Chapter 7

"So. How goes the hunt for the Horsemen rings?"

Crowley's eyes are fixed firmly on the TV. To Red's surprise, Crowley had requested they head to a sports bar to drown their apocalyptic sorrows. According to Crowley, he needs to be someplace with a TV. A newscast played on the elevated flat screen, barely audible over the chatter in the bar around them. It shows footage of Chicago, which is about to get hit by a super storm the likes of which the city has never seen before.

"Depends on how you look at it," is the demon's distracted response.

"Chicago looks as though it's about to be leveled."

"Oh, it is," Crowley informs him. "Which is precisely why I'm here, and not there. Death is in Chicago."

"Death as in... Death?"

"Yes. Dean Winchester is having pizza with him."

"Ah." He's reached the point where nothing can surprise him anymore.

"I've held the Winchesters hands, guided them to not one, but two of the Four Horsemen... Death is the last stop. I gave the boy a scythe that he thinks can actually kill Death, but I very much doubt that it can, or that he could get close enough to use it before Death turns him to dust."

"I take it there's not much hope, then?"

"Death knows what he wants. If he wanted the Winchesters dead, they'd be dead. I can only assume the Reaper wants to bargain... with luck, Squirrel won't muck up their little negotiation."

"You're putting a lot of trust in him."

"Not really. I have rock-bottom expectations, so I can only be pleasantly surprised." He turns to Red, finally looking away from the TV. "We've reached the end of the line. A week from now, the world will either be a smoking ruin, or not. I've done everything that I can. All there's left to do is watch the Winchesters and pray to whatever deities that give a rat's arse that they can pull this off."

"But you don't think they can?"

Crowley forlornly swishes his drink around in his glass. "The first thing you learn in Hell," he says quietly, almost unable to be heard over the din of noise in the sports bar, "is that hope is the most dangerous, painful, and cruel thing in this universe."

"Because nothing hurts more than having it taken away." Red meets his eyes. "Is it true, that at the Gates of Hell–"

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Crowley quotes dutifully. "The older demons say Dante was a real hoot at parties." He sighs, pushing his drink away. "It's also the best piece of advice I've ever gotten. If you have hope, you can lose it. I don't have hope. But maybe, just maybe..." Crowley breaks off, listening to the anchorman.

"Now over to Jake with the weather... how's it looking over Chicago now, Jake?"

"Well Tom, the strangest thing seems to be happening... it's almost as if it's clearing up! We were looking at a category five just a few minutes ago, but the winds are already dying down from sixty miles an hour, and the cloud cover is starting to break. We'll probably still get heavy showers tonight, but it looks like the super storm isn't so super after all!"

Red smiles at Crowley, who's visibly relaxed upon hearing the news. "Do you believe in miracles, Mr. Crowley?"

Crowley shifted off of his stool, no doubt preparing to leave.

"Maybe," he says again. "Just maybe."

Four days later, Crowley visits Red.

He's never seen the demon so happy before.

"Oh, mate, you should've seen it!" Crowley raves, pouring himself another glass of Craig. They're in the penthouse apartment of an upscale complex in Amsterdam, and the city glitters below them, twinkling stars in the an expanse of black night. "All seemed lost, but then out of nowhere, the power of brotherly love or some tripe like that kicks in, and Moose takes back control and throws not just himself into the Pit, but Michael, too! Two archs, one stone. It was a thing of beauty."

"And you were there for all of it?"

"Ah... not exactly. I may have been scrying from a relatively safe distance."

Red just looks at him.

"What? I didn't think they stood a chance. I didn't want to get caught at ground zero."

"An acquaintance of mine, Ramses, he was a paramilitary guerilla in Andorra. He had a saying... Brave men fight wars, smart men plan them."

"Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity, wouldn't you say?"

"Not always, Mr. Crowley. Not always. Regardless, I'm happy for you, and for the world." He lifts his glass. "To the continued, stubborn survival of the human race."

"I'll drink to that."

So they do. Crowley grins the kind of grin that tends to make Red nervous.

As he nurse his drink, he asks, "What's next for you, then? Hell and Heaven alike must be in chaos, with their respective leaders gone."

"I don't give a damn about what's going on Upstairs. Hell, however... Hell is a complete disaster. Total anarchy. More so than usual." He takes a sip of his Craig, seeming quite pleased with himself. "Looks like someone is going to have to swoop in and take control." The demon smirks into his drink.

"Crowley, you old dog. You're going to take over Hell, aren't you?"

"King of the Crossroads... King of Hell. Seems like the logical next step up the corporate ladder, wouldn't you say?"

"Undoubtedly, but one demon trying to reign in an entire plane of existence..."

"One demon managed to stop Lucifer."

"I think we both know that you had a bit of help there."

"Yes, well, the angels tended to lend Charlie a hand, but notice the show wasn't called The Angels and Their Friend Charlie."

Red shrugs. "As always, I wish you the very best of luck with your demonic endeavors, no matter how unsavory they may be." Red gives him a tight, sardonic smile. "It does beg the question, though... did you help stop Lucifer in order to save the world, or did you do it so you could have Hell for yourself?"

Crowley smiles devilishly (ha ha) at him. He rises to his feet and straightens his lapels.

"Hmm..." he mused. "I guess we'll never know, will we?"

With that cryptic remark, the demon who would be king is gone.