Title: Soldier On
Summary: Missing Scenes from 5x21. After Cas Bobby and Sam arrive home, Cas attracts the attention of a certain crossroads demon (Cas/Crowley only if you squint real hard)
Authors Note: I was itching for some Cas-Crowley interaction after 5x21 and this came out. Also, was extra motivated by episode rage after 5x22. Not sure why, but I think I think I've gone off Dean/Cas as a result.
This is my first foray into the SPN fic after years of thoroughly enjoying so many wonderful stories, so it's time I contributed my own little sliver of pie.
After destroying the dispatch facility at Niveus Pharmaceuticals Sam, Bobby and Cas arrived home and settled in to wait on Dean's return.
Bobby kept himself busy with some frenetic movements around the upstairs level of the house, which he'd not set eyes upon in months.
Sam sat down at the kitchen table with his laptop, and set about clicking away with determination.
Not knowing exactly what he was supposed to be doing Castiel fetched a glass of water and sat at the desk in Bobby's study poring over the various tomes spread out before him for nothing in particular. His eyes wandered about the room, regarding dust motes spiralling in a sunbeam, the crumpled sheets on the couch where Bobby would no longer need to sleep, and cursing the thirst that kept him sipping at the water until the glass was empty.
It was not Dean who arrived back first but the crossroads demon, appearing in the kitchen, peering over Sam's shoulder.
"Jesus!" Sam jumped in his seat.
"Not quite." Crowley smirked, and seeing Castiel in the other room, gave him a wink.
Castiel remembered many occasions when he had caused this same reaction in both Dean and Sam. It had never previously meant anything to him, but somehow now he found he was amused by the sight, though irritated that the demon would acknowledge him with assumed familiarity.
"I thought you'd like to know that Dean has succeeded in getting Death's ring."
"Really? He did it? Is he ok?" Sam demanded, turning in his seat.
"He's his usual ornery self, if that's what you mean. Perhaps the long drive back will improve his mood."
Sam's forehead creased into that particular pattern reserved for deep seated concern about his brother.
Bobby bounced down the stairs and began his own line of questioning but Castiel found himself tuning them out as a buzzing sound started to distract him. He rubbed at his ears, but the sound increased, bringing with it an eye-watering pounding in his head. He swayed and had to catch himself on the doorway. It was turning into a cacophony. He jumped when he felt a hand on his arm and found he was having trouble keeping his feet. Over the din he could make out Sam and Bobby asking him what was wrong.
"Can't you hear that?" He tried to yell over the noise.
Their bewildered expression told him that no, they were not hear that crippling din.
"What are you hearing?" Someone asked.
He struggled to verbalise it. "It's like… It's a noise. I…." He concentrated on the sounds, trying to discern particular strands. It was like voices all speaking at once, discordant and incomprehensible, but then it began to make sense, the sounds were not random noise but words.
"It's Enochian." He gasped, realisation hitting him like a punch in the chest.
"Like a curse?"
Shame washed over him, reddening his cheeks. He'd been hearing his family's chorus forever, but now it was loud and painful to hear, pounding on his humanised senses. He bowed his head and let the sibilant vowel roll off his numb lips.
"The ring of Death has been taken by the Righteous man." He was surprised to hear Sam provide a rough translation.
"It's heaven." Castiel rubbed his pained head, eyes closed against the embarrassment of being unable to distinguish the Heavenly chorus from chaotic noise.
"Why is it hurting him?"
"Are they annoyed?"
"Does this usually happen when he hears them?"
"Give the man some space." Bobby's gruff voice cut through the questioning. "Cas, I got a bed made up in the spare room I suggest you use it." His tone brokered no dispute, and Castiel was in too much pain to stop them as Sam helped him up off the floor and manhandled him up the stairs.
He was deposited on a bed in a small room with one dusty window and mountain books surrounding it. Sam disappeared momentarily but came back with cold damp cloth which he held against Castiel's forehead.
"This used to help me with the migraines." The taller brother told him softly, as he went about removing Cas's trenchcoat, suit jacket and shoes, and helped him lay down.
"I have some pain pills if you think you need it?"
"No. But, thank you, Sam." Cas told him sincerely.
"You're probably just exhausted, Cas, that's all."
He knew it was the young man's attempt to offer sympathy but to Cas it felt like salt rubbed in a weeping wound.
"That's possible." He gravelled, not wanting to seem ungrateful for being looked after.
Sam nodded and left him to the quiet room.
The din in Castiel's mind slowly dissipated, as it always did when news of this kind was spread amongst the Host. He was left with the unsettling realisation that this was yet another feature of his abrupt introduction to humanity. He would never again be soothed or comforted by the Holy Choir. It would likely get harder and harder to understand them, until their true voices became as damaging to him as it was to any mortal's hearing.
Crowley hadn't intended to stick around too long after delivering his message. He was quite fond of his abrupt departures and sudden arrivals. Catching humans off guard gave him quite the kick.
After a while however, he found he was drifting back to Singer's house, to the small and dusty box room.
The angel – the apparently-former angel – lay on the bed fully clothed, peering at his torso.
"Navel-gazing is a terribly human habit." Crowley stifled a cackle of glee at catching the celestial being unaware, and causing it not only to jump but to blush as well – what a bonus!
The demon stepped into the room and leaned against an oversized wooden dresser that took up most of the floor space.
"I don't believe we've been formally introduced."
Castiel was hastily buttoning his white shirt with minimal success. "I know who you are." That voice was lower and gruffer than he'd imagined an angel of the lord's would be, but it carried with it that distinctly holy disdain that was a trademark of the angels.
"And I know who you are, but now that we're on the same team we should play nice." He extended a hand to the man on the bed, who took it limply after a moment's hesitation with an expression of combined suspicion and bewilderment.
As he bent forward, Crowley could see the impression of dark red markings under the angel's shirt.
"What have they done to you?" Without waiting for permission he waved the shirt open in a minor show of power.
Castiel grabbed his wrist to stop him but not before the demon got a good look and the scabbed cuts on his chest.
"What is that? Enochian? Some sort of... Is that a banishment sigil?"
His blunt answer was, "Yes."
Crowley didn't know what to think for a moment, and was beginning to suspect this insane creature might have carved it himself, given the angle and depth. "Is that what made you...?" He gestures roundly with hand, not sure if human was the right word when he could still smell the angelic on him.
"Well, whatever it was for, it looks like you should put something on it." He rifled through his pockets and conjures up a jar of ointment. "This is a balm made from aloe vera, rose hip and some other fiddly plants that should help with healing the skin."
Castiel stared at the small pot with the blank expression of someone who cannot fathom the reasons for being handed a pot of balm.
Crowley eventually tired of getting stared at and tossed it to the angel who caught it smoothly in one hand. Supernatural reflexes not quite exhausted.
"It's not poisonous." He told the angel. "You can test it on the tall one if you like, see if he breaks out in hives or not."
Cas examined the jar and Crowley took a moment to look around at the room they had placed him in. Like so much of the Singer residence it was filled with books and boxes and thick layers of dust. If the angel was truly human he hoped he would be spared the various bronchial problem likely to be developed living in such unkempt surroundings. Perhaps he should arrange for his old house maid to pay them a visit.
"What are you doing here, Demon?" There was that self-righteous tone only the truly blessed could pull off.
"Same thing as you, Angel. I have nowhere else to go. Angels to the left of me, demons to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
By his expression, Cas was not a fan of the 70s classics. "And why are you here in this room?"
He sighed. "Call it morbid curiosity. Now that I've tethered my oar to this lot I thought it wise to see what I'm in for."
The angel frowned – he seemed to do that quite a lot.
"You're a cautionary tale, you are." He pointed at Castiel, strolling across the room to swipe a finger through a layer of dust, absently drawing a protective sigil. "All those who enter the orbit of the Winchesters should beware the perilous fate that awaits them."
"You're unlikely to suffer the same fate."
"Perhaps." He was a determined survivor after all, and not a sycophantic angel with all the sensibility of lemming with a martyr complex. "Are you suffering? This fate, I mean. Are you suffering much as a result?"
The angel spoke then for the first time without the stiff moral superiority, and gave Crowley a unique insight into the individual. "I knew my grace was diminishing in being cut off from Heaven. I knew it was not the limitless store it once was, but I never really thought it would be gone so soon, so suddenly. And now I find I cannot heal my wounds, I can't fly and can't tell my b-brother's voices from earthly noises." He turned his head away, blinking rapidly at the wall.
It wasn't like him to be moved by emotional display but somehow he found himself trying to offer words of comfort. "But you did it for a reason."
"Dean Winchester is a righteous man...." Came the automated response.
"So they say."
"My faith in him has wavered but I believe he will find a way to end this war – to save humanity."
"It's rather odd to think that you and I might actually share a belief or two in this regard."
"That is disconcerting."
The angel blinked owlishly, his eyelids looking heavy. The frown turned to frustration as he tried to keep them open.
"I take it all aspects of the human condition are quite new to you."
"Yes, new and annoying."
"Including sleep? Difficult to ignore that one."
Castiel must have learnt facial expression from a consternated puppy, the way he tilted his head up at the demon.
"You need sleep, Angel."
Cas sighed, letting his eyes fall closed at last. "Not an angel." He mumbled.
"Somewhere in the middle then."
A sleepy harrumph was all he got in response before the deep breathing evened out.
Crowley was not given to empathy – leave that to the white hats, he thought. But something about this diminished creature brought forth an utterly foreign sense of protectiveness in him.
A fallen angel, lying spread out before him, shirt unbuttoned, scarred and weakened and desperately vulnerable - so innocent - yet ancient and knowing like him.
Corruptible too, he was a demon after all, it was his nature to see that.
A newly-made human could easily be shown the route of decadence and excess and all the delicious vices that kept demon's like himself in business.
And yet, this was not a soul he could bargain with. There was no trade to be made here as could not give Castiel his heart's desire and restore him to his former glory. So Crowley was left with quite the quandary.
Why was he so curious about someone from whom he could reap no obvious benefit? And why did he feel the need to pull a faded quilt over the prone form?
With a snort of disgust Crowley fled the peaceful scene keen to rid himself of these sickly sweet sentiments. The only thing for it was some good old fashioned depravity and sin.
Castiel awoke with a deep sense of discomfort in his abdomen. He didn't understand these feelings, not the emotional kind but the strange clawing physical sensations he'd never had to deal with before.
Now, every minute of existence was accompanied with some squirming, itching, shivering, creep of flesh that reminded him that he was unquestionably not an Angel, but tied to this demanding and irritating physical cage.
He pulled himself wearily to his feet. Weary was a state he seemed to occupy most often now.
He glanced around him, the light in the room looked different, and he wondered at how much time had passed while he slept. Last time it had been days before he awoke in the hospital – had that happened again?
His trench coat had been draped over the back of a chair at his bedside, and the suit jacket was folded there too. It seemed strange to be without them, but he was somehow reluctant to put them back on.
His shoes had also been removed and placed neatly beside the bed.
He padded out into the hallway in his socks and was met by Sam, emerging from the bathroom.
"Hey, Cas. Feelin' any better?"
"Yes," He answered, as the headache was gone, but he winced at the pressure in the abdomen. "No, I have..." He placed a hand on his side where it felt worse.
Sam looked concerned, but then his eyebrow flew up the height of his forehead. "Oh! Oh, right you need..."
"What do I need?"
Sam bit his lip, amused somehow, and Cas realised this was one of those moment when the brothers discovered something uniquely funny about his lack of knowledge of popular culture or colloquial dialects unique to them.
"You need to use the can." Sam steered him into the bathroom. "I take it you've never peed before? Typical of Dean to be away when his Angel needs him."
"I'm neither an angel, nor his." Castiel felt irritated by Sam's wording and by the slow realisation that he was going to have to urinate.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. Look, you just need to stand here in front of the toilet and take out your... your penis." Cas was momentarily distracted from the lesson by Sam's cheeks turning scarlet.
"I just said penis to an angel." Sam mumbled under his breath.
To save the young man from his evident mortification, Cas placed a hand on his shoulder and told him with conviction, "I understand what must be done."
Sam choked a little, perhaps in relief. "Ok then!" He made to leave and then stopped. "You can also take a shower if you like. There are towels here, and still plenty of hot water." He gestured at a pile of materials behind him.
Castiel nodded, happy to have Sam leave him to the own embarrassment. He did as the boy had instructed, letting his member hang out in front of the porcelain bowl. When the waters began to come forth, Cas couldn't restrain the deep groan of relief.
He took Sam's advice and attempted to take a shower. He understood the principles of how a shower worked; he had seen Dean in the shower and knew what was required of the user. However the practice of removing clothes by hand and getting himself clean were a different matter.
After some trial and error with the hot and cold taps it felt glorious to feel the warm water pour down on him. He'd never understood the human interest in water-based leisure pursuits when they seemed so dismayed by water-based weather, but suddenly he found he was imagining if it felt this nice to have water cascading down his skin from above, what might it be like to swim in?
When his fingertips began to wrinkle he took this to mean he was wet enough to be considered clean.
He stepped awkwardly from the shower, shivering a little at the change in temperature, fumbled with the taps under the water stopped. He stood there dripping and cold looking at the clothes he'd dropped on the floor as he removed them, before he remembered Sam pointing out the pile of towels in the corner. Of course, it made perfect sense that one needed to dry off before putting on clothes to prevent getting everything wet but these minor steps were all to be newly learned.
This included not leaving his only pieces of clothing lying around getting damp and crumpled. He shrugged on the shirt. Buttoning it up took a ridiculous amount of time, as his fingers struggled to fit the little buttons through the small holes.
After pulling on his socks and trousers he noticed Jimmy's black briefs sitting nearest the bath, being the last article he removed before getting in to the shower. Having managed to get himself dressed he was reluctant to disrobe again and then redress in order to have the briefs on. Admittedly he could feel the subtle difference of have the underwear on between his trousers and his genitals but dismissed it as a minor and unnoticeable absence. He stuffed the briefs in his pocket and headed back to the spare bedroom.
Beside the bed he found his coat and jacket where he left them. Here was another trivial decision to be made as to whether or not a particular piece of clothing was required. How on earth did human's deal with all these decisions? He was used to simply being, appearing in the same attire the vessel wore on their first day together.
Eventually he decided to put on the shoes but not the jacket or coat. He regarded the trench coat for a while wondering if maybe it was time to put Jimmy's clothes away for a while, and was surprised at his own unwillingness to do so. A small part of him was not ready to be parted with it, in the vain hope of maintaining the appearance of the vessel with an angel inside it. But there was a great deal more than his appearance that was difficult for him to accept.
Emerging from the room he was hit with the smell of cooking – something he'd previously understood but never been affected by. The smell went right to his stomach earning a shamefully needy growl. And thankfully no decision was required as his hunger led him straight down the stairs.
The figure of a holy tax accountant lurking in the kitchen doorway, drew a smile from Crowley as he took the hollandaise sauce off the stove. "Ah, Heavens be praised, our Celestial companion is risen like the sun."
The angel's hesitance seemed to increase, for a moment looked like he might turn and flee.
"Lay off him, Crowley." Bobby grouches. "Cas, get in here and try some Demon-food, tell us if it's evil or not."
Castiel took measured steps closer to the table, his head inclined again like a curious puppy. "You're cooking?"
"Yes, I cook, I clean, I even darn my own socks. I'm quite the catch." Crowley smirked as he dished out plates of Eggs Benedict on slices of grilled wholegrain bread.
"No you don't."
The gravelly voice took the room by surprise. Perhaps he had a sense of humour after all.
"Quite right, I let minions darn the socks."
The angel sat down at the table, and watched proceeding with mild interest. Crowley put a plate of food down in front of him. "Eat up. I promise it's not evil, but you'll just have to take me at my word."
Tall Winchester was making obscene yummy noises, and even Bobby was nodding happily as he ate. Crowley pulled a fourth chair over and deliberately sat beside Castiel. Seeing the confused frown that earned, Crowley took his fork and with deliberate lack of haste, scooped a mouthful of eggs and sauce and mint leaves into his mouth.
The Angel watched the motion with rapt attention then followed suit. At first there was no reaction, but then as the taste settled, the Angel looked down at his plate and took another forkful, and then another, and seemed to genuinely enjoy what he was doing.
"The secret to good hollandaise is the quality of the butter. I'm partial to Irish creamery butter but the America variety will do in a pinch."
"And why would a Crossroad demon learn how to cook?"
"How do you think a girl like Nigella earned her fame? Those skills don't come from nowhere."
Sam scoffed, Bobby snorted and Cas squinted.
"Well, anyways," Bobby started before Cas could ask the question forming on his lips. "These are the best damn eggs I've ever had. If you get your wings clipped too, at least you won't go hungry for long."
"He doesn't have wings to clip." Castiel muttered as he finished wiping the last of his bread on his plate.
A deafening silence reigned, before Bobby caught his slip and stuttered an apology. "Aw Hell, Cas, I mean anything by that..."
Before things got too emotional Crowley cut over him. "You know , one of the many reasons Lucifer is a cruel father is that he never thought to give his children wings."
Castiel stared at him, his melancholy momentarily forgotten.
"There he was creating demonkind, wondering what characteristics to give them, non-corporeal being a major one, and somehow he doesn't think to give us what his own kind enjoy so much. Bastard."
The humans are speechless, probably not knowing what to do with this little insight, but the angel being what he is seems to see this as a reason for compassion and turns to Crowley with his impossible big blue eyes and places a soothing hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry, Lucifer will be punished for being a ....'dead-beat Dad'."
Castiel hates to admit it but the demon can cook. The eggs were delicious and sit satisfyingly in his neglected stomach.
After the food has been guzzled and the coffee pot drained Crowley none-too subtly encourages Sam to do the washing up, while trading barbs with Bobby about the rustic nature of his kitchen.
Cas saunters away from the bickering without a word.
It irked him that the demon so easily ingratiated himself amongst Castiel's human friend. Cas fumbled with human gestures and was frequently baffled by their speech patterns and constant cultural references. This demon walked and talked with them with charm and ease Cas might never come to learn.
It scared him to think that he might never fit in. That he could spend the rest of him existence, however stunted, as an outcast.
The sun was shining outside and so he decided to walk around the yard. He heeded to accustom himself to walking now that he could no longer transport himself to a destination at will. So much time was taken up in transit. Human lives were so short it seemed a waste to spend so much of it in constant motion. And yet, he recognised the need to see, the benefit in the journey, not simply reaching the destination. These were ideas he would come to understand in person now that he was forced to adhere to human limitations.
He walked among the piled husks of automobiles, past the main garage and workshop, until his reached the boundaries of Bobby's property. Here there was a fence, beyond which stretched a field of green growing corn as far as Cas could see.
Here at the fence he could feel the power of wards and sigils protecting against angels and demons alike. It was at least a small comfort that he could stretch his hand out and feel the tingle of old magicks against his palm.
"Careful now, you don't want to break them."
Crowley stood by the fence a few steps away, hands deep in his pockets
Castiel retracted his hand with vexation at being caught unaware, again.
"Can you see them as well as feel them?"
Cas studied the fence post and after a moment began to discern the imprint of a ward he'd left there some months ago. He traced the outline with his finger, remembering how easy it had been to do, to simply think them into existence and so they were. Now he could barely perceive his own work.
"Only at proximity." He answered, squinting into the sunlight away from the demon's thoughtful regard.
"I'll add a few of my own design if Bobby will allow it."
Cas was surprised that the demon would even bother looking for permission.
"Did you sleep alright?"
"And breakfast was good?"
"And how are the wings doing?"
Despite himself Castiel could not help the rage that suddenly burned through him. He grabbed the demon's collar pushing him against the wooden fence as roughly as his mortal strength would allow.
"Do you mock me, demon? Is this funny to you?" He growled.
"I much prefer you angry to depressed." The demon removed Castiel's hands from his collar with little effort, and brushed himself down. "And no, I wasn't mocking you. I just wondered why you've got them hanging out like that."
"Your wings. They're sort of ... there." He gestured in the broad direction of Castiel's back.
Cas straightened his back, rolling his shoulder, feeling nothing behind them. "You can see them?"
"More like their shadow, hanging behind you. Might explain the bad posture."
Cas looked over his shoulder and saw nothing but the ground behind him.
"You're not doing that on purpose." Crowley surmised. "Can you even feel them?"
"No," Cas sighed. "There's just numbness there, but how are you...?"
"You see, that's why I don't think you're fully human. You've been cut off from your powers but they're still there, sort of."
"Even if they are still there, I cannot use them." Castiel turned back to stare out at the cornfield again, deeply pained that he coudn't simply take to the open skies to avoid awkward conversation.
"You know, if you miss flying so much I could arrange to take you up in a private plane and you can jump out and feel the wind through your hair again."
"And fall to my death as well?"
"I'd make sure to catch you... probably."
He frowned at the Demon smiling cheekily at him. "Why are you like this? You shouldn't be so amicable."
"Because of what you are, it's not right to..." He thought of what his brothers might say if he was caught fraternising with a demon like this. But then they would kill him just for existing, conversing with a demon would hardly merit concern in comparison to his other crimes. "I know what you are better than they do," He gestured broadly at the house behind them. "I've seen the countless souls you've sent to hell. You can't change after all these years."
"I could say the same for you. You weren't made to exercise free will. You're a lowly foot-soldier, who just happened to be the one to get to Dean Winchester first and pull him out as ordered. And yet here you are, defiant and rebellious in all the ways you shouldn't be. And isn't a good thing you are, otherwise who might have saved those boys from Pestilence at just the right moment."
Cas regarded the demon for a moment, examining his face and playful brown eyes. "I don't mean this as an insult but you're oddly comforting for a demon."
Crowley smirked and took a step closer. "You'll find I'm not like most demons, the same way you're not like most angels"
"Well, ain't this a Kodak moment."
Dean stood behind them looking upon the scene with thinly guarded suspicion.
Castiel did not sense the disapproval as he might once have but he knew it coming in waves from where Dean stood glaring, before turning his back on them and stomping away.
"Dean..." Cas went to follow him, but Crowley put a hand on his arm.
"I wouldn't bother. He's not going to be great company for a while. Plus you've done nothing but sacrifice yourself for him. I think he owes you more respect."
The word rang a strange bell with Castiel, as he recalled demanding as much from Dean not so long ago.
"Well, my Angel of the morning, it's time I was off, errands to run, weapons to fetch for the oncoming battle."
It took Cas a moment to remember that phrase being sung on one of the obnoxious ringtones Dean kept adding to him phone. "Would you like me to 'touch your cheek before you leave?'" He bit his lip to withhold the grin of triumph at being able to quote the correct song lyrics back to the demon.
Crowley grinned. "Good one, you're catching on."
For a moment, Castiel thought something was supposed to happen, some human gesture he wasn't yet familiar with. Crowley seemed about to say or do something, perhaps he was waiting for Castiel to touch him on the cheek, but before Cas could ask the Demon had blinked himself away.
Castiel stood facing the empty space with a cringe of bitterness at the fact that he couldn't do likewise. Instead he had to use his legs and walk back to the house, to see what orders Dean might have for him.