The King of Hell met the Sherriff of Heaven at a downtown location in Detroit.
They did not meet on the battlefield or on some celestial plain but at John's Pizza Palace a joint that served awesome pizza and cheap beer.
Crowley settled into his seat and perused the menu; in front of him Castiel sat stiff and still, blue eyes staring off into space. Around them the atmosphere was hectic, the scent of garlic and tomato strong in the air. Waitresses moved swiftly from table to table and the cook shouted from the kitchen when the orders were ready.
"How does it feel?" Crowley took a sip of beer and wrinkled his nose. It was not his beverage of choice for he preferred fine wine or even finer Scottish whiskey.
Castiel observed him for a moment and then reached deep within himself. If he concentrated hard enough he could still feel the vestiges of Jimmy Novak, a light flicker of a soul long gone, the occasional fight for something and then distant resignation.
The other though burned bright; almost too much for Castiel to hold. He could sense it beneath his skin and it made him shudder in an effort to keep it in. He shook his head and tried to ignore it.
"Crowded," it was a poor attempt at humour but Crowley laughed anyway as if to humour him.
"You cannot let him know," he said, finally, "but – bugger me – there will be some sort of hell to pay when he finds out."
"Let us hope he doesn't guess anything," Castiel stared at the beer and resisted the temptation to drink. He needed all his wits about him at the moment and the cargo that he carried was far to precious, too powerful to risk.
Castiel observed Dean Winchester and found him wanting. This was not the man who said no to Michael. This was not the fierce hunter that he dragged from hell. This Dean was cautious, out of shape and broken. It was hurtful to see him this way and Castiel missed the Dean he had once known, missed the ferocity, the single mindedness of a man who was aware of what he wanted and would go all out to get it.
His eyes flickered over to Sam and he felt a stab of guilt in his gut; it was an odd feeling, something an angel should not know, should not experience and he rubbed at his face, eyes downcast, unable to look into that blank visage, guilt and something else soaring beneath his skin.
Sam with those cold, blank eyes; the knowing smirk; the lack of compassion, of comprehension and of fear. This was not the Sam that had thrown himself into the pit, had said Yes to Lucifer and halted the Apocalypse. This was a tin man, a robot, a monster perhaps. Was a man without a soul even a man? Castiel wished he knew the answer to that question but he was almost afraid of what it would be.
Above them and below them chaos still reigned; there was no natural order, no Lucifer to rule Hell, no God to rule Heaven. Castiel knew the value of souls, Balthazar had told him as much. Raphael also knew the value of souls and Castiel would die to protect the one he harboured so carefully.
Sometimes Castiel is sure Sam Winchester is watching him; it disturbs him even though he knows that Sam cannot understand and will not even suspect. Castiel goes through the motions. He plunges his hand inside Sam's stomach, he talks to Dean, he does not react at the mention of Sam's soul or of Crowley's ownership.
Sometimes he sits at the gate of Hell and listens; he can hear Michael's screams, Lucifer's pleading. He could not leave his friend down there to suffer but he cannot let him free just yet. This thing – this one thing is the most precious thing in the world. The demons covet it but the angels covet it more. It is far more important than the Staff of Moses or the Horn of Truth. If discovered it could change the course of the war in heaven for good and Castiel knows he must stave of temptation. One day victory will be his and then – only then – can he set his prisoner free.
"The pizza is good here," Crowley is smooth and unaffected. He carves himself a slice and grins warily as he chugs back the rest of his beer. "I guess that part of you must enjoy it."
Castiel nods; he is sure that deep within him what is left of Jimmy still appreciates good food and even the occasional beer. He doesn't even think of the other, he won't and he can't. One slip, one gentle thought and he will cave, the light that burns so bright inside of him will break out and return to its true home and he cannot allow that to happen – not yet.
Dean looks tired, worn and near to cracking. He wants and needs help but Castiel cannot give it to him. Sam sits on the bed staring at the floor. Castiel doesn't know what he is thinking and he knows he isn't feeling anything. His eyes flick up and meet the angels piercing blue ones. Castiel smiles wryly.
Soon – he thinks – soon…