-damned vandals, the both of them.

Crowley doesn’t know how long they work. Meg talks but Crowley doesn’t bother trying to follow what she says. Instead, he survives the ordeal as he always does, by pulling his attention inwards. Into the boiling hot core of himself, the pain-flayed centre, rage all the way down. He thinks of everything he’s going to do, everything he’s going to be. Meg, who will abandon her masters one after another and amount to nothing in the end. And Azazel, whose work will amount to the same, centuries of planning and effort Crowley knows how to undo in a heartbeat. Pathetic, both of them, and Crowley holds onto that, grasp tightening with every cut and—

“I think for a demon that wants to be somethin’ else, somethin’ better . . . Well. I think maybe he might have the Buddha blessin’ him for tryin’.”

The memory comes unbidden; the soft feel of Bobby’s sheets, the awkward poke of the mattress’s sprung spring. Warm fingers caressing Crowley’s flesh. His own flesh, not his meatsuit, and still Bobby would look at him the same.

It’s hard, Crowley thinks, so very quietly. It hurts. And I loathe them. So much.

“Then don’t think about ‘em, idjit. Think about this.” He’d be very close, half his face smashed into the pillow, waist sold beneath Crowley’s claw, softly moving with the tide of his breath.

This isn’t real. None of this is real.

“It’s real enough for now. Your damn dog is watchin’ the boys. They’re safe. No one else is here, just you n’me.”

I’m . . . afraid. There. Now he’s admitted it, even if only to himself. That all of this . . . It’s supposed to be my second chance. But if . . . if I can’t . . .

And Bobby would look at him, really look, levering himself up onto an elbow, fingers tracing over horn and hide. “Thinkin’ like that, o’course it’s gonna be hard. I know this is rough for a demon to hear, but it ain’t just about you. It’s about all’a us. You don’t have to do it alone.”

I’m always alone.

“You’re always an idjit, is what you are. It’s a long way to get to India, sweetheart. But there’s plenty of us other pilgrims to walk with you on the way.”

And Crowley will feel it, somewhere down in the deep remnants of his soul. Like heat and like pressure, bearing down like a sun. But it won’t burn. It won’t burn and it won’t crush; instead, it’ll take the rough black charcoal of himself and press it into—

“Stop that!”

Funny, how a slap can feel so much more shocking than a blade.

Crowley doesn’t open his eyes, because his lids are sewn shut and his meatsuit has no eyeballs in any case, but his consciousness is forced back outside from the impact of Meg’s hand.

“What is it?” Azazel, lurking to the side, watching Meg work with the vicious glee of a self-righteous, self-denying sadist.

“It was doing something.”

A pause. Then the crunching of too-shiny wingtips on stone as Azazel approaches. “Doing what?” Bony fingers grasp Crowley’s chin, moving it as he’s inspected.

“I don’t know. Trying to cast something. I didn’t recognize what.”

Azazel makes a thoughtful sound, and Crowley’s jaw is released. “Well, it’s stopped now. And I think you’ve had enough . . . fun.”

“Showtime?” There’s a glee in Meg’s cigarette-burnt voice Crowley doesn’t like. Although, to be fair, there’s very little about Meg he does. Pissant little sycophant.

Crowley is moved. He doesn’t bother trying to determine where, nor does he try and resist. There’ll be time for that later, he thinks. For now, Azazel obviously has something planned, and Crowley is somewhat interested to learn what it is.

Because Azazel is nothing if not predictable, Crowley’s left in another church; a real, in-use one this time. Crucified on a makeshift rack above the altar, Crowley can feel the crawling burn of Chuck’s invoked presence on his skin. It hasn’t hurt for a century now but . . . still. The sensation is . . . Crowley isn’t sure what it is.

I suppose it was too much to want, he thinks, in the seclusion of his own thoughts. Bobby in my bed and your creation safe. From your sons, if nothing else.

He gets no answer, which he expects. Meg makes herself scarce and Azazel drives a stake through Crowley’s heart. That finishes off the meatsuit but, more importantly, stiffens Crowley’s limbs into immobility. Devil’s Trap stake. Cute.

“Be a good pet and stay,” Azazel commands, patting Crowley’s cheek. “There’s a good little whore.” And then he, too, is gone.

Time passes. Crowley isn’t sure how long. Longer than minutes, he thinks, but shorter than days. Alone, he tests the limits of his bindings but they’re quite . . . tight. The stake he can’t pull out without the use of his meatsuit’s arms, which themselves are tightly, and rather painfully, bound above his head and arched towards the floor. His legs are similarly affixed, albeit on the other side of the altar. South-north, assuming the church is of the traditional east-west orientation.

The spell binding Crowley to his meatsuit is more concerning that the state of his meatsuit itself. He still can’t fathom the magic, and it’s stitched quite tightly. He can just about scratch at it, a mostly futile gesture, though it’s what he’s working on when he hears the footsteps approach. One set heavy and cautious, the other lighter and faster. Crowley starts to get a sinking feeling, which collapses into a black hole when he hears:

“Here. This is the place. It looks exactly like I saw.”

Even from the far end of the nave, the voice is still obviously Sam’s. Suddenly, Crowley knows exactly what Azazel has planned, and exactly how this little passion play will go down.

Well, he thinks, to the church’s absent owner. I suppose it was rather nice while it lasted.

“Jesus. There’s someone— Rick? Rick!”

Bobby. Bobby’s voice, Bobby’s footsteps, running forward.

Run, Crowley thinks. It’s a trap.

“Stop!” Ah. There it is. “Come no closer!”

“The hell are you? Get outta my way, that’s my— what’ve you done to Rick?”

“Was that the host’s name?” Azazel really is, Crowley thinks, a terrible actor. “I’m so sorry. I will pray his soul finds its rest.”

“The hell are you talking about?”

Don’t talk, Bobby. He wants you to talk. Just run.

“Your . . . friend is no longer the man you knew. A demon has taken his skin.”

“A . . . what?”

“A vile creature of sin and malice—”

“I know what a goddamn demon is. I—” Bobby cuts himself off, draws closer. “The hell’ve you done to him?”

“To it. As part of the exorcism. I’m aware the method can seem . . . extreme.”

“No shit.”

Crowley shifts, just slightly, head turning almost unconsciously towards Bobby. There’s a soft sound, like an intake of breath, perhaps.

“If you need proof,” Azazel says, “hold out your hand.”

“What’re you—?”

“Holy water.” The sound of liquid splashing onto skin and stone. “Harmless, yes? Now, watch.”

“Hey, wait I—”

Crowley knows what’s going to come next. And it’s clever, he supposes, in it’s own vicious little way. Azazel being the one to throw the water, not allowing Bobby to hold it, just in case.

The holy water hurts, because it always does. Crowley’s meatsuit arcs with the pain, teeth gritted behind his stitched-shut lips. He thinks Bobby and Azazel say things, but for a moment the agony—true, real agony, not the dream-like facsimile he receives through the meatsuit—blocks out everything else.

“—is gone!” The first words he hears. Azazel. Great. “See! I shall reveal it!” And he starts to chant.

The words are Latin but they make no sense; just random gibberish, grammatically correct but semantically meaningless. Crowley doesn’t understand the show, and the ignorance brings the fear. He thrashes, or tries to, but the stake and the chains hold him firm. It occurs to him, belatedly, he may, in fact, be in a fair bit more trouble than he assumed.

Azazel opens a pit and the winds of Hell surge forth, howling and lashing. It has nothing to do with what Azazel is chanting but it looks dramatic, and Bobby cries out as his hat is blown away and hellfire bursts alight behind the altar and along the first few rows of pews.

“Reveal yourself, wretch!” Azazel commands. “In the name of our Father, I command you revealed!”

And then Azazel grabs, metaphysically speaking, the end of the strange row of stitches sewn into Crowley’s bodies. And pulls. And Crowley suddenly understands the spell, as his body—his true body—is ripped forth into the world. Or, more accurately, into his meatsuit. Which bursts like an overripe fruit from the sudden pressure of having something five times the size shoved inside it.

So much for that. Judging from Bobby’s reaction, he’s no more enthused than Crowley is.

The one thing that doesn’t dislodge, of course, is the stake. The wood remains lodged solidly in Crowley’s chest, even as the altar shatters beneath his weight and he crashes to the floor. Upright, at least, but he can no more move his limbs than he could before. He would curse in frustration but, well. He’s having trouble moving his mouth, too.

Bobby, under no such restrictions, swears loud enough to wake God Himself and nearly trips over a smoldering pew in his haste to get away.

“Behold, the beast’s true form!” Azazel, laying it on thick.

“Jesus. I— I ain’t never seen . . .”

“Grotesque, isn’t it? Bloated and corrupt, fallen from our Father’s grace!”

The laugh bubbles through Crowley despite the wards, emerging as a wet, croaking bark. Your “Father” wouldn’t use you as a rag to clean up his own shit! he can’t say, though makes a valiant effort, every muscle shaking with the strain. If he can get free, if he can get to Azazel, then Bobby will have time to escape. Crowley doesn’t think Azazel will hurt Sam, not directly, and if Bobby survives . . .

“What’s it doin’?”

“Quickly. The wards won’t hold it forever. I must end this.” He draws a blade from his cassock. Crowley is, all things considered, somehow unsurprised to its the same blade—or at least the same type of blade—Ruby will or would or had one day given to Sam.

Azazel takes a step forward. Crowley . . . he can move a claw. Just. If Azazel gets close enough he can—

“Wait!” Bobby lunges forward. “Wait, I . . . Let me do it.”

Azazel stops, raises one eyebrow in query.

“That thing . . . it killed Rick. Blew him right up. I think . . . I deserve somethin’ after seein’ that. Rick deserves something.”

Azazel’s grin is viciously cruel. Gleeful, mask of mortal piety cracking as he contemplates the irony. “Of course,” he says. Then, with a shallow little bow, he hands over the dagger.

Moron, Crowley thinks. You’re going to regret that . . .

He tries very hard not to think that he, in fact, might be the one to regret it first. Regret is for morons and mortals, and Crowley is neither. He can’t move much but he can move his eyes, and he forces himself to watch as Bobby approaches. The hunter’s expression is grim and cold, and he meets Crowley’s gaze without fear. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on Crowley and—in the deep, dark, private places in his mind—he thinks there’s something truly profound about this determination. That Bobby would face down a beast of Hell, without fear, to avenge a lover. And for a moment Crowley feels a hatred hotter and more desperate than any he’s felt for centuries; not for Bobby, but for Rick, this imaginary thing that found the sort of devotion Crowley has always desired in that most broken part of himself, the part that will forever be eight years old, watching his mother walk away and wishing desperately for the power to change it.

You lucky, useless sonovabitch.

There’s no time to wallow in maudlin thoughts, however. Not with Bobby in arm’s reach and Azazel, unobserved and unguarded, grinning a skeletal grin behind.

Crowley looks between the two, desperate. There has to be some way to communicate. Azazel’s wards are brutally tight but Crowley can blink and he can tap a claw against the stone. He does both now: long-short-long-long, short, long-short-short.

Bobby remains impassive. He’s close enough now that Crowley can feel his breath when he lunges forward and says:

“This is for Rick, asshole!”

It’s only when he feels Bobby’s fingers close around the warded stake, when he feels them wrench the wood free of his flesh, that it occurs to Crowley the words might not have been addressed to him.

After that, things happen rather quickly.

Freed, Crowley lurches upright with a roar, sidestepping to put himself between Bobby and Azazel. As he does so, he hears a voice cry out, “Now, Juliet! Sick ‘im!”

It’s worth it, Crowley thinks, to see Azazel’s look of smug triumph turn to confusion then lurch sideways as a huge, dark shape barrels him to the ground. Juliet (how is she in the church? A question for later) gets a good chunk out of Azazel’s jugular before he recovers enough to throw her off. A hellhound is no match for a Prince of Hell, and she crashes into a wall with a whimper.

“Juliet!” Sam is already running towards her, so Crowley wastes no time, tackling Azazel from the front even as he’s staggering to his feet. He thinks he yells something appropriate as he does (and definitely not the useless, sentimental “Bobby, run!”), and smashes the already abused front few rows of pews with his impact. Then it’s his fist, pounding against Azazel’s smug, stolen face. Once, twice, three times. More than enough to smear a mortal’s skull to paste, but Azazel just grins up at him, nose gone and flesh flayed, and says:

“Not bad. For a whore.”

And then he throws Crowley off as easily as he did Juliet.

Crowley lands against the chancel screen, smashing into and through it. There are enough supplies for the services stored back here that Crowley feels a bottle shatter and communion wine splash across his hide like acid. He has no time to dwell on it, lurching upright just in time to see Azazel ascend into the apse towards him.

“There is no place for the likes of you in Father’s Kingd—”Azazel starts, and Crowley could roll his eyes at the tedium of it. Would, in fact, if not for the blade that suddenly embeds itself in the side of Azazel’s head, cutting his speech short.

It’s a good throw, especially for the demon-killing blade, which is hardly weighted for it. The hit would drop most anything else, but Azazel merely staggers, pathetically confused as he pulls the dagger from his skull and stares at it’s origin.

At Bobby, stance still wide and arm still extended.

“Oh dear,” says Azazel. “And to think I was going to let you live.”

There’s only a moment, really. Because Azazel raises the huge, serrated blades that pass for his wings. Not on his meatsuit, of course, but his true form. The form Bobby can’t see, and the attack he can’t prepare for.

Azazel lashes out.

And Crowley . . . It would be easier to say he doesn’t think. Easier, but a lie. In truth, he knows exactly what he’s doing when he teleports in front of the attack.

He’s trying to save his lover. Pathetic, really. To think Bobby would still call himself that after—

Well. Crowley supposes that’s moot, now.

The bones pierce Crowley through the gut, ironically not far from his last death wound. Because it’s his true flesh, because it’s the attack of another demon, it hurts. Especially when Azazel withdraws the limb, leaving putrid barbs like rotting rose thorns behind in Crowley’s flesh.

Crowley crashes to the ground, hard enough to crack stone. He thinks he hears someone scream his name, but that can’t be right because the voice he hears is Bobby’s and this Bobby only calls him Rick. Rick, who’s dead, and Crowley, who . . . might not be far behind.


And Azazel is getting closer, eyes blazing and serrated wings raising to finish what they’ve started.

“You always were pathetic,” Azazel continues. “Lilith’s little fucktoy, a mewling child convinced it was special, that it was clever. That it deserved to—”

And then, of all things:

“Hey, asshole! Shut the fuck up! And this is for Mom.”

And then a gunshot. And a neat, round hole appears slightly left-of-centre in Azazel’s forehead.

He looks . . . surprised. Just one perfect moment of stunned shock that, if nothing else, Crowley is glad he got to witness. And then Azazel’s body burns, and his meatsuit collapses to the floor. To reveal none other than Dean Winchester, in the centre of the church’s aisle, stance wide, smoking Colt clasped steady in both hands.

Somewhere far below, the ground begins to shake.

Dean is saying:

“Fuck. Oh fuck. That was him. It was, wasn’t it? That was . . . that was Yellow Eyes!” His hands are trembling and Crowley thinks Dean has never looked so young as he does in this moment.

“Azazel,” Crowley corrects, because apparently he can’t help himself. “His name . . . Azazel.” Talking . . . hurts. That’s probably not a good sign. Crowley tries to stand but his legs won’t hold him. He nearly topples face-first into the decorative stone floor the only things that stop him are his own hand and Bobby, suddenly in front of him and trying to prop him upright.

“Woah. Easy, easy princess.”

“ . . . Bobby?” Crowley blinks, unsure, although is interrupted by Dean’s:

“Get away from that thing!”

There’s a moment where Crowley is, once again, looking down the barrel of the Colt. This time, his view is blocked by worn-out flannel.

“It’s over, Dean,” Bobby says, voice quiet but stern. “Give me the gun.”


“Dean. We talked about this.”

“It’s . . . It’s all right,” Crowley says.

“No it ain’t, you delirious idjit. Just shut up and let me do the talking for once.” The words are harsh but the voice is soft. So is the hand that clasps Crowley’s arm.

“It’s . . . it’s a demon!” Dean, again.

“The gun, Dean. Now.”


“Hey. Hey, um . . . does anyone else hear that?” Sam, walking carefully closer, arms grasped around what he can reach of the limping Juliet.

The rumbling is noticeable, now; not quite a physical earthquake so much as the idea that one might be happening, a deep bass felt rather than heard.

“Az-azazel’s army,” Crowley manages, through pain-gritted fangs. “They will have felt their Prince’s death.”

“I warded the church!” Dean blurts. “They can’t get in, rig—”

The impact sounds like something the size of a whale, slamming into the church’s wall. Sam yelps, Dean drags him closer and raises the Colt, as another impact shakes the stone.

“Easiest way into a warded building,” Crowley says, “is when there’s no longer a building to ward.” Slowly, painfully, he gets his legs underneath him well enough to stand. “But, hngh. But when they can get in, we can get out.”

Bobby catches on first. “You up for that? Azazel got you good.”

Crowley scoffs. If he keeps his claw pressed against the wound . . . well. It doesn’t hurt less, but the persistent throb is more manageable than the bright lances that catch him off-guard. “Merely a flesh wound, darling.”

“Now I know you’re lyin’, if you’re flirtin’ with Monty Python.” Then, louder, to Dean and Sam. “All right, boys. Get close.”

Sam, who’s already done this once before, obeys, cuddled with Juliet between the first and second of Crowley’s left legs. Dean, meanwhile, looks horrified. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!”

“Dean!” Bobby snaps, as the pounding outside becomes enough to shake loose parts of the ceiling. “Watch yer mouth. And get over here.”

“I ain’t going near that th—”

“Dean! We don’t have time to—”

Bobby, as it turns out, is proven correct when a chunk of ceiling caves in, the wards break, and the hordes of Hell pour through.

No time. Crowley lunges forward and grabs Dean by the arm. Bobby and Sam are already holding on, and Juliet can follow on her own.

Crowley thinks of home, and makes the jump.

He means to drop the boys at Bobby’s, then take himself to one of his own safehouses to heal. Battlefield goodwill is one thing, but Crowley is under no illusions that it will last longer than the duration of the crisis, and being alone and injured in a household of hunters is hardly his idea of a relaxing recuperative environment.

So he means to leave. He does. He isn’t expecting the exertion of even the small amount of power required to teleport to hurt so fiercely. Azazel’s poison, he assumes. Designed to disable the recipient’s powers. Very clever.

He lands badly, with just enough presence of mind to get clear of the boys before his legs give out once more. Bobby’s coffeetable and sofa aren’t so lucky, shattering and cracking under the bulk of a body they weren’t designed for. Powerless, Crowley panics, limbs thrashing as he attempts to flee.

“Hey, hey. Ssh. It’s okay. You’re okay.” Hands on Crowley’s arm and his chest, pushing him gently back down. The fact that it works, that Bobby can manhandle him at all, is testament to how weak he truly is.

“Dean! First aid kit, now! No! Damn you, just do it! Sam, prep a needle and thread. The big ones, for the leather. And there should be new needlenose pliers in the workshop. Get them, too. That bastard left something in this wound. Gonna have to get it out.”

Something hot and wet starts lapping at Crowley’s claw. Juliet, whining softly at her master’s pain.

“Geeze, you big mutt. Outta the way. You’re a trip hazard. Yeah, yeah. I know. But he’s a tough bastard. Few stitches and he’ll be back to his usual smarmy, cranky self.”

“B-Bobby . . .”

“Ssh. It’s all right. You just sit quiet. You’re in good hands. I done this a thousands times.” Crowley doubts that, at least when it comes to a demon, but says nothing.

Bobby moves away, rummaging in a cupboard, and when he returns, a bottle is pressed into Crowley’s claw.

“Here. Was savin’ it for Christmas, but . . . Drink up.”

Crowley blinks, forcing his eyes to focus, and getting at least two to do so. When he sees what he’s holding, he bursts into wet, shocked laughter.

“My— my favorite . . .”

“Yeah yeah. Easier to get nowadays that before, but it still cost a goddamn house. Drink up, princess, this is gonna hurt like a bitch.”

Crowley isn’t exactly in a position appreciate the Scotch, so necks half the bottle in a single swallow. The familiar, peaty burn feels surprisingly . . . comforting. Warm. And Crowley, exhausted and in agony, lets his eyes drift closed once again, feeling the gentle press of Bobby’s hands around the wound in his side. It’s a strange sensation. Painful, but . . .

Crowley thinks of a dirty old couch in a dirty old barn in a dirty old lifetime, watching an angel say goodbye as it rotted from the inside. Funny, he thinks. The way things go.

Footsteps in the room, and talking, as the boys come and go. Crowley takes another long pull of Scotch and lets himself drift. It’s getting difficult to stay conscious, awareness coming in fits and starts. The sharp painful tugs as Bobby extracts Azazel’s thorns. The strange sensation of, “Open up. No, yer other mouth, idjit. I wanna see how far this has gone through, and— Calm down, Dean, he ain’t gonna bite me.” Juliet’s soft fur and wet tongue. The little needle-pricks as Bobby sews up Crowley’s side.

And then nothing. Just the warm, lulling darkness of oblivion.

He wakes up with a jolt, some unknown length of time later. The pain in his side has simmered down into a dull throb, enough so that he’s lying more-or-less comfortably on his belly, torso propped up on a pile of cushions and the half-destroyed sofa. It’s the sofa moving that’s disturbed him, and Bobby mutters, “Sorry. Didn’t mean t’wake ya,” as he settles himself in the space next to Crowley’s arm. He’s stripped down to boxers and an old tee, carrying a blanket, and has dragged over an armchair to make a kind of makeshift bed. He looks, impossibly, for all the world like a man intending to go to sleep.

“Boy’s’re in my bed,” Bobby says, voice low, as if this explains everything. “Couldn’t pull ‘em apart if I tried. Dean’s in near hysterics, but managed to keep him from callin’ John. I’m too damn tired to deal with John right now, on top’a everythin’ else.” A pause, then. “Damnit, John’s gonna freakin’ kill me. A decade he’s been tryin’ to put that bastard Azazel in the ground. Or . . . whatever. I dunno how he’ll take someone else doin’ it for him.” Then, after a pause in which Bobby, presumably, contemplates his impending murder: “Any’a that Scotch left?”

Crowley blinks, and looks to his other side. Sure enough, there’s the bottle of Glencraig, now mostly gone. He picks up what’s left and hands it to Bobby, who takes a drink then makes a face.

“Dunno why you like this stuff so much.”

Crowley shrugs, unsure of how to explain. He usually doesn’t, just tosses off some glib answer about the price or the age. But this is Bobby, so:

“It’s . . . a thing of its place and of its time,” he tries, voice a low rumble in the quiet of the house. “The distillery . . . it never really bottled its own. Mostly just made piss for blends, Ballantine’s and so on. That”—he gestures to the bottle—“was the exception. It was an experiment. Different potstill used to make it, the Lomond. Makes a very different flavor to the ol’ swanneck.” He pauses, watching as Bobby turns the bottle over in his hands, catching the light on the liquid inside, golden and clean. “They replaced the Lomonds in 1981. And that was the end of the Glencraig. It was what made it, and once that was gone, so was it.”

Bobby makes a thoughtful sound, then takes another swig. He drinks it slower this time, carefully tasting.

“I guess it could grow on ya.” He passes the bottle back.

There’s very little left, so Crowley finishes it off, eyes closed as he thinks of a home he’s never really had and a time that’s long-since ended. As he does, Bobby resumes his settling in, eventually tapping Crowley’s arm with a: “These things come off?”

He means the bloodiron bracers, heavy and spiked, and they do, so Crowley screws open the clasps. When he pulls out the heavy bolts that hold the braces in place through his wrists, Bobby winces.

“Jesus. You got a thing for metal bars through your flesh, huh?”

Crowley drops the bracers to the floor with a heavy thud, rubbing at the newly-exposed skin. Bobby reaches out to touch and Crowley offers his hand for inspection, as curious about Bobby as, it seems, Bobby is about him.

“It hurt?” Bobby means the hole from the piercing, long-since healed through.

“No more than an earring, I suppose. Although last time they tried it on a human, I hear it didn’t go so well.”

Bobby chuckles, drifting into silence as he settles himself against Crowley’s side, apparently determined to sleep there. And Crowley . . . he knows he shouldn’t ask—gift horses and all that—but . . .

“Er, Robert?”


“I, er. You’re being awfully . . . calm. About all this.”

“‘Bout what?”

Crowley gestures at himself, squinting as if it should be obvious. There’s a moment, and Crowley can see Bobby have the we-gotta-have-this-conversation-now battle with himself, and can see when the yes-of-course-we-do resignation wins out.

He sits up. “Crowley,” he says, and Crowley startles at the name. He had no idea Bobby knew it. “I know you think everyone’s a goddamn idjit, and I hate to burst yer little bubble, but I’ve known you were a demon from the first moment I saw you.”

“I— What? No you did not!” Crowley levers himself up onto his elbows, feeling oddly affronted. It’s true that, usually, he doesn’t have much need to hide what he is, but . . . still!

Bobby rolls his eyes. “Oh, please. You know what I do for a livin’, right? You think I survived this long not bein’ able to smell the sulfur a goddamn mile off? ‘Sides, protip? Your cover story is rubbish.”

“It . . . it was not! It was very well thought-out! You just . . . you just never asked!”

“I ain’t never asked because I thought you’d get spooked or do something stupid if I started pokin’ holes. But, princess, there ain’t no one who can make a trip from New York to South Dakota in an hour lest they’re either lyin’ about where they started, can teleport, or both.”

“I—” So, okay. Bobby might have a point. But: “And so you immediately thought, ‘A har! Demon! I know, I’m going to fuck it!’”

“Jesus, you’re such an asshole I—” Bobby visibly stops himself, pinching the bridge of his nose as if to ward off a headache. “No,” he says. “No, yer . . . yer still an asshole, but yer right. There’s something else I ain’t told ya.”

Crowley gestures. “Well?”

“Look, I . . . I ain’t mentioned this before because it sounds crazy. Or . . . it should sound crazy, for normal people.”

“Darling, I’m hardly—”

“Even your sort of ‘normal people’. It’s just . . .” He pauses, sighs, and continues: “It’s just . . . I’ve done all this before.”

And Crowley laughs. “Well, darling, you’d hardly be the first hunter to have a thing for—”

“Not that, you idjit. I mean this, all’a this. Well, not exactly the same, but— Hell. I’m not explainin’ it real well. What I mean, is I’ve lived this year, this decade, before. And beyond it. I died nearlytwenty years from now, in 2012. Past tense intended.”

And what Crowley says is:

“ . . . What?”

“I died and . . . I was in Heaven. Hell, I was in Hell for a while there too, cause’a you. And yeah, I knew you then, too.”

“What.” It’s not a question.

“Thing’s’re runnin’ different this time, we didn’t get Azazel until ’07, and we”—he gestures to Crowley—“didn’t meet until . . . shit, I dunno. ’09, ’10? Something like that. You were helpin’ the boys take down Lucifer then, too. Helpin’ yourself, too, I guess, but . . .” Bobby trails off, and sighs. “Look, I don’t know why I’ve been sent back in time, or whatever, or whether that’s even what this is. All I know it could be some— something gone wrong in Heaven and this is some kinda weird dream. Sure wouldn’t be the first time. But whatever it is, I . . . I gotta try and use what I know, trying and make some things right. And first things first, that means keeping Lucifer in his goddamn box. Forever. And you . . . Crowley, you’re a lotta things, but I know you hate that bastard more’n anyone. And you . . . you can be okay, when you’ve a mind to be. You’re good to the boys and Sam told me how you helped him—though we are definitely gonna talk about that damn dog—and, well. I, uh. You’re all right, is what I’m sayin’. And I could use your help.” A pause. Then, almost incomprehensibly fast: “Andyercompany, too.”

Crowley . . . blinks.

Bobby shifts, awkward in the silence, trying to readjust a cap he isn’t wearing as he says. “Anyway. That’s . . . that’s my secret. I ain’t got no proof, but I swear it’s true.”

And what Crowley does, is sit himself up straight, roll all his eyes heavenward, and say:

“Oh. Fuck you, Charles.”

And somewhere, far to the west, a Buddha laughs.


Nothing in this world is difficult, but thinking makes it seem so. Where there is true will, there is always a way.

— Wu Cheng'en, Xi you ji (Journey to the West)