They are sitting in the library and Dean can still kind of smell it, the scent of cheap shampoo lingering in the air above Castiel’s head, the warm soapy aura of contentment he’s giving off. His cheeks are kind of pink, his hair is damp and curling a little at the back of his neck. He looks like he scrubbed himself within an inch of his life. Dean knows he was in there for half an hour, maybe a little more. Sam had banged on the door and asked if Castiel was okay, and there had been a long silence, and then a very wet and red-faced Castiel in the doorway soaking the rug, telling Sam he was fine, he’d just figured out the right temperature, was it okay if he just- stood there for a while? He’d cleaned himself off already, he said. Sam had told him to go nuts. Dean hadn’t told him anything, because Dean was hiding in his room like a baby, pretending to be usefully getting Castiel some fresh clothes to wear, in reality mostly wondering why the fuck he was freaking out.
And now Dean’s here in the library, pretending to read a book that’s probably upside-down, watching Castiel eat a microwaved burrito like it had been personally made for him by Julia Child instead of extruded in a Stouffer’s factory. Castiel shoves another enormous bite in his mouth and closes his eyes with an expression of rapturous delight, the kind of face people make in front of famous paintings, or the ocean at sunset.
"Good stuff?" Dean says. Castiel opens his eyes and blinks and then looks at Dean, a crooked smile forming on his face, even though his cheeks are full and round like a chipmunk’s. He looks fucking ridiculous.
"Mmf," he says. He chews and swallows. "It’s," he says, and stops, and looks at the burrito. "Hunger is new. And not especially pleasurable. But the fulfillment of a hunger is-"
"Awesome?" Dean supplies.
"Awesome," Castiel repeats, thoughtfully. "It’s not like with Famine. That was- very different. And it’s not like I expected." His smile slips down, but doesn’t quite flatline. "Nothing’s what I expected." But then he looks up at Dean again, trying to pull the smile back up, gesturing at his plate. "Except your hospitality," he says. "Thank you." Jesus, all Dean did was nuke him a burrito and find him a less dirty pair of jeans, and he’s looking at Dean like that, like Dean is some kind of great provider, like Dean is taking care of him. Castiel’s been a person for less than a week and he’s been homeless and starving and somebody almost stabbed him to death, and he’s still grateful for this, for lunch and a shower. It breaks Dean’s fucking heart.
"You’ll figure it out," Dean says, awkwardly.
"I’ll have to," says Castiel.
Dean finds himself standing in the produce section at the grocery store- not the dinky little market off the highway, but the big supermarket in Lebanon, the one with an actual coffee stand in the front of it, three whole aisles of frozen food, and eight kinds of apples. When he was a kid they had Red Delicious and the green ones, and now, this. Dean doesn’t know what the names mean, what the fuck a Braeburn is supposed to taste like, if Fuji actually means they’re imported. Probably not. Dean picks them up and snorts and puts them back and then something happens, something comes over him, and he picks up one of each kind and puts them in his basket, eight different apples in shades of red and green and tawny gold. He carries them around the store while he gets milk and drain cleaner and dish soap and dried pasta. And then he stands in the peanut butter aisle and looks at all the weird shit they make for kids, the purple jellies stirred into them, and all the hazelnut-cocoa spreads, and okay, Dean is no health nut, but he’s pretty sure you’e not supposed to just spread chocolate on toast and pretend it represents breakfast. It’s the kind of thing Sam lectures him about. He ends up getting a jar of cheap chunky for himself, and then a natural peanut butter for Sam and Kevin, and then-
-and then he grabs a cashew butter and an almond butter and a jar of honey and three kinds of preserves, he picks out the least sugary hazelnut spread and throws that in, too. He had sourdough bread already but now he grabs wheat and English muffins and some kind of freaky flaxseed loaf and right around then he grabs hold of himself and marches to the checkout lane and gets the fuck out of there before he buys one of every flavor of ice cream. He uses one of the fake cards and hoofs it out to the car like he stole it all- which, he kinda did- and drives back to the bunker. Every now and then he finds himself looking into the backseat like he’s checking on a kid in a car seat, except it’s just bags of apples and cashew butters, and wow, Dean is clearly losing his mind. When he gets back Sam raises an eyebrow at all the bags.
"Are we expecting somebody?" he says.
"There’s four of us," Dean huffs. "Five if we count your second stomach." Sam rolls his eyes and leaves him alone to unpack and put things in the refrigerator, and that’s where Dean is when Castiel finds him. Dean turns around and Castiel is picking through the jars, turning them over carefully to read the labels, totally engrossed. Dean watches him.
"Is there," Dean says, "uh, anything in there you like?" Castiel looks up at him and then back at the apples, sitting in a basket on the counter in their golden skins, ripe and pretty. Castiel smiles up at Dean.
"I don’t know yet," he says.
So Dean makes Castiel four different sandwiches with three different kinds of bread and four different spreads, and Dean cuts them into quarters and they sit at the table and eat them together, and Castiel talks out loud about what he likes and doesn’t like, how peanut butter is sweet and sort of oily and wonderful, how the flax seeds get caught in his teeth. Dean eats the ones he doesn’t care for as much. When the plates are empty Dean sits there pressing his fingertip into the crumbs and eating them one by one. Castiel’s eyes follow him closely and then he does the same thing on his own plate, pushing his thumb down and sucking crumbs from the tip. Dean pretends not to watch. He’s getting good at not watching things. “Thank you for lunch,” Castiel says, after a while. “It was excellent.”
"I’m just getting started," says Dean.
Dean makes spaghetti with red sauce and then spaghetti with pesto and then spaghetti with white sauce and clams; he has to look up recipes on the internet and then he drives to the Wal-Mart in Lebanon and buys a little electric chopper, something that can blend the pine nuts and basil together. He spends the afternoon tasting and swearing and then tasting again until it’s pretty good stuff. Sam and Kevin come in to steal things from the cutting board and Dean hits them with spatulas until they laugh and retreat, but Castiel just hovers around the doorway, then hovers around the table, and then hovers around Dean’s shoulder, asking questions quietly when Dean peels something or cuts it into chunks or whisks flour and butter together to start his roux. Dean answers the questions as best he can, even though sometimes the only answer is “because the Food Network website told me to.”
Castiel likes the pesto best, likes the bitterness of the herbs in his mouth. He chews the clams thoughtfully and Dean frowns and worries about having overcooked them, but then Castiel just says he definitely can’t taste the sea anymore, and moves on.
They split a basket of fried clams once, sort of; Dean had ordered them and sat in a plastic booth picking at them and Castiel had shown up, appeared out of thin air in the opposite side, talking in an exhausted voice about angel wars and heavenly bullshit, and when Dean had pushed the basket across the table Castiel had taken one clam strip in his hand and put it into his mouth and eaten it, unsmiling and serious and intent, like somebody researching cancer cells. He’d tasted the sea, then. The brine and low levels of mercury, the frying oil and thus everything else that had been fried in the last three days, and the chemical structures that made clams taste like, you know. Clams. But he’d eaten a second one when Dean shook the basket at him again, and then he’d given Dean one of those weird long looks that Dean still doesn’t quite understand. Sympathy, possibly, for a flesh creature that spent so much damn time trying to keep itself alive. Or maybe something else: gratitude, of the kind he wears so often now. Dean wonders what it is, what it was back then, to offer an angel dinner, a snack, a sip off a milkshake. Is it an insult, or something else? They don’t need it, but Dean wonders if sometimes they like it, if for all their posturing they’re anything like people, who like all kinds of things they’re not supposed to. And maybe not every angel. Maybe specifically this one.
"You’re quite good at all this," Castiel says, standing beside him at the sink, drying the dishes that Dean hands him, setting them into a neat pile, ready for the cupboard. "This suits you. It’s a skill I didn’t know you possessed."
"I’m an okay cook," Dean says. "Nothing special."
"I disagree," says Castiel.
"You haven’t exactly eaten a lot of people’s cooking," Dean says. "How would you know?" Castiel’s eyes narrow, but then he looks down at himself for a second, and then back up at Dean. He shrugs.
"This body knows when things are good," he says. "It knows what it likes and doesn’t like, often before I do. It’s unsettling, but- useful. Adaptive." He dries a plate and sets it down and then dries his hands with the towel, a little too slowly to be casual. "I’m trying to appreciate the things I’ve gained, instead of things I’ve lost."
"Oh," says Dean. "Yeah."
There are other things he wants to try: beef bourguignon with a decent red, a roast chicken with lemon zest shoved under the skin like they showed on America’s Test Kitchen. There are a dozen quick breads Dean’s got bookmarked on Sam’s laptop, with stuff like zucchini and sour cream, and Dean’s not fourteen and picky anymore, he thinks he could try to like zucchini if it was turned into a muffin. There are lots of things he suddenly wants to make. But there are also, you know. Poltergeists. Dean would like to be baking, but instead he is being flung across a room. Dean’s head hits a bookcase and he kind of blacks out for a second, and when he opens his eyes Sam is trying really hard to shoot a deranged super-ghost in the face.
Dean’s phone rings. He manages to get it out of his front pocket and press his thumb to the call button, even though he can see three thumbs and three phones, none of which are all that useful.
"DEAN," Castiel yells, into Dean’s ear. "IT’S A POLTERGEIST!"
"Yeah," Dean says. Sam is trying to stab the ghost with a fireplace poker, now. Dean feels oddly calm about it. "We got that."
"I’m burning the bones," Castiel says, still ragged and kind of loud, like he can’t quite control the volume of his voice. "Dean-“
"Okay, cool," Dean says, and rolls away just as the ghost tosses an antique mirror at him. The mirror shatters into a billion tiny pieces and then the house quakes and the poltergeist quakes and bursts into flames, and then there’s just ash floating like clouds and the terrible, terrible stink of burnt hair. Dean looks at the phone in his hand, only to find that he’s snapped the little flippy top part off. He wonders what else Castiel was about to say.
He forgets about that until twenty minutes later, when Castiel finds them packing up the car in front of the house. Castiel pulls up the driveway in his own stolen car at about a hundred miles an hour, screeching to a halt on the gravel. He gets out and comes towards them, without even shutting the driver-side door. He’s covered from chest to knees in grave dirt, and his hair is sticking straight up from his head. “Yo,” Dean says, and waves. “Nice look.”
"Nice timing with the bones," Sam says, to Castiel. Sam goes back to putting things in place in the trunk. Castiel looks between them for a second and then his eyes scroll over Dean for about thirty full seconds longer than necessary, taking in the little gash on his forehead and the marks on his clothes.
"You two are okay," he says, slowly. "Good." And now, finally, with Dean’s eyes coming up incredulously, Castiel looks away, down at his own feet.
"Were you- worried?” Dean says. It sounds kind of assholey when he says it out loud, like he’s making fun of Castiel for giving a shit about them, but he just means it like a question. It didn’t occur to him at all that Castiel might have been freaking out over at the cemetery, alone on his first hunt post-grace, digging and digging by himself while Sam and Dean got their asses kicked miles away. It didn’t even cross his mind. Castiel’s eyes come up again, wild but caught this time like a fluttering bird, and then they snap back away. “Oh,” Dean says. “We’re okay,” he says. He comes closer, lowers his voice a little, so that behind them, Sam won’t hear. “We’re good,” Dean says. “Are you okay?”
"I’m fine," Castiel says, stiffly. Now that he’s looking for it Dean can hear the tension in his voice still, can almost see the heartbeat hammering in his throat. Christ, it’s so human. He didn’t think enough about this, this part. He thought about getting the right size shoes for him, teaching him how to work an ATM machine, finding out if he likes orange juice or cranberry, but he’s pretending the other stuff will take care of itself, isn’t he.
"Good," Dean says. He doesn’t know what else to say. Castiel is looking like he wants to vanish, like he wishes he could make himself invisible again. "Do you," Dean says, "you, uh, want to get some dinner?"
"Heck yeah," Sam says, popping up from the other side of the car.
"Yes," says Castiel. He looks at Dean and his face eases a little, his mouth almost makes a smile. "Let’s."
On the road they eat shitty burgers- fuckin’ dry it out like jerky, why don’t you, Dean thinks- but when Dean gets back home he makes a grocery list almost as long as his forearm. He waits until Sam and Kevin are fully in research mode, arguing about Greek translations of Aramaic spells and literally throwing pencils at each other in irritation, and then Dean makes a break for it, drives to town and loads the back seat up with bags. When he comes back he tells everybody to stay the fuck out of the kitchen for a while. Sam and Kevin ignore him. Castiel does what Castiel usually does, which is whatever the fuck he wants. He stands in the doorway and watches Dean cook.
Dean puts sliced-up sweet potato into a bowl and tosses it with olive oil and seat salt, just like he’s seen Lidia do on PBS, sets it out on a baking tray and pops it into the oven; he cooks onion and garlic on the stovetop and then adds wine and mushrooms, simmers it for a bit, puts it into the pressure cooker with a nice hunk of shoulder roast and closes the lid. He gets the pressure up until it’s whistling and then turns the heat down, lets it do its thing while he gets some of that pre-made pie dough out of the fridge. It’ll do for tonight, but next time he wants butter and flour and a rolling pin. Do they have a rolling pin? Dean doesn’t know. Something to look forward to, then. He presses the crust into a tin and trims the edges and then Castiel is at his elbow, saying,
"Can I help?"
So Castiel opens the cans of pie filling and scoops them in and Dean shows him how to lay the other crust on top, trim it and crimp the edges and cut slits in a pattern so the steam can escape. Castiel puts the pie on the lower rack in the oven and Dean puts him to work making drop biscuits with a recipe from the back of the flour bag. Castiel measures and stirs and drops the dough onto cookie sheets with the seriousness of a heart surgeon and the technical finesse of a really gifted three-year-old. His last biscuit, though, is better than his first one. Dean thinks that’s all that probably matters.
When the pressure cooker is finished and the lid’s off, Dean dips a spoon into the mushroom jus and takes it over to the counter for Castiel to taste. Castiel doesn’t take the spoon from his hands, he just slides closer and opens his mouth and then kinds of slurps the edge of the spoon afterwards, smiles.
"Wonderful," Castiel says. "Should I tell them dinner’s ready?"
"Not yet," Dean says. They’ll smell it eventually, Dean figures. He pulls two stools up to the table and gets two plates down from the cupboard; two forks, two knives. Two napkins, which are just paper towels folded over. He sits next to Castiel, kind of crowding him, but Castiel doesn’t seem to mind. Dean serves them some of the roast and the sweet potatoes, ladles some gravy over Castiel’s plate and about a quart onto his own. He plucks a hot biscuit from the tray, stops to take the pie out of the oven, and then sits down. He cuts a piece of the roast, spears a mushroom, and then looks at Castiel, who is still sitting there watching him. Dean holds the fork out and Castiel takes it from his hands, eats the bite on the end of it, and hands it back. And then Castiel takes up his own fork and knife and cuts a part off a sweet potato, eats half of it, then offers the other part to Dean. Dean takes it. They eat in comfortable silence, nudging shoulders, trading bites once in a while. It should be really weird. Dean knows that, he’s not a total deviant. It should be really bizarre, that Dean is sitting in the kitchen with a grown man who is secretly a million years old, eating off the end of his fork. But the other part of him, the part that doesn’t feel like this is off at all, the part that has curled up like a cat on a windowsill for this whole meal, thinks that this is okay. That this is the opposite of strange, for all Dean’s known values of strange shit. Something good is happening here. And then like a bubble, a thought comes up that Dean can’t quite keep down. "I never knew what to do for you," Dean says, into the quiet of their forks and knives clinking on the edges of their plates.
"For me?" Castiel says. He turns to look at Dean. "I don’t understand."
"Before," Dean says, and then Castiel’s face shows that he does understand, suddenly. "When you- you were, you didn’t need things. Like, I could help, sure, I could help sometimes, but you didn’t need anything from me.”
"Sometimes I did," Castiel says.
"But usually not."
"Usually not," Castiel says, gently. "No."
"I don’t want you to think that I’m, that I’m not sorry, for how things turned out- you didn’t get a choice. I know you didn’t get a choice. I just feel like," Dean says, and gestures at the table. "I can do this. I can do this for you, at least. Now." Castiel sets his fork down, and Dean’s briefly afraid that he’s crossed the line, said something too fucking weird, that Castiel is going to tell him straight up that eating pot roast with a dipshit hunter is not exactly a substitute for heavenly might. But instead, Castiel just reaches across the table and takes another piece of Dean’s biscuit and pops it into his mouth.
"You’re not the only one who thought about this," Castiel says.
"What?" Dean says. "This?"
"Being human," Castiel says, and then he says, more carefully, "being human with you."
Dean goes cold all over and then his face feels warm, hot, like he’s turning beet red. He wants to hide his face in his hands but he can’t make his hands come up, can’t make them let go of the fork. He doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, Castiel picks his own fork up again and cuts off a piece of the pot roast and sticks it in his mouth and eats it, like he didn’t just drop a bomb.
"With me," Dean says, finally.
"No one else," Castiel says, "has ever tried to- take care of me. Feed me. I suppose they thought it would be absurd. And you were right, I didn’t need it." He turns his face to look at Dean. "But you did it anyway."
"I," says Dean. "Uh."
"It made me wonder." Castiel looks away again, and now Dean’s not the only one with a flushing, embarrassed face. "It made me want," Castiel says, so softly.
There are smart, cool, sexy things Dean should probably be saying, and maybe if Dean could summon up anything but vowels he’d give them a shot. But he can’t speak for a minute. All he can do is let go of his fork and put his hand up and hover it for a second behind Castiel’s head, behind the skull that is just a human skull now, with a humanish brain inside it, and then Dean inhales like he’s jumping and curls his fingers into Castiel’s hair and Castiel sighs and leans into it and Dean pulls him closer to kiss the side of his head, to put his nose into Castiel’s clean scalp and smell the warm skin and cheap shampoo. He has a pulse and working lungs, he sighs and sweats, he bleeds- Dean’s seen it, he can’t stop seeing it when he closes his eyes at night- and he gets thirsty and cranky and he doesn’t even like the Rolling Stones, Jesus, Dean loves him so much he might die. Dean kisses him again and Castiel’s hand slides onto his leg, holds him there in the muscle and meat of him, doesn’t let go. Dean brings his other hand up and cradles Castiel’s face between them, kisses the side of his face now, his cheek, the sharp turn of his jaw. And then he lets him go, brushes his hair back into place, while Castiel’s bright, gorgeous eyes watch him. Take care of him? Yeah. Dean is going to give him everything.
"Eat your dinner," Dean says.
"And then dessert?" Castiel asks, smiling.
"You got it," says Dean.