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If Not For You

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The first time that Nick met him was not even remotely formal. The other man was nothing other than a big inconvenience to him- in that he was incredibly big, and to a lesser extent, an inconvenience. And Nick tried not to be too judgy, but really, when someone has to duck their heads so they can fit through a standard size doorway, that sort of thing leaves an impression.

 

“Do you guys have any pie left?”

 

Really?

 

Nick glanced at the pastry case, and its very sparse, but very obvious contents. “Yes… but we’re closing for the night, so you’d best know exactly what you want so you can get it and get out.” And some people might think that it’s a bit odd to close up shop at only five in the afternoon, but they also opened at seven in the morning, and sold most everything by a little after lunch. Nick wasn’t a big fan of wasting time hanging around an empty counter, telling people that they could come back in the morning if they wanted something. That’s what the sign on the door was for.

 

“I’ll be really quick. I promise.” The human incarnation of a daddy long legged spider came closer. He was probably mid twenties, with a mess of hair that, much like the suit and tie he was wearing, had probably looked quite presentable at some point in the day- but had fallen to disarray. Might have had something to do with the wind storm outside. “I just need apple pie,”

 

Resisting the urge to reach across the counter and fix the man’s tie, Nick folded his arms over the top of the case. “A piece, or a whole pie?”

 

“Whole?” He sounded so very hopeful, big brownish eyes of his going a little too soft and pleading. “My brother’s in town for his birthday.”

 

Birthday pie was a respectable choice. And having brothers of his own, Nick knew a good cause when he heard it, so he popped open the refrigerated case and pulled out the singular apple pie that remained. Lovely little thing with a decorative lattice crust that was cooked to a perfect golden brown. “I’m going to warn you, we’re sort of famous for our pies here and we’ve only got this one left at all because it’s… a bit spicier than your regular apple pie. Not for the faint of heart.”

 

The moose of a man blinked, running a hand through his nearly shoulder length hair. “ Spicier ?” Like he’d never heard the word before.

 

“New recipe.” Nick shrugged, because who was he to question his brother’s baking mojo? There was always a new, more delicious recipe on the horizon, and there was always a new reason for their customers to come back.   “It’s got a bit of cayenne pepper in with the cinnamon. Warm it up a bit in the oven on low heat, then some vanilla ice cream on top- it’s a religious experience.”

 

The man laughed softly, “that’s an awful big promise for a pie.”

 

Nick was already getting a small box from under the counter. Setting the pie carefully inside and folding the lid down. “Pie like this makes grown men weep. Babies smile. Flowers bloom. Turns little wooden puppets into real boys.” Nick ran out of promises. “Twenty bucks.”

 

“For a pie?”

 

“It’s usually seventeen plus tax, but I should have locked up five minutes ago. So we’ll call it an even twenty. For your brother’s last minute birthday pie- which will be slightly life changing. And depending on your brother, that might be a good thing. So it’s sort of a deal if you really think about it.” Nick said it all with a well oiled grin.

 

Luckily, the man smiled back, getting out his wallet- and that was a good thing, because if the man had gotten annoyed then Nick would have had to face his younger brother’s anger at overcharging people for last minute desserts again.

 

Cash was traded for the pale blue box and the giant of a man saw himself out with an appreciative grin and a wave.  Nick pocketed the extra money and grabbed out the shop keys, coming around the counter and turning off the ‘open’ sign in the window.

 

“I’m locking up!” He called towards the back of the shop, hearing the affirmative grunt from his brother who was probably elbow deep in dough and covered in flour. It meant that Nick would be cleaning up on his own again today. Which was alright. He’d gotten very good over the years at cleaning up on his own.

 

.:.

 

The second time that the giant man came to the shop he was right on schedule to catch Nick while he was switching off the sign in the window, not quite to the door yet.

 

“Are you guys still open?” And by the way he asked, it was obvious that he knew that they weren’t, even as he sort of hugged the opened door to the curve of his shoulder, half in the building.

 

Amused to see the man again so soon after the first visit, but still a bit annoyed at the too late timing- Nick tilted the sign away from the window so that he could see the darkened letters. “Mmm, doesn’t look like it.”

 

And the puppy eyes had to be a conscious choice on the man’s part, littlest pout and eyebrows arching up into his dark hair. “Do you happen to maybe have a pie or two I can talk you out of… after hours?”

 

“After hours?” Nick sighed a long suffering sigh as he thought it over. “I’ll have to warn you though, the longer we’re closed, the more expensive everything gets. Including myself.”

 

“I brought an extra twenty with me, just in case.” This man, who had an almost concerning need for pie in his life, said with a grin.

 

“Well, then. Get in and close the door. It’s cold as hell out there.”

 

He did, and Nick locked up so that no one else could wander themselves in from the storm.  One unwanted customer was already one too many.

 

Standing beside the giant without the safety of the counter between them like last time, Nick had to quickly come to terms with a few things. The different color than last time, but still crooked tie was the least of his concerns. With very little effort, this man would have been able to tuck Nick’s head beneath his chin. Then there was a jaw line that was stronger than the store’s wifi connection, and unfortunately there was a shadow of dimples to go with an open, lovely, grateful sort of smile.

 

A little faster than necessary, Nick retreated back to the safety of the correct side of the counter. “I’ve only got slices left. Lemon meringue, blackberry, strawberry, chocolate.”

 

“No apple?” He leaned a hip against the counter like it was the most natural thing in the world, just so easy and friendly. “He really, really loved the one I brought home for him. You were right about the ice cream on it.”

 

He almost felt bad to say it, but… “we’ve only got what you see.” Nick rolled up his sleeves, and mostly it was not an intimidation tactic. It just so happened that he knew that men in business suits tended to be a bit uneasy around tattoos, and he wanted to get a bit more of that ‘in control of this situation’ feeling than just the counter was able to provide. “We’ll have more apple pie tomorrow if you want to come back?”

 

“My brother’s leaving first thing in the morning, I don’t think that we’d have time to swing by.”

 

Which was a sad story that Nick found that he really couldn’t give a good god damn about. But oh, Nick was weak for pretty men in suits. He just wanted to take them by the tie and…

 

And not follow that train of thought because it wasn’t going to take him anywhere productive. He sighed again. It gave him time to come to terms with the fact that he was about to attempt a small act of kindness. Which disturbed him more than he’d like to own up to.

 

“Cassy?” He leaned towards the back room, hoping to be heard over the white noise of the large mixer going on. “You have time to make an apple pie tonight?”

 

The mixer shut off for about three seconds, just long enough for his brother to call out, “I make the pies in the morning. You know that.” Then there were only mixing sounds from the back.

 

Nick knew his brother’s policy. Castiel had a very set process when it came to baking, and he was not comfortable with veering off from the norm.  Which meant that he was going to spend the next hour or two on cakes before moving onto pastries, and then going home for the night. There was really no sense in even trying to talk him into changing things up, even just this one time.

 

In a small, last ditch effort before just offering to box up a variety of slices, Nick looked up at the man in front of him with a very necessary and yet unnatural feeling up tilt of his head. “Where’d your brother come from?”

 

“Uh… South Dakota?”

 

“Good.” Nick turned back to the doorway to the kitchen “This guy’s brother came all the way out here from South- fucking -Dakota just for your apple pie, Cassy. You sure you can’t do something for him?”

 

The mixer turned off again, and there was some shuffling. “That’s very flattering, Nick. But-” Castiel popped his head out of the back and seemed to briefly lose track of his train of thoughts. “You are uncomfortably tall.”

 

The man laughed. Either at the obvious observation and the fact that Castiel had zero verbal filter, or it could be that the little dark haired baker was covered very thoroughly in a liberal coating of flour. Hair, face, arms, clothes. All dusted in random smears of white.

 

“I’ve heard that. Yes.” Sort of self consciously, he smoothed his hands over his own clean (but rain dampened and mussed) clothes. “My brother ate pretty much the whole pie you made in less than two days, and he hasn’t shut up about it since then. I was really hoping to send him home with a pie or two… if it’s not too much trouble.” Then he smiled like a beauty pageant contestant. “I’ll pay extra.”

 

Castiel got that complicated look that he did sometimes. “It will take me about an hour, and I will require coffee.”

 

“I can get coffee.” He grinned with those dimples of his.

 

“Good,” and then Cassy was ducking back to his cave, shortly followed by the sound of his mixer starting back up.

 

Nick shook his head. “He takes it black, with room for cream.” He felt a need to clarify since his brother had already moved on.

 

The poor sap who’d inadvertently volunteered to go back out into the rain for something as stupid as coffee,  nodded, looking happier than he had any right too. “Thank you. Really.”

 

That level of cheerfulness and gratitude was a bit disturbing to Nick. He folded his arms over the pastry case, looking up at this stunning sort of man who obviously liked his own brother more than anyone should like their brother, if he was willing to go through this much trouble. “I take my coffee the same way.”

 

Nick also liked his coffee served to him early in the morning, while he was still in bed, preferably naked… though it didn’t seem appropriate to mention those sorts of preferences to a relative stranger.

 

.:.

 

The third time that Nick saw this giant man with his need for pie was less than forty-five minutes after he’d left to go on a drink run.  Which meant that it hardly counted as a separate time, since Nick wasn’t suffering from any weird kind of object permanence issues and it really felt the like the man had only just left.

 

There he was though, coffee in each hand, knuckles rapping awkwardly against the glass, face nearly hidden by the way that the wind was whipping his hair about. And even if it was amusing to leave the walking-talking-disruption out in the storm... the coffee would only get cold.

 

And Nick was not the kind of man who liked cold coffee. So he nudged the door open and squinted into the strong wind that apparently thought that it was welcome to come in too. He was only too happy to lock the door up again once the coffee bearer had come through.

 

“I don’t know how picky you two are,” this mess of a man smiled like a boyscout. “It’s a Sumatran blend.” And he was holding a paper cup out to Nick, expectant, and still just too damn happy.

 

Nick didn’t take the coffee though. Instead, seeing as there was nothing stopping him, he did something about that fucking tie. It wasn’t his place to lace a man up if he was all done with his suit wearing job for the day and wanted to have his collar a little loose- but the skinny part of the tie was longer than the other, the whole thing hanging just crooked enough to really, really bother Nick. He loosened the knot so he could adjust things, lining the two ends up the right way before smoothing the maddening bit of cloth down.

 

“There.” He nodded shallowly. “That’s been driving me crazy since you came in earlier.”

 

“Oh…” was the man’s stunning answer as he stood there awkwardly with a cup in each hand.

“I’ve got this class on Mondays. The instructor insists that we come in professional dress. And for a kid who grew up in a mechanic’s shop- it’s still taking a bit to get used to. About an hour in, it starts to feel like I’m wearing a noose.”

 

“I think it’s just one of those things that you get used to eventually?” Nick really wouldn’t know, but it seemed like some sort of condolences were supposed to be offered.  He took the two coffees and made no attempt at eye contact as he stepped out of the man’s personal space. Going around the counter, into the back room and setting Castiel’s cup down within arm’s reach.

 

When he came back out the man was still standing right where he’d been left, looking down at his tie like he’d just noticed it was there. Such a lost, almost confused look for such a big, broad shouldered, sturdy fella.

 

And it was another one of those moment where Nick would rather not get too involved, but at the same time couldn’t help himself because despite being tired at the end of his work day, that there was a lovely example of masculinity buttoned up into a navy blue suit.

 

“My name’s Nick, by the way.” He busied himself with finding a mug and pouring half his coffee into it, before sneaking two slices of blackberry pie from the case. “I figure, you know, if I’m going to be charging you forty bucks for two amazing, fresh, life changing, wish granting pies- then we should be on a first name basis.”

 

“They grant  wishes now?”

 

“Sure, why not.” And he set the drinks and dessert on to one of the few little tables that they had in the lobby.  “You’ve got another twenty minutes or so until your apple pies are ready. Come sit down.”

 

And he did- he actually came and sat down across from Nick, which was sort of charming in it’s own rite. “I’m Sam.”

 

“Sam,” he tried it out and liked how it sounded. “Well, Sam, eat. This pie literally does nothing other than taste like blackberries and summer. But you’ll like it.”

 

“Summer?” The newly named Sam looked out at the rain falling sideways outside on the grey January day.

 

“Can’t think of a better day to need a bit of summer… can you?”

 

.:.

 

The fourth time might not have counted any more than the third. Mostly because Nick wasn’t positive that it was the same guy. Sure, the man that he saw at the weekend farmer’s market was comically tall. Tall enough that he had to keep ducking his head as he passed under the low hanging stall umbrellas while browsing through the produce.  And this time of year that wasn’t all that much fresh, local produce to be had- and what there was came at a steep price.

 

And, because it would have been very strange and pointless to follow in the shadow of the possible Sam sighting (because Nick had no idea what he would have said if it was the same man if it was), Nick just took his fresh eggs and jars of raw honey, loaded them into the back seat of his car, and went back home.

 

.:.

 

The fifth time was… unexpected.

 

Nick was handing back change to a girl with blue hair, who’d just purchase a black forest cake that she’d special ordered days ago. Apparently her boyfriend, who she’d been internet dating for three years, was going to be coming in on a flight this evening. Castiel had been utterly charmed by the story- unlike Nick, who thought it was just kind of sad. But that was one of the difference between him and his brother. Cassy was a bit of a romantic. Nick was a bit more realistic.  

 

The gal took her perfect blue box, holding it tight to her chest and thanking him again before heading for the door, only to have it held open for her by Sam.

 

Nick’s mind went pleasantly blank as he struggled to think of something suitably witty to say. “You’re a bit too early.”

 

“Early?” Sam chuckled, shaking off the cold and adjusting the straps of his backpack with his hand that wasn’t carefully gripping a coffee.

 

“We don’t close for another few hours.” Nick explained while trying not to smile at how very different this man could look out of his suit. And even though he’d never had a thing for lumberjacks, or mechanics, or whatever the hell Sam way, Nick found the whole jeans and flannel combo startlingly appealing. “I’ll have to ask you to come back later so I can tell you that we’re closed.”

 

Sam grinned and came over, setting his drink on the counter.

 

Not entirely understanding the gesture, Nick looked suspiciously at the cup.

 

“For you… I’m hoping that you’ll let me steal one of your tables so I can study for a bit.”

 

Nick kept on staring at the offering of caffeine, not sure what this warm and twisting feeling in his chest was.

 

“It’s pledge week on campus, not even the library’s quiet any more.” And Sam eyes went all sorts of soft and puppy like, even as he gave no explanation as to why his own home was not an option here. But the bakery was within walking distance of campus. Perhaps it was just for convenience sake.  

 

So Nick nodded towards the tables and picked up the drink, sipping on it, overly pleased at how strong it was. “Just don’t make any trouble.”

 

“Trouble? Me?” Sam grinned again, using it like a weapon. “You won’t even notice I’m here.”

 

Which, when dealing with people of Sam’s size, was no easy trick.

 

Every now and then, between customers, Nick would find himself overtly aware of the man curled up over a textbook, with handwritten notes and highlighters spread over every inch of the laminate table top. Notice him, and wonder what it was that he was reading so intently.

 

Not enough enough curiosity about it to ask though.

 

Nick wasn’t ready to commit himself to any level of small talk. Especially since each time he started to work himself up to it, another customer would come it. Moms with kids who pressed their little faces and hands up against the pastry case with open longing. A lady who was cheating at her local bake sale by not doing an actual baking of her own. A couple teenaged girls who came in at least once a week to get cookies to munch on while they leached the store’s wifi and giggled at one of the tables. A few others. Enough to keep Nick busy.

 

But not busy enough that he didn’t find time to slip a few fresh chocolate chip cookies onto a little plate and set them, along with a glass of milk, down beside Sam’s notes.

 

The man hmmed so softly, looking to the plate, then Nick, then the plate again before turning one of those smiles of his upward. “Thank you.”

 

“Cassy just made them and there were too many to fit in the case... I didn’t want to have to put them away.” Which was mostly true.

 

A laugh went with the man’s infections smiling. “Thank you, still.”

 

Spiteful of the repeated praise, Nick broke off a piece of one of Sam’s cookies and shoved it in his own mouth before heading back to his counter. Busying himself with receipts while somewhere behind him he heard Sam’s soft moan and a whispered, “oh my god.”

 

Nick had no good answer to that.

 

“This is amazing.” Sam got the words around a mouthful of cookie.

 

“I’ll convey your ecstasy to the chef.”

 

“I mean it, though. Cookies have no business tasting this good.”

 

They were just cookies. But even Nick had to admit that there was something undeniably nostalgic and kind of regressive about hot cookies and cold milk that always took him down a notch or two. “It’s all the drugs he puts in them.”

 

Sam chuckled into his milk.

 

“We’ve got buckets of cocaine in the back.”

 

Hmm ,” the edges of Sam’s eyes crinkled, “and when I met him I’d thought he was covered in flour. I guess even bakers need to let loose sometimes.”

 

And he really wanted some kind of comeback to that, but he got so lost in the mental image of his younger brother just flinging cocaine around like confetti, Nick just ended up leaning his elbows onto the counted to steady himself while he laughed.