"Forgotten how to use your vessel's vocal cords?"
The Winchester's personal pet angel has been a silent presence in the corner of the room, not speaking either for or against the idea of working with a demon. Discounting Anthony's Seraph, who is quite clearly not in his right mind, this is very out of character for one of Heaven's Host. Yet not so much of that anymore either. Crowley has never met the bugger before today, but even he can see that he's not exactly at full strength. More mortal than divine.
"Leave my sight, hell-spawn," Castiel says, but his heart's not in it. Hell, there's no fire in the words, barely a spark of emotion in his eyes. Crowley sighs. A depressed angel. Just what they need, when the whole damn world's on the line.
"What's got you so mopey, wings?" he asks. "Is the torrid relationship with Dean not going well? Are the humans confusing your poor little brainwashed mind? Are you moulting?" Now that he comes to notice, the angel is looking decidedly mangey around the feathery bits.
The glare he gets in return is almost spirited, which is strangely something of a relief. It's not like he actually gives a fuck about the boring little god-botherer.
"I should have expected your mockery, demon," the angel says, practically growling. "And I would make you pay for your words if I were still as I once was."
Once was? Crowley raises an eyebrow. Well, well. The Winchester's angel has run into a bit of a Faith problem. He's well on his way to Falling, if he hasn't already. It's enough to warm the cockles of his shrunken, black, demon heart. On the other hand, it does make the angel more than a little useless in the fight against the false Lucifer. And dead-weight isn't something they can tolerate at this point.
What to do about it, that's the question. Unfortunately the humans have this inconvenient attachment to Castiel, so they won't be pleased if he suggests chucking him out on the street, and Anthony's Seraph, for all that he's bloody strange, is still an angel and won't take kindly to it either. If getting rid of him won't work, Crowley will just have to find an alternative solution. He's not willing to put his own immortal existence in danger because of one moody once-angel.
Devil Below, this is actually going to count as a good deed. Urg, the very thought curdles his stomach.
"Yeah, loosing that whole Faith thing is pretty unhealthy for your kind," he says. "Guess your so-called Father didn't exactly live up to your expectations. If I were you I'd go about finding something else to put your faith in, unless wasting away to your death is the kind of lifestyle choice that appeals to you."
The angel glares at him, but Crowley is pretty sure he's listening.
"I mean, you think the Fallen didn't have to find something new, back in the beginning? 'Course they put their faith in Lucifer. Glad us modern bastards don't have to be bothered with any of that."
"I have no intention of swearing myself over to the Adversary's service," Castiel says, his eyes narrowing and the remnants of his wings bristling.
"Did I say that? Did I say that? No, I didn't. Hell, put your faith in Dean Winchester, for all I care. After all, if you ask me, that's what you've really been doing all along, now hasn't it."
Crowley reckons that has given the little feather-duster enough to think about for now. Who said demons had to lie to stir up a bit of trouble? The truth has always been Lucifer's weapon after all, the real one.
He leaves Castiel to mull things over, smirking. Now they have a demon to catch.
"I need to talk to you," Crowley tells Anthony quietly, once the hunters have been distracted. "Alone." Anthony glances at his angel. "All right, him too." He'd only tell the Seraph once they were done anyway, and it's better to get all of the silly moral objections out of the way first in a way that he can reasonably deflect.
"All right," Anthony says, once the three of them have made their way to one of the other rooms. He's wise enough to keep his voice down; these walls were thin enough before age and decay ate holes through them. "What's this about?"
"I wanted to discuss my plan with you before we get started."
"There's something you don't want the Winchesters to hear," the angel says, which is an unfortunately accurate assessment of the situation.
"Yeah, and I've got good reasons," Crowley says. "Namely, demon-blood back there has a personal interest in the case. The demon who we're after – who, buy the way, is your kind of demon Anthony – decided to get into the possession gig a few years back, took over the body of one of his college pals."
"And Sam wants revenge?" Anthony asks.
"Hah! The little shit never even noticed. And meanwhile our target was manipulating his life. I have reason to believe he was working for Azazel, the Grigori bastard who started this whole mess before getting himself shot in the head with the Colt. If Sammy-boy comes along on this trip everything's going to be fucked faster than you can say 'Inigo Montoya'."
Anthony lets out a frustrated little sigh and runs his fingers through his hair. Crowley enjoys the view. He loves it when he gets ticked off, his pupils go all slitty. "You've got a way to deal with this, I presume?"
"Course I have! What do you take me for?" Crowley grins. "We're not going to be bringing him along. Hell, you're not coming either Seraph."
The angel frowns. "But with my sword I could probably take on a Fallen... Unless he's a Duke?"
"Nothing so dangerous," Crowley says. "And I'm sure you could smite him, no sweat. But it's not smiting we want, we need him alive and able to talk. One look at you and he'll run for the hills. Subtlety and trickery are today's watchwords folks. So here's what we do..."
Head wounds, bruised ribs, bruises all over... this was not the plan as Dean had been sold it. The unconscious body of the Fallen they're hunting is sprawled out on the floor in front of him with a pair of those bastard Crowleys standing over it smirking, and he wants to know exactly what part of letting him get kicked around for shits and giggles is meant to make him feel any more favourably towards these so-called allies.
Why couldn't the Fallen Crowley have taken on the stable-boy, huh? 'Oh, it'll scare him off' his ass.
"Fuck the both of you," he says, aching at each breath he takes. "You fucking douchebags. Or did you forget you actually need me and Sam for this stupid ritual of yours and so maybe it would be a stupid idea to get on our bad side, huh?"
Fallen Crowley looks at him over the tops of his sunglasses, which he is wearing both indoors and at night, if further proof was needed that he's an utter tool. "It worked though, didn't it," he points out, sounding amused. Dick.
"Imagine the look of surprise on your face," Demon Crowley says. "Your ignorance and misinformation – completely authentic, I mean, you can't fake that. It went like clockwork!"
"Not for me you sons of bitches," Dean says.
Fallen Crowley sighs and takes a step forward. Dean ducks away, not wanting to have the damn snake anywhere near him. Literal snake, apparently, but really he's pretty jaded at this point to meeting famous mythological figures, so it's not like he gives a damn about it. One angel is pretty much like another anyway, fallen or not.
"I'm trying to help, you idiot," the bastard says, and tries again. Dean feels a wash of vaguely nauseating energy sweep through him, but it is true that he feels a lot better after it. He glares.
"Since when could anything that stepped out of Hell heal?" he asks. He's still not exactly going to forgive them for having fun at the expense of his pain, even if they could fix it up again afterwards.
"How do you think we keep our meatsuits functional?" Demon Crowley says, sneering. "Not to mention Anthony used to be an angel. I'm sure even a bear of so little brain as you couldn't have forgotten that fact already."
It's weirdly... protective. Fuck. Demon families. How fucking messed up. For a moment Dean has the memories of Hell flashing before him, feels Alistair's breath hot on the back of his neck, his hand guiding a knife as it slides through the flesh of a screaming soul. He shudders, trying to force the sensation away. That almost-affection had seemed so comforting after thirty years of torture, almost seductive. Back then he would have done anything that bastard asked of him. The way the demon looks at his 'sire' is a sickening reminder of that, and he doesn't want to look. Yet there's a part of him that can't look away whenever something like it happens.
"Whatever," Dean snarls, wiping at the drying blood on the side of his face with the sleeve of his shirt. "Let's just get this demon back to the cabin, alright."
Aziraphale takes the opportunity presented by the absence of half their team to speak to Castiel. He had seen James talking to him earlier, and ever since the younger angel's habitual silence has been more... introspective... than it has in the past. He is, he'll admit, perhaps a little worried about whatever the demon had said to him. At this moment Castiel is in such a fragile state... It is why Aziraphale himself had been reluctant to broach the subject of his Fall with him before, but now it seems he may have no choice.
Samuel Winchester is speaking to Robert Singer on his phone in another room, leaving the two of them alone. No better time is likely to present itself.
Aziraphale joins his brother where he is standing, staring out of the window into the rain-swept and night-clad forest. Normally he would offer some small measure of comfort by brushing their wings together, but Castiel's are in such ruin that he thinks it would do more harm than good.
"Do you mind if I have a word with you, Castiel?" he asks.
The blank gaze the near Fallen angel gives him is painful to look upon, but he makes no objection. Aziraphale hesitates, twisting his hands together in his nervousness. What if he makes this worse? What if he says the wrong thing?
"What was it that James Crowley was discussing with you earlier?" he asks at last.
"Faith, strangely enough. I don't know quite what he meant by his words, but I found them... interesting. Worth meditating upon."
That seems... concerning. "Could you perhaps be a little more specific?"
"He told me I should find something else to put my Faith in," Castiel explains. He seems more willing to talk than Aziraphale had expected, which is hopefully a good sign. "He said, and I now realise that I have been deluding myself about this matter, that all this has come about because I put my Faith in Dean Winchester instead of my family. That humanity became more important to me. I chose to follow the Righteous Man and humanity, over our Father's chosen archangels. Perhaps this was wrong, I do not know. It would seem that He really is no longer here to give us guidance, so how can I tell if I acted in a manner that he would approve of?"
"If it means anything," Aziraphale says, "I believe you made the right choice. That is why Crowley and I are here, after all. Humanity is important. Free Will is important. This destiny that Raphael, and Zachariah are trying to force upon the world... it's wrong. Even before Father left, it wasn't in the plan anymore."
"How can you still have Faith?" Castiel asks him, turning to look at him for the first time. His brow is furrowed in confusion. "You admit that He is gone, that He has abandoned us. And yet you still believe in Him? You have not Fallen."
"I have Faith that this is all part of his Plan," he replies. "That this is the culmination of all he intended; gifting Free Will to all creatures, not just mortals. I believe that even though he is gone, those things He set in motion continue on. That things will work out in the end, if we fight for them, and have Faith that we are doing what is right."
"I do not think that adopting that viewpoint will help me."
"Perhaps not," Aziraphale says. "But – though I never thought I would say this – James was right. You have to find something else to believe in, something else to sustain you. And although I will try and help you as much as I can, in the end I suppose only you can truly know what will be right for you."
Castiel returns his gaze to the storm outside. "Thank you," he says. "But I would like to be alone to think now."
Aziraphale leaves the younger angel to his thoughts. He has to admit, Castiel does seem less melancholy than he has previously. It can only be a good sign, and if he can find something that will fill the hole made by the truth of their Father's disappearance, that will surely help him even more.
It seems that in this case, it took a demon to do what an angel should have done long ago.
Crowley sits in the back of the Impala with James and their new captive as they head in the general direction of the cabin, helping his protégé with the binding runes and sigils they are carving into the possessed flesh of his sort-of-brother's meatsuit. It's a complicated variety, and while James has a very good knowledge of the sort of thing, it isn't entirely comprehensive. Crowley is still the elder here, it stands to reason that he has more experience, and what sort of mentor would he be if he didn't know more than the demon he was teaching?
"A little more curl in the tail of that one," he points out helpfully. James grunts his acknowledgement, and flicks the knife just right.
"You are aware we can't take him back to Sam," he announces to the car at large. In the front seat, Dean cranes his head around to look at them in disbelief for a moment before he has to turn his attention back to the road.
"Why the hell not?"
James hesitates. Crowley already knows about this, and he's not sure James is wrong about this. This plan he has mostly left in his protégé's hands, as much to make up for all the inconvenience he's had to suffer because of that business with the Colt as anything, though watching Dean Winchester get kicked around was entertaining. But knowing what the younger demon has told him about the situation, he personally wouldn't trust Sam to keep his temper around their captive. Aziraphale had disagreed, but had let them go along with their version of the plan as long as Crowley had promised they would leave the real decision up to Dean.
"They have history, alright," James says, obviously deciding that the time for that decision has come.
Dean pulls them over at the side of the road far too fast, the brakes screaming. Yeah, he's not exactly pleased with them right now, Crowley thinks, possibly starting to regret the way they had played him back at the pharmaceutical company building, albeit only because it's causing problems like this.
"You want to go anywhere, you had better start explaining," the human says.
As it works out, they do end up taking 'Brady' back to the cabin and the others. James had not been too keen on it until Crowley had pointed out that if the worst came to the worst, between the three of the supernatural creatures that they were, restraining one not-so-little human wouldn't be that difficult, even if he was a hunter. So here they are, one captive tied up inside an Enochian binding circle for extra safety, two wary denizens of Hell, and one hunter about to explain to his brother how yes, this Fallen had totally dicked him over back in the past, but no he shouldn't take that out on the guy by stabbing him a bunch of times with an angelic blade.
Or the demon killing knife. They hadn't actually tested it yet, but there was a chance it might work on a sufficiently Hell-tainted Fallen.
Of course, since Dean had apparently decided the best way to do that was with the handy addition of a visual aid, ie. the Fallen in question, things were more than a little... tense.
"You know, we probably should have invested in a gag," Crowley says to James, as 'Brady' is mid-way through throwing all the unpleasant things he did during their college years in Sam's face. He should probably go find Aziraphale before things get worse. Apparently he went off to talk to Castiel, although if the back and forth gets much louder the pair of them will hear the noise no matter where in this run down shack they are.
"It would have been wise," James replies. "But there is a certain bloody enjoyment in this. Like watching a car crash, or a ship sinking." His grin is human-vicious. "Course, we might have to grab him in a moment."
"You son of a bitch, you introduced me to Jess!" Sam snarls, and oh, there he goes.
"Damn it Sam," Dean says, grabbing hold of his brother's jacket, and Crowley takes a step forward to do the same. It's not too difficult to hold him back with his more than human strength, and right now the hunter is too focused on the creature he once thought was his friend to think about fighting them off effectively. They drag him out of the room, leaving James to talk to the smirking Fallen, and Dean to try and talk some sense into his brother.
Crowley feels safe enough in the moment to go and find Zira. If Dean fails, there'll be no-one better than an angel to get through to an angry, vengeful human. And honestly, he's not entirely confident of Dean Winchester's powers of persuasion.
James Crowley is very good at what he does. He knows this. He knows how to manipulate, how to work the angles, the personality, the hidden weaknesses. He knows how to threaten and cajole, how to promise and wheedle. But humans, be they demonic or destined to become so after he wins their souls, are not the same as a Fallen angel. And a Grigori at that, though one who has spent time enough in Hell that the distinction is mostly academic.
It's a good thing he likes a challenge.
"You don't really think Samyaza, or Lucifer, or whatever he's going by these days, is going to win this one do you?" he asks, straddling a chair and watching their captive closely. "If the real deal doesn't manage to get him, Zachariah and Raphael will double cross him and kill you all. You do know that?"
The Fallen laughs. "Do you think we're stupid? Of course the angels are only using us, just like we are only using them. But we're stronger than they are, we're better than they are. Heaven is divided, they've lost their drive. We're going to win, and we're going to take the Throne."
"He's no threat," the once-angel says scornfully. "He's Nameless, weakened. All he has is a few humans and a few traitors. You can't stop us. You need me to get the other rings, and you clearly need the rings for whatever your plan is. And I have no plans of talking."
"I don't know, we have a certain amount of experience with torture," Crowley says, mostly to get it out of the way. The threat is more a formality than anything, he's well aware he's not going to get results there. "We've got a human who showed more promise under Alistair than any of the old bastard's students had before, we've got me, and I'm not exactly an amateur here you understand, and most fun of all, we've got a Seraph with a flaming sword. I bet that'll sting when we skin you with it."
The Fallen sneers. "Maybe you should be a little less worried about what you could do to me, and a little more worried about what Lucifer is going to do to you."
"It has crossed my mind, but it's not really the point."
"Actually Crowley, that is the point. No-one will know greater torment than you." The Fallen is grinning, his teeth stained with blood. "Lucifer is never going to let you die. As for me, I know the score. I'm dead, whether I tell you anything or not. So I think I'll die on the winning side, thanks."
Obnoxious little shit. But really, Crowley always knew it would come down to what he'd like to term the psychological factors, what if they had more time would consist of mind games, manipulation and the like. In this case though they've not got long before the Fallen's absence gets noticed and they send someone out to find him. It's time to change the parameters of the situation.
"Good talk," he says, gets up, and leaves the room. This is really going to suck, big time. It's putting himself in danger again, which is just completely contrary to his personal philosophy of keeping his own skin in one piece. Still, this is his plan, and he's capable of handling a few low-level, newly turned, once-humans. Might even be cathartic, after all the bloody trouble he's been put to ever since the Colt debacle.
Baiting a hive of demons. Oh what fun. Now if only Sam Winchester can keep from killing their best lead whilst he's gone.
Castiel has much to consider. For too long he has allowed himself to be consumed by his grief, by his sense of abandonment and loss. He had tied too much of his hope for victory on finding his Father, and then to have absolute, soul-deep confirmation that he had left Creation... he had not handled it well.
But he believes he has begun to find his equilibrium once again. He has heard humans speak of the 'five stages of grief', and though he spent much time mired in 'depression', he is finally ready to move on to 'acceptance'. Strange, that it should be a demon that provided the impetus for this change. But that is merely the reality of a world bereft of his Father. All the rules have changed. Everything is different. He must adapt, and that by his nature marks him as no longer what he once was. Angels are not swift to alter their views.
The loss of his Grace aches inside of him, yes, but he supposes the question he must now ask himself is what he will make of himself now. Will he become human, as Anna did? Will he try and cling to the tattered remains of his immortality, and inevitably doom himself? Will he allow his anger at his Father to consume him and make him something of the Pit?
It is too much to expect that finding another source of Faith will restore his Grace. It will not. But it will provide... stability. An anchor. Until he is capable of independence, of that Free Will that he has been working towards all along without truly realising it.
As to what the nature of that anchor should be, Castiel believes there is no question about it. It is Dean. It has always been Dean. He has denied the depth of their connection, couching it in mealy-mouthed terms of a 'profound bond' rather than call it what it is. What is this devoted Faith but love itself? He loves Dean. He loves a human. And as he is no longer an angel, he can act on that love without fear of that most terrible of creatures, a Nephilim.
Thus, he waits until James Crowley has left, until Aziraphale and Anthony Crowley are guarding their prisoner, until Samuel has gone to be alone with his own thoughts. Then he approaches Dean, and speaks.
"May I talk to you, alone?" he asks.
Dean stands, leaving his bottle of beer on the table. "Sure Cas. What do you wanna talk about?"
The orgy of wanton destruction he had visited on the poor little baby demons went rather well, Crowley thinks. Some torn to smokey shreds, some banished back to Hell, and one, just one, left alive to wing the message to her immediate commander that the traitorous bastard James Crowley had reappeared and was working with the Horseman's stable-boy. Curse that tricky emotion affection, it's enough to turn the most devout Lucifer-worshiper from the path of evil!
Oh, he is good.
Of course, nothing is ever so easy as all that. Crowley is reminded of this unfortunate lesson when he plucks the Enochian-embossed coin from his jacket pocket where one enterprising youngling had stashed it. That kid would have gone far, if he hadn't been horribly murdered by Crowley himself.
Still, two hunters, an angel, a Fallen, a demon and a whatever-Castiel-is versus a pack of hellhounds. It sounds like a fairly good match-up, in his book. The problem is that no matter how many of the damn things they kill, Hell always has more. The only way to stop them sending pack after pack their way is to break the trace the coin has established, and he trouble with that is getting the mutts off their back for long enough to set up spells to break the trail. The hounds have their scent now, and they are not so easy to shake, particularly not when they are right outside, as he can tell from their howls.
Dean and Castiel burst into the front hall at the unearthly noise, both looking somewhat dishevelled, and Crowley doubts it is from panic. Seems his advice, such as it was, did some good after all if those two repressed fools finally realised what they've been tip-toeing around for months. Aziraphale and Anthony aren't far behind, with Sammy-boy the last to arrive. From the side room, Brady is yelling like a coward. Fallen these days. What's Hell coming to? Looks like the little speech he gave him worked like a charm though.
"Was that a Hellhound?" Dean asks, breathing hard. "Crowley, tell me that was not a fucking Hellhound!"
"I'd say yeah, it was," Crowley replies. "But I wouldn't worry your tiny brain. There are a lot of them, but we can take them."
"A lot? Exactly how many is a lot, and why the hell are they here!"
Crowley has to tell them about the coin, which is hardly the kind of cock-up he wants to admit to under the watchful eyes of Anthony, who looks less than impressed. He's right to. It was a stupid, newbie mistake.
"You have some experience with Hellhounds, I understand," Aziraphale asks him. At the least the Seraph is keeping his cool. They'll be needing that flaming sword.
"Lots," he says. "Which is why I know the spells to break their hold on our supernatural scent. Trouble is they take a little while."
"So we fight," Sam says, looking mulish. Or perhaps moose-ish. Kid looks like killing something is just what he needs right now, and Crowley sees no reason to argue with that.
"Exactly how many are we talking?" Anthony asks, raising an eyebrow. Crowley winces ever so slightly inside.
"About half a hundred," he admits. Reactions to that are less than optimistic. It is in the midst of that angry shouting that he comes up with an idea. As he turns it over in his mind, it starts sounding better and better.
"Hey Anthony," he says, cutting through the argumentative noise. "You remember my prize pit-fighter?"
"That beast?" Anthony starts to smirk. "I remember. What did you call it again, something more than a little silly...?"
"Growley," Crowley says, returning the grin. What can he say, it had been a joke. "I'll just go pick him up, shall I?"
One rather full Hellwulf and a lot of spilled ichor later, their Hellhound problem has disappeared. James might have messed things up a bit by letting himself be tracked, but equally his great fuzzy monstrosity of a pet had fixed the situation, so all in all Crowley doesn't hold it against him. Anyone can get caught out from time to time.
The plan he had devised had paid off in the end as well. The Fallen had given up Pestilence's location, and in return they had let Sam kill him (somewhat) quickly rather than leaving him to the tender mercies of Samyaza-Lucifer. Perhaps that hadn't been the best idea ever for the hunter's personal development, but Crowley can't really bring himself to care. This Apocalypse has been dragging on for what seems like forever, and there is only so much time he wants to spend in the company of any individual humans, particularly hunters.
Still, two rings down, one within their grasp, and one more to go after that. It seems nearly within their reach. Crowley is actually starting to believe he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is probably a bad thing, he thinks, as his optimistic and pessimistic sides war inside him. Half the time that light is simply the flames of the fire you're running right into.
"Have you given much thought to how the Hell we're going to get a hold of Death?" James asks him under his breath as they settle into the latest in a long line of depressing motels. He's sharing a room with him and Aziraphale on the basis that no-one else in their little band is going to put up with him. Six is an inconvenient number for their journey.
Crowley shrugs. "It's about time Samael checked in with us again; I thought we could just ask him. He's met Death before, if anyone knew it would be him."
"That's all very well, but said Archangel hasn't exactly been what you might call punctual, now has he," James points out. "What if I said I knew a spell that could find old boney?"
Crowley sighs. He's not going to like this, is he. "I would say, what's the reason you haven't mentioned this before?"
"Just the matter of the unfortunate nature of one of the ingredients. To be precise, one human soul, to act as a catalyst."
"Yes," Crowley says, "I can see what you might have been a bit reluctant to mention it. Which beggars the question of why you're doing that now?"
James grins, sharp and more than a little cruel. "Things are coming to a head. People are going to start getting desperate. So what if your angel makes me give the soul back like I know he will? It's one of those nasty moral quandaries that'll leave everyone involved with a nice little patina of tarnish. You've taught me the value of that."
Oh, bloody Manchester. Does every bloody thing he does come back to haunt him? Seems so. Trouble is, if Samael doesn't show up in time they might actually have to agree to go along with James' latest scheme.
And what right does he really have to stop them?
"Fine," he says, "if you think you can convince them, please do go right ahead."
"I knew you'd see things my way, mentor mine," James says, patting him on the back, right between the wings.
Little demon is getting a bit too familiar for his own good.