The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn (4/?)
Takes place after the events of 12x12 “Stuck in the Middle With You”.
Castiel has been in love with Dean ever since he first laid a hand on him in Hell all those years ago. But finally, painfully, he realises Dean will never return his feelings and forces himself to move on. Dean misses the presence and attention of his angel, and comes to some realisations of his own.
“Go back to whatever damn hell hole you crawled out of, and just leave me alone. All right?”
Castiel is in no mood, no mood at all, for this bullshit. He takes a deep swallow from his drink and rubs a hand over his tired face. The bar is too warm, too loud, and too crowded even without the sudden unwanted company. He’s fine on his own, moping.
“Oh come now, Feathers, is that any way to greet an old friend?”
Crowley sighs, flicks his finger and a chair slides out from under the table in the bar Castiel has been lurking in, and he takes a seat opposite the morose angel.
“Who says we’re friends?” Cas gripes at him, glaring darkly. He doesn’t have the energy for wittier comebacks: his head is pounding, overrun with a thousand thoughts, and he hasn’t got room to sift through them all to find the perfect way to drag the King of Hell. That and he just can’t be bothered.
“Oh, the old ‘saving your life’ thing, perhaps I thought that would be enough. Although you’ve never been particularly appreciative of that in the past, so I don’t know why I assumed this time would be any different.” Crowley eyes the fallen angel with curiosity, then frowns. “What exactly are you doing out here on your lonesome, anyway?”
“Meditating. What does it look like? Just go away, Crowley. I’m not in the mood.”
“Meditating, hmm? And how is that particular brand of meditation working out for you?” Crowley gestures at the neat Jack in Castiel’s grip, then signals the waitress over. “I’ll have whatever he’s having. And he’ll have another.”
Crowley studies the angel carefully for a while. He looks a wreck. His hair is messed up as though he’s run his hands through it a hundred times, he hasn’t shaved in more than a day or two, and his trench coat looks more dishevelled than normal. He’s sitting with his shoulders hunched, both hands clasping his glass of amber liquid and is staring down into it as though it holds the key to the meaning of life. Crowley almost rolls his eyes at how pitiful Castiel looks. Almost.
“So what exactly are you doing out here in - where the hell are we? Because if it’s R&R you’re after, I can recommend some much more salubrious places.”
“I needed some space,” Cas grouches. “Which is exactly what I was getting before you turned up.”
“Three days worth of space?” The demon arches an eyebrow. “My my, those boys and their mother must be hard to live with.” Castiel doesn’t respond, and Crowley huffs out a long, exaggerated sigh. “Don’t be sad about squirrel, wings. He’ll come around.”
Crowley, if he were human or anyone but Crowley, would have reached across the table at this point to rub Cas’ arm supportively. The demon just sips his drink with calculating eyes and watches Cas react.
“That’s just it!” Cas runs an anxious hand through his hair, meeting Crowley’s eyes for the first time as the demon is surprised to find them red-rimmed. “I don’t want him to ‘come around’. I want - wanted - him to…wait a second, how did you know…”
“Details, details.” Crowley waves a hand dismissively, it at Castiel’s hardened glare he rolls his eyes instead. “All right, fine. I was eavesdropping while trying to decide whether or not to save your life. And I thought I’d let you get your little speech out of the way before making an entrance. You get me?”
Castiel drops his forehead to the table and huffs out a dejected sigh. Add Crowley to the list of people who know he’s just Dean’s rejected, pitiful best friend and nothing more. That was exactly what he wanted. He sits up, downs the rest of his drink in one gulp, and signals for another. Nothing at all is going his way, so why not imbibe copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain? It always worked for Dean…
He curtails that train of thought immediately. Thoughts of Dean ultimately seem to lead to wallowing in self-pity and sadness, which in turn lead to helpless tears, and one thing he would not do in front of the King of Hell was cry. It was unbecoming a Seraph, for starters. Plus, Crowley would never let him forget it.
“Why are you here, Crowley?” Cas gripes, shoving his empty glass away from him and sending the demon a sidelong glance. “If it’s just to gloat, then I really don’t want to hear it.”
“You wound me,” Crowley places a palm over his chest in mock-horror, then rolls his eyes at Castiel’s glare. “OK fine, I have an errand to run and thought that instead of moping around here and depressing everyone who comes across you, you could come along for the ride. We make a good team.”
“No.” Cas’ answer is immediate and firm. “I’m fine here, Crowley, leave me be.” A beat of silence, then, “What kind of errand?”
“Oh, just a few rogue demons running amok who need…a gentle talking to.” Crowley waves his hand, and both their glasses refill with cheap whiskey. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Feathers. I’m doing you a favour. Taking your mind off all the heartache. Squirrel…Dean…will come to his senses sooner or later, so until then you need to keep occupied. Understand?”
“Hmph,” Cas can’t manage anything more coherant. He’s feeling buzzed from the amount of whiskey he’s drunk, and going on a little mission with Crowley is slowly growing in appeal - it beats sitting in this nameless bar and drinking himself into oblivion, anyway. Plus as irritating as the demon is, he does amuse Castiel from time to time, and Heaven knows he requires some cheering up. Perhaps running around after demons with the King of Hell is just the type of catharsis he needs.
“So it’s settled then. Drink up!” Crowley instantly looks more animated as he sees the acquiescence in Castiel’s minute nod. “Oh Feathers, buck up. You and Dean are, how do the humans say it, ‘meant to be’.” He makes air quotes with his fingers, and Castiel rolls his eyes. This turn of conversation isn’t serving to make him any less gloomy.
“I don’t think we are. I think I’ve read it all wrong.” Cas doesn’t feel like baring his soul to the demon, or getting into some heart-to-heart about his unrequited feelings for Dean, but it does feel therapeutic in a way to talk a little. “He just sees me as his friend. His brother. Which is…more than I could ever possibly have hoped for, and I probably need to be content with that and count myself lucky. And I will, I will do that. I do. But…” Cas finishes his drink and blinks a couple of times in quick succession. “It just…hurts.” It’s a weak summary, but Crowley nods in understanding. The angel sighs, shoves his chair away from the table and raises his eyebrows questioningly. “So, where are we heading?”
“Nebraska.” The exit the bar together, both lost in silent thought, until Crowley says, “It will all work out in the end, Feathers. Dean is…” The demon rolls his eyes effusively, as though embarrassed by what he’s about to say. “He’s your lobster.” At Castiel’s blank expression, Crowley exhales in irritation. “Oh, come on! I thought Metatron fixed your pop culture deficiencies? No?”
“If you’re trying to come up with another nickname for us…”
“I’m not. It’s a reference to…oh, never mind, not enough hours in the day. I despair with you, Feathers, I really do. Let’s go.”
And a second later, the spot where the angel and demon had been standing side-by-side was nothing but empty air and disturbed earth.