Bobby gets a proposition from an unlikely source and Balthazar has a really bad feeling about this...
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
In the past week and a half, Bobby had become familiar with the swooping sensation in the pit of his stomach, and the abrupt change in scenery between one moment and the next, which characterized angel travel. It didn't mean he liked it any better his fifteenth time than he had his first.
"I don't care what you are, you lay your hands on me one more time and I'll end you," he growled, staggering away from the still raised fingers of the angel beside him.
Balthazar – and it had taken days before Bobby had gotten that much out of him – snorted and adjusted his coat. "As amusing as it would be to watch you try, I have somewhere else to be."
'I'm getting too old for this shit,' Bobby thought as he glanced around the latest sanctuary he had been dropped off in. He hoped that this time he would at least have plumbing. Apparently an angel's idea of a safe house was anything with four walls and a roof, and didn't necessarily involve furniture.
Wherever he was, it was familiar to him; he knew he had been here before, although he couldn't pinpoint exactly when. The wooden walls and lack of heating told him he was in a cabin somewhere, and glancing around he took in the open-concept space with a small kitchen area, tables and chairs, and an old television. Off to one side, there was a deer's head hanging over a fire place, and a bunk beside it. There was a rickety stairwell off to one side, and two doors – one leading outside, he assumed from the sounds of nature beyond it, and the other probably leading downstairs.
'Basement,' he decided, suddenly realizing where he must be.
It was the safe house he and Rufus had holed up before heading out to Omaha.
It had been years since he'd been here.
"Yes, you have some awful memories associated with this old hovel," Balthazar drawled, bored. "That's what makes it one of the best places to stash you, at the moment." He idly toed a stray ball of dust from his loafers. "It's one of the last places anyone would look for you – and I've already done you the solid of stocking it with food, as I'm going to be gone for a longer spell. There's a rather tense family reunion going on in Bangladesh, and it's only right I put in an appearance."
"You do that," Bobby grunted in a would-be-neutral tone.
The angel's eyes narrowed and he jabbed his index and little finger in Bobby's direction. "Before you decide to pull a runner again, let me remind you that unlike little brother's handiwork, those sigils I carved into your ribs won't hide you from me. And if I have to take the time out of my busy schedule to track you down again, you'll spend the rest of your natural life believing you're a golden retriever. Capisce?"
"Thought you were cut off from Heaven," Bobby replied sourly.
"Oh, I'm sure I've got enough juice to play with your mind a little," Balthazar retorted calmly. "Shall we find out?"
"Doesn't exactly jive with your prime directive right now," Bobby pointed out, not answering the question. "If you ask me, you're a bit overqualified to be babysitting an old hunter."
"If by a 'bit' you mean 'completely', then I'm in agreement with you. But I'm doing the job my brother asked me to do," Balthazar retorted. "So, instead of trying to convince me of something I already know, why don't you sit yourself down and do something marginally useful? Like, I don't know, trying to save your tattered soul?"
Bobby bristled. "Lemme remind you that that 'tattered soul' is the reason the boys were able to put off the Apocalypse indefinitely."
"Believe me, luv, I'm still trying to decide if that was the right course of action – I never wanted the world to end, but I didn't want to have to share it with a colony of cockroaches, either," Balthazar pronounced crisply.
"It's a real wonder why I'm havin' a hard time trusting an angel that thinks I'm no better than an insect," Bobby rolled his eyes.
"It's not my intention to insult you, you know, I'm simply stating a fact," Balthazar articulated crisply. "Look at it from my perspective – there are billions of you, you cover the earth, you never die when you should, you have a tendency to spread disease and panic wherever you go, you ravage God's beautiful world with your very breath –"
"Then why haven't you joined up with Raphael yet?"
Balthazar sighed in a put upon way. "Because for all your faults, humanity remains my Father's favorite creation. And, you've got your good points – chocolate, creative sex, Manchester United. If my brothers had their way, all of that would be nothing but a distant memory." He groaned in exaggerated agony. "I don't know about you, old boy, but if I would sorely miss not being able to start my day with a bottle of Sauvignon and a happy ending."
"That's more information than I ever needed," Bobby muttered.
"Right!" Balthazar said brightly, clapping his hands together. "Well, if we've got that little session of obligatory male bonding out of the way, I've got a rebellion to see to because a certain besotted angel decided to abandon ship." He waggled is fingers at Bobby. "Be good for Daddy, now, and no parties."
And with the tearing sound of wings, the angel was gone.
"I'm gonna fry him," Bobby said decisively to no one in particular.
"Ooh, can I watch?" a familiar voice piped up, making Bobby jump and reach for the colt in his gun holster. The familiar sharp-faced meatsuit of the former King of the Crossroads smirked back at him. "Now's that really how you greet an old work colleague? Especially when you know it won't do anything to me?"
"Old habits," Bobby grunted, still not putting the gun down. "How'd you find me?"
"Your angel bestie thinks he's clever, moving you all around the globe," Crowley remarked conversationally, eyes roving judgementally around the cabin. "The thing is, I learned my lesson from Lilith's little misstep. She might have gotten her hands on your not-sons sooner if she'd bothered keeping track of them. So there's a bit in your contract that allows me to find you whenever I want."
'Great, now I have two stalkers,' Bobby thought to himself. Out loud, he growled, "So what's stopped you?"
"Been a bit busy downstairs, darling. Downsizing is never an easy business – you know, you might want to look into warding the place up against demons," Crowley commented, knocking lightly against the wall of the cabin. "Of course, it's rather moot at this point, seeing as how you're pretty safe."
"Meaning the demons looking for you all think the angels have you – the ones in charge, not your dear renegades – and those angels can't find you because of your lovely rib décor, and all your hunter friends think you were taken out by either of those sides."
"Good to know," Bobby hedged, fists clenched.
"Isn't it, though?"
"Still, there's something I'd rather talk about right now than who's tryin' to kill me this week."
"You mean 'my' soul."
Bobby's fists clenched tighter; he had been afraid that this might happen. Damn angels taking him from his home, he might have been better prepared to deal with Crowley reneging if he had his spell materials!
Still, rather than become ostensibly worried, he forced his voice to remain level. "How's about you hold up your end of our arrangement and give it back."
Crowley adopted a look of innocent confusion. "Give it back? Why Robert, I'm surprised so learned a man as you didn't bother to read your contract all the way through…"
Bobby narrowed his eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Paragraph eighteen, subsection B," Crowley drawled and snapped his fingers. Bobby tensed and felt an uncomfortable ache shoot through his body as writing appeared on his skin, the sensation not unlike having a scraper dragged across him. "I only have to make the "best efforts" to give you soul back. And for all you know, I already have and just, well, couldn't."
The demon snapped his fingers again, and the writing disappeared.
"You lying sack of –"
"Ah-ah-ah, not finished yet, precious," Crowley interrupted. "In case you didn't realize, I've been busy working damage control since we put our archangel Führer back in the box. Your pawned soul isn't exactly on top of my list of to-dos. However," His smirk widened. "I might consider bumping it up the queue if given…an extra incentive."
Bobby felt the blood rush to his face in anger. "You can take your 'extra incentive' and shove it up your ass. I ain't doin' no demon's dirty work."
"Oh, did I give you the impression I was asking?" Crowley purred. "I apologize, I forgot the limited brain capacity I'm working with. Let me provide the Yankee hick translation: I'm blackmailing you." Bobby snarled a wordless curse, while Crowley made another ambling turn about the cabin space. "I have a rather irritating thorn in my side these days. Petite, lips red as blood and eyes to match her black heart? I have it on good authority you're well acquainted."
"You talkin' about Meg?"
"Last I checked, that is what she calls herself these days."
"So why can't you take care of her yourself?"
"You mean in my abundant spare time?" Crowley inquires dryly. "Well, let's see – there's the part where she's the daughter of the last tyrant of Hell, which means she's got her share of supporters that I can't afford to royally piss off directly. Oh, and the fact that she was favored by Lucifer, if that bastard could ever be said to favor a demon. He likely taught her to stay under the radar and bide her time. Meaning I can't find her."
"But you think I can?"
"Oh, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby…I thought you were the intelligent one," Crowley sighs. "Seasoned veteran and all that? What do you think she's doing when she's not trying to upset my new regime?"
Bobby tensed, clenching his fists as he remembered his latest altercation with Meg. She had been more than intent on discovering the whereabouts of the Winchesters, and had come to him to do just that. She was the entire reason that Bobby was currently under angel house arrest.
Crowley nodded, reading Bobby's expression. "There's a good lad, I knew you'd get it."
"So you basically want me to be glorified bait?"
"There's nothing glorified about it. And it's not so much bait as…baiting. Lure her out of wherever she is and send her downstairs so that she and I can have a frank chat, is all I'm asking."
"What's to stop you from keepin' hold of my soul after I do this?"
"Hm," Crowley pretended to muse, and then shrugged. "Well, absolutely nothing. I suppose it will depend on what kind of mood I'm in – but really, it couldn't hurt your chances to give it a go, could it?"
"I can think of something to improve his chances." There was a recognizable flutter of wings, and Balthazar was standing between Bobby and Crowley, his vessel's entire body tense. "Crowley."
"Balthazar," Crowley greeted, unsurprised and at ease. "I see rumours of your demise were greatly exaggerated. If I had known you were the one playing guard dog, I'd have popped in for a pint sooner."
"You owe me five quid, as is," Balthazar returned lazily, taking a step forward. "Unless you're here to pay your tab, kindly sod off."
"Oh, someone's still sore about that girl in Spain," Crowley snorted, and then studied Balthazar with a sardonic smirk upon his lips. He pretended to hide a yawn. "Well, as charming as this little soiree has been, I've got a hell dimension to run and you have a job to do –"
"Not so fast, demon," Balthazar said in a calm voice that did nothing to hide the tension in the tone. And standing behind the angel, Bobby could see the muscles in its vessel's neck twitch. "I have business with you, while you're here."
"Oh?" Crowley feigned a wide-eyed, innocent look.
"A deal was recently made," Balthazar said stiffly. "The collateral was an archangel's grace. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
"I haven't the foggiest what you're on about, mate," Crowley answered mildly. "But I'll tell you what – I'll look into that if you help Robert here on a little chore."
"You think I'm going to make a deal with you?" Balthazar asked, disgust dripping in every syllable.
"Well, you wouldn't be the first," Crowley's eyes twinkled tauntingly. Balthazar made to move forward, but aborted the movement almost as quickly. "Ooh, smart decision there, pet. I think you know that would have been the last cock-up you ever made."
"Are you gonna let your mouth flap in the wind all day, or are you gonna say your piece and get outta here?" Bobby demanded, unnerved by the angel's sudden hesitance. He had never seen an angel back down from taking out a demon – one-on-one, there was no contest between the two. Balthazar's reluctance to attack meant that Crowley had an advantage that Bobby didn't know about, but which the angel obviously did.
"Patience, sunshine. We're all still on the same side, yeah?" Crowley said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He returned his attention to Balthazar. "You help the redneck here get rid of my Meg problem, I'll pony up a significant portion of Hell to keep your megalomaniac brother from bolloxing up the world."
"What's the catch to all this?" Bobby demanded.
"At the moment? Nothing," Crowley answered smoothly. "I just happen to have problems that need attending to, and I don't have time to see to it myself." His expression darkened. "I don't care which one of you gits fixes said problem, so long as it stops being mine." He tipped his head slightly. "Ta."
He was gone before Bobby could blink, leaving him standing in the cabin with a overwrought angel of the lord.
"Thought you were in Bangladesh?"
"I was en route," Balthazar replied darkly. "And then I sensed something powerful heading back here. I didn't think he would be so bold, but then I remembered exactly who we're dealing with."
"So what the hell were you waiting for? Couldn't you have taken him out with a tap on the head?" Bobby demanded.
"Once," Balthazar said darkly, turning to face Bobby. For once, his expression wasn't twisted into the arrogant look of distaste but one of serious anger. "Not anymore."
"Because Crowley isn't just a demon any longer," Balthazar said, narrowing his eyes at the now empty space beside the fireplace, "and I have a rather horrible feeling as to the reason why."