A/N- I'm so sorry for the delay in updates, and even more sorry because this chapter is (by my standards) unusually short. I've had a lot of other things going on- both fanfic and real world- and I haven't been able to give this the time I've wanted. Please know, though, that this WILL continue to be updated. No doubt.
Also, I have yet another thing to apologise for: the Crowley confusion. It was intended to be Supernatural's Crowley. I'm really sorry for the confusion, and I hope nobody's disappointed or anything. Thank you so much for your continued support; it means the world to me.
Jim, as it so happened, was a madman in a nice suit. He had thought that that made him unique; this belief took something of a denting when he met the Master. He had recovered from the brief setback, however, only to run smack-bang into yet another suit-clad madman, who was apparently able to control hoards of demons to boot. How was Jim supposed to compete with that? He felt a little like a busty teenage girl boasting she played video games, only to be confronted with a hundred replies of 'yeah, me too, and I beat your ass on level twenty-four'.
"Just for clarification," Seb said after some time had passed. "Is this the kind of deal where we sit down and negotiate and everybody comes away happy, or the kind where we sit down and nod or we come away minus several fingers?"
"The first, of course," the man said, seemingly affronted at the very idea. Jim silently took index of the half-filled salt container on the windowsill. "Unless, that is, the latter is how you'd prefer to play it. I never know what's in with you kids."
Loki snorted. Crowley's eyes flickered over to him. "Something funny?"
"Your terminology," Loki supplied. "Kids. I'm not quite sure you understand who you're talking to."
Crowley stepped back and looked him up and down. "Gothic Disney princess?"
"You know, I think I like you," the Master said as Loki glowered.
"I see how it is," Crowley sighed. "Okay, everyone above the age of- oh, I don't know, three hundred- raise a hand."
Crowley wriggled his fingers in the air, and some unknown force compelled both the Master and Loki to do the same. It could have been demonic influence, it could have been mind control; Jim suspected stupidity.
"Suspected as much," Crowley said. "Hanging around with two normals, though, that's interesting. Some kind of green card scheme?"
"Is he talking about us?" Seb asked Jim, not bothering to lower his voice.
"I think he might just be," Jim said, making eye contact with Crowley. "Can we back up a teensy bit here? How did you find us?"
"With contacts like mine, boys, you weren't difficult to find."
"I don't understand. Why were you searching in the first place?" Loki asked. Crowley shrugged.
"A fella's gotta do something with his time."
There was a quiet click, and when Jim looked over, Seb had a gun pointed at Crowley's chest. "Start talking."
"Oh, Sebastian, dearest, you needn't try so hard to impress me." Crowley waved a hand and the gun flew out of Seb's hand and smashed against the wall, breaking into several pieces. Seb, having discovered a situation in which guns were of absolutely no use, had the haunted look of a man whose entire world view has just been shattered.
"So you know his name," Jim commented. "That's interesting."
"I know yours too, James, so don't get jealous. And you, Master." He turned to Loki and faltered. "Thor's brother, that's all I've got."
As much as Jim really, really wanted to see the outcome of a fight between Loki and Creeper In A Suit With An Obviously Fake Accent, he didn't like the idea of aforementioned creeper bringing all of Hell's fury down on them. Or should that be up? It really wasn't the time to debate semantics, and so Jim pressed hastily on.
"His name's Loki," he said. "Of Asgard. Or Jotunheim, he changes his mind fairly regularly."
"Never heard of him," Crowley shrugged. Jim mouthed an only semi-joking 'help me' at Seb. Loki's hand was inching towards the near-fanatical collection of throwing knives he kept on his person, and Jim wasn't sure how many times they could try to kill Crowley before he got bored and returned the favour.
"He nearly destroyed New York," Jim continued, hoping it might bolster Loki's self-esteem long enough to prevent him from doing something even more stupid than usual. "Brought down eighty people in two days."
"He's tough and shit," Seb supplied helpfully. Jim shot him a glare which was one sci-fi upgrade away from burning holes in steel.
"Yes, well," Crowley said. "Moving swiftly on: you really were very easy to find."
"We heard you the first time," Seb scowled.
"I'm not saying it to piss you off, flower. I'm saying it because if I can find you, others can too. You think maybe that's worth your consideration?" Crowley shouted the last words, before instantly snapping back into calm serenity. Jim's niche was definitely getting overcrowded.
"What do you mean by 'others'?" Loki said warily.
"My main points of concern would be the Gruffalo and the mouse."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I do, but I also don't," Seb said.
"Sam and Dean Winchester," Crowley spat. "Or, more precisely, the angel that trots around after them."
"Is that 'angel' in a moral or literal sense?" Jim asked.
"Arguably, neither. Hold out your arm."
"Yeah, I don't think so," Seb said.
"There are forty-eight demons standing on the lawn. If I wanted you dead, I'd be wearing your vertebra as a cock ring by now. Hold out your arm."
Jim and Seb exchanged a brief look. The Master sauntered past them both, whistling under his breath.
"Can you not?" Seb hissed, yanking him back by his collar. The Master shot him an irritated glance and stuck his arm out defiantly.
"Come on, Sebby," he said. "Half the fun in life is letting strange men try and tell you what to do."
"That's the spirit," Crowley said, before pushing the proffered arm aside and yanking the Master close. Crowley pressed a hand to his chest, and the Master frowned.
"That stung," he said, sounding insulted. "If you're going to try and seduce me, you either need to be a little gentler or a lot harder."
"They're sigils, moron," Crowley said, pushing him away and slamming his hands onto Jim and Seb's chests before they could protest. Jim stifled a yelp at what felt like little bursts of flame worming their way past his ribs. Crowley reached out to touch Loki, who held a deterring hand up, already laughing in manner that said 'you really don't wish to continue'.
"I don't think that's-"
Crowley placed a bored hand against Loki's chest, who actually did yelp. Jim's day was getting considerably better.
"Sigils?" Seb said, rubbing his chest.
"Protective. It's not just that show-off in a trenchcoat who can doodle in Enochian." The look on Crowley's face appeared to be directly lifted from a B movie about spiteful cheerleaders 'getting even'.
"You know, you say a lot of words, but not many really make sense," the Master said. "Could you explain it one more time, for the slow kids in the class?"
"Story of my life," Crowley muttered. "Fine. Listen. A while ago, you two tangled with a duo known as the Winchester brothers. Name ring a bell?"
"Are you sure? One's stupidly tall with shaggy hair and cow eyes, and the other looks like he stepped out of a male modelling magazine and then watched his kitten get stamped on."
"Do they sometimes dress as priests?"
"Fabulous. Then I take it you're aware of the amalgamation of the previously mentioned knuckleheads with the Avengers initiative, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and the man known as 'the Destroyer of Worlds.'"
"Don't you go doing that. His ego doesn't need inflating," the Master warned. "It's bad enough as it is."
"Says the man who calls himself 'the Master'," Jim objected.
"We're aware," Loki told Crowley tightly. "They're nothing we cannot handle."
"Clearly. Which is why you're rattling across the highways in a tin can rather than ruling the galaxy," Crowley said. "Not exactly potent for the man who would be God. I lied before, Loki- of course I know who you are."
"Not sure I buy that," Seb said.
"You should," Crowley said, addressing them all now. "Trust me, Sebby, I do my research properly- none of my information comes with a 'citation needed' label. I know all about your little gang and- more importantly for you- I know about your enemies. I know that, as we speak, Sam and Dean Winchester have touched down in Heathrow airport, and they've brought their angel with them."
"They took an angel on a plane?"
Crowley's face screamed 'don't ask'. "It's a… complex relationship."
Meanwhile, several hours away:
"Dean? Dean, wake up."
"Barely," Sam snorted.
"No, I am. I totally am. I'm a hunter, Sammy, I don't need sleep."
"Yeah, 'cause that's why- Dean, open your eyes."
"I can't help it," Dean snapped, abandoning all pretence. "Our flight left at eight last night and it's now four PM. How did that even happen? Where does the time go?"
"You should've slept on the plane," Sam lectured, in the tones of a long-suffering parent who already knows that their teenager is going to reply by slamming their door and emitting some form of screech.
"Oh, right, sure. I'll just curl up and dream happy little dreams until our plane falls into the ocean."
"If you'd have let Cas-"
"Sam, we've had this conversation," Dean interrupted. "Cas got back from Purgatory like, a week ago. He's not strong enough."
Sam spread his hands. "Well, he says he is."
"He can say what he wants, but I'll still take a metal death trap over an angel accidentally dropping us off halfway across the Atlantic."
"Where is Cas anyway?"
The answer, it turned out, was stood quietly watching the luggage carousel.
"Hmm?" Castiel said without looking away.
"… what're you doing?"
"Watching the carousel. It's a fascinating mechanism- clearly inspired by Ouroboros," he added off-handedly. "Does it ever end?"
"So you take your luggage while it's still moving?" Castiel frowned. "That seems precarious."
"Mr and Mr Winchester?" a voice behind them said. Dean and Sam turned warily, Dean making sure he was between Castiel and the newcomer.
"Yeah?" Sam said carefully. The man offered a brief but seemingly honest smile.
"My name is Agent Phil Coulson. Come with me, please."
"Okay, so you're Mr Information Man," the Master said. "We get it, we're all quaking in our boots. But exactly why are you taking the time to try to scare us again? You keep trying to talk about deals, but I don't even know what you're pretending to sell me, much less what I'm actually getting."
"How shoddy of me," Crowley said. "I'll get to my point. As you say you're aware, somewhere in London, a group of very powerful, very angry people are coming together. And do you know what's bringing them together?"
"The inability to stay dead?" Jim said with some bitterness.
"Amen to that," Crowley and the Master said as one. They glanced at each other before Crowley continued.
"But no," he said. "You."
"You flatter us," Loki grinned.
"Seems that some little birdy told them that you four protozoa had merged into… whatever this new and deeply unsettling life-form is. Apparently, none of them felt it was in the interests of the planet to just sit back and let that happen."
"Okay, the aliens and the assholes I get, but what's with the fake priests?" Seb asked. "We've met them once. Didn't touch a hair on their coiffured heads. Why the fuck do they care what we do?"
"A misguided sense of responsibility, mostly. S.H.I.E.L.D contacted them when they discovered there were demonic powers involved, and they're both too wrapped up in their Messiah complexes to realise it's none of their business."
"Demonic powers?" Seb queried.
"Yours truly," Crowley smirked.
"That's what this is about?" Loki said incredulously. "You wish to join us?"
"As far as they're aware, I already have. I thought I'd get ahead of the game, no need to thank me."
"Why us?" Jim said. "I mean, I know we're the shiniest toys in the crèche, but we've never met. I'd never even heard of you before today- and trust me, I've heard of everything worth knowing about. What made you decide to swoop in and tag along?"
"I found out what was going on through the grapevine and, as a general rule, I tend to side with anything that's anti-Winchester."
"Enemy of my enemy and all that?" the Master asked.
"Something along those lines, yes. And to be completely honest with you, I have… my own concerns. Just a little something that's slipped out of my grasp, and that I'd quite like back. I think your collective talents could be useful in retrieving it. What do you say?"
There were a few seconds of silence. Crowley grinned expectantly.
"How about fuck off?" Seb said incredulously. Crowley's grin fell.
"You can't be serious."
"You want us to scuttle after you, picking up whatever you drop?" Loki sneered. "Oh, we are very serious."
"I'm not sure you understand what you're going up against here. Trust me, you're going to want a higher calibre of help."
"Ancient alien," the Master said, pointing at himself.
"Demon," Crowley countered.
"Ancient immortal alien god," Loki said smugly.
"King of Hell," Crowley said, like he really couldn't believe they weren't getting it.
Seb seemed to weigh things up, before shrugging. "I'm pretty bitchin'."
"I can't believe this," Crowley said. "You should be begging for my help. On your hands and knees."
"As much as I like your idea of a good time, it's not happening," Jim said.
"We'll take our chances, thanks," the Master agreed. "Fact is, you're just not pretty enough to hang around with us."
Crowley's mouth actually fell open in outrage at that. "I," he said, "am stunning."
"Sure, sure. Head back down the plughole and tell Satan we said hi, yeah?" Seb said. Crowley's mouth opened and closed a few more times, but he didn't seem to know what to say.
"Fine," he said. "Fine. Consider it a sign of my good nature that I don't get the vermin outside to break you into bite-size chunks."
"We'll consider it a sign of something, alright," Seb said.
"Toodles," Jim finished with a pleasant smile. Crowley disappeared with no further comment. Seb and Jim were still unversed enough in teleportation to be taken aback; Loki merely raised an eyebrow; the Master yawned and checked his watch. Seb crossed over to look out the window.
"Fuck," he hissed. The other three gathered behind him to see a mass of black smoke rising into the sky. It hovered in place for a few ominous seconds and then whistled off into the wind, hopefully to somewhere far, far away. When Jim glanced over at Seb, he seemed lost in thought.
"What?" Jim asked.
"… Crowley, right?"
"Yeah?" Jim said.
"Crowley? A demon?"
"… yeah?" the Master said.
"Am I seriously the only one getting this?"
"Are you honestly referring to that terrible Pratchett and Gaiman book?" a Cockney voice said, and when they looked around, Crowley was back in the room.
"No?" Seb said, sounding disappointed.
"No." The ferocity on Crowley's face vanished, to be replaced by a look of smugness. "Well, not quite."
"Time to go," Jim said cheerily.
"Wait, so was he inspired by you, or-"
"Out!" Jim said again, more firmly this time, reaching for the container of salt on the windowsill. Seb scowled. Crowley scowled. Jim scowled harder than both of them put together, and won that particular show of facial disgust.
"Sorry, sweetheart," Crowley said to Seb. "Another time, maybe." And then he disappeared- this time, for real.
"Was that really necessary?" Seb muttered.
"No fangirling on work hours," Jim scolded Seb, who seemed dangerously close to sulking.
"Can you two please quieten down long enough for us to get out of this abysmal town?" Loki grumbled.
"It's not that bad," the Master said.
"There are forty-eight comatose people on the lawn, about to wake up post-demonic possession."
"It has a windmill."
"Then let's take advantage of the situation," Seb said. "Steal all the salt we can carry."
"That's more like it," Jim nodded, back in the game now. "We should help ourselves to some holy water too, whilst the priest's playing Sleeping Beauty."
"Can you even enter a church?" the Master asked, looking at Jim curiously.
"It might burn a little, but I'll cope."
"That's all very well and good in the short term- but what, precisely, do you advise we do next?" Loki asked. "The team we feared as an idea are becoming reality as we speak, and as if that weren't enough, we've just made an enemy of the self-proclaimed King of Hell and everything that lies down there. There is nowhere we can run, nowhere we can hide, and your only idea is to steal salt?"
There was a moment or two of contemplative silence.
"… we should get burgers," Seb said.
"Did you even hear what I said?"
"I could go for a burger, actually," the Master nodded.
"Loki, a word of advice," Jim said. "Don't try and be the sensible one. I tried it, Seb tried it, and if you're trying it that means we're one step closer to treating the Master as a responsible adult."
"Exactly," Seb said. "Sure, my logical side is curled up in a ball in the corner of my mind crying hysterically, but it's been doing that for weeks now. It's become kinda soothing, actually. Like elevator music."
"I wasn't concerned until Hell became involved," Loki argued. "Even in my culture, we know what that means."
"Doesn't it seem logical to reconsider our stance?"
"We're fighting demons and mutants here, Loki. There's really not much to be gained in hanging onto logic," the Master said.
"You're an alien," Jim pointed out.
"See, Jim gets it."
Loki seemed to be considering this.
"You may have a point," he said grudgingly. "So, what do you suggest? That we resign ourselves to hanging on and hoping everything works out?"
"No!" Jim said, scandalised. "No, we don't. We stay calm, we stay in control, and we do what we do best: we win."
It was a powerful moment, lessened only slightly by Loki's phone blaring with the cheerful reminder that it was his move on Draw Something.