A/N: Thanks again for everyone who reviewed and enjoyed, to Aini NuFire for the constant support and awesome editing skills, and to my anonymous reviewers who I can't respond to after this one. Kitsune, girl you gotta log back in! :D e-pony, thank you, and now I'm imagining Cas with feathery knickers and I just can't XD Loreley, ouch, I don't want to think about *either* of them alone forever...
This final scene is pure fluff ^_^ It's a missing scene between 12x9 and 12x10, so right before the Lily Sunder episode... Dean and Sam have been rescued but Dean is still not talking to Cas.
You're all wonderful! :D I'll see you again with my next story (it's only about halfway written right now, and features a LOT of Sam!whump and Cas!whump, yay!)
Castiel's quick gaze slid around the bar, singling out his quarry without undue effort. Crowley was a master of blending in—when he tried, which he often didn't—but years of keeping a wary eye out for demons had made Castiel better at spotting one even without the full strength of his grace to warn him.
The demon's back was turned. Face grim, Castiel strode forward, already reaching into his pocket as he went.
"Hello, kitten." Crowley angled a smirk over his shoulder, dark eyes watching Castiel as the angel took the bar stool beside him.
Finally finding his cell phone in the depths of his trench coat, Castiel turned it off and then stuffed it away again with a sigh. "I don't know why you call me that," he grumbled. "I in no way resemble a young feline."
"You can say that again," Crowley agreed. He snorted, then turned his attention to the barkeeper to signal him over.
"Um," Castiel murmured, looking at the stacked row of liquor bottles helplessly. Alcohol was hardly a subject he knew much about, and the human he learned from the most normally stuck to beer or whiskey. Without Dean there to educate him—and it was looking like Dean wouldn't be educating him on anything beyond how to deliver a "cold shoulder" for a while—Castiel wasn't sure what he was supposed to order. Not that it would affect him much, anyway.
With another snort, Crowley rolled his eyes and informed the bartender, "He wants an Angel's Fall."
Castiel glared as the bartender nodded and turned to the row of bottles. "Hilarious," he muttered under his breath, to which Crowley only grinned all the wider.
"Just trust me," the demon said. "You'll like it. So. Sam and Dean, Dean and Sam. Back in the saddle again, eh? I did tell you, did I not, that they would come out on top, just like they always do, with a trail of bodies in their wake?"
"You're misinformed," Castiel retorted. "They didn't need to kill a single human in their escape." Other than themselves. Briefly. Oh, what a sore point of contention it all still was…
Crowley just raised his eyebrows. Then he shrugged and turned back to his own drink, some peach-colored concoction with an umbrella sticking out of the glass. "Mm-hmm. Anyhow… for an angel who's just had his two besties returned to him… you're remarkably even more dour than normal. And that's saying something for you, mate."
Castiel felt his expression harden, nodding to the bartender when a glass was set before him. The angel took a cautious sip and immediately blanched at the burn of the alcohol.
"Good, isn't it?" Crowley asked, all neutrality and casual aloofness. "I do love an Angel's Fall."
"I think you just enjoy saying the words," Castiel grumbled. He took another sip, braced this time. The second was better.
"You haven't answered the question, though," the demon pointed out. "What's got your feathers all twisted up?"
"My feathers are not twisted up."
"Oh… trouble in paradise, darling?" Crowley asked, tilting his head in Castiel's direction with half a smile.
The angel looked away, hand clenching on the small glass of liquor. Dean Winchester. Couldn't even let someone save him without throwing a fuss. He'd tried to fight free when Castiel was pulling him out of Hell, too, lashing out with fear and rage and agony. That had been different, of course. For one thing, it had been understandable, whereas this was just… stupid.
Crowley heaved a sigh, heavy with exaggerated exasperation when Castiel didn't immediately answer. "What are we doing here if you can't open up to your arch-enemy about it?" he demanded. "Castiel. Let's be real: if there's anyone who knows the Winchester playbook by heart, it's me. I'll just fill in the blanks myself, shall I? I can only guess our intrepid boys escaped via some sort of arrangement made in desperation."
Castiel turned back to the demon, but Crowley just held up his hand to preempt any interruption.
"And," he went blithely on, "Said arrangement was going to require a price, one which probably endangered at least one of them. The other wouldn't be thrilled about this, of course. And yet both the boys neglected to actually communicate what was happening until it was almost too late, which left one of them to be all noble and sacrificial."
"There was nothing noble about-"
"Except the angel up their sleeve found out about it," Crowley concluded, sitting back with a smirk and swirling his drink. "And, being their angel, took matters into his own hands. Successfully, if their glorious return to the living is any indication. But here's the thing… the angel is really just another Winchester, albeit far older and… fluffier."
"I beg your pardon-"
"Which means he's using the same playbook," Crowley spoke over him. "Ipso facto… another sacrifice play. Oh, I bet Squirrel's fit to be tied, isn't he?" The demon smirked and gestured between the two of them. "Which is why we're here drinking like old friends."
Castiel stared at the demon, suspicion and confusion at war within him. How could Crowley have possibly worked all of that out just from- oh… wait. The angel snorted and shook his head. "You already heard about Billie."
"Alright, so I already knew the story," Crowley admitted with a shrug as Castiel took another draught. "I have excellent sources. What I don't know is what the consequences actually are from this. I'm a businessman, Castiel-"
"So you frequently tell me."
"-and as near as I can see it, this is just an example of an obvious loophole that you were fortunate enough to exploit. Billie was a lovely girl but honestly… making a pact with Winchesters, without drawing up a binding contract first? So many clauses and sub-clauses that she should have added in there. Now, had it been me, I would have specified that the deal couldn't be broken upon my death by a third party. She, rest her non-existent soul, did not. Ergo, it's a no-fault and the deal is null. You should be in the clear."
Castiel sighed, raising one shoulder and then letting it fall again. "Tell that to Dean," he muttered.
"Hasn't even mustered up a 'thank you', I take it."
"Thank you?" the angel echoed. He snorted with unamused laughter. "He won't even give me the time of day. Besides, 'thank you' isn't exactly in his repertoire."
As soon as he'd said it, Castiel's heart thudded with guilt for complaining about his best friend behind his back. To a demon, no less. Even still, the fervent nod from Crowley added a level of validation that the angel found oddly comforting.
"You're right about that, mate," the demon grumbled. "All the things I've done for those two over the years, you think I ever got one ounce of gratitude?"
"You did also kill or try to kill several of their friends," Castiel pointed out, to be fair.
Even Crowley couldn't refute that, so he nodded musingly. "True," he agreed. "I'm just saying. Besides, they still see me as an enemy-"
"You are an enemy. You keep forgetting that."
"-but you on the other hand?" Crowley continued, apparently opting to ignore the interlude. "You're their friend. You're their best friend, and I've seen first-hand how much you've given up for those two. And still, no respect."
Castiel bit his tongue; the bartender had stepped back over to them, cutting off his opportunity to reply.
"Another?" the man asked.
The angel and the demon both tossed back the last of their drinks, setting the glasses down and nodding in unison.
"Keep them coming, my good man," Crowley said.
Neither spoke as the bartender mixed both of the drinks. They waited until he'd set the second round down in front of them and then disappeared to the other end of the bar. Castiel picked up his glass, swirling the contents with a ruminative sigh.
"He won't even talk to me," he murmured, slumping in the bar stool. "He won't really even look at me. I'm not sorry for saving his life. It was a stupid deal to make. I'd do the exact same thing again, in a heartbeat. I did the right thing."
"Cheers," Crowley replied, raising his glass and pushing the frilly umbrella aside so he could drink. Smacking his lips, the demon set the glass back down again and twisted towards Castiel. "So if you already know it was the right call, which is a step up from your usual hopeless blubbering over whether you're really doing the right thing or not, then what's the problem?"
Castiel shifted with righteous indignation, but couldn't actually make a good case for why the demon was wrong about him. "I just said," he finally snapped. "Dean's still-"
"Acting like a teenaged drama queen, yes," Crowley finished for him with a smirk. "Because that's what he does. What's your excuse?"
"Quit moping around like you've lost a lover, or people are going to think you actually did," Crowley said. "Dean's a child. Are you going to sit there and take it? Look, it's quite simple: next time he makes a comment, tell him where he can shove it. You were in the right and you know it. For hell's sake, Dean will come around. He always does. Trust me… he's sickeningly loyal to you. Dean Winchester will get over it."
Castiel fell silent, frowning a bit. Although he was hurt by his friend's coldness, it did annoy him as well. Perhaps Crowley was right. Perhaps instead of taking it in silence and letting himself sink deeper and deeper into the depression that had plagued him since the boys went missing, he should fire back at Dean.
Maybe it would even encourage the hunter to, as the humans often said, pull his head out of his ass.
"I think," he started, hardly daring to voice the hope out loud, "perhaps he's just… concerned about the consequences."
Crowley waved him off. "Like I said, seems air-tight to me," he offered. "And I would make your case to any all-powerful being that tried to make trouble over it."
Not sure he'd just heard right, the angel turned and asked, "You… would? Really?"
From Crowley's expression, Castiel assumed the question was as crazy as it had sounded.
"Of course not really. I believe in self-preservation."
"Which is why you fought against Lucifer with me," Castiel couldn't help but dryly point out.
To this, Crowley only snorted. "Again… self-preservation. Besides, he made it personal. Hell is safer with him out of the way, in any case."
Castiel nodded. "Is it finally coming under some semblance of control?" After all, demons running around rampant without an actual leader was a far worse idea than Crowley being in charge.
"Don't tell me you care. I'm flattered."
The two took another drink, slower, silent, contemplative. After a moment, Crowley grumbled,
"Demons are the worst."
"You try and show them so many better ways of doing things, and what do you get for it? Disrespect. They're utterly incapable of learning anything new."
The angel shook his head, knowing exactly how frustrating such a thing could be. "You want to just make them see, but they refuse. And how can they possibly not understand even the simplest ideas?"
"Yes, exactly! And it's bad enough that I've got to win so many of them back over, after everything with Lucifer."
There was a dark fury in his tone, a bitterness that Castiel doubted would ever go away. He was sure that his older brother had made Crowley's humiliation so public for exactly this reason, an extra layer of lingering torture to someone whose image was so vital to their ability to command. Frowning, Castiel said,
"It's hard to get much done when your own people think you're…" What? A monster? A traitor?
"Yes, well, the angels have always been a bit thick," Crowley offered, shrugging. "No offense. At least you were able to win back a bit of reputation before."
"Reputations are fragile," Castiel countered. "Built or broken by a single incidence. Consistency of character, on the other hand, that will leave a more lasting impression. I commanded a flight, for a little while at least. They followed me even to the gates of Hell because they trusted me, because of millennia of what I hope was integrity."
"You're suggesting I lead my demons to the gates of Heaven?" Crowley asked with a snort.
Castiel shot him a look. "Only if you want them all obliterated. I'm saying-"
"I know what you're saying." The demon sighed. "I just wish there was a faster way of winning them over."
Not sure why he was bothering with the effort of reassuring a demon, of all things, Castiel shrugged. "They'll come around."
"As will Dean. And Moose, though I daresay he already has."
The angel nodded. Sam, at least, wasn't ignoring him, though Castiel could see how awkward it was for the younger hunter to be stuck between him and Dean. To that end, the angel had more or less started avoiding both of them. Which was how he'd ended up here tonight in the first place.
Maybe he'd go back and try to talk with Sam alone, to at least start repairing what he could, and to make sure once again that the boys were truly alright after what must have been a horrific experience.
Maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile, Castiel was nursing his drink, while Crowley was nearly ready for another.
"Keep up," the demon said, seeming to notice this as well. "Don't tell me an angel can't outdrink a demon." He raised his glass. "Here's to… friends."
"We're not friends," Castiel reminded him, also lifting his cup.
Crowley's mouth twitched, faraway and almost reminiscent. "No," he agreed. "We're not."
Their glasses clinked.
Together, they drank.