If you were to ask Castiel what the greatest invention known to mankind is, he would tell you it’s the bucket. It holds things, it helps move things, it stores things, and it makes life easier in ways most people don’t even consider, not to mention that it evolved into the bowl and vase and pot and so many other things. Since people don’t really consider these things, much like people forget that glass windows haven’t always existed, he usually gets confused looks or attempts at backpedaling into something closer to an easy conversation and, a few times, mockery.
Dean Winchester, on the other hand, looked Castiel in the eye, frowned, and said dude, that’s a good answer.
Obviously they were meant to be.
While the family business looks legitimate, it really isn’t. It is a business, and it occasionally deals with the law, but it’s far from legal.
Dean Winchester’s forty unpaid parking tickets are one time the business deals with the law, in a hopefully legitimate way. Considering how pissed off his little brother the lawyer looks before the trial, Dean is just fine with doing things the roundabout and a little more shady way. Or at least he would be if his father and brother hadn’t demanded he go and do community service like he’d been told to.
It’s kind of sad when you’re thirty years old and still a little whipped by your baby brother. But at the same time, Dean knows Sam just wants the best for him, and that’s why he agrees to do it.
Papers eat it up like he’s some kind of street-sweeping Al Capone Jr, but community service doesn’t mean standing around waiting to be shot, so Dean and Sam look through the assorted lists of ways he can serve the community, and then the shorter list of safe ways for Dean Winchester to serve the community, and then the even shorter list of safe ways for Dean Winchester to serve the community that won’t have him tearing his own eyes out from sheer boredom.
“Dean, this is as good as it’s gonna get,” Sam finally says, and Dean sighs, and agrees, and closes his eyes, and points at random on the page.
His finger is pressed right against TAFT AVE SOUP KITCHEN.
Sam pats him on the back. “At least you’re not collecting litter, right?”
“Right,” Dean mutters, and goes to call the soup kitchen.
Their first meeting goes like this:
Castiel stirs the soup without really bothering to look at which one it is – since Mary’s working, it’s probably potato soup and will be gone in half an hour – and doesn’t look up when the door opens.
“And that’s Castiel,” Ellen says, motioning towards him for Dean’s benefit. “He’s second in command, after me. Castiel, this is Dean, our new volunteer.”
“Nice to meet you, Castiel,” Dean says, and smiles. Dean is wearing jeans and two shirts and looks as handsome as ever, but Castiel barely glances at him when he shakes his hand, moving over to the chicken noodle soup to check up on it.
Dean isn’t used to that happening.
“Nice to meet you, Dean,” Castiel says, and glances at Ellen. “Is Jo coming today?”
“Nope,” Ellen says.
“I was promised a lesson,” Castiel says.
“Jo will be more than happy to teach you tomorrow,” Ellen says, and it’s over. Dean moves on to chopping things up and Castiel moves on to serve the soup, and Dean thinks Castiel has a crush on some guy named Joe, and Castiel is too busy wondering why he works at a soup kitchen when he can’t cook worth a damn and his boss’ daughter keeps avoiding finishing his promised cooking lessons.
Castiel wears a sugar pink apron every day he works at the soup kitchen, which only makes Dean think his homosexual theory is a fact instead of a hypothesis. It makes Ellen think Castiel shouldn’t be allowed to do laundry, and makes Castiel think she’s probably right, since a lot of his underwear matches.
Dean has a lot of money. A lot of money. People usually don’t understand how to relate that with Dean himself, since the only thing he ever really spends it on are his car and massage chairs. Sam thinks his thing for massage chairs is kind of creepy, but since Dean knows Sam spends a lot of money on designer pens he isn’t really bothered by it.
Dean also donates a lot of money anonymously, and kind of owns a nightclub and a restaurant and a winery in Oregon, but he doesn’t think they really count since he only paid for them and doesn’t actually do anything other than get ‘free’ stuff from them. He gets Christmas cards from their managers, but he also gets Christmas cards from some of the seedier people in the family business and some of the FBI agents he’s met over the years.
Tabloids hate him, since the only even remotely controversial things he does nowadays are hook up with random people and occasionally drive way too fast with the rare not-quite-race thrown in there. They were pretty excited when he disappeared for a few months a little over a year ago, but it’s hard to be excited about you’ve got no information on.
He donates money to the Taft Avenue Soup Kitchen anonymously. He donates a lot of money.
The only difference he sees is in the quality and complexity of the soups, which only makes his job that much harder.
Dean meets Jo nearly a month after he starts and worries that Castiel’s a cradle-robber until Jo starts bossing him around and teaching him how to make edible minestrone. She’s using one of the industrial-sized pots, and Castiel’s using something small enough that it barely passes for a saucepan.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to cook for another couple months or so,” Jo says when she tests it and does a decent job of swallowing, and Castiel looks absolutely crushed.
He’s only a few feet away, and that’s what he blames it on when he walks over and tries a little bit of it, both of them staring. And yeah, it’s kind of awful, but Dean is capable of eating just about anything after four months of things he’d prefer to not think about. The soup is halfway to congealed in the strangest ways, kind of like it’s the bastard child of runny eggs and saltwater, but he shrugs when he’s swallowed. “Maybe more like a couple weeks, if you teach him a little more. He just needs practice, probably.”
Jo frowns, but looks at Castiel with a considering frown instead of a grimace. “Alright. Have you figured your stove out yet?”
Dean stares at Castiel. “You can’t turn on your own stove?”
“It’s a complicated stove,” Castiel tells him, and looks completely unrepentant, like people who can’t figure out how to use standard kitchen appliances are completely normal. Which makes him pretty far from normal, but it’s all a state of mind, as far as Dean can tell. “Do you know how to cook?”
“Not really,” Dean admits, and smiles. “I know how to eat, though.”
“And chop vegetables,” Ellen shouts at him.
“Thank you,” Castiel says, sincere and not-quite-smiling in some way that means more than a smile probably would, and Dean feels his chest tighten in a way that he’s not quite sure he’s okay with.
Castiel is strange, and apparently not a single person can explain it.
“I heard he’s from the outback or something,” one of the volunteers says, but Castiel isn’t Australian. “Or he lived in Death Valley or something and went crazy and only recent rejoined society.”
“Someone told me he was dropped on his head when he was a baby,” another says, but since he’s actually pretty smart, Dean kind of doubts that.
“Oh, he had an abusive family,” someone else says. “Ran away when he was sixteen and lived on the street and then got adopted by rich people.”
When Dean asks Castiel if he’s been traumatized or something, Castiel just looks at him and says, “Have you?”
He drops the subject fast enough to break the mental sound barrier.
“I hate you,” Sam tells him, and Sam is totally justified, absolutely completely justified in so many ways that Dean doesn’t want to consider. He’s already suffering through what has to be the worst hangover he’s ever had – which is saying something – and he doesn’t want to deal with anything.
“I hate me too,” Dean says, and is completely miserable even nine hours later, when he gets word from security that some weird guy waltzed in with soup he had promised them he hadn’t cooked and said he didn’t know the ingredients of and no, he wouldn’t eat some, because it was for Dean and he’d had specific instructions to give it only to Dean.
“God, Cas, you’re going to get yourself killed one of these days,” Dean tells him when he opens the door, and does his best to ignore how much even seeing Castiel cheers him up and makes his hangover a little more bearable. “Who made the soup?”
“Ernest,” Castiel says, and looks around at Dean’s apartment-slash-condo-slash-almost an entire floor of the building. “Why do you need so much space?”
Dean stares at him, shakes his head, and grabs the soup because Ernest’s soup would make the guys on Iron Chef cry themselves to sleep. He doesn’t even have to heat it up, and Castiel just sits down and watches him eat, looking at Dean with that same fondness that makes him feel like he won a spelling bee. He’s pretty sure it feels like winning a spelling bee because Dean’s never managed to do that, but he always kind of wanted to.
“I should teach you how to turn on your stove,” Dean says, which is an absolutely horrible idea.
Castiel smiles and leans forward just enough for Dean to tell he really is excited about learning to turn a damn stove on. “I’d appreciate that. I’ve always wanted to use it.”
And then he leaves, and Dean feels like a moron and starts worrying about what to wear.
Dean is involved in the family business.
He used to be more involved, but his current level of involvement is mostly the diplomatic side of things, making treaties and agreements and keeping everyone happy, and if that doesn’t work out very well, keeping his friends and family and allies happy. Sam takes care of the legal consultations if Dean or their dad needs one, since Sam really understands the family business in ways other lawyers never can or will. And their dad, well, John Winchester does everything.
Before his little four month vacation, so did Dean.
He’s a lot happier with his current level of contribution to the family business, really. He likes being able to look a stranger in the face and smile without showing a little more tooth than necessary.
Dean isn’t really surprised Castiel lives on Taft Avenue, only a few blocks down from the soup kitchen itself. It’s not a bad neighborhood, but it’s not the best either. Ages nine and up would be just fine on Castiel’s block. There’s even a few trees and a few benches facing the street, and the graffiti on them is harmless enough that it looks more like very colorful decoration.
He’s wearing his five hundred dollar jeans and feels like an idiot for it, but after Sam had stopped laughing at him he’d sworn up and down that expensive jeans were expensive for a reason. To make up for it, his shirt’s worth a grand total of eight dollars.
When he sees Castiel he’s wearing a rumpled suit and bags under his eyes, but he looks awake enough to actually pay attention to how to turn on a stove. “Thank you for this,” Castiel says, and lets Dean into his apartment.
It’s a decent size for one person, and a lot bigger than he’d expected from a guy who seemed pretty blasé about the whole materialism thing. There’s not much obvious decoration, at least until Dean really starts to notice the paint, and the ceilings, and the floor, and the curtains and blinds and even the light fixtures and furniture. The place is obviously loved, and just as obviously refurbished and meticulously cleaned, and probably cleaned by Castiel himself. It makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to turn on his own stove. He probably bought it for aesthetic appeal.
Which is when he steps into the kitchen, and stares, because that stove-oven-microwave combination is one of the most complicated things he’s ever seen.
“It was my brother’s,” Castiel says, and stays probably five feet away from the thing. “He liked overkill.”
Dean really regrets wearing nice jeans, because this is going to be actual work. Turning on the stove is going to be hard.
Dean’s pretty sure that if Castiel comes from a family where they make custom and incredibly confusing appliances, there’s a solid source for Castiel’s weirdness.
The soup kitchen gets a lot more interesting after that, because to everyone’s astonishment, Castiel actually makes a good soup. Nobody has a clue what it is and he’s never tasted anything like it, but it smells nice and has a pretty interesting tang to it.
“I used oranges,” Castiel says proudly, and really, there’s not much to say, so Dean just shakes his head and eats more.
The next time he comes to try and turn on Castiel’s stove, he brings a toolbox and wears the same clothes he uses for the Impala’s check-ups. Castiel looks just as tired as the other day, but his suit’s close to pristine.
Dean sits him down in one of the kitchen table’s chairs with a command for him to rest, unlike last time’s aimless movement around the apartment. He’s asleep in half an hour, head on his arms on the table, and when Dean gives up for the day he hooks an arm around Castiel’s shoulder and sets him down on the couch with a blanket over him.
“That’s not where the blanket goes,” Castiel says in what’s barely more than a mumble against the couch’s arm, and Dean does his best to ignore how bad he just wants to curl up with him or kiss him on the temple or just watch him sleep, as stupid as it is.
Dean grins. “I like your super feng shui.”
“It’s not mine,” Castiel practically whispers, and Dean can only watch while he falls deeper and deeper into sleep.
If you asked Dean Winchester what the greatest invention known to mankind is, he’ll tell you it’s the car, because sure, humans can build rockets and tiny microchips and submarines, but the car is the true sign of mechanical genius. Rockets have been around for millennia, submarines will never be as good at diving as actual marine animals, and some microchips can be crushed just as easily as a regular chip. There’s nothing like a car. It’s parts joining together to do one thing, all cooperating, every one of them doing something different.
But really, Cas does have a point with the bucket thing.
Castiel makes some weird but tasty lamb-carrot-squash-avocado soup. One out of three people thinks it’s the most disgusting thing they’ve ever tasted, but the other two out of three enjoy it enough for them to actually serve it.
He gets to be in charge of the Mystery Soup, which they make up just because they never have a clue what the hell Castiel’s going to make and like having an excuse to make him cook every day he works in the soup kitchen. Honestly, Dean’s pretty sure Castiel doesn’t know what he’s making either. His cooking method usually means he stares at the stove for ten minutes, grabs what seems like random knives and spoons and pots – that’s another thing, Castiel always uses at least three pots and combines them at some random unknowable point that Castiel decides on – and turns it into soup.
It’s still dangerous to give Castiel an actual recipe. He ends up making the most disgusting things a lot of the people have tasted when they give him even the simplest recipes, and it’s almost impressive how bad he is. Dean’s still on chopping and stirring duty, and he’s kind of grateful Ellen knows better than to put him on the serving line. There’s a lot less chance he’ll get shot in the actual kitchen than in a big room full of desperate people.
Dean feels kind of bad for asking the family to tell him what’s up with Castiel’s apartment and past-tense-brother, but he feels more curious than guilty, so it all works out in his head. He’s looking at his probably too big apartment and trying to remember why he’d thought he needed something so big when they deliver the pertinent information, along with the usual pleasantries. “He doesn’t officially exist, but his apartment does,” Ash says easily, and leaves the folder there to answer Dean’s questions.
While it’s a little concerning that Castiel doesn’t officially exist, Dean’s too used to that sort of thing to really be bothered by it. Forty of the family business’ associates aren’t real people either. The apartment, on the other hand, has plenty of information on it. Owned by the Novak family since 1933, it has a pretty boring history really, going down a few generations to James Novak, with a convenient note from Ash that tells him the guy’s been dead for three years.
James Novak, usually called Jimmy, had five brothers and one sister. Including Jimmy, four brothers died within a single month. And from the picture of Jimmy Novak that Dean’s been provided, he’s pretty sure Castiel had an identical twin. It gets worse, with Jimmy Novak’s wife and daughter both dying four years ago in a car accident Jimmy miraculously survived.
His wife was a world-famous interior decorator.
“That’s kind of unhealthy,” Dean says to himself and heads for his newest massage chair, trying to not think very hard.
Castiel’s stove looms in front of him.
“It’s okay if you can’t turn it on,” Castiel tells him. “The microwave and stove work fine if you wind them up enough.” The burners on the stove are wound up with a crank to how hot you want them and how long you want them on, but there’s still no obvious way of turning them on. He’s figured out how to adjust the stovetop settings perfectly, but you can’t adjust something that isn’t turned on.
Today, Dean is trying to see if the stove is secretly one of those old gas stoves where you have to actually stick a flame into the gas to make it turn on. He doesn’t think it’s going to, since the stove’s burners are kind of obviously electric, but since the microwave is sort of shaped like a parallelogram he’s not ruling anything out just yet.
“You need to practice cooking with recipes, and you need a stove to do it, and I’m going to turn this stove on somehow,” Dean replies.
Castiel shrugs. “I’ll ask to use yours if it’s that important.”
Dean grins at him. “You’re going to give my family a heart attack if you keep that up, by the way. They’re not big fans of unexpected guests.”
“I didn’t think I’d met anyone in your family,” Castiel says, and frowns. “I hope I wasn’t rude.”
He can’t do much more than stare at tired, suit-wearing Castiel who is so earnest that Dean’s getting the warm fuzzies feeling again. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“You’re Dean,” Castiel answers, like it’s the most obvious answer in the world.
Castiel just stares at him.
“Nevermind,” Dean mutters, and goes back to his seemingly unending fight with the stove. It’s probably better Castiel doesn’t make the connection anyway.
Dean gets to make coffee, and he’s so excited that he actually manages to get Sam down to the soup kitchen, even if it’s probably to make Dean shut up about how exciting it is to actually cook something in the kitchen, even if it’s not really cooking and is more like brewing, but it’s the thought that counts. The coffee turns out decent, but Sam indulges him with a not-entirely-sarcastic comment about how it’s not the best, but not the worst either. Considering Sam’s been drinking coffee since he was eleven, Dean’s willing to take that as a compliment.
Sam also tries Castiel’s soup, which apparently has bananas in it, and his poor brother looks like it’s the most confusing taste he’s ever had to deal with.
“You sure you should be cooking this big of portions?” Sam chokes out, and Dean helpfully slaps him on the back. You can tell he’s being helpful because Sam says, “Thanks, Dean,” and that always makes Dean feel like he’s managed a job well done.
The next time he comes to try and turn on the stove, it’s more like pleading with the thing to turn on than flicking the random dials and switches and cranks.
“I’m sorry,” Dean says, because he’s slowly coming to terms with the fact that there may not be a way to turn the stove on in general. The stove is a lie. A cruel, cruel lie.
Castiel shrugs and takes another sip of Dean’s considerately-brewed coffee. “You’ll figure it out eventually.” He says it like it was prophesized thirty years ago and Castiel’s family used it as a bedtime story.
A week later, their plan for turning on the stove is sitting on the kitchen floor and throwing foam balls at it. They managed to make the microwave beep in what had sounded ominously close to a countdown, but that was about it.
“So what do you do for a living?” Dean asks.
Castiel grabs one of the denser yellow balls and manages to smack the stove right in one of the cranks. Like usual, nothing happens. “I’m a secretary.”
Dean’s lips quirk upwards. “A secretary? You wear that nice of suits and you’re a secretary?”
“I’m a special secretary,” Castiel grudgingly admits, and watches Dean’s throw smack the microwave right in its blue-tinted face. “You?”
“Family business,” Dean replies, mind already tiptoeing around some things and doing its best to give Castiel an honest answer without telling him that the family business isn’t exactly government-approved. “Mostly negotiations.”
Castiel nods and throws one of the smaller balls against the oven’s thankfully clear glass front. “Do you like it?”
“Can’t imagine doing anything else,” Dean says.
“That’s not an answer,” Castiel says, but there’s just enough humor that Dean knows if he drops the subject, it’ll be dropped. The only answers Castiel really seems to push for are criticism on his soup, and Dean appreciates that more than he’ll admit.
He sighs. “Yeah, I like it. It suits me, I’m good at it, and I’m not sure I’d trust anyone else to do my job.”
“You pride yourself on a job well done, and care about the people you work with,” Castiel says. “That’s very admirable.”
“Admirable,” Dean repeats, and can’t help but laugh a little. “Alright, do you like your job?”
“I like my job,” Castiel states, and whacks the stove right in the side of a burner. “I don’t like my supervisor, but I like my job.” He hesitates for a moment. “Don’t tell anyone I said that.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Dean agrees, and leisurely lobs another ball at the stove. “Do I get details, or is that enough secrets for one day?”
Castiel almost smiles at Dean. It’s all in the eyes. “You wouldn’t like him either.”
It’s not exactly details, but it’s good enough for now.
Dean knows the following about Castiel from what Castiel himself has told Dean, or things that Dean has observed:
1. Castiel cannot cook with a recipe. He can, however, cook fruit into a soup and somehow make it taste almost good, in a weirdly pleasant sort of way. He can bake with a recipe, but according to Castiel, baking doesn’t count as cooking.
2. Castiel thinks that buckets, bowls, cups, and other containers are the best thing ever. Tupperware parties are his equivalent of a strip club.
3. Castiel is intelligent in all the ways you don’t really have to go to school for, but he went to school anyway. He also seemed to have eaten a dictionary when he was twelve, because he can regurgitate words Dean’s never even thought a language needed.
4. Castiel owns a TV, but doesn’t have it hooked up for cable or even basic television. He has a lot of movies, and a lot of (old) music, and it definitely sheds some light on Castiel’s lack of pop culture knowledge.
5. Castiel hates his boss, but really likes his job.
6. Castiel considers Dean a close friend.
7. Castiel’s weirdness is actually a subset of awesome that was previously unknown, and is still difficult to identify for most people.
It’s not much to go on, but it’s enough to make Dean always want to know more and always know he won’t. Castiel doesn’t talk about his past, or what he does at work, or why he always looks so damn tired at five in the afternoon, or where he learned to
cookbake, or anything about his family. But he knows Castiel’s favorite color changes from blue to green and back depending on the weather, and he owned fish when he was in his twenties but they all died when he went on a work trip and forgot to get a time-release feeder and hasn’t had a single pet since, and that he has an expired pilot’s license and an expired driver’s license, and he has shockingly good aim when he wants to.
The facts tell Dean absolutely nothing other than that he’s obsessing over Castiel.
“You’re getting close to the three month mark,” Sam tells him while Dean tries to drown himself in coffee at five in the morning. He really doesn’t like international calls, he really, really doesn’t. It’s late for them, it’s early for him, and it just makes them all a little more likely to try and kill each other. “Dad’s gonna want to meet him.”
Dean slices a bagel in half and tosses one half into the toaster, already buttering up the second and eating it because he wants food, and he wants it now. “We’d have to be dating to reach a three month anniversary.”
“Alright, what do you call going over to his house for at least three hours just about every day of the week?”
“I call it trying to turn on his stove,” Dean says, glares at him, and takes a sharp bite out of his bagel. “He doesn’t even know who the Winchesters are, Sam. I’m not letting you and dad do a pre-pre-nuptial check-up on him when he wouldn’t have a clue why you were asking about his financial status or if he’s made any enemies in his life.”
Sam stares at him. “Wow. You really like this guy.”
“Sam,” Dean warns.
Sam grins at him. “Come on, Dean! You should ask him to go to dinner at least.”
“We eat dinner together all the time!”
“Soup kitchen community service doesn’t count. That’s about as far away from romantic as I can imagine. Seriously, Ellen’s constantly wandering around fully prepared to shout at you to get back to work.” Sam spins his chair just a little bit. “Come on, it’s a Wednesday. Nobody has plans on Wednesday night.”
“We do,” Dean points out.
Sam is a vicious little brother because he pulls out his cell phone, says “not anymore,” and suddenly Dean’s schedule is completely open after the conference call.
Dean’s not sure how he feels about that.
Castiel answers the phone with an irritable Yes? when Dean finally calls him at eight in the morning. Since he usually gets a laid-back Hello? or even a fond Hello, Dean if he calls at his depressingly habitual three thirty in the afternoon.
“I guess you’re busy,” Dean says lightly.
He could swear it sounds like Castiel dropped something on the floor. “Dean?”
“Yep, it’s Dean,” he agrees, and tries to ignore the instant fondness that curls up in his chest. “I’ll call back later, I didn’t meant to interrupt-”
“It’s fine, they’ll wait for me,” Castiel says, and there’s the tell-tale sound of a door shutting. “What’s wrong?”
Dean frowns. “Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to invite you to dinner.”
The silence he gets in return makes Dean think he might actually understand that ‘pregnant pause’ phrase he hears all the time. There is a pause, and he has no idea what’s going to come out after it’s over, and there’s going to be something that comes after the pregnant pause whether it wants to or not.
Dean’s pretty sure his pause has a miscarriage or something, since Castiel says Dean? with this concerned, caring tone that makes Dean jerk and say, “Yeah, sorry. How does six thirty sound?”
“A little late,” Castiel says honestly. “I get off work at three.”
Dean frowns at the wall. “You eat dinner at three?”
“I usually eat four small meals on workdays,” Castiel explains. “My workday starts at four in the morning-”
Dean groans. “Oh god, why the hell do you let me bother you until eight at night?”
“You don’t bother me.”
“Not what I mean, Cas.” He glares at the floor. “Alright, I solemnly swear to have you home by seven.”
“I don’t need nine hours of sleep,” Castiel says, and sounds way too amused.
“Okay, I’m going to come get you at four, and we’re going to go have some newly-created meal between lunch and dinner, and we will have a good time before seven o’clock.”
He can practically hear the frown. “Do you normally eat that slowly?”
“Dude, you’ve eaten with me before,” Dean objects. “And I thought we could maybe go do something afterwards if you wanted to maybe?” Christ, Dean is such a girl. He can just see Sam laughing himself unconscious when the story eventually gets back to him, locked and soundproof apartment or not, because somehow Sam knows everything.
“That could be fun,” Castiel muses, and there’s a hushed background noise that Castiel echoes with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Dean, but I need to get back to work.”
“Oh, no problem. I should too.” Which is a lie, but Castiel doesn’t need to know that. “See you tonight.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Castiel says, and hangs up, leaving Dean blinking at the wall because every plan he’d had is now shot to hell and he can’t remember the last time he did something legal and fun before sundown.