When Crowley, having finished his 'business' dealings for the night, reappeared at Bobby's the next day to amuse himself checking in on things, he immediately narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the scene which greeted him.
Dean and Gabriel occupied the living room, sitting side by side on the couch in front of the television. That in itself gave him pause. As far as he could remember, the human and the archangel generally avoided sharing proximity at all feasible costs. Even now, neither of them looked particularly happy about the company they were keeping, for whatever reason. Puzzled, Crowley looked around for their other counterparts.
He quickly located the younger Winchester sitting on his own at the kitchen table. He had an open book in one hand and was stabbing viciously at a bowl of cardboard-like cereal with the other, shoulders hunched in the all too familiar manner that Crowley mentally translated as Danger! Approach With Extreme Caution! Deciding that now was perhaps not the best time to test that particular warning sign, he prudently kept his distance.
Bobby moved about the kitchen behind Sam, washing up the remnants of breakfast. It said something about the general atmosphere in the house that the old hunter hadn't made one of his 'guests' do it. As the demon was considering this, Bobby turned and caught sight of him. Crowley immediately raised his eyebrows in silent demand to know what the hell had transpired in the relatively brief time he'd been gone. In turn, Bobby screwed up his face in scornful dismissal, obviously having no idea and no intention of finding out. The demon rolled his eyes in response, fully of the belief that even if the hunter had no personal interest in gossip himself, he should have learned by now that Crowley, at least, liked to keep abreast of things, and a little help in that area wouldn't exactly go amiss.
This entirely wordless argument might have continued on in the same manner, except Sam chose that moment to clear his throat loudly and pointedly. Crowley stilled, glancing down to find the human glaring darkly at him.
"What?" he snapped, more defensive than he'd intended. "The grown-ups were talking."
The glare intensified exponentially, and Crowley was abruptly reminded that the creature in front of him had once been able to kill things with its brain.
Discretion indeed being the better part of valour, he decided it was time to take his investigation over into the living room, where Dean and Gabriel were occupied in grumbling unconvincingly over who should get to hold the remote. He drifted closer, sliding his hands into the pockets of his blazer and rocking back on his heels as he came to a stop in front of them.
Eventually, and as if it cost him great effort, Dean raised his head to grudgingly acknowledge him. "What?"
"Coming from me this should carry great weight," he informed them blandly, gesturing between human and archangel. "But this, here? Screams of unholy alliance. What's the deal?"
"We came to the mutual realisation that our brothers suck," Gabriel replied without preamble, his tone almost conversational. He raised his fist in a show of cynical and ironic solidarity. Beside him, Dean pressed a knuckle hard against his temple as though physically pained.
Crowley slowly raised an eyebrow. "You don't say..." he said carefully. "For any specific reason or just on principle?"
Gabriel probably would have answered him, but Dean interrupted quickly. "We've agreed not to trade details on that, thanks."
"...Ah. Of course." God forbid anyone challenge a Winchester's formidable powers of denial. Time to change tactics if he wanted any real information on the marvellously intriguing situation he'd found himself abruptly in the middle of. "So where's Creeper Angel hiding himself, hm?"
Dean immediately shut down, folding his arms and shrugging sulkily, while Gabriel pointed uselessly in a random direction. "Try outside. He's always outside somewhere."
"Thanks ever so..." he muttered scathingly, before blinking out of existence and reappearing in the fresh air of the yard. It didn't take him long to locate Castiel. He was standing around one side of the house, his back braced against the wall with hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his jeans. He didn't acknowledge the demon as he drew closer, or when he came to a stop next to him. Crowley smiled to himself and extracted a packet of cigarettes from somewhere on his person, casually holding them out in offering. "Fancy a fag and a chat?"
It didn't go unnoticed that, when the angel finally deigned to glance across at him, his gaze lingered longer than strictly necessary on the proffered box of smokes before he finally turned his head away with frigid dignity. "No thank you."
He shrugged and lit one up for himself with a little surge of demonic power. "Suit yourself." Taking a satisfying drag, he eyed the other speculatively. As he watched, Castiel winced slightly and raised an automatic hand to his forehead. Crowley frowned. "Problem?"
The angel immediately halted the motion, rebuffing the concern. "I awoke with a headache this morning. It's nothing of importance."
The demon let it pass, unconcerned. There were things he wanted to talk about that were of far more interest. "So come on, angel. What's up with you and your boy?"
Castiel visibly stiffened, regarding him coldly. "Dean would take offence to you addressing him in that manner. He isn't a child."
Half amused, the demon snorted dismissively. "Yeah well, Dean generally takes offence to my mere existence, so nothing new there. And of course he's a child. He's human. They're all children compared to the likes of you and me."
Thoroughly scandalised now, the angel gave him an affronted look. "I'm nothing like you."
He grinned in response, sharp and slightly unpleasant. "Not in the details, no. But we're both Old, angel. We're Other."
Castiel remained silent, but he was still staring inquisitively back at Crowley, so he took that as permission to go on.
"Interacting with humans doesn't come naturally for us, you know. Might as well be learning a foreign language. And a new thing like you, only been bouncing round Earth for a year or two – well. No way you're fluent yet."
"...I don't understand," Castiel admitted reluctantly, shaking his head. "What are you saying?"
Crowley rolled his eyes and said with exaggerated clarity, "Whatever your argument with Winchester happens to be about, it's not outside the realms of possibility that something got lost in translation."
Blue eyes blinked at him. "You believe so?"
"Hey, I've always said that was one of the biggest problems with inter-species dating. The language barrier." He nodded seriously and somehow managed to keep a straight face, curious to see if the angel had quite mastered sarcasm yet.
Evidently he hadn't, since Castiel only gave him a considering look and murmured thoughtfully, "Perhaps..."
They lapsed into silence for a while after that, Castiel staring pensively skywards and Crowley lazily smoking next to him. At least now, the demon supposed smugly, dear Robert would have to give him credit for the minor act of altruism – even if, in actuality, it had been done mostly out of sheer boredom. Of course, it wasn't that he particularly sought approval from the older hunter – why would he? – it just turned out that continuously frustrating his expectations of him proved to have its own inherent entertainment value that Crowley had come to really quite enjoy. He smirked at the prospect.
Abruptly, there came the sound of the door opening around the front of the house, and they both turned to watch Bobby and Sam trudge off into the salvage yard, Sam hefting a tool bag and Bobby short-temperedly growling instructions as they went.
Crowley dropped his cigarette and scuffed it out with his shoe, reaching across to jab at Castiel insistently. "There you go, look at that. Now's your chance. Go fix it with your boy before he gets in a bad enough mood he starts trying to exorcise me again."
Castiel stared at him dubiously for long moments, before at last letting out a resigned sigh and squaring his shoulders. "Very well." He moved to walk past the demon, then hesitated and glanced back at him. "You've been... unusually helpful," he admitted grudgingly, which was probably about as close to a 'thanks' as he was going to get.
Crowley just shrugged. "I'm a helpful guy," he said bemusedly, as though he genuinely couldn't see why anyone ever thought otherwise.
Gabriel had stomped off upstairs as soon as Sam left – which Dean was just not going to analyse, at all – so he was alone when Cas came to hover anxiously in the living room doorway. Typical. Dean mentally cursed and quickly tried to figure out the best course of action. Since running full-pelt in the opposite direction smacked just a little of cowardice, he resignedly decided he was going to have to brazen it out. They hadn't really seen each other since The Incident anyway, so just maybe he could get away with not having to talk about it at all if he played his cards right.
Of course, that line of thinking completely failed to take into account Castiel's infuriating tendency of wanting to face things head on.
The angel seemed to steel himself, and then crossed the room to stand determinedly in front of Dean. He clenched his jaw and didn't look up, pointedly turning the volume on the television higher.
"Dean. We need to talk."
He grunted and held up a hand. "Let's not, okay? I got the message loud and clear, no need to repeat it."
Castiel huffed breath and fidgeted a little, obviously agitated. He continued to stand there, showing no sign whatsoever of moving. The excruciating silence stretched on.
It didn't take long for Dean to snap.
"Dude, seriously, do I have something on my face or what?"
Taken aback, Castiel spared a moment to check, before answering honestly, "No."
"Then... Then just watch the freaking TV or something!"
The angel glanced over at the television, apparently not seeing the relevance. "The TV?"
"Yeah. Did I stammer?"
Equally frustrated, Castiel scowled. "Why do you keep asking me these meaningless questions?"
Momentarily rendered speechless, Dean stared up at him incredulously, before exploding, "Oh my god, you're ruining arguing for me, you know that?"
The angel stopped and squinted at him in confusion. "...This was an argument?"
Dean scrubbed a hand over his face in defeat. "Jesus Christ..." He heaved a heavy breath and forced himself to look directly at the other. "What. What is it?"
"I wish to speak with you about what occurred between us yesterday–"
"Cas. Honestly. Just forget about it, okay?" he snapped, swiftly losing the pretence of denial he'd been attempting to keep up so far. "I took a shot and got shot down. It happens. No big deal."
There was silence in response and Dean settled back into the couch cushions, sullenly satisfied. Least Castiel finally got the goddamn point. The last thing Dean wanted to hear was, "It's not you, it's me." From an angel, for fuck's sake...
Busy glaring at the TV, he grunted disinterestedly.
At that, he did glance up sharply, alarmed. To his complete bewilderment, it was to find Castiel starting to hunch over, a hand pressed to his chest. The angel's mouth worked soundlessly as he tried to drag in a breath. For a wild moment of utterly senseless terror, Dean was convinced the angel was having a heart attack.
In an instant, all hostility forgotten, he was on his feet just in time to catch Castiel around the waist as the angel's knees buckled.
"Cas? Cas! Fuck. What's wrong? What's happening?"
But Castiel was pushing at him, ineffectually trying to make him let go, all the while grimacing in obvious pain. "Dean. Stop. Step back."
Not listening in the slightest, he got one hand on Cas's jaw, frantically turning his face to look at him. His breath caught as he was met with wide blue eyes pinpricked by silver light. "Holy crap..."
Cas finally got a hand solidly on Dean's chest and shoved as hard as he could. The human went stumbling backwards, stunned, and Cas snarled after him, "Close your eyes and turn away!"
But Dean couldn't. He stared in helpless fascination as the angel practically doubled over, the silvery light in his eyes growing so bright it hurt to look at.
"Dean! I said close your eyes right now!"
At last, Dean took the hint. He threw up his arms with barely a split second to spare as the living room all but exploded. Blazing white light engulfed him. He heard Cas let out a cut-off scream, but it changed midway through into the all too familiar ear-splitting shock of sound that made his ears ring. Something nearby shattered. He flinched away, tripping over a couch cushion as the light and the noise disorientated him. As he went down, he made the mistake of letting his eyes flutter open. It hurt like hell, but for the most fleeting of moments he saw the same silhouette he'd seen back in the barn the night of his resurrection: Castiel's wings stretched high above him, splayed awkwardly across the ceiling.
And then, just as abruptly, it was over.
If not for the multiple agitated car alarms coming from the yard, Dean might have suspected he'd gone deaf in the sudden, overwhelming silence. Warily, blinking away retina burn that left him still seeing the vast outline of angel wings, Dean lowered his arms.
Castiel stood looking relatively unharmed, staring curiously at his own hand. The room, on the other hand, was in disarray. It looked like there was a small blast radius all around him. Books and papers had been swept messily into corners. Glass shards glittered in the carpet where a mirror and Dean's beer bottle had shattered.
Dean, half on and half off the couch, let himself slide numbly the rest of the way to the floor, staring up at the angel with something horribly like awe.
Castiel turned abruptly to look down at him, and Dean almost jumped in surprise. He hadn't realised how much of the trademark intensity had been missing from Cas's stare while he'd been without his Grace, until suddenly its full force was once again turned on him. "Dean. Are you alright?"
Dean opened his mouth to say something – possibly even something relevant – but didn't get the chance. The front door was thrown open as Sam and Bobby rushed inside, Bobby with a shotgun in hand and Sam with the demon-killing knife. The two hunters came to a somewhat confused halt, however, upon taking in the scene.
"We saw the light..." Sam said hesitantly, frowning a little.
Bobby just gaped. "What the hell did you two do to my house?"
Dean, from his position on the floor, pointed wordlessly at Castiel.
All three turned to stare at the angel. As they watched he shifted slightly, tilting his head for a second and then rolling his shoulders. Dean had the discomforting thought that he was readjusting his vessel the way most people readjusted their clothes. He wrinkled his nose in distaste and rose stiffly to his feet.
There was further movement at the doorway behind Bobby and Sam as, slowly, Crowley poked his head in after them. After confirming that the fireworks show was apparently over, he stepped more fully inside, muttering caustically, "Really? No one thought to tell me the angels were actually ticking time bombs? I could have been killed!"
"We lived in hope," Bobby told him, deadpan.
Neither Dean nor Castiel, however, acknowledged – or heard – the sideline commentary. Dean had yet to take his eyes off the angel. He coughed self-consciously, trying desperately to remove the awestruck expression he knew he was wearing. "You, uh... You back to normal then?"
Castiel tilted his head as though considering, and then without warning he was gone, a blast of wind sending up yet more debris. Dean stomach clenched anxiously at the disappearance, but he didn't have long to worry. A mere second later there was another snap of wings and Cas reappeared in front of him, much closer than he'd been originally. Dean flinched backwards, shocked.
"Woah. Guess I gotta start getting used to that again..." He hesitated, unsure exactly what the appropriate reaction was here. Looking across at Sam, his brother shrugged helplessly, equally at a loss. Realising he had to say something, Dean braced himself, plastered on a grin, and slapped the angel's shoulder in congratulations. It hurt his hand. "See! Didn't I tell you you'd be fine?"
Castiel frowned at him. "Actually, I believe you told me I'd be stuck as a human."
"...You seriously never let anything go, do you?"
For a moment, the situation threatened to devolve straight back into the argument they'd been in the middle of as if there'd never been an interruption. It probably would have done just that, except Sam suddenly let out a soft noise of realisation behind them. Dean turned just in time to see him dart towards the stairs, and thought he heard him say excitedly, "Gabriel!" before he thundered up them and was gone.
The angels' room upstairs was similarly ruined by the time Sam got there. He stopped in the doorway, quickly processing the sight of everything blasted to the very edges of the room, the window shattered, the laptop on the floor broken and sparking. His first reaction was to grin elatedly, because the scene of destruction surely couldn't mean anything else except that Gabriel had regained his powers, just like Cas.
Only the archangel wasn't actually there anymore.
The smile dropped gradually from his face as Sam took a few steps forward, his boots crunching on glass. He glanced around without any real expectation, absently kicking aside the smashed remains of his laptop. There came the flutter of wings behind him. He knew better than to think it was Gabriel.
"He's gone, isn't he?"
Castiel paused, then sighed. "I believe so, yes. I can't sense him nearby."
Sam's mouth twisted in a bitter smile and he ducked his head. Of course. Of course he was gone. What else had he expected to happen?
Gabriel had taken off as soon as he was able, just like Sam had always known he would.