"I would've rather Him not even be real."
Crowley and Red stare at the coin, listening to the dulcet tones of one Dean Winchester.
"I mean... if it had all been some kind of lie, if we'd gone up there and there'd been nothing behind the curtain, I could've lived with that. But for Him to be real, be watching down here on Earth, and just... not care? Say it's not His problem? That's just..." Dean trails off, unable to finish his sentence.
"Wrong," Sam finishes. "It's wrong that we care more than the guy who created... who created everything!" The younger Winchester exhales deeply, both emotional and physical exhaustion evident in the sound. "And now we're back at square one."
"Oh, we're way behind square one, Sammy," Dean replies tightly. "We had options at the start. The Colt, the God hunt, Gabriel. Now where are we? We've got nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing... I don't even know where to go from here."
There were a few beats of silence, until Sam responded with a solemn, "Neither do I."
Crowley pinches the coin, and the live feed to the Winchesters cuts. Red watches the demon, watches the lines draw on his face, hundreds of years of age shining through his comparatively young vessel. His eyes are tired and empty, the laughing spark in them dulled to almost nothing.
Crowley looks, dare he say it... hopeless.
"I get worried when you get quiet."
Crowley continues staring into space, fist pressed into the militantly set lines of his mouth.
"Tell me what you're thinking, Mr. Crowley," Red requests.
Crowley leans back in his chair and sighs deeply, still seeming a thousand miles away. "It's a dismal feeling, when you've thrown out plans A through Y and all you have left is–"
"–your very last resort," Red fills in. "That, at the very least, is something I can sympathize with."
Crowley rises to his feet, seemingly steeling himself. Crowley doesn't hold himself like he used to, proud with a rigid spine and regal poise in the tilt of his chin. Crowley remains proud, of course – only death itself can take that from the demon – but now he more strongly resembles a caged, wounded lion.
"So, I have to ask: what is your Plan Z?"
The demon swallows with effort. "I'm going to break into Purgatory."
Red doesn't thinking breaking into Purgatory is a good idea.
At first, he just doesn't see the point– all he knows of Purgatory is the basic Catholic interpretation. A white, featureless in-between populated by those who had not yet earned salvation.
Red moves on from Mukilteo after depositing Erik Gerich's body in Puget Sound. The German's human trafficking business has been sunk spectacularly, and Red is proud to take both the credit and the healthy sum that hung over Gerich's head.
His next stop is Abu-Dhabi. One thing leads to another, and a fist fight in a tightly packed 'curios' shop in the slums leads him to a most helpful text: Stamus ad Linem, a lore book on Purgatory.
Red's surprised to find that no human souls have ever stepped foot in Purgatory. It is, in fact, populated exclusively by dead monsters.
A graveyard for all things that go bump in the night.
He doesn't like the sound of it. What does Crowley even stand to gain from cracking open Purgatory? Does he plan to lead an army of dead monsters against Lucifer? What chance do mere monsters stand against the devil himself?
He wants answers, but after Crowley's dramatic proclamation that he was going to break into Purgatory, he vanishes, and Red can't get the demon to pick up his phone. The only memento Red has from their short time living together is the demon's coin, which still functions as a direct line to the Winchesters.
Red, unable to help himself, listens in on the brothers and their angel from time to time.
Dean: gruff, angry, ten pounds of daddy issues in a five pound bag, angst-ridden and with what sounds like a nasty case of suicidal ideation.
Sam: possibly even more angry than his older sibling, recovering addict, guilt complex, makes up for his brother's bravado with good old fashioned common sense.
Cas: monotonic, deadpan, brave to a fault, devoted life and soul to the Winchesters, and hopelessly, haplessly lost.
They're an interesting bunch. Red finds them undeniably compelling.
Almost six weeks after his last encounter with Crowley, Red hears the closest thing to good news he's stumbled across in a long time, straight from the mouths of Sam and Dean Winchester.
"Two rings, and we can stop Armageddon," Dean muses. "Wish someone would've told us that little tidbit sooner."
"What matters is that we know now," Sam responds firmly. "This is it. We found a way, now we just have to track down Pestilence and Death, and then lock Lucifer back in his Cage where he belongs."
"Oh, you make it sound so easy."
"We already took down War and Famine. What's two more Horsemen?"
Red calls Crowley once again, and simply says, "You may not need Plan Z after all. The Winchesters have found something."
Crowley doesn't appear immediately, but just as the sun sets on Abu-Dhabi, Crowley materializes on his balcony, leaning on the railing and staring out at the glittering expanse of the Persian Gulf.
Red notices immediately, in spite of being nose-deep in Stamus Ad Linem and very close to drifting off to sleep. He has this way of sensing the demon's presence. His soul must recognize its owner.
With that uplifting thought, Red pushes the sliding glass door to the side and steps out to stand next to Crowley.
For a few minutes, they're quiet. The silence sits heavy, but it's not uncomfortable.
"So," Crowley says at length. "What is Buckwheat and Alfalfa's newest hare-brained scheme to stop the devil?"
"You're familiar with the Four Horsemen, I trust?"
Crowley gives him a withering look.
Red continues, "Well, it just so happens that the rings of the four Horsemen, when combined, form the key to Lucifer's Cage... and therefore, the key to stopping this whole unpleasant Armageddon business."
Crowley's expression transforms from mild interest to shock. "You're joking."
"I'm quite serious."
"The four rings... and the Winchesters should already have War and Famine's."
Red inclines his head. "They do."
"So that leaves Pestilence and Death." He sees more energy, more life in Crowley now than he's seen in months. "And I may not know where those two skeletal jockeys are, but I certainly know how to find out." Crowley smirks, plots and plans dancing in his stolen eyes.
"I suggest then, Mr. Crowley..." Red meets Crowley's gaze. "That you get to work."
Crowley's smirk transforms into a grin. "You're not so bad, you know that?" He pecks Red on the cheek. "For a human," he adds.
Red blinks, and Crowley is gone.
Red decides, ultimately, that if anyone can preserve the planet to fight another day, it's Crowley, the Winchesters, and Castiel. They have his utmost confidence.
That's not to say he isn't making plans, however.
"It's as secure as you're going to get," Mr. Kaplan tells him as she guides him through one of the deepest, thickest, and largest underground bunkers built for civilian use in America. Red needs a place for himself, Dembe and his family to hunker down, should things turn, well... apocalyptic.
And, of course, he needs a safe haven for Lizzie. He doesn't want to show up on her doorstep and ask her politely to come with him before fire rains from the sky and the earth is turned into smoking ruin, but if it saves her life, he'll have to suck it up and go with a less desirable reunion than he'd imagined.
"What kind of blast can it withstand?" Red asks, adjusting his sunglasses. Wholly useless underground, but he wears them as more of a fashion statement, anyway.
"Just about anything, according to the original owner," Mr. Kaplan says, adjusting her glasses and eyeing him down the length of her nose with open suspicion. "It should be able to survive any manner of nuclear event... within reason."
"Define within reason."
"Nothing's built to last through the United States' entire nuclear payload being dropped on top of it."
Red grimaces. In reality, that could be the exact equivalent of what's to come.
"You're hiding something," Mr. Kaplan observes.
"I'm always hiding a great many things. It's endlessly tiresome."
They continue down yet another gray, featureless hallway. Unbearably fluorescent lights blaze over his head, and he can feel a headache building in his temples. The underground bunker, located thousands of feet below a dry ravine in Montana, was once the bastion of a paranoid, Cold War-era millionaire with far too much money and free time at his disposal. Fifty-five years later, it stands as a testament to his belief that the end was nigh.
And maybe, just maybe, it is.
They enter out into a large room populated by an array of steel bunk beds, absent mattresses.
"This place looks like a prison. So drab, so institutional. I feel closed in," Red tells Mr. Kaplan. She looks up at him.
"If you didn't need this place, you wouldn't be here."
Red sighs. As usual, she's right. "How much?"
"Does it really matter?"
He buttons his coat, eager to go back outside and leave this cage under the dirt behind. "No. I'll take it. And Kate?"
"Hire an interior decorator."
It's early when Red leaves his hotel in Butte and heads for the small airstrip where his private jet awaits him. He takes one step out of his hotel room, and he's almost instantly met with a blinding pain in the back of his head. Stars dance in his eyes, and he's down on the ground. He hears gun shots. He's unable to fight off the encroaching darkness, and he passes out.
When he wakes, his circumstances are not favorable.
He's bound, wrists chained behind his back. A shackle is locked tight around his right ankle and is connected unyieldingly to the floor. He's somewhere damp and dark; a disused basement, so far as he can tell. Dembe is nearby, hands similarly incapacitated, but minus the shackle. Unfortunately, having his legs free won't do him much good: Dembe is thoroughly unconscious, and the side of his skull is caked in blood.
"Hey! Look who's finally awake."
He's dragged unceremoniously up to his knees. Vision still blurry, it's cleared by the hard slap he receives to his cheek. There are two figures in front of him. One tall and thin with a shock of red hair, the other broad and stout and completely lacking anything on the top of his head.
The red-haired man grins at him. He's missing several teeth. "You're just who we wanted to see. You know why?"
"No, but I suspect you're going to tell me," Red groans, his voice hoarse from hours without having been used. How long has he been down here?
"You're pals with Crowley," he explains. "Me and Bosco here, well, we don't like Crowley much."
Red frowns. Demons. Fantastic. "You serve Lucifer."
"Look at that, Lyle," the broader demon comments. "He's all informed and everything."
"That's great news!" Lyle touts. "Because you're gonna tell us everything you know about Crowley. Where he is, what he's doing, and what his plan is. And if you don't, we're gonna carve out your liver and feed it to you. How's that sound?"
"Distinctly unpleasant, but of course, that's the whole point." Red's eyes flick between the two demons. "This surprises me, I have to say. Your loyalty to the devil."
"The hell do you mean, it surprises you?" Lyle repeats, narrowing his eyes.
"Well, he's going to extinguish your entire race utterly if he wins this little head-to-head with Michael. Working for him seems counterproductive to your continued survival. Of course, that's just me. An old friend of mine used to say that if we all thought the same, no one would think much at all–"
He's cut off by a ham-handed fist landing a hard blow on his nose. He feels something snap, and he groans in pain, blood dripping down his upper lip. He tastes iron.
"Rude," he mutters. "I take it this isn't the open-ended part of the exam?"
"Shut up!" Lyle snaps. "Lucifer's gonna get those fucking angels out of the way, and we're gonna take over. We're gonna get Heaven on Earth."
"How easily you forget that Lucifer himself is an angel."
"Enough," Bosco growled. "This is where you start talking, or we start chopping. Where's Crowley?"
"I haven't the faintest idea. Crowley doesn't keep me abreast of his plans. I'm hardly his confidante."
"Then why did he come running to you when he was exposed as a traitor?" Lyle challenges.
"You'll have to ask him. I wouldn't know."
Another blow to his face, this one sending him flat on the ground. The world spins around him, and his temple aches.
But, from this vantage point, he does notice something handy.
Dembe is waking up. Slowly but surely, his eyelids separate. He's dazed, confused, but he meets Red's eyes, and Red tries to convey a sense of urgency as best he can, before quickly looking away, so as not to draw attention to Dembe. Their captors are currently paying him no mind.
"Try again, or pick which finger you want to lose first," Lyle tells him. He kicks Red in the ribs for good measure, and pain arcs up his side.
"I've never found much use for the pinkie, have you?" Red asks. Dembe's eyes are fully open now. He's inching his chained hand towards his feet. Red doubts that Lucifer's lackeys were smart enough to search Dembe with a fine-tooth comb. His bodyguard has a whole menagerie of weapons hidden on his person, including a handy straight razor stored inside the lining of his boots.
Resourceful as always. What would he do without Dembe?
Lyle puts his boot on Red's ribs and levies his weight so it's crushing down on him. Red doesn't even give the demon the satisfaction of a pained grunt. He remains silent, trying to ignore the fact that his ribs are likely to break under this pressure, and wow, does it hurt.
"Come on. You really gonna go through this just for Crowley? That bastard would stab you in the back the second he had the chance. He only looks out for one person, and that's himself. He probably knows you're here, knows what we're gonna do to you... and you can bet your ass he's not gonna come busting down the door to save you."
"I have no illusions about my relationship with Crowley," Red chokes out, his lungs screaming under the pressure as air becomes harder and harder to reach. "And there's one very deep flaw in your logic, I'm afraid."
"Yeah? And what's that?"
"I don't need Crowley to save me."
Red kicks out with his free leg and nails Lyle hard in the knee cap, sending him down on all fours. The weight on his chest is lifted, and he pulls in one blissful gasp just as Dembe threads his legs through the gap between his back and the chain of his handcuffs. He brings his hands up in front of him. He holds his straight razor steady in his right hand, and he lunges for Lyle, stabbing the razor into his carotid.
Unfortunately, Red knows that won't be enough to stop him.
"Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversari–"
Bosco roars, launching at Red, but he manages to roll out of the way, using all of the limited movement the ankle shackle allows him. Bosco collides with the floor. Dembe rips the straight razor out of Lyle's throat, and in the span of a few fleeting heartbeats, its buried in the base of Bosco's spine. The demon screams. Red's surprised. Both of the demons' wounds are smoking, and they actually seem in pain.
Red continues the exorcism, and by the time both of the demons are back up and rounding on Dembe, they're mouths are forced open and black, noxious smoke pours from their throats. The demons' respective essences filter through the crack of a ground level window, and their meat suits collapse bonelessly to the ground.
"Excellent job, Dembe," Red breathlessly compliments his bodyguard. "You had all of your weapons consecrated, didn't you?"
Dembe nods. "It seemed wise."
"That it is. Would you mind...?"
Another nod. Dembe searches through Lyle's pockets. He locates the keys to both Red's restraints and his own. After releasing himself, he unlocks Red from both his shackle and his handcuffs. He massages his wrists and rises to his feet.
"I suppose I should've expected this," Red says. "It was only a matter of time before my... involvement with Crowley led to less-than-fun encounters with Hell's denizens. I suppose we should be grateful Lucifer didn't send someone more capable."
Dembe just looks at him, dark eyes grave. "The demon is dangerous, Raymond."
"So am I," Red replies. "Just dangerous enough to survive what's to come, I hope."
Red's sentence is punctuated by the door to the basement being blown in, wood splintering and the iron hinges separating from the wall. What little remains of the door falls to the ground with a clatter.
Crowley stands in the doorway and stares at him. His eyes go from Red, to Dembe, to the abandoned meat suits on the ground.
"You're a bit late," Red points out.
"Apparently." Crowley looks incensed. "I come storming in like a white knight to save you, and you've already had all the fun without me. I'm hurt." He seemingly pats the air next to him, and Red hears snarling. "That's alright, boy. You can still have the bodies."
Dembe looks visibly shaken, backing away and muttering a string of curses under his breath. "Demon dog!" he spits.
A hellhound, eh? Red can't even find it within himself to be surprised anymore.
"Always so racist, Dembe. What do I have to do to get you to see the light?" Crowley smirks. "If you cut me, do I not bleed?"
Dembe doesn't dignify the snark with a response.
"I need a drink," Red says, wiping the blood off of his face. "You're buying."