“Remind me why we’re doing this again?” muttered Dean, shoving his hands deep into his pockets and glancing up and down the street. It was early morning – although, by his American internal time, it was fairly late in the evening – so there weren’t many people about. The few that were scurried down the cold street in a hurry, wanting to be home and dry by the time the inevitable rain came.
“Because,” repeated Castiel patiently, for what was possibly the third time that day, “they are my family, and they wish to meet you. They have been good friends to me, Dean, when the rest of my siblings abandoned me – and even before that. It is right that you meet the people who have made me what I am.” He raised a hand to the plan door in front of him and knocked, even though the sign was turned to ‘closed’.
Dean sighed, peering through the dusty, warped window at the piles of books that lay behind it, stacked in towering piles that looked vaguely lethal. There was no light on, and for a moment he felt a vague hope that there was no one in, and then felt guilty for hoping that. They were important to Cas. The angel had met everyone important in Dean’s life (at least, those who were still alive), and it was only right that he did the same. But still...
“So, what is this, some kind of meet-the-parents?” asked Dean, wrinkling his nose and leaning away from the window as Castiel rang the bell. “Great.”
“They are not my parents, they are my siblings.” Castiel rolled his eyes, something he’d picked up from Sam, but had a look of understanding on his face. “Although in terms of their relationship to me, I suppose they are more like uncles.”
“Meet the gay angelic uncles. Even better,” grumbled Dean under his breath, and Cas elbowed him in the ribs gently.
“Don’t be rude,” he said smartly, raising a meaningful eyebrow. “You are in no position to complain about either homosexuality or angels, and besides, our-”
“-vessels are not our genders, we are genderless, yeah, yeah,” finished Dean with a sigh. “I’m just a bit... I dunno, I’ve not exactly got a great track record when it comes to angels.”
“I’m sure you’ll be-” started Castiel in a placating manner, but before he could finish the door opened and a mess of tartan and blonde curls attacked him in a hug that, had he been human, would probably have driven the breath from his lungs. As it was, he merely looked stunned for a second or two, before hugging the figure back. “Hello, Aziraphale. I hope we didn’t interrupt?”
The angel pulled away and took a step back, smoothing a hand over his tartan jumper and beaming up at Castiel. “Oh, no, not at all, my dear! I was just doing some reading – new stock coming in and all that.” He took a step back and peered up at Dean, with eyes the same brilliant shade of blue as Cas’s, looking sternly over the top of thin, silver reading glasses at him. “Ah, so. This is him, is it?”
Dean squirmed, having the uncomfortable sensation of suddenly being weighed and measured, inside and out, and being found somewhat wanting. “Um,” he said intelligently, swallowing hard and holding out a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Aziraphale.”
“Just Azi will do fine, thank you,” said the angel, taking his hand and shaking it with a small sniff and a ‘hmpf’. “We’re all friends here, I should hope.” He raised an eyebrow, and then his expression softened slightly, a smile playing at the edge of his lips. “It’s good to finally meet you too, I’ve been telling young Castiel to bring you to meet us forever, he’s been terribly slow about it.”
“There was an apocalypse going on,” pointed out Castiel quietly. Dean noticed he’d hunched over slightly, huddling further into his trench coat, and had a faintly embarrassed look about him.
“Well, that didn’t stop me from introducing you to Crowley – not your Crowley, dear,” he added, noting Dean’s alarmed look. “A different one. Apparently, there’s rather a lack of fashionable demonic names, and Crowley happens to be one of them, so there’s quite a few running around... anyway, come in, come in...” He smiled encouragingly at them and bustled off into the shop.
“I thought you said they were both angels?” said Dean quietly, trying to keep the accusing apprehension out of his voice. Demons made him twitchy.
“Fallen angel.” Castiel looked like if he could get the ground to open and swallow him up, he would. He was shuffling awkwardly and looking down at his feet, biting on his lip – another habit picked up from spending too long around the Winchesters. “There’s a... difference. And he’s not very- I’m sorry. I should have told you. And my apologies for Aziraphale, he can be somewhat... intense.”
For a moment, Dean considered pressing the matter further, and then decided it wasn’t worth it. “Hey, it’s just nice to know I’m not the only one with a dysfunctional family around here,” he said with a small grin, letting Cas catch his hand and tug him into the shop. “Angel and a demon – makes us seem practically normal, huh?”
“Fallen angel.” Dean and Castiel looked up in surprise at the voice – a tall figure, apparently composed entirely of sharp angles and ridiculously messy hair, was wandering down the stairs. He was wearing dark trousers and a red shirt rolled up at the elbows and open at the collar, and had the bleary, irritable air of one that had just woken up. “There’sss a differenccce, you know.”
“Crowley!” said Castiel, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he let go of Dean’s hand to wrap his arms around the demo- fallen angel, who’d reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey, kid.” Crowley’s voice was unusually soft as he hugged the angel back, an odd smile on his face. “Long time no sssee.”
“I’m sorry,” said Castiel earnestly, letting go of him and stepping back. There was suddenly a kind of nervous, delighted energy about him. “We had an-”
“Apocalypssse to deal with, I know, I know. Your fault, I believe.” Crowley cast a bleary-eyed, dark look at Dean. “And there I wasss thinking we’d sssorted it all out lassst time.”
Dean could only stare. “You have yellow eyes,” he said, when he’d gotten over the shock of the hissing and the fact his angel had lit up completely when this... thing had arrived.
“And you have handprintsss all over your sssoul.” Crowley cast a disapproving look at Castiel. “Look, at leassst try to be clean, would you? There’re sssome thingsss I really don’t need to sssee.”
“Sorry.” Castiel looked down at his feet again, but there was the hint of a smile around his mouth.
“Oh, don’t go all kicked-puppy on me, it’sss bad enough when angel doesss that, don’t you ssstart.” The demon shook his head, grinning. “I’m jussst happy you’re finally getting sssome.”
There was an odd, choking noise at that, and it took Dean a second to realise he was the one that had made it. He tried to cover it with a cough, but it didn’t work. “Handprints?” he said eventually.
“All over you,” confirmed Crowley with an absent, sleepy sort of glee. “Like bite marksss.” Castiel flushed a bright red at that, and Dean shot him a look that clearly said words will be had about this later.
Crowley watched the exchange with interest, before stepping forward. He was slightly shorter than Dean, but still managed to give the hunter the impression of being loomed over. He held his ground, though, meeting the yellow-eyed stare – until a forked tongue flicked out, tasting the air in between them, and he stumbled back with an involuntary yelp.
The demon’s laughter had an edge of hissing to it as he turned and headed for the shop’s back room, beckoning them to follow. Both hunter and angel trailed after him, flushed with embarrassment and looking at the floor. “You’re okay, kid, I’ll grant you that,” he called over his shoulder. “But if you hurt him, I will find you, comprende?”
Dean blinked in alarm and opened his mouth – either to assure Crowley he would never hurt Castiel, or to ask if he knew exactly who he was threatening, he wasn’t quite sure – but then they stepped through a door and into a small kind of kitchen-slash-lounge. There was a selection of cabinets and a sink over in one corner, and an old table in the middle with huge pyramid of books stacked at one end. Along the wall was a suspiciously out-of-place leather sofa, which Crowley collapsed face first into with a groan as soon as he was within falling reach.
“I told you that you should have sobered up last night,” said Aziraphale, eyeing him disapprovingly, before offering Dean and Castiel a bright smile and ushering them to sit at the table. They sat next to each other, Dean’s fingers surreptitiously finding Castiel’s under the table. He had a feeling he was going to need the support.
“Couldn’t remember how,” groaned Crowley into the sofa, voice muffled by the leather. “Bloody alcohol. And you were no help, either.” He twisted his head to glare at the angel.
“Well, it was rather funny.” Aziraphale didn’t sound apologetic in the slightest as he began placing mugs and a teapot onto a tray. “And you seemed to be having such fun, who was I to stop you?”
The demon stuck out his tongue, and said something in a language that hissed and slid between pitches, sounding vaguely like water over stones. Azi laughed, eyes lighting up with amusement as he placed the tray on the table and sat opposite Dean and Castiel, and even Cas smiled slightly, before answering in the same language. His voice was lighter, clearer – more bell-like.
“Boys, boys,” chided Aziraphale, although his tone was somewhat spoilt by the smile still on his face. “English, please.” He gave Dean an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, Crowley really has no manners whatsoever-”
“Demon!” called Crowley, apparently forgetting his earlier insistence that he wasn’t, waving a hand in the air before letting it fall down onto the sofa again with a thump. “In the job dessscription!”
“-but Castiel usually knows better,” he finished, as if there’d been no interruption. “I’d offer to translate, but it’s-”
“Funnier in Enochian, I know. Heard that before,” answered Dean with a lopsided smile, taking the mug of tea offered to him and cradling it in his hands.
Castiel took his mug of tea, too, sipping it thoughtfully, before placing it down on the table. “Come and sit with us, Crowley,” he said, looking over at the demon with a sympathetic expression.
There was a muffled groan of protest, and a hiss of something that sounded suspiciously like, “Do I have to,” but he pulled himself up off the sofa and onto the seat beside Azi even so, snatching a cup of tea and gulping down nearly half of it in one go.
“Oh, do stop being so melodramatic, dear,” huffed Aziraphale, shaking his head.
“Headache, angel,” whined the demon, somehow managing to look pleadingly innocent. Dean just stared and Castiel had the curious expression on his face of someone watching their parents flirting and not knowing where to think it’s sweet, or whether to go and throw up somewhere. “Hurtsss.”
With a sigh, Aziraphale leaned over and pressed a kiss to Crowley’s temple. Dean felt the peculiar brush across the back of his neck he’d come to associate with angelic energy, and the demon sat up a little straighter, looking vaguely smug, and turned his head to catch the angel’s lips. Beside Dean, Castiel let out a low noise of what sounded like a cross between pain and despair, and buried his head in his hands.
After that, the conversation went a bit more easily. It turned out that not being hung over improved Crowley’s temper by about a thousand percent, and the demon was actually fairly good – if snarky – conversation. Aziraphale, too, was an endless well of tea and fascinating anecdotes, including an awful lot of... interesting tales from when Castiel had been a younger angel, before he’d joined the garrison.
Around that point, Castiel started hinting that they needed to leave, the tips of his ears colouring slightly as he pointed out that it was nearly midnight as far as Dean’s body clock was concerned, and that they both needed to get back to Sam. Dean decided not to mention that he wasn’t tired in the slightest – Cas’s tone was vaguely desperate, and his fingers were clamped around Dean’s jacket sleeve almost hard enough to leave nail marks. He knew a cry for help when he saw one.
It took them a while to extricate themselves, even after announcing their intention to leave. This was largely Aziraphale’s fault, who kept offering them more tea, and even when Dean and Cas had almost made it to the front door, he caught Castiel’s shoulder and flicked an anxious glance at Dean, before launching into a stream of Enochian.
Dean sighed, and retreated to the doorway, hovering there in the hope that both of the angels would get the message that it was really time to go – but they didn’t, just stood there, discussing something that sounded rather urgent, despite his inability to understand what they were saying. He guessed it was something they didn’t want him to hear, though, considering Azi had been polite enough to stick to English for the rest of the morning.
“Of course they’re talking about you,” said a lazy voice from beside him, and Dean jumped slightly. Crowley was suddenly there, leaning against the wall with an easy, bored sort of grace, as if he’d been there for an hour. “He’s giving him the ‘what to do if he breaks your heart’ talk.”
The demon cocked his head to one side, curious, and Dean wondered if he was the one Castiel had got his head tilt from. “And telling him to lay off the soul marks slightly – I have to agree with him on that one, they’re all over you, it’s positively... indecent. I mean, possessive is one thing, but really.” He tone shifted towards the angel’s for the last few words, mocking his stuffy accent, as he raked his eyes up and down the hunter’s body. The glance left him feeling disturbingly exposed.
“Aren’t I the one that’s supposed to be getting the ‘if you hurt him I’ll break you in pieces’ talk?” asked Dean to cover his discomfort, leaning back against the wall next to Crowley.
“Oh, you wouldn’t be able to hurt him.” Crowley grinned, all teeth and just the smallest hint of bloodlust. “He’d snap you in half if you even tried. But yes, ‘the talk’, quite right. I suppose that’s my job, then.”
“I get it,” said Dean quietly. “I do anything to break his heart and you’ll drag me down to Hell and torture me for eternity – not that that’s anything new.”
“Torture you?” Crowley mildly offended by the suggestion. “Good Manchester, no. That’s hardly stylish, and after rooming with Alistair I suspect there’s not much I could offer to phase you – I’m more in the temptation and seduction line, myself.”
Dean couldn’t stop himself from glancing at Aziraphale and muttering, “I noticed,” but either Crowley didn’t hear him, or he was ignored.
“No,” continued the demon, voice suddenly stripped of all mocking, sly humour. It was chilling, emotionless, not so much a threat as a statement of fact, and although Crowley had hidden his eyes behind sunglasses at some point during the morning, Dean could feel them burning from behind the plastic. “No,” he repeated, “if you hurt him, emotionally or physically, I will ruin you.”
“Hate to break it to you, but people’ve been trying that on me and my brother for a long time, and it’s not worked so far,” scoffed Dean, trying to keep his bravado up despite the ice in his spine. “So, yeah, good luck with that.”
“Most demons have no creativity,” mused Crowley, as if Dean hadn’t said anything, still in that curiously hollow voice. “But trust me when I say that I do. And I can be very, very persistent. I will follow you. I will ensure you are thrown out of motels, that cafés refuse to serve you. I will make sure you will never be able to get a credit card again, that you will be followed by debt collectors and bad credit ratings wherever you go.
“You will never be able to get hold of a fake ID again, or a reliable laptop or phone. You’ll be at the top of the FBI’s wanted list, the police will be on the lookout for you, any national or international organisation I can influence will want your head on a plate. You’ll be constantly on the run, not from the supernatural but from the human authorities too, from people you’re trying to save, from the friends I’ll turn against you and drive away from you, from me.
“I’ll take your lovely car – oh yes, I know about her – and impound her, have her sent to scrap, crushed into a thousand pieces and melted down, gone forever. Your personal possessions, that necklace you care for so much, your weapons, anything and everything that might have some kind of emotional connection to you will be taken away.
“I’ll drive your brother away from you, to the other side of the world, have him cut all contact with you only after telling you exactly what he thinks of you, how much he hates you, how he never wants to see you again. I will make your life a miserable fight for survival from day to day, second to second, alone and abandoned and despised by everything you have worked to protect. I will ruin you, Dean Winchester, do you understand me?”
Dean’s throat had stuck together, dried up, as he stared at the being next to him with a reverent kind of horror. He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, swallowing hard. “I understand. And- and if I ever, god forbid ever hurt Cas? You’re more than welcome to.”
For a long moment, Crowley just looked at him, his gaze impossible to read behind the sunglasses – but, even so, Dean got the impression that he’d surprised the demon. Eventually, Crowley nodded, a small, sharp gesture. “Good,” he said, though his voice was soft now, like it had been when he’d greeted Cas. “Nice to know we’re on the same page.”
They lapsed into silence, as Aziraphale and Castiel drew their conversation to a close. “You know,” said Crowley suddenly, still with that strange kindness in his voice, “you won’t.”
“Won’t?” Dean blinked, momentarily wrong-footed.
“Hurt him.” Crowley was watching the two angels, head slightly on one side, a sort of intensity to him that seemed to radiate out. “They look fragile, but they don’t break easily. They give as good as they get. And...” He hesitated, tongue flicking out to taste the air. “And you won’t be able to. Hurt him. It won’t even be possible.”
And that, right there, made Dean’s head snap up and his eyes widen, that tangled mess of guilt and confusion and pain and such quiet love it seemed impossible. There was a story there, somewhere, maybe a long time ago, and Dean wondered for a split second if Aziraphale knew that Crowley was still carrying the story with him. Wondered how Crowley had known, and why the hell he was identifying with a demon. He opened his mouth-
“We’re ready to go, now,” said Castiel, from his other side, and Dean smiled, tangling his fingers with the angel’s.
“Thank you very much for having us,” he said to Aziraphale and Crowley, feeling oddly like he was back in high school and thanking a friend’s parent for letting him stay with them. “It was...”
“Interesting? Enlightening? Awe-inspiring?” suggested Crowley, raising an eyebrow, and Dean nodded.
“Yeah.” There was only a small amount of sarcasm in his voice.
“I do hope you come back again soon, and you must bring Samuel next time, I would love to meet him, and I suspect I have some books that would interest him.” Aziraphale smiled –he’d been delighted when he’d learnt that Sam was a bookworm. Apparently, neither Crowley nor Castiel had the ‘sophistication’ to truly appreciate the written word.
“Will do,” said Dean with a grin. “I’m sure he’d drool all over your bookshop – metaphorically,” he added. The angel was touchy about his books.
“Excellent. And you, Castiel – take care, my dear.”
“I shall.” Castiel nodded gravely, as if he’d been tasked with some great mission, and then looked sideways at Dean. “We shall.”
“See ya, kids,” said Crowley, arms crossed across his chest, coming to stand next to Azi. “Come back soon. It’s nice to see the angel distracted from fondling his books for a change- Ow!” He scowled at Aziraphale, rubbing his ribs. “That was uncalled for.
“As was your comment,” replied Aziraphale evenly, with a small smile, and Crowley scowled at him.
“Shall we go?” said Castiel quietly, by Dean’s ear, and he nodded. In front of them, Aziraphale and Crowley had started bickering, the demon’s tone low and wheedling. He grinned.
“Hey, Crowley!” he called, and the demon turned, looking at him curiously. “That’s not a bad thing, you know.”
Both Aziraphale and Castiel looked confused, but Dean didn’t care about that. There was a second where Crowley froze, looking like a deer in the headlights... and then, slowly, he relaxed, and nodded to Dean. The hunter thought he saw a smile playing around Crowley’s lips, before Castiel touched two fingers to his forehead and they were gone, but he couldn’t be sure.
He hoped he had, though.