The first Crowley knew about an angelic incursion into Hell was when a very battered angel slammed through the door of his cell, kicked him in the head while trying to get the door closed again, almost knocked him through the wall with one wing, tripped over his coils and landed ass over teakettle on top of him.
All things considered, he wasn't impressed.
However, since that freaky bastard Alastair had had him locked in the freezer for twenty Hell-years and he'd slowly been going mad from the agony of bone-deep, constant, unrelenting chill ... the flare of warmth and Grace against his scales was almost, almost worth the annoyance. It would have been completely worth it, if said angel hadn't panicked immediately on touching him, and tried to throttle him while praying loudly and, considering where they were, somewhat uselessly. Crowley didn't appreciate that kind of treatment on a first date. And since the angel had so nicely broken the binding circle on him with his little Charlie Chaplin routine ...
He struck out, pulling on all the speed and power he could considering the only thing keeping him from hibernation when the angel stormed in had been the binding, and wrapped three huge, muscled coils around the angel, wings and all, inside a second. And then had to stop for a little minute, to shiver in sheer bliss at the warmth, but that was alright. With his hands and wings trapped, and his Grace having considerably less effect on Crowley than it would have on, say, a mortal demon, the angel wasn't going to be hurting him for another couple of minutes at least. Time enough to cuddle up to his celestial heater and just bask for a while ...
"What are you waiting for?"
Crowley blinked, pulling open golden eyes with considerable effort. What? Where had he ... Oh. Right. Angel. Dam ... Manchester, he'd forgotten that he had to be careful soaking up heat after a cold snap. It tended to make him drowsy. Also prone to cuddling, but that was for exactly one person to know, and nobody else to ever, ever find out. Anyway. Business.
He looked down at his captive, at the flare of light and peace and glory wrapped in his coils, blinking a bit as his brain started to come back online after its little beach-side siesta. Angel. Angel. Angel in Hell. Oh fuck!
"What?" he managed, more a croak than a hiss.
The angel frowned at him, vaguely human-shaped, which was a bonus, all things considered. Crowley wasn't sure he was really up for trying to converse with any of the higher -and more interestingly shaped- denizens of Heaven. Certainly not in his condition.
"I said, what are you waiting for?" the angel repeated, voice throbbing with pain and exhaustion and willful, desperate defiance. Now that Crowley looked at him (as opposed to scooping him up and using him as a portable heater), the little guy didn't look so good. No. Strike that. He looked really, really bad. Like he'd been dragged through the worst parts of Hell. Backwards. Repeatedly. At length.
The worrying thing was, that was entirely possible.
"Why are you here?" he hissed, mostly in amazement, but also with a certain amount of anger. Angels weren't supposed to end up in Hell! Well, not anymore, anyway. Not unless they'd done something really, really bad, and looking at this guy's Grace, looking at the soul shining beneath it, battered and torn though it currently was ... Crowley didn't think this angel had it in him to do anything of that sort. Which only left a few, rather markedly unpleasant, explanations.
Explanations like someone stepping up the war again, after the post-almost-apocalypse lull. Explanations like angels being sent into Hell to fight. Explanations that might, perhaps, involve a certain angel Crowley happened to be somewhat-almost fond of being sent down here like this one was. Explanations that might involve Aziraphale somewhere down here, in as bad a shape as this little guy. Or worse. Not that Aziraphale should be talking to Heaven anyway, not now that he was in their bad books, so to speak, but if there was a war on ... the angel had always been big on doing his duty, and it was just conceivable ...
He really needed to know what was happening right now, so he knew if he had to panic or not.
"What'ssss going on?" he hissed, low and deadly, coiling tighter around the angel until ribs would have started cracking, if souls weren't made of somewhat sterner stuff than bodies, generally speaking, and angelic souls sterner again. "Why are you here?"
The angel glared at him, and said nothing. But he said nothing in that particular kind of way that meant there was something to be said, it would just be very, very unwise to be the one to say it. Which from an angel, in Crowley's considerable experience, meant that somewhere along the line there were orders involved. Which meant a mission. Which meant higher-ups throwing people around. Which meant ... No. They wouldn't send Aziraphale. If it was important, they wouldn't send him, not when they didn't trust him. Unless this was a suicide type of mission, and they just wanted to get rid of some awkward angels ... which didn't bode well for the one he currently held, did it? The one still glaring battered defiance at him, waiting for Crowley to start trying to pummel answers out of him.
Crowley sighed heavily. "Never mind," he grumbled, but gently. Wasn't the kid's fault, after all. He wasn't the one who'd given the orders. Just the poor sod sent to drown in Hell's filth trying to carry them out, and Crowley knew all about that. Mug's game, being the man on the ground. Times a hundred, when the ground in question was Hell. And, dammit, but angels weren't supposed to have to see that. Not the unfallen ones, anyway.
"I'm going to let you up now," he said, carefully, meeting those blazing, bewildered eyes. "Don't do anything ... rash, alright? Nobody needs to get hurt here."
The angel stared. Again, saying nothing, but this time from pure shock. Crowley grinned at him a little bit, before carefully loosening his coils. Not all the way, mind, because until the angel confirmed the non-aggression part of this little arrangement, he wanted to be able to wrap him up again in short order (and not because he didn't want to lose that blissful, aching heat, not at all). The angel warily pulled himself to his knees.
"You ... you ..." the angel stuttered, blinking furiously in shock. He looked like someone had just shown him up was down. By dropping him into it. "What are you ... Why?"
Crowley shrugged. It was a very expressive gesture in a snake, and almost knocked the angel still between his coils back on his ass. Crowley snickered a bit. "Because," he said, shortly. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, kid?"
The angel blinked, then tipped his head to one side. "You are not a horse," he said, very seriously.
Crowley stared at him. The angel stared back, looking faintly bewildered, but entirely serious. Crowley searched his features, looking for some sign of humour, of sarcasm, because if this had been Aziraphale there would have been that tell-tale twinkle in his eye right about now, but ... no. Not a thing. This angel genuinely hadn't a clue what he was talking about. He was genuinely, completely innocent. Which meant he couldn't have been down even as far as Earth in ... a bloody long time, anyway. Which meant he hadn't seen combat in a bloody long time, too.
"Who in Manchester's name did you pissss off to get ssent down here, angel?" he said at last.
The angel looked more confused than ever, which Crowley was privately of the opinion shouldn't actually be possible. "No-one," he said softly. "The Lord commanded it."
"What, in person!?" Crowley squawked. Not good, so not good ...
"No. Why would the Lord speak to someone like me? He gave His orders to my superiors." The angel looked at him like he was more than a little slow, but Crowley was too busy being relieved to be bothered. So long as we weren't talking the Big Guy slinging angels into Hell Himself again, it was all good, it was fine ...
"Okay, that's okay. Ssssheesh, don't ssscare me like that!" He coiled himself tight, away from the crazy angel, and shook his head gently. "Listen, kid, sssome free advice? Ordersss ... so long as they're not direct from the sssource, well ... sssometimes they need a little ... creative reinterpretation, you follow me?"
The angel stared at him blankly. "No."
What had he done to deserve this? Well. Recently, anyway? "Look, I'm just saying ... you look more than a little beat, kid. These orders, they'll probably allow for you to head back up for reinforcements, right? I mean, you weren't sssent here alone, were you?"
The angel clamped his mouth shut. Tight.
Crowley blinked. "Right. So. Not alone?"
The angel stared at him defiantly for a long moment, then turned his head away, lowering his eyes to the floor. His shoulders slumped. "I believe I am alone now," he said, very quietly.
Oh. Well shit. And that was bad, and horrible, and he'd probably feel sorry for the little guy in just a minute, but the panic was creeping back up his spine, because if all the other angels sent down here were ... "Who were they?" he hissed, soft and gentle, and trying not to show how eager he was for an answer. Trying to make it an invitation for a memorial, and not an interrogation, when all that was going through his head was Aziraphale. "Had you ... known them long?"
The angel squinted at him, fiery and chill and somehow blue, altogether more interesting that Crowley's current serpentine shape, but since it got the job done, and kept Alastair from going for the more time-intensive tortures, he wasn't complaining. It was the thought of Alastair getting his grubby psychopathic little hands on an angel, any angel, but most especially ... He resisted the urge to throttle the answers out of the kid. Subtlety, Crowley, subtlety. That's how you've managed to get everything in your life, you can hold it together long enough to get a few answers with it ...
"They were my brothers," the angel said at last, soft and tired and reproachful. "They were my garrison. We had served together ... for a long time."
Garrison. As in ground troops. Not spooks. Not agents. Not Aziraphale. Crowley almost collapsed in relief. "I ... I'm sorry," he rasped, not exactly convincingly given that he was all but doing a limbless happy dance, but then the angel hadn't come here expecting sympathy from a demon, had he?
"I'm sure," the angel growled, ferocity banked into a low, smouldering glare, and Crowley shook his head, almost amused, almost enchanted.
"Hey, it's not like it's in my job description," he placated gently, and smiled a little. "But I am sorry. I've almost lost ... there's people I've worked with a long time, and the thought of losing them ... I am sorry. Not much. But a little."
The angel stared at him, radiating skepticism almost as strongly as he was radiating Grace, and Crowley abruptly decided that he liked the little bugger. Anyone who could fight his way through Hell, lose his mates, get beaten up, captured by a snake-demon, used as a heater, interrogated, and, to add insult to injury, treated to apparent false sympathy, and still manage to make it look like he was looking down his glowy nose at you ... well, that was just enough bastardry in an angel for Crowley to take a shine to him. And because of that ...
"Look," he said, carefully. "You've done me a bit of a favour, here, breaking the binding on me. Which means I can hopefully bugger off and get the Hell out of Dodge before Alastair realises I'm gone, and that's always a good thing. So maybe I owe you a little favour, you follow? If you were looking, for example, for a way out of here ..."
The angel stared at him, rank suspicion and maybe, just a little, in the tired, battered part of him that desperately wanted to go home so he could mourn his brothers in peace, maybe just a little bit of hope. Just enough to be going on with. Just enough for Crowley to wheedle into cooperation, and hopefully get the little bastard out of here before he went and got himself killed. Which, judging by the state of him, probably wouldn't take too long.
"I ..." the angel started, frowning, staring a hole through Crowley's head as if he could discern his motives just from looking. Which he couldn't, not here, but even if he had, Crowley had an idea he wouldn't say no. "I ... cannot."
He blinked a bit. "Excuse me?" he said, because hello! Hell, people! All anyone ever wanted down here was a ticket right the fuck back out. With the possible exception of Alastair, but Crowley preferred not to think about that nutcase.
"I cannot leave Hell," the angel said again, quietly, with the soft, implacable determination Crowley had so often seen in Aziraphale on the really bad days, the really bad jobs. "I cannot leave until I have completed my mission. I cannot leave until I have found what I came for."
"Even if it kills you?" Crowley prodded, aghast, but when it came down to it, not particularly surprised. Like he said. He recognised the look.
"Yes," the angel said. Just that. Flat and calm and absolute. Yes. I'm here until I find what I came for, or die trying. Yes.
Bloody hell. Could no-one upstairs ever engage a little survival instinct without prompting?
"You really mean that," he asked, already knowing the answer, but asking again just to sure. Just to be absolutely sure. The angel shot him a dark look, as if to say 'I know what you're doing here, I'm not stupid, you can't get with words what your brethren tried by force. I will not leave. I cannot leave. So shut up already, and let me get on with it.'
Why the hell did Crowley find that so bloody attractive in an angel? It was stupidity, of the kind he abhorred in humans, but on an angel, with that Grace and that quiet resolution ...
"What do you need, then?" he sighed, head drooping to the floor as he realised he was going to do this. He was actually going to do this. Not because he was getting soft in his old age or anything, mind you! No. But because he liked this angel, who reminded him a lot of Aziraphale in his more determinator moods, and because the angel would never forgive him if he ever found out that Crowley had made his own escape and left one of Aziraphale's brothers down here. In Hell. Where they did nasty, nasty things to angels.
The angel stared at him some more. Confusion, this time. A sort of signature bewilderment that Crowley suspected only this particular angel could pull off. He sighed, shaking his head, and tried a little grin.
"Look. Like I said. I owe you a favour. And I don't like owing people things. Especially angels, because you lot are seriously anal-retentive about debts getting paid, and I just don't want to have to think about that, okay? I'm not offering to carry you out of here on my back, or anything. But I know my way around here, and since you look more than a little lost, maybe I can point you in the right direction, at least?" He shot a pointed look at the black wounds weeping through angelic Grace, at the way some of them were partially healed, proving exactly how long the poor bastard had been stuck down here looking. "Come on. At this point, have you actually got anything to lose, trusting me a little bit?"
The angel closed his eyes, summoning patience from somewhere, shutting down pain and fear as much as he could, thinking about it. Thinking it through. And then, because the little guy really wasn't stupid, he opened his eyes, met Crowley's gaze for a long second with fierce, defiant purpose, and nodded. Just the once.
"Alright!" Crowley grinned, swaying up to meet the angel's gaze better, head bobbing to and fro in a way that coaxed a little flicker of a smile out of the battered angel. Crowley grinned at him. "So! What do you need, angel? Oh. And what's your name, too?" Because he couldn't keep calling the bastard 'angel' in his head. There was only one person that epithet truly belonged to in Crowley's world, and this guy wasn't it.
But he might be close.
The angel blinked at him, a roll of wry, sneaky amusement flickering through him, and he smiled back at Crowley. "My name is Castiel," he said at last, lips quirked wryly. "And I am searching for the Righteous Man. He has been here ... thirty nine hell years, four months, and two weeks, and I must find him as soon as I can."
Thirty nine ... "Are you telling me you've been rooting around down here for more than thirty years," Crowley breathed, aghast, and Castiel nodded grimly. Well shit. The kid was obviously much, much better than Crowley had given him credit for, to have survived that freaking long in this game. "Who in Manchester's name are you, kid? The Terminator?"
Castiel frowned, expression going absolutely blank. "I do not ... understand ..."
Crowley shook his head hurriedly. "No. Never mind. But seriously. You're obviously much better than you look, kid, to have managed this long. Well done." And it sounded false, he knew it sounded false, but it wasn't. It was genuine admiration, and it got another little smile from the angel, so he didn't care. "Alright, kid. We'll get your Righteous Man, right enough, and then we'll get the pair of you out of here, because after all that you deserve a break. Maybe a holiday. Tahiti's lovely, you know. All warm sun and pretty girls. The sand's a bit of a problem, mind, especially if you happen to have scales, but it's worth it ..."
Castiel smiled at him, bemused and tolerant and too damn tired to give a crap, Crowley thought, but the angel staggered to his feet, pulled open the door to let Crowley slither through, and followed him gamely enough. And if Crowley was a really bad person, if he were really evil, he knew he could lead the kid to his death right now, and be followed.
However, he rather thought that if he tried it, he'd be tripped right along into the final journey after the bugger, because anyone who'd made it through nigh on forty years in Hell had to be more than a little dangerous.
No. No. Best just to point him at his Righteous Man, whoever that was, let him do whatever needed to be done, and then bugger the hell off, climb back to Earth, find Aziraphale and tell his angel that his brothers were all freaking nutters of the highest order. And then get drunk. Very, very drunk. And possibly cuddle his very own celestial heater for a while, because twenty years of freezing his serpentine ass off didn't just go away.
Actually, now that he thought of it, he really needed to give the kid a little talk on who he was allowed to mention Crowley's little scoop-and-snuggle to. Namely no-one. Though admittedly the kid didn't actually know who Crowley was, yet, since he hadn't given him his name or anything, but one could never be too careful with his reputation ...
Now if the winged bastard would just wait up a moment ...