Devil Is in the Details
By Anne Higgins
Pouring two-fingers of his finest single malt into a crystal glass, he considered the situation. He should have been suspicious when Lilith had called in a favor to broker an exceptionally harsh arrangement for one of the Winchesters. Seemed like all of Hell was obsessed with that family. He shook his head. An unhealthy emotion obsession. Seldom led to rational thinking and wise decisions. It should have given Crowley pause, but to his embarrassment he'd merely noted the request for a fairly standard 'soul for loved one's life' exchange and hadn't thought to disagree with the alteration of the usual '10-years, then straight to Hell' clause.
After all, the Winchesters had an annoying habit of killing his kind. For Hell's sake they'd even managed to kill Azazel. Unfortunately, too little too late on that front. Lilith had managed to escape Hell along with several of her more zealous riffraff and Dean Winchester's deal would ensure the grand plan stayed on course. No, it really didn't work for Crowley.
He had more than a few psychics on the payroll and one of them had spilled the proverbial beans. The detail and directness of her visions had amazed even him, and he'd been around almost since Lucifer's fall. He assumed some machinations by his future self along with the energy shockwave of Sam Winchester dispatching one of Crowley's favored lieutenants. Should never have sent more than a low-grade minion to handle the deal, favors owed or not. Ah, well, live and learn.
Live. Therein lie the rub. He liked living. And in the standard to which he'd become accustomed. He had not appreciated in the least the visions of his home burning down, his tailor's demise or a life on the run. Very difficult to enjoy the finer things when fleeing for one's life, and Hell knew a good tailor was worth more than half the souls in his thrall. On the other hand, it seemed more than obvious the way to avoid all this was to keep Dean Winchester as far from Hell as possible. But how to do it in a manner that did not result in equal ruin?
Of course as King of the Crossroads, he did have the authority to dismiss any deal, but no, he couldn't see it working out well. There were plans within plans within plans in motion. Interfering in that sort of thing tended to ruffle the wrong sort of feathers. Worse, since such deals were his dominion, the failure to collect payment always weakened him. No, wouldn't do at all.
What he needed was a new deal. Within one, he had literally unmatched power. Some careful wording and he could wipe all memory of the original from the books. No memory of it, no retribution. But to make certain of it, he needed two results – Lilith sent back to Hell along with all of her cascading plans and a personal benefit to himself. The first would ensure the obliteration of the annoying future, the other would seal things so tightly nothing could ever undo it. Including himself. Fortunately, Crowley possessed an eye for beauty and a vivid imagination so the details quickly came together in his mind. Unfortunately, everything rested on the cooperation of Dean Winchester. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a problem.
Only the threat of the literal end of the world had compelled their future selves into an alliance. Given the young fool's reputation, he would reject any such thing when only his own undervalued life hung in the balance. It would require hours of tedious explanations to someone who would be disinclined to listen as well as homicidal. No, not a situation of which he wanted any part.
Crowley sighed and poured himself a second drink. He favored a straight forward approach to things when the stakes were high, but no, too dangerous and far too unlikely to lead to successful results. Stealth it was, then. Damn. To his annoyance, he could not even risk delegating the work. Secret shared and all that. How utterly inconvenient. Ah, well, he would be certain young Winchester made it up to him.
Didn't matter how drunk he got or how high his sexcapades sent his endorphin levels, Dean dreamed of Hell. Of chains suspending him from hooks while some … thing cut into him over and over again while a voice whispered that all he had to do to stop the pain was take his torturer's place. For weeks the same nightmare haunted him, then it changed. His dreamself said yes, got off the rack and began carving up other souls. Made the food and drink he'd been binging on taste like ashes. And getting it up? Forget about that. Color him a monk.
Damned to Hell for all eternity and he couldn't shut off the coming attractions loop. Stupid words like 'unfair' kept popping into his mind and could he be more pathetic? First lesson a Winchester learned -- life was freaking unfair. Why should Hell play by better rules? And no, he did not doubt he was seeing his future right down to his pathetic caving in and picking up the knife. Knew it with the same certainty Sammy'd had about his own visions.
At least … at least it put an end to all thoughts he had about being a good man who didn't deserve to go to Hell. No better than a damned demon. Fuck, he was worse. At least a demon never denied what it was. Despair became a weight around his neck, and five weeks after he'd traded his soul for Sam's life, Dean crawled into a bed and pulled the covers over his head. Figured if he stayed there until the end he couldn't make things worse. Yeah, right.
Sam, of course, wouldn't leave him be. He hauled Dean's ass back out of bed long enough to get him to Bobby's. Like Bobby could help. Made it worse in some ways. Another person he loved watching his slow slide to Hell provided zero comfort. Laughter began invading his dreams. Some balding dick telling a joke about 'two brothers walk into a bar, then start the Apocalypse.'
Dean didn't get it, but he understood the punchline – all his fault. When he failed to man-up and take his well-deserved torture like the miserable failure he was, when he cut into that first soul, he would break a seal on a cage holding Lucifer himself.
He tried to kill himself when that sunk in. Sam stopped him before he could cut deep enough into his wrist, then his brother and Bobby tied him down to the bed. Ironic since they'd spent every moment up to then trying to get him out of it. They kept him trust up until it sunk in killing himself would only send him to Hell faster. Wouldn't prevent a damned thing.
Details grew vague, yet somehow the vividness remained as the dreams entered a third stage. He got that somehow, after he'd screwed up on a cosmic level, he would escape Hell like Dad did, but not the how. A blur of color and sound followed until, he saw blood, a church, Sam and a blinding white light. Then came flashes of fights, Horsemen, and friends dying. It ended with Sam falling into a hole in the ground.
In his dreams Dean dropped to his knees and knew he'd lost his brother forever. It felt worse than death, worse than the knives of Hell cutting him apart. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't. …
A hand griped his shoulder and he looked up at a stocky man in some fancy suit. "Don't worry, darling," the guy said in a British accent as elegant as his clothes. "Daddy will make it all right."
The dreams went back to the beginning. Of hanging from hooks in Hell. Except, "Don't worry, darling. Daddy's here." Each time something tried to hurt him, the dude showed up. Took the knives away. Got him off the rack and held him in his arms. A shift and Dean picked up the knife to make that first cut, break that first seal. A hand closed on his wrist. "Mustn't, mustn't, darling. Or Daddy will have to spank." Dean dropped the knife and collapsed against fine silk.
He started waking up hard instead of terrified. Which made no sense. Guy wasn't his type. When he indulged with a dude, he at least liked the illusion his partner could take him, and he loved getting manhandled. So why the fuck was he popping wood for a guy he towered over? Made no sense. But as each and every nightmare turned into British Dude saves the day, Dean began to get a warm, safe feeling in his gut whenever he thought of him.
A month after he'd crawled between the sheets to wait for death, Dean got out of bed without either Bobby or Sam dragging him. His legs felt weak enough from lack of use to make showering a challenge, but he regained his strength rapidly as he began eating and moving around again.
Every night he dreamed of the man, of him holding Dean. Safe. As long as he was with him. He began to want more than soft words and hugs. His dreamself acted on the desire and tried to remove the fancy suit. "Ah, ah, ah," the dude chided him, capturing his wrists in strong hands. "None of that until Daddy decides you're ready for it."
Dean whined, pleaded, even tried to use his own version of Sam's freaking puppy eyes, but those hands relentlessly kept him from his goal, forcing him to wake up frustrated. Three nights of this and Dream-Dean broke. "Daddy," he wailed, "let me!"
A huge smile split his cockteasing tormentor. "There's a good love, I knew you had it in you." And then he whispered an address into Dean's ear.
Dean woke up a moment later. He did not race for the door. He could have. Sam and Bobby trusted him again, and they'd already started looking for signs of Lilith so they could all get back to hunting down her skanky ass. Yeah, so he could have run out the door and into mystery dude's arms, but, contrary to popular belief, Dean wasn't an idiot. And he knew he'd been played.
Bitch had sent him spiraling into a suicidal depression, then got him all hot and bothered by playing his knight-in-Armani. And the funniest thing about it? The smirk 'Daddy' wore said loud and clear he expected Dean to not only figure it out, but to still show up. Armed. Worst idea ever. But somehow the guy had done a cha cha through Dean's mind despite every ward covering Bobby's place. Made him a huge threat. And they had their plate more than full dealing with Lilith and her merry band of demon-scum.
He spent the next few hours cleaning his guns and thinking things over. Smart money said accept the invite, but use the Colt the second Dean saw the dude. And, no, not gonna happen. Guy had gotten Dean's subconscious to trust him, which meant Dean would hesitate for a few precious seconds. Probably all the time something with that sort of mojo needed to get whatever it wanted.
Neither Sam nor Bobby would share Dean's trust compulsion, but that solution smelled of falling into a carefully laid trap. So, no. Dean either went alone or they all stayed far away. Would the nightmares come back if Dean didn't go? He had the feeling they might and the very idea made him nauseous. Couldn't risk summer rerun season. Another round like the first would shred his mind, make him even more vulnerable when he hit Hell. He had to go. Alone. And yeah, armed, but he packed his .45, not the Colt.
Dean was damned. Had less than ten months to go before the Hellfire premiere. Made him fucking expendable. The Colt was not and getting Dean to hand it over might have been the whole point of this little mindfuck.
Leaving was as simple as checking the fridge for supplies then announcing he was going into town to remedy the lack of ice cream problem. Their noses buried in a dozen old books, neither Bobby nor Sam did more than grunt to acknowledge they'd even heard him. Dean couldn't help but smile at how utterly normal the whole thing felt.
His smile transformed into a grin as he slipped behind the wheel of the Impala. "Hey, baby," he said, starting her up. "I missed you." Gave him a rush to feel the power of her engine again. He'd honestly never thought he'd leave Bobby's again this side of death. Not sure how he felt about doing otherwise, but he knew he loved riding in his baby. It helped soothe him, calm him enough to deal with whatever mess he was heading into.
He drove into Souix Falls, then to the far side of town. Address led him to a boarded up gas station. He sat starting at it for several minutes before the bay doors opened. Not a soul around, but no way in Hell he was driving his baby into an enclosed space. Almost as if in answer, the doors on the far side opened, too. He could drive through. Didn't seem like the smart thing to do, but worst case – he died and went to Hell. And oh, yeah, he was doing that anyway. So, what the … Hell.
Dean hit the gas, determined to go barreling across the garage in less than two seconds. Except the minute the Impala breached the threshold, she stopped, perfectly parked in a gleaming garage. The place looked like a catalog for luxury cars. Eight of them. Various shades of red and two black. All screaming of sex, wealth and power. Shit. What had he gotten himself into?
A door on the far wall opened, but nothing entered. And after a few moments, Dean decided to take the hint, got out of his car, and walked out of the garage and onto the grounds of an estate that looked a lot like one of the non-creepy versions of Wayne Manor he remembered from when he was a kid. Okay, he got it. Mr. Armani had big bucks as well as a supernatural pipeline. Great. Just freaking great.
The door closest to the garage opened. Whatever. Dean started walking, letting phantom doors opening as needed guide him to a study. And there was his mystery dude standing at a polished wood liquor cabinet, casually pouring amber liquid into two fancy glasses. Dean bit back the urge to say, 'Daddy?'
The man chuckled. "It's all right, darling. We should have pet names for one another, and I know that one gives you a particularly warm, squishy feeling."
Another fucking mind reader. "Who are you?"
"Ah, where are my manners? Crowley's the name," he said and held out one of the crystal tumblers.
A drink sounding like the best idea Dean had heard in years, he took it, then sniffed. Scotch. And it smelled as expensive as the cars and probably cost about as much. Not wanting the headrush of too much booze, too fast after so many weeks of going without, Dean sipped at it. And yeah, good stuff. "So Crowley, you want to tell me why you've been hanging around in my dreams?"
"Straight to business. That's what I like. Conveniently, it is also the answer to your question."
Crowley smirked an 'isn't he cute' sort of smirk. "I needed you to ask questions, instead of shooting first and regretting the lack of answers later."
That made … an annoying amount of sense. "And the nightmares? They were visions of my future, weren't they?"
"As clever as you are beautiful." He took a sip from his own glass, then gestured toward a leather sofa. "Our task, darling, is to avoid any such thing happening."
Yeah, Dean could get behind that. So he joined Crowley on the sofa. But he did make a point of sitting as far away from him as possible. Earned him another one of those 'isn't he cute' grins. Dean scowled back, took another sip of booze, then asked, "So how do we avoid it?"
"Why, by making certain you don't go to Hell, of course."
Dean snorted. "Oh, is that all." His next swallow was a little deeper. "And just how we do that?"
"Well, a deal got you into this mess, didn't it. Seems only fair that another one get you out."
"You can do that?"
"So you're a crossroads demon." No big surprise there. At least on the demon part.
Crowley gave him a sheepish smile. "Well, this is a little awkward, but I’m actually the one in charge of that type of operation. Sort of the King of the Crossroads."
Fuck. And Sam always gave him a hard time about Dean's taste in women. Wait until he heard Dean was panting over one of the big time demons. Yeah, fuck. Should have brought the Colt after all. "What do you want?" he asked, curious despite his battered sense of self-preservation's shouts to haul ass out of here. "You've already got my soul in hock."
"Yes, but before we go on, we've basically exhausted the protection of curiosity. I need you to initiate negotiations."
"A deal to negate the first one while obviously retaining the desired benefits."
"Precisely. Now, really, I must insist. Say your line like a good princess."
"Fuck you," Dean muttered, then sighed. Like he'd said, Crowley already had his soul, so what else did he have to lose? "I'm interested in making a deal. That good enough?"
Crowley's shoulders rose and fell in a dramatic sigh of relief. "Perfect. Now down to details." He gave Dean a long assessing look. "Much as it pains me to break a policy of long standing, I'm going to give you the benefit of my extensive experience. An Idiot's Guide to Selling Your Soul, so to speak."
"Oh, good," he muttered, but hey, he managed not to roll his eyes.
"First, distraction is your friend. There is a reason my minions favor possessing extremely attractive people when brokering deals." He batted a finger against Dean's leather jacket. "And you are the prettiest princess in all the land."
Dean did roll his eyes this time, but he got the hint, and stripped off his coat and the shirt underneath it, leaving only a snug black t-shirt covering his torso. Crowley made a 'go on' gesture, then glanced at Dean's boots. "Fine," he sighed, and removed his boots and socks. "Happy?"
"It does improve the ambiance of things." Crowley finished his drink, then got up and poured another one. "By the way, alcohol has no effect on a possessed human body, so never make the mistake of trying to match a demon drink for drink," he said when Dean gave the low levels of his own glass a mournful look.
"And you're currently riding? …"
"An extremely successful literary agent, who enjoyed all you see courtesy of a deal he made with me in the early 70s. I even gave him an extra ten years to enjoy it in exchange for the use of his body and a will naming his son, i.e. me, as his heir, when it was time for him to depart. I never have enjoyed the whole sharing of personal space thing."
Okay, so there was no poor bastard inside screaming to get out while Dean bargained away whatever Crowley had decided he wanted. Good to know, although he'd confirm it before they finished up.
Crowley returned to the sofa. To Dean's surprise, he maintained the distance between them instead of using it as an excuse to sit closer. "Now where were we? Ah, yes, details. Always be specific. These deals are always very literal. Never trust things to implications or assumptions." He pushed a pad of paper and a pen along the coffee table and toward Dean. "Writing it down is a good idea almost no one thinks of. It lets you see exactly what you have and haven't asked for, and then you may simply point to it and say, 'I want this.'"
Dean snatched them up, then glared at Crowley. "How 'bout we cut the bullshit lesson and you tell me what you want me to ask for?"
"Such impatience," Crowley tutted. "Probably has something to do with your pitifully short lifespans."
Pressing pen to paper, Dean upped the wattage of his glare. "The details? Starting with Sam staying alive."
"Ah, actually, he'll die again for approximately a tenth of a second. During which time it is within my power to cleanse the demon blood and all side effects from his body permanently. Which will render him utterly useless in any future world-ending schemes and restore him to the natural 'kill on sight status' your average hunter enjoys."
Right. Details. Important. He wrote it all down. "I want him guaranteed 100% Sammy," he said, remembering Azazel's taunt.
"Oh, he already is. Azazel always did love pulling the wings of flies, but such tampering would be a complete violation of the bargain. Unless, of course, you requested it?"
"I thought not. Now with the continued health of your dear sweet brother settled, we must move on to Lilith. Request she, and all the others who escaped, be returned to Hell with no memory remaining anywhere outside this room of it ever happening." Another sip of whiskey, and Dean found his eyes lingering on the elegant fingers holding the glass.
He gave himself a shake. Distraction cut both ways. "Dad escaped, too. I'm not sending my father back to Hell."
"Very good, young Padawan, you can be taught." Crowley patted Dean's arm in congratulations. "I will plant the memory that John Winchester was the only one to make it through before your lot closed it again."
As Dean wrote, he asked, "Not that I mind kicking her ass back downstairs, but what do you get out of it?"
"Ah, yes. Not a well known fact, but she is actually the final seal on Lucifer's cage. No matter how many seals are broken, she must be killed to free him. Since she can't be killed in Hell, the Apocalypse will reset by 10,000 millennia. Give or take a century or two. So world saved and no fall into the pit for young Sammy."
Dean's blood went cold. She was the final seal? They'd been so certain hunting her down would save him. Instead … he swallowed the last of his drink and his hand shook when he set the empty glass on the coffee table. "Okay, Lilith, Hell. Good."
"That concludes the necessities of the agreement. Was there anything else you wanted? I guarantee you won't get this opportunity again so taking advantage of it would be wise."
Wanted? "Can you bring back Dad? Jess? Or even M-" his voice faltered and for some reason Crowley moved close, his presence sort of soothing. Like in the dreams.
"I'm sorry, love, but there's a very short statute of limitations on bringing back the dead. It's why I have to kill Sam momentarily to unkill him. And even if there weren't time limits, it is neigh unto impossible to drag a soul out of either Heaven or Hell if it truly belongs were it is."
He nodded. He'd kind of expected at least the first part.
"And Sammy's little blonde piece of fluff could never cope with a Winchester no longer hiding who he really was. She's much better off upstairs frolicking with her illusion of Sam."
Yeah, Dean sort of guessed that, too.
"However, if you want your brother to find a suitable mate, I can make certain Sam crosses paths again with the lovely young thing from the auction house."
"Sarah Blake." Dean remembered her well. Always thought Sam had really missed out by not pursuing a relationship with her. He started to write it into the agreement, then frowned. "No making one fall in love with the other. It happens if it happens."
Crowley held up his hands in surrender. "My word on it. I provide the meeting. The rest is up to them."
Dean gave him a questioning look, and Crowley rolled his eyes. "Perhaps something less spectacular than raising the dead or finding true love? Something mundane? Like the removal of a threat?"
Threat? Somehow he didn't think Crowley was offering to destroy any evil thing in existence – especially since he was one of them. Then it clicked. They had more than stuff that went bump in the night after them. "You can get rid of our records? Make the evidence against us go away? Get Hendrickson off our backs?"
"Thank you! I thought I was going to have to put it to music or something."
He glared, but put it on the list. Only he hesitated about how to phrase the Hendrickson thing. "You'll tamper with his mind?"
"I can, but it won't be necessary. He's about seen the light in regards to you two. You're scheduled to meet up again week after next. Should end better for all concerned, and achieve the gross details. I'll assist with the finer points. Anything else?"
Dean smiled, deciding to get into the pie in the sky spirit of things. "An expense account to cover all expenses. For me, Sam and Bobby. Plus health insurance. Really good health insurance."
Crowley looked impressed. "Well, aren't you a man after my black heart. I suppose you'll want dental, too?"
Dean nodded. When they finished, he went over the list. Three times. Then wrote Crowley can't lie to me. Even by omission. Starting now or no deal.
The demon got a sour look on his face, but nodded. "Take all the fun out of things, why don't you."
Satisfied Dean set the pad down. "This is what I want," he said tapping it. "So what's the price tag?"
"The usual tender won't do, I'm afraid."
"Because Lilith already owns my soul."
"No, you'll get it back when I void the deal, but it's not enough. For one thing, an even swap would delay your arrival in Hell for a decade, but you'd still have to go. Should be safe enough with everything else we've discussed, but I'd rather not take the chance. Besides an even exchange lacks the oomph I'm after."
"Two options. You get someone to share the cost. Given the Winchester way of self-sacrifice, it shouldn't be difficult to draw Sam's soul into the bargain. But that simply gives you company in Hell, and, again, best avoided entirely."
"Yeah, that's a no on Sammy. As in Off. The. Table. Or I get the Colt."
"Don't be so touchy, princess. You were the one who put the full disclosure clause into our contract."
Dean gritted his teeth and ground out, "Option two?"
Crowley smiled. Kind of like a shark smelling blood in the water. "Your soul stays in your body and I take possession of the entire package."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Fancy way of saying you want my ass." Almost relieved to hear the whole minor striptease Crowley had him do hadn't been a misdirect away from the real punchline.
"An arch enemy willing giving himself over to me? There is great power in that sort of bargain, Darling." Crowley admitted. "But therein lies the rub."
"The 'willing.' We're talking consent issues here."
Dean frowned. "If I agree to the deal, I give my consent. What's the problem?"
"That's not consent. That's deciding getting fucked on silk sheets trumps the rack and all those knives in Hell. You have to want me to seal this deal."
"Your dreamwalk already did that."
Crowley shook his head. "I merely showed you I was the way to save the day. You added the rest." He gave Dean a smirking leer. "I knew you had daddy issues, but had no idea how you'd put them to work."
Dean blushed hotly. He never liked it when people – or demons – robbed him of all deniability. "So maybe I kind of like … silk suits and British accents."
Crowley smirked. "The accent gets them every time."
"Yes, actually I am. And evil. Not something you should forget." He leaned forward and whispered into Dean's ear, "But I'm also in the position to indulge every deep, dark fantasy your cock-hungry little ass ever had."
Dean's mouth went dry and he started to lean towards Crowley. Then something occurred to him. "I'm a hunter."
"I noticed. Arch-enemy, remember? It's what makes it all so sweet."
"I keep hunting. No 24/7 sex slave."
Crowley pouted. "Fine. I should have expected as much. Hands off during all hunts." Then his eyes narrowed. "Provided you never make me the subject of a hunt or deliberately set out to interfere with my dealings. And that includes no hints, suggestions or encouragement to others to do it for you."
Dean scowled, but nodded. He snatched up the pad and wrote in the new conditions. He slammed it back down on the table, then said his line, "I want this in exchange for … me."
"Done," Crowley said, and Dean pressed up against him, drawing the demon into a kiss to seal both the deal and his own fate.