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Title: Burning Bright
Pairings: Crowley/Lilith, with ambiguous bits of Crowley/Dean and Crowley/Lucifer, but not really shippy for any of those things.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: ~3100
Warnings/contains: Animal cruelty; minor character death; spoilers through 12x21.
Summary: “Can some people really talk to animals?” Fergus pipes up.
Mother looks up at him at last, and for a moment he can’t read the expression on her thin face. (
She’d be a bonny one, wi’ enough food.) Finally it resolves: unkind smile, sharp eyes.
“There’s only one thing you need to learn from
them,” she tells him, and nods down at the dead mouse. Its tiny guts have made a dark stain on the floor. “People like me and you? In situations like this, we’re never the cat. So don’t get caught, little mouse.”
Notes:
Me: Hey, I finally have time to write! I should probably finish my rareshipcreationschallenge fic, or the next part of that fantasy AU!
My brain: LOL here's 3k of Crowley's thoughts on wildlife. You're welcome.
This is pretty rough, and unbetaed, but I wanted to put it out there before it gets Jossed.




But rats is hard killing, especially when they wise up to the traps.
- Horatio Clare, The Prince's Pen


Fergus is a wee slip of a boy when he first sees the man.

He tramps down into the village like a bit of the heathland come to life, bearded and smeared in mud, with a red deerskin thrown over his shoulders. Fergus watches from behind the churchyard wall with the other children, one or two of the bigger boys sticking their heads up to stare before ducking back down again. (Fergus is already learning how to manage them; how laugh when they do and to notice all the things they don’t, and keep a list of all their weaknesses inside his head.)

The man pays them no heed and goes on his way. Witchcraft, whispers one small voice. Our Da says he eats children, comes another.

When the man leaves again, small against the skyline on the edge of the heath, long grey shadows cluster at his heels. They say he talks to them. Fergus finally dares poke his head up over the wall, enviously tracking the man and his shadows until they disappear from sight.

One of the bigger boys whacks him on the back of the head for woolgathering, making him start and scrape his elbows on the wall. Fergus scowls and promises himself he won’t get caught out again.

 

----

 



Later, he watches the battle-scarred ginger tom who sometimes haunts his mother’s home dispatch a mouse on the front step, batting it back and forth like a child’s plaything. When the cat is satisfied it’s dead, he picks it up in his mouth and carries it into the one dim room of the house, depositing it at Mother’s feet where she sits before the fire.

It burns high and bright, no matter the time of day, and no matter how little firewood they bring in. Sometimes the children whisper, Witchcraft, about her, too.

The cat looks up at her expectantly. In places, its fur is almost the same red as her hair, most of it looks faded, as though it’s been left out in the pale sun too long. Mother and cat gaze at each other for a moment, as though they’re communicating without words.

“Can some people really talk to animals?” Fergus pipes up.

Mother looks up at him at last, and for a moment he can’t read the expression on her thin face. (She’d be a bonny one, wi’ enough food.) Finally it resolves: unkind smile, sharp eyes.

“There’s only one thing you need to learn from them,” she tells him, and nods down at the dead mouse. Its tiny guts have made a dark stain on the floor. “People like me and you? In situations like this, we’re never the cat. So don’t get caught, little mouse.”

She stoops and scoops the cat up in her arms, scratches the top of its head. Her long fingernails disappear into its fur. Then she nods down at the mouse corpse.

“And get that out of here.”

The cat pushes its head against her hand and gives a contented purr. Fergus does as he’s told.

 

----

 




The last wolf in Scotland is killed when Fergus is nineteen.

He left the village years ago. He has a trade, and ambition, and little thought, most of the time, for what might stalk the edges of civilisation. But he keeps an ear out, and there are whispers for years afterward. Rumours that they’re still out there, in the dark remote corners of the land, hiding from the humans who hunt them.

Sometimes, he still thinks about the man who talked to wolves. Are there others like him still out there on the heathland? Or did the wolves turn their backs on him along with the rest of mankind? Do they still speak the same language?

 

----

 




London, 1890 or thereabouts, and Fergus isn’t Fergus anymore. He’s lost his soul and gained a title, and learned how easy it is to talk a man into Hell with a few little promises of worldly power. He’s watched London blossom into a hole in the world like a great black pit, and now he walks its streets with the queen of demons on his arm.

(There was a wife, once; and a boy lost at sea the better part of two centuries ago. He doesn’t think of them often; and he tells himself he understands, now, why Mother preferred the cat.)

He’s wearing a gentleman doctor. Lilith burns through a succession of East End whores, male and female, depending how on her fancy. Today, the circus has come to Olympia, and Crowley has an appointment.

In the midst of the crowd, a man with wild eyes and no hat stands on a rickety old crate, Bible in hand, and declaims at passers-by. He’s thin, but there’s a surprising boom to his Welsh-accented voice, his r’s rolling theatrically. Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But Lucifer is just a bedtime story Lilith likes to croon against his skin, so Crowley smirks and lets his eyes flash red just to hear her laughter in his ear as the preacher backs away from them into the crowd, stumbling over a rut in the path as he goes.

There are lions in the ring, too. They cower from the chair and the crack of the whip, and when the show is over and the animals back in their cages, you can see that they’re scrawny and flea-bitten.

The audience doesn’t seem to care. The lion-tamer places his arm between the jaws of one of the great beasts, and the crowd holds its breath. A moment later, when he removes it triumphantly unscathed, the collective sigh is somewhere between relief and disappointment. The lion slinks back to its corner on its belly, and the tamer smiles like a king.

Lilith tugs on Crowley’s arm, already bored. “He didn’t even get a little maimed.”

He turns an indulgent smile on her, as though she isn’t the boss here. “Don’t worry, darling. You’ll get your show.”

Out back, it’s quiet. The ringmaster is wealthy from ten years of success, and he doesn’t recognize Crowley at first. (Not entirely a surprise. He was, after all, wearing a Soho dancing-girl when they last met.) “What do you want?” he grumbles at their approach.

Crowley extends a hand. “Just here to collect on what you owe me.”

The ringmaster frowns. “Rent’s paid up until the end of the month.”

Generally, Crowley’s not the type to draw it out. He doesn’t break bones; he makes deals. He leaves the messy side of things to the Alastairs of the world. Still, he’d be lying if he pretended it wasn’t a little bit satisfying to let his eyes turn red, tilt his head, and pout. “Forgotten so soon? You’re hurting my feelings.”

He snaps his fingers, then, and Juliet’s invisible presence materializes beside him, the burr of her growl making the hairs stand up on the back of his meatsuit’s neck.

The ringmaster runs, as they all do, his frock coat—too gaudily embellished to be really tasteful—straining over his barrel chest. The buttons pop off it as his blood spurts, a shining arc through the air. Lilith laughs in delight, her eyes shining. Pale as pearls, cool and hard as those of a bird of prey.

 

----

 




Juliet nuzzles his thigh, and he pats her head in recognition of a job well done. Touching her is a little like brushing through cobwebs and a little like thumbing the edge of a knife. She’s loyal to him, as much as a creature made of shadow and edges and the stink of death can be, and she recognizes his voice.

Still, once in a while, he finds himself thinking about the man who haunted the edge of the village when he was small. The man who spoke the language of wolves.

Hellhounds are useful enough. And he could talk to them, if he wanted. It’s not as though he needs them to talk back. It’s not as though he needs them to understand.

 

----

 




It never ceases to be absurd that Dean Winchester is terrified of dogs.

The first time they meet, the brothers fight their way into his house instead of ringing the doorbell. Dean questions him even after he hands over the Colt and the directions: like a feral creature biting the hand that feeds, suspicious of anything that looks to be freely given.

Lilith is long gone—to her doom with her father’s name on her lips. Crowley always knew she’d fly away (and besides, things started to get a little awkward once she took to swanning around in a pre-teen meatsuit.)

Dean makes him look twice, for the first time in… well, longer than he cares to count. The Apocalypse business, complete with imminent destruction of all demonkind, does tend to put a dent in a man’s libido.

Crowley looks, but that’s all he does for a long time. It’s only later, after he learns what it’s like to be tangled in the Winchesters’ lives, locked in their fucking basement, that he realises what he was looking at. Dean’s vicious loyalty, his desperation, the sharp edges and the mushy centre and the curtain of bad jokes he pulls down over the whole thing. It’s… well. It’s hard to take his eyes off it.

So he keeps a sharp watch, and when he sees an opportunity, he takes it. He leads Dean to Cain, and to the Mark, and from there it’s just a breadcrumb trail to rebirth.

“Let’s go take a howl at that moon,” Crowley says, and Dean wakes and looks up at him with big black eyes, and just for a moment, he imagines being the man with the wolves. Out on the heath in the darkness, with nothing around him but their voices and the cold bite of the night air.

 

----

 




It doesn’t last. Turns out, it’s the whole package that he wants. Without the mushy centre, yes, Dean is easier to pull away from his brother; but there’s no loyalty left in him to anything else, just a cold hollow. When he flashes his black eyes, all Crowley sees in them are his reflection.

Even hellhounds are a demon’s best friend. But human, Dean will never come when he calls. Demon, he’s already snapping and straining at the leash, and sooner or later he’ll turn.

So Crowley lets go. Hands Dean over to his brother, and then gets very, very drunk.

Dean Winchester will never be his. He tries to be philosophical about it; contents himself with the occasional text message, and with Dean being a little quicker to call him for help than his brother would like.

It’s nowhere near enough, but soon enough he has other things to worry about.

 

----

 




Predilections or no, it’s not as if he intends to end up playing cat-and-mouse with the Devil. Lucifer hasn’t been a bedtime story in years; instead, he’s a force of nature, a promise of annihilation, something you shelter from like rain. It’s only when Rowena (Crowley’s trying to stop thinking of her as Mother) summons him to Limbo to pace like a big cat behind the bars of his cell that he becomes a creature.

He looks at Crowley as though he’s already planning to bite his head off. In hindsight, Crowley thinks maybe that’s where it starts.

 

----

 




(Later, Rowena screws him over yet again, sending Gavin back to a watery death. But this time, when she breaks his heart, she hands him a trump card.)

 

----

 




It’s not just about revenge. Not that Crowley underestimates a good old-fashioned grudge as a motivating factor—they’ve netted him plenty of souls over the years—but if it were just that, he’d have made Lucifer dance like a monkey in front of the minions the moment he got the spell working, and then stuck an angel blade through his heart.

Instead, he plays the long game.

Even in chains, Lucifer keeps smirking and rolling his eyes, acting like it’s only a matter of time until he escapes and reclaims the throne. No doubt he’s plotting something with one or another of the demons, but it’ll be sloppy. That’s what happens when you get used to being the most powerful entity in the room, assuming that the top of the pile is your rightful place. Crowley knows better. Don’t get caught, little mouse.

Still, he hesitates a moment, after he’s finished sounding out Hess.

It’s the best plan he has: let Lucifer and the Men of Letters tear at each other, and then pick up the pieces when whoever wins that fight is already limping. It’s simple. (Embarrassing, really, that neither Lucifer nor his little helper shows a hint of suspicion when the spell goes into reverse.) Still, Crowley doesn’t exactly relish the prospect of being tossed around like a ragdoll, or of wearing a twitchy little rodent for the next few days.

The alley where they dump his meatsuit is full of smells and dark corners. They tug at threads of instinct in his little rat-brain. Eat. Hide. It fills the time while he waits for the demons on guard duty to lose interest.

It’s a little too easy, letting himself be pulled along by the animal senses. He can sort of see the appeal of it. Probably goes double if you’re not a prey animal, if fear isn’t hardwired into—

The thought is cut off by a smell that goes straight to his stomach. That keeps happening, sidetracking him. There’s a day-old burger half-eaten in its wrapper on the alley floor, smeared in mayonnaise and relish. Even hungry little Fergus would have turned up his nose, but down here the tang of it is irresistible, and he has his whiskers buried in the mess before he knows what he’s doing.

Then another smell—a living, animal one—catches his attention. An alley-cat prowls around the edge of the dumpster. (Honestly, they haven’t even bothered to bury the body. He’s going to have to have a word about standards, when all of this is over.) Its presence sends the rat’s small heart into overdrive, and he goes very still.

The cat stops, one paw in midair. Turns its head. Its eyes fasten on him.

It’s a ginger tom, with a chunk ripped out of its left ear. In places, its fur is the colour of Rowena’s hair.

The instinct to run floods through him a nanosecond before the cat moves, and he’s ready to scuttle for one of the dark cracks in the alley wall—but then a voice in his head murmurs, little mouse, and he remembers himself, changes course.

Straight into the dumpster and up his vessel’s trouser leg. He nestles against its cold thigh as the cat prowls around outside. It’s an indignity, hiding out with his tail poking up his own boxer shorts.

It’s a kick up the arse. A reminder: it’s all part of the plan.

 

----

 




The demons leave, eventually. One new suit (off the rack, but this is no time to worry about tailoring) and one stiff drink later, he’s ready and waiting. A loyal contact at the FBI tells him the last known location of the missing presidential aide. (Maybe she's seen enough criminal empires brought down to know that Lucifer's way only ever ends in a shootout and a grainy newspaper photograph.) He waits until the news alerts start showing freak storms over the town, and then he makes his move.

The scene on the ground is straight out of a war movie. Hess's SUV a blackened husk; the ground littered with Men of Letters in various states of disembowelment and their discarded toys. Then there are the Winchesters, and Castiel, and Kelly Kline, in various states of groaning dazedness.

Standing in the midst of the carnage, Lucifer turns to face him.

There's a flicker of surprise, just momentary, before the familiar, affected boredom takes over. It's enough. Crowley already knows he's won.

But, "Crowley," Lucifer drawls, apparently oblivious. "I'd say you're my favourite little cockroach, but we both know I'd be lying. Do I really have to step on you again?"

Even in this moment, Crowley’s borrowed heart speeds up a little, the instinctual tingle down his spine tells him to run. That is, he guesses, part of the thrill.

He tamps it down and lifts an eyebrow, supposing he may as well enjoy the theatre. "Stamp your feet if you must. But we both know how this goes by now, don't we? You roar and beat your chest and throw a big noisy tantrum. And then I outsmart you."

"Is that how it goes? I’m pretty sure—”

Crowley snaps his fingers and Lucifer stops dead, his eyes flaring red as the spell clicks into reverse once more. There’s the surprise again.

Then a bright, white flash of grace—and its reflection in the eyes of Kelly Kline, blinking herself back to consciousness on the far side of the empty lot.

Lucifer resists him. Tries to, at least. He fights the spell, moves with awkward jerks, like a shadow puppet in reverse. It holds, though, and then he’s standing in front of Kelly, extending one hand as she looks up in confusion and starts to say, “What—?”

She never gets to finish her sentence. There is light, so much light, and then she slumps lifelessly to the floor.

Crowley’s never heard an angel scream before. The sound of it is like sheet lightning in his bones, and when he takes his hands away from his ears, there’s blood on his palms and he knows he’ll never have to fight for his throne again.

 

----

 



Dean hasn’t answered his messages since it happened. Crowley supposes he should have expected that. Killing pregnant women is a bit beyond the pale even for the Winchesters; but they’ll come around eventually. Next time they need his help.

So now, Crowley sits with an archangel chained at his feet, Hell running like clockwork beyond the throne room doors. No more little mouse.

Not much else, either.

(The man with the wolves. Did he speak their language? Did he howl with them when the moon was full?)

He yanks on Lucifer’s chain, forcing eye contact. From her spot guarding the door, Juliet eyes him jealously, but a quelling look is enough to keep her still. She gives a muffled grumble and drops her head between her paws.

Lucifer doesn’t smirk, doesn’t make some puerile comment, just regards him vacantly.

“Nothing to say for yourself?” Crowley ruffles his hair like he’s petting a cat.

Dull-eyed, Lucifer bows his head and keeps his silence.

It doesn’t feel much like victory.


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