Dean’s favorite time to be in the Bunker was during the downtime between their smaller cases. He enjoyed when the current Big Bad had been vanquished and they weren’t dodging any beings from higher planes who thought humans were just toys, or chess pieces, or ants. The times when it was quieter, when everything was calmer, when they weren’t running in circles…Dean really liked the bunker then. When it was busy, Dean spent his time eternally looping between his bedroom, the war room, and the library, with occasional stops for food and whiskey. It got stuff done, sure, but it was pretty dull.
Sam didn’t seem to mind the bunker grind as much, but then Sam was a man who had “huge ancient library” at the top of the list for his dream home if there ever was one. Dean’s dream home, on the other hand, just had a picket fence, a couple of La-Z-Boys in front of a widescreen TV, and an oven that heated evenly.
It was currently, blessedly, a quiet time.
Dean woke up, stretched, and got to think about delightfully mundane things like doing a grocery run, washing a couple of the cars, maybe even laundering his bedsheets for that perfect just-washed feel atop the memory foam. Later that evening, he thought, he might head out to a bar—a safe hour or so from the bunker, of course—and hustle some pool to top-up their cash reserves a little. It wasn’t something he really needed to do these days, not between the Men of Letters’ offshore accounts and Charlie’s “gifts” from back when Dick Roman was the worst douche they’d faced. But old habits die hard, and Dean would miss the hustle if he just lived off interest as Charlie had set them up to do.
He picked out his current favorite old band tee—an awesome Led Zeppelin tour shirt from Madison Square Garden in ’73 that he’d found at a haunted thrift store in Milwaukee. He slipped on his softest jeans, then laced up his boots, and headed off to the kitchen. The first stop for any good, quiet day was always coffee.
As he approached the bunker kitchen, the warm smell of freshly brewing dark roast Columbian reached his nose. He wasn’t a coffee snob—hell, he’d lived most of his life on the kind you could make in a microwave at an hourly motel—but that was definitely his favorite now that he was old enough and semi-settled enough to have a favorite at all.
Dean sighed contentedly as he approached the machine.
“I knew there was a reason we kept you around, buddy,” he joked lightly, winking at Castiel as he sat at the kitchen table. The angel was leafing idly through the prior day’s local paper and barely raised his head as Dean passed.
“Nice to know I have some uses,” Castiel said dryly. A little too dryly perhaps, Dean thought.
“Hey, I’m just joking, Cas. You do make good coffee these days, though.”
“I certainly should after your long lecture the other day on exactly how to use a coffee filter.”
Dean shrugged, sloshing dark, liquid positivity into one of the Men of Letters’ short, 1950’s style coffee cups. “So what? Heavenly battle training wasn’t exactly the Starbucks barista program. It’s fine. Even an angel can’t know everything.”
There was a prickly silence behind Dean for a moment, then the legs of the stool Castiel was sitting on scraped unpleasantly across the floor. “So you keep reminding me,” the angel pointed out sourly before stomping his way out of the room.
Dean blinked slowly after him, blowing across the top of his mug. What the hell had that been about? Alright, Castiel was a bit grumpy at the best of times, but having only just surfaced from his memory foam, Dean was fairly certain he’d done nothing to deserve it yet.
Giving a little shrug, Dean decided that everyone was allowed the odd rough morning and raised the cup to his lips, taking a tiny, steaming sip.
Damn, that angel made good coffee.
Sam returned from his morning run not long after, sweaty, glowing, and hideously healthy-looking. Dean greeted him with a nod and a raised brow as Sam made his way to the kitchen, frowning down at his FitBit and doing some awful kind of health-math that Dean never wanted to understand.
“Where’s Cas?” Sam asked idly as he raided the fridge and proceeded to poke his way through the avocados in the bowl on the counter, finding the perfect one.
“Dunno,” Dean said, shrugging again. “He stomped out of here a few minutes ago, probably went to the library. Seems a bit touchy this morning.”
“More than usual?” Sam asked, digging out a green tea bag from the pantry.
“More than usual,” Dean confirmed.
“Alright. Put an English muffin in the toaster for me? I’m gonna grab a quick shower and come back to eat.”
“Sure,” Dean said, moving over to the metal shelving where the bread muffins lived—the poor things that Sam had recently been covering with green gunk. “You’re always more welcome in the kitchen when you don’t smell like exercise.”
Sam muttered something under his breath as he walked off. Dean was sure it was some kind of dig at him and his hatred of working out, but he was in too good a mood to worry about it.
He toasted the muffin, poured hot water on Sam’s green tea, and even got the pit out of Sam’s damned avocado for him, feeling generous that morning. Leaving them on the table, ready for Sam to return, Dean sloshed the last of the coffee into two cups. Taking his own, he picked up the other and wandered toward the library with it. Castiel rarely said no to coffee and maybe it would pull him out of his funk a little.
“Cas?” Dean called, moving down the single stone step and across the room. “Gotcha some coffee, buddy, if you want it.”
Castiel wasn’t seated at the heavy wooden table that they used for research, but the thumping noise of a book dropping to the floor, as if Dean had startled him, revealed the angel’s presence in the stacks.
Dean stuck his head around the edge of the row of shelves, giving Castiel a grin. “Let’s try this again: Good morning.”
Castiel was mid-bend to pick up the book he’d dropped. He froze for a second as Dean spoke, but then quickly grabbed the chunky tome, shoving it back onto the shelf almost guiltily before striding up to Dean.
“Good morning,” he said gruffly.
“Brought you some coffee,” Dean said, smiling as he raised the second cup up a little.
“I—uh—yes. Yes, thank you.” Castiel sounded oddly flustered. He reached for the cup, wrapping his fingers around it, and took it from Dean with a nervous-looking nod.
Before Dean could do much more than frown, about to ask his friend what the hell was up, Castiel gave another sharp nod and strode away again, moving back out to the war room.
Dean craned his neck in puzzlement, watching him go. He leaned back against the library shelf, sipping at his coffee thoughtfully. A minute passed, and then he heard the heavy thunk of the bunker’s front door opening and closing. Castiel’s coffee cup sat on the war room table, barely sipped, if at all.
Sam reappeared, barefoot and bare-chested with a towel turban atop his head. “Who was that?” he asked in concern, jerking a thumb toward the staircase that led to the door.
“Cas,” said Dean. “Something’s really ruffled his feathers this morning, for sure.”
Sam gave him a clueless shrug, and Dean gave him a half-smile in return. Clearly neither of them had any idea why Castiel had more of a stick up his ass than usual. That was reassuring; at least it wasn’t something that Dean had done and simply not noticed, that Sam could crow over.
“Your breakfast stuff is in the kitchen,” Dean said. “I’m gonna finish my coffee then head out to Hastings. Gonna do a bit of a kitchen restock while it’s quiet, so lemme know if you need anything.”
“I’ll make a list,” Sam said, his towel bobbing as he headed off to enjoy his gross, green breakfast.
Dean strolled back to the library, sipping at the last of his coffee. He idly regarded the bookshelves. What had Castiel been looking at, in here, that he seemed so weirded-out to be caught reading?
He made his way to the spot a few stacks down where Castiel had been standing and looked at the bookshelf. The book Castiel had picked up from the floor and shoved unceremoniously back onto the shelf stuck out further than the others, so it was easy to spot.
Pulling it out with one hand, Dean regarded the heavy leather cover as he strolled back to the kitchen to put his cup in the sink. ‘ Heavenly Species’, the title proclaimed, with a subtitle letting the reader know that it was ‘ An In-Depth Study of the Metaphysics, Anatomy, and Habits of All Heavenly Creatures’. It was thick, and old, and written by someone named Harif Ala Al-din before being translated by a helpful-sounding Tracy Shadwell.
“Hey, Sam,” Dean questioned, waving the book at his brother where he sat at one end of the table, sprinkling some black things onto his snotty-looking toasted English muffin. “Where’d we get this one? I haven’t seen it before.”
Sam looked up for a moment, reading the title of the leather-bound tome. “Oh, the angel stuff? We got them when Garth sent that team out to the old warehouse in Geneva. Remember? The one that Crowley used to use.”
“Huh,” said Dean. “Alright, then.”
He rinsed out his coffee cup one-handed and tucked the book under his arm. It seemed like it might actually be interesting, not that he’d say as much out loud. Despite knowing Castiel for well over ten years, Dean realized that he didn’t really know that much about angels. It almost seemed rude not to read it, the more he thought about it.
“I’m gonna grab my jacket and head out,” Dean told Sam, who was engrossed on his phone. “Text me that list.”
Sam made a mumble of agreement, and Dean dawdled back to his bedroom to grab his khaki jacket and deposit the book on his nightstand.
Baby was purring herself awake and Dean was digging through his shoebox of old cassette tapes by the time Castiel appeared next to her driver’s side door. Dean looked up as a shadow fell over him, smiling easily to see the angel.
“Hey Cas. Did you wanna ride with me to Hastings?”
“Uh.” Castiel didn’t seem sure. He rolled his shoulders, looking torn, as Dean slipped one of his favorite mixtapes into the tape deck.
“Not one of the great questions of the universe, Cas,” Dean pointed out. “I’m going to stop at a diner and grab some decent breakfast, then I’m driving north to get supplies. You can come or not, it’s not a big deal.”
Silently, Castiel nodded and progressed around the car to slide into the passenger seat. “You didn’t want Sam to come?” he asked, settling his seatbelt across his trench coat.
“Nah,” Dean shrugged. “I spend far too much time with him in the bunker, as it is. I don’t want to hang out with him today.”
Castiel tilted his head as Dean pulled out onto the quiet road that led down to the bunker. “But you do want to ‘hang out’ with me today?”
Dean could hear the invisible air-quotes and he bit down a small grin. “Yeah. Of course. You’re different.”
Castiel watched the side of Dean’s face steadily for a minute as Dean drove. Dean could feel it. Castiel’s stares had a weight to them that was hard to miss, but after a moment Castiel seemed to let whatever it was pass and turned his attention out of the window.
They drove in comfortable silence. Dean tapped out the bass to Metallica’s Black Album on the edge of the steering wheel, humming along to his favorite parts. Castiel, Dean noted quite fondly, similarly tapped his fingers on the door, resting his arm on the window. Dean had the windows rolled down, letting in the early summer breeze, and all-in-all it was a pleasant, perfect drive. If Dean kept sneaking looks at Castiel’s profile in the soft morning sunlight, no one ever had to know.
It didn’t take too long to pull up to one of Dean’s favorite diners, just outside of town on the other side of Lebabon.
“I am all-in for a good pile of bacon and pancakes this morning,” Dean said, clapping and rubbing his hands together once he’d cut the engine. He’d circled the lot three times to pick a space to park Baby in, and Castiel hadn’t said a word about it, both used to and entirely accepting of Dean’s automotive idiosyncrasies. (Not too far from the door, visible from the window, but shaded enough to keep Baby out of the morning sun.) “You want some more coffee?”
“Yes,” Castiel said, already unfolding his tall, built frame from the car. “I’d like some more coffee. I’m a little tired this morning.”
Dean raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. How the angel could be tired when he didn’t even sleep was an interesting question, but the little voice in the back of Dean’s head that said, maybe if you’d taken the time to learn more about angels, you’d know why , stopped him from asking.
Inside, they were seated in a quiet booth, away from other customers, and Dean ordered them both coffee while he perused the small menu. He knew what he wanted already, but it never hurt to have a peek at the specials, in his book.
“Can I take a look?” Castiel asked quietly.
Dean looked up, surprised. He slid the laminated card across the table to Castiel. “Sure, buddy. You hungry?” he asked casually, trying to hide an odd, low-level concern he couldn’t name or shake.
“A little,” Castiel confessed, not looking at Dean.
Dean ordered himself a plate of bacon and pancakes, and after a moment’s hesitation that Dean attempted to encourage him through with a smile, Castiel did the same.
The waitress returned very quickly with their plates, much to his stomach’s delight, and topped up their coffees. Once she’d departed, Dean picked up the syrup bottle that she’d left them and drizzled it generously all over his stack before offering it to Cas.
“Syrup?” he said.
Castiel squinted at the bottle. “Do you recommend it?”
“Why not?” Dean said, reaching across to gloop the thick maple-flavored liquid across the three fluffy pancakes on Castiel’s plate. “It all tastes the same to you anyway, right?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Castiel said with a tiny sigh. He rolled his shoulders, a slight wiggle to them as though he had an itch. “Though I think I’m learning a little. Some things have a bit more flavor than others.”
“Less molecule-y?” Dean asked, shovelling a chunk of pancake into his mouth.
Castiel nodded, nibbling politely on the end of a piece of bacon.
“But still no PB&J?” Dean clarified.
“No. Lots of molecules.”
“Shame,” Dean said, reaching to take a gulp of coffee. “PB&J was your favorite when you were human.”
Castiel’s head tilted slightly, the bacon paused in midair. “You remember that?”
If Dean was, perhaps, the tiniest bit offended that Castiel thought he wouldn’t, he tried not to show it. “Uh, ‘course I do. You—” You’re important, he’d almost said, before catching himself at the last moment. “You’re my best friend. I remember stuff.”
Castiel nodded slowly as his eyes drifted back down to his plate.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, though Dean couldn’t help but be distracted. Watching Castiel load his fork with syrupy pancakes and push them into his mouth, past his plush, pillowy lips…
Dean’s crush on the angel was so much easier to ignore whenever the world was ending. The in-between times, when it was quiet, when they were peaceful—domestic, even—it became a lot harder. Luckily, he was distracted by Castiel awkwardly rolling his shoulders once more.
“You alright, Cas?” Dean pointed to Castiel’s trench-coated shoulders with his fork. “You’ve been doing that a lot, today.”
Castiel blinked and his eyes went a little wide. “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said rather too quickly, his eyes back down to his plate as he stuffed his mouth with bacon.
Dean was about to push further, trying to work out what the hell was going on with Castiel today, when Castiel’s phone buzzed audibly in his coat pocket, vibrating against the table edge.
With an expression that Dean thought was uncomfortably close to relief, Castiel dug into his coat and grabbed at it. “It’s Sam,” he said, rather too quickly, already slipping out of the booth. “It’s loud in here, I’ll go outside.”
Before Dean could protest, he was left alone in the oddly quiet diner.
Their waitress hustled over after a minute, smiling awkwardly. “Lovers’ tiff?” she asked, tilting her head toward the door. “Not that it’s any of my business. But I’ve worked here ten years, so I’ve seen plenty of folks run out like that.”
Dean blinked, his mouth falling open. “I—uh—no. No, we’re just friends.”
“Oh,” she said, blinking in surprise. “I’m so sorry. I just thought—well. Apologies. Two checks?”
“One,” Dean said, distracted.
The embarrassed waitress hurried away, saying something under her breath about complimentary pastries as she fled. Amused, Dean gave out a low chuckle. It wasn’t the first time that he and Castiel had been mistaken for a couple, though he had no idea why. It was at least preferable to the many, many times that people had assumed the same about him and Sam.
Looking over to where Castiel had been sitting, something caught Dean’s eye on the seat.
A single black feather rested on the red leather. It was long—at least the length of Dean’s forearm, or even longer—and pretty mangled-looking. Frowning, Dean reached around the edge of the circular table to pick it up. He ran one finger along the rough, twisted edges, the vanes bending under his light pressure. It looked terrible, if he was honest; skinny and bare in places. There was something about it, though, something that Dean couldn’t take his eyes away from; every time he touched it, the feather seemed to shimmer with rainbow light—like a pool of black oil being struck by the sun.
Dean’s stomach clenched as he turned his attention to the other side of the feather. The burnt, crisp edges—the damaged parts long fallen away but the scarred edges still carrying their story—left no doubt about who the feather belonged to.
Swallowing harshly, Dean managed to quickly shove the feather inside the front of his jacket as the waitress came back.
He thanked her and tipped well, especially as she’d brought a plastic shell with two crisp apple pastries as an apology for her incorrect assumption. Dean smiled and told her it was fine, then headed out the door.
Castiel was waiting next to the Impala.
“Dean—” he began as Dean unlocked her doors.
“It’s fine,” Dean said, flashing Castiel a warm smile as he folded himself into the driver’s seat. “Whatever it is man, don’t worry about it.”
Castiel eyed him slightly suspiciously but nodded as they set off once more, headed for Hastings.
Sam’s list turned out to be fairly short, even if it was full of hippy-dippy shit. He’d called Castiel, it seemed, to explain to him which types of tea he wanted, as it appeared that Sam thought Castiel could do a better job of picking them out than Dean could. Dean wasn’t even going to fight that one, and simply pointed the angel toward the tea section at the grocery store.
He wandered the aisles, half thinking about what he’d like to cook and half thinking about Castiel. The dude was off , more so than he usually was. He was also reading books about angels—shouldn’t he already know all about angels?—and leaving feathers on diner seats. Thanks to all the good luck he’d had in his life (ha!), Dean’s mind immediately went to all the terrible possibilities. Cas was dying. Cas was sick. He had, like… wing cancer, or some shit. Could angels even get sick? In over ten years, the only time Castiel had ever even had so much as a sniffle was when he’d had issues with his grace (or other angels’ grace, as the case may be.) Was this related to that? Dean wanted to ask, but Castiel had made it pretty clear that he wasn’t in the mood for a BFF-ly chat about what was up with him.
So, Dean glided on down the aisles, worrying.
Castiel was quiet all the way home, too. Which, Dean had to admit, was perfectly normal—the dude was hardly a chatterbox. But Dean couldn’t help but be hypersensitive to it, attempting to engage him on several occasions only to receive nothing more than a short, sharp reply. The more Dean looked at him, the more uncomfortable he looked; he rolled his shoulders oddly and shifted in his seat, practically a fidget by his own usually motionless standards.
Dean pulled up to the bunker and eased Baby down into the garage. Castiel exited the car before Dean could even think to ask one more time if he was okay—he grabbed an armload of the shopping bags and headed straight to the door that led on into the rest of the bunker. Before he stepped through, though, he did pause.
“Thank you, Dean,” he said very quietly. “I appreciate you asking me to ride with you today. It was a nice distraction.”
Dean blinked in puzzlement, but Castiel was already gone, leaving Dean clutching at an armload of Sam’s tea.
Distraction from what?