At one point in his life, cooking had been an art form. Bobby had learned to cook at his mother’s knee; his mom had viewed it as her life’s goal to make sure he was self-sufficient. He had cooked more than Karen had while they’d been married, although Karen had been the baker.
His skill in the kitchen had kept Sam and Dean fed when they’d stayed with him. Now, he was using those skills again after months of eating mostly sandwiches and meals out of a can.
It hadn’t mattered while he was by himself, but with Dean laid up, and Ben and Castiel barely knowing how to open to can, Bobby was the one tasked with keeping them all fed.
Bobby wheeled himself up to the stove, locked the wheels of the chair, and peeked into the pot of soup he had simmering. After a year in a chair, he had the routine down pat.
He heard the creak of the floor behind him, and Bobby unlocked his wheels and half-turned in the chair. Castiel hovered in the doorway, his expression uncertain.
“Dean all right?” Bobby asked.
“Ben is with him,” Castiel explained. “I thought I’d give them some time alone together.”
“They could probably use it.” Bobby waited for Castiel to speak again, but he just kept hovering in the doorway, as though unsure about his welcome. “Well, spit it out,” Bobby finally said.
“I need to do something.”
Castiel sounded a little desperate, and Bobby thought he understood why. During the first couple of weeks, when things had been touch and go with Dean, Castiel spent every waking moment caring for either Dean or Ben. Bobby had helped as much as he could, mostly trying to keep Ben occupied and distracted, but Dean had been stuck upstairs, and Bobby downstairs, and so there hadn’t been much Bobby could do.
But with Dean on the mend, and Ben looking a lot happier now that he knew he wasn’t going to lose his dad, Castiel was left at loose ends. Bobby understood the need to feel useful better than just about anyone.
Quite the change for an angel of the Lord, Bobby thought. If he could teach Castiel how to cook, he could offload that chore and teach Castiel a useful skill at the same time.
“Get on over here,” Bobby ordered. “You can stir the soup.”
Castiel gave the stove a dubious look, but he came willingly enough. “What do I do?”
“Pick up the spoon, and give it a stir.”
Castiel stared at the wooden spoon for a minute like it was something dangerous, but he picked it up and obediently began to stir.
“Do you want to learn how to cook?” Bobby asked.
Castiel cocked his head, giving the question due consideration. “It seems like a useful skill.”
“Being able to feed yourself is always a useful skill,” Bobby replied. “I can teach you to cook, but I’m no good at baking. That was Karen’s thing, not mine.”
“My wife,” Bobby replied shortly.
Castiel’s mouth turned down. “I’m sorry.”
Bobby shrugged. It was an old grief, but no less painful. “Every person in this house knows about losing something.”
Castiel’s eyes went wide, and then he nodded. “What’s the difference between baking and cooking?”
Bobby laughed. “Cooking is a little more forgiving. My attempts at baking have always been pretty bad.”
“Let’s take it one skill at a time,” Castiel replied.
Bobby cleared his throat. “So, if you’re going to cook, you need to know two things.”
“And those two things?”
“First, how to follow directions. Once you get the hang of cooking, you can play around with it a bit, but until then, follow the recipe.”
“And the second thing is the five P’s—prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.”
Castiel frowned. “That’s 6 P’s.”
Bobby grinned. “Only if piss-poor counts as two words.”
Castiel smiled faintly. “Fair point.”
Bobby knew that there was a little more to cooking than following a recipe; there was a knack to it. If Castiel didn’t have at least a touch of that knack, he’d never be more than an adequate cook.
The thing about Castiel, Bobby realized in short order, was that he tended to throw himself at a problem. Once he’d decided that he was going to learn how to cook, Castiel immediately started reading Bobby’s cookbooks, asking countless questions about terms he didn’t understand.
Bobby started Castiel out easy with breakfast the next morning. Castiel’s first attempt to crack an egg was something of a disaster—he hit the egg too hard against the side of the bowl, resulting in bits of shell mixed in with the white and yolk.
Bobby took one look in the bowl and sighed. “That’s a loss. Toss it out, and grab another egg. This time, tap a little more gently.”
Castiel was a fast learner; he cracked the next egg neatly.
“Good.” Castiel watched the eggs sizzle with intense focus. Bobby didn’t think he had to worry about Castiel letting something burn. “Mix ‘em around,” Bobby instructed.
By the time the eggs had cooked, Bobby had toasted a few slices of bread. Castiel dished up the eggs and stared at the plates. “I cooked.”
Bobby coughed to hide a laugh. “Eggs are easy. We started you out small. Let’s see how you do with dinner tonight.”
Bobby realized in the middle of cooking dinner the next night—spaghetti with tomato sauce—that the big problem with teaching Castiel how to cook was that he didn’t know how anything was supposed to taste. Recipes that Bobby habitually tweaked with a little more garlic or a little more oregano didn’t make much sense to Castiel.
Castiel wanted to follow the recipe to the letter, even after Bobby assured him that he could—or should—change a couple of things to improve the taste. Castiel was so damn literal that he had a hard time making alterations, especially when he didn’t know what garlic tasted like, or what it might add to a dish.
“You need to add oregano,” Bobby advised.
Castiel frowned at him. “That’s not what the recipe says.”
“Trust me, the sauce needs oregano. I always add it.”
“Then why didn’t you write it down?”
“Because I know I add oregano, and I’m the only one who cooks around here.” Bobby held up a pencil. “Make a note of it if that will make you feel better.”
Castiel made a note of it.
“And double the garlic,” Bobby ordered.
“That’s not what the recipe says.”
Bobby had a feeling he was going to get really tired of hearing that before this was all over. “Trust me, you need more garlic.”
“You said that to be able to cook, you just have to follow directions.”
“You do, but adding oregano and doubling the garlic will make it better.”
“I’m following the recipe,” Castiel insisted.
“You’re a stubborn son of a bitch,” Bobby growled.
Castiel shot him a look and replied, “I have no mother.”
Bobby had no idea if Castiel was trying to be funny, or if this was another instance of his damn literal mindedness. “Fine. But don’t come crying to me if the sauce turns out too bland.”
At least Castiel didn’t get his feelings hurt, Bobby thought. He asked for an honest opinion from his audience, and when Bobby said something needed more salt, Castiel made a note of it and moved on.
Bobby’s biggest beef with Castiel’s cooking was that he wanted to get a recipe exactly right before moving on—and after the seventh night of spaghetti with tomato sauce, they were all heartily sick of it. He was never quite sure what Dean said to Castiel, but somehow Dean convinced his angel to make something only once every couple of weeks.
By the time winter came on with a vengeance, Castiel seemed to have the knack of cooking down pat. He still made the occasional misstep—Castiel erred on the side of caution, so his food tended to be on the bland side when things didn’t turn out quite right—but Castiel was more than competent in the kitchen.
Bobby happened to be in the kitchen one evening, mostly for the proximity to the coffee pot, while Castiel was cooking, humming a tune under his breath as he sprinkled marjoram in the pot. Castiel appeared so relaxed, so at home, that Bobby asked, “What is it about cooking you like so much?”
Castiel glanced up from what he was doing to meet Bobby’s eyes. “What?”
“What is it about cooking you like?” Bobby asked. “You seem a hell of a lot happier than you were a couple of months ago.”
Castiel paused, his brow furrowed in thought, and tasted the stew he’d been working on. He nodded before putting the lid back on the pot. “If there is one way in which humanity is similar to my father, it’s in the capacity to create. Angels do not share that trait; we—they are quick to obey, resolute in their unwavering loyalty. Angels do not create. Cooking is a way to be creative.”
He paused, and then added, “And as you said, feeding myself and others is a useful skill to have.”
Bobby didn’t know what to say. He’d been right a month ago when he’d told Castiel that they’d all lost something, but Castiel’s loss suddenly seemed overwhelming. As terrible as death might be, it was still a normal part of life. Death was just part of being human.
Falling wasn’t part of being an angel, though.
“It’s always good to be useful,” Bobby acknowledged, shaking off the chill. There were moments when he forgot what Castiel was, what he had been, and he preferred it that way.
Castiel was infinitely easier to deal with when he was entirely human.
“And the lessons I’m learning from cooking seem applicable in most other areas of life,” Castiel continued, giving Bobby a sly grin. “Like the 6 P’s.”
“5 P’s,” Bobby shot back, but he smiled as well. “Piss-poor is one word.”
Castiel grinned. “If you say so.”