Chapter 1: story
The thing about learning to cook without regular access to a real kitchen is: you get creative.
When Dad would leave them $50 but forget that he hadn’t paid up the motel for the week, Dean’d have to feed himself and Sammy with whatever he could slide into his pockets at the 7-11: tuna salad made with those little tubes of mayo and relish that he’d snag from the food court in the mall or peanut butter and banana sandwiches (glass jars of jam were too risky, but plastic tubs of peanut butter could be stuffed into a backpack easy). Marshmallows squish down small, so when the motel had a little electric stove he’d spend 99 cents on a a can of sweet potato, use the five finger discount for the marshmallows and turn it into a whole casserole situation, using his lighter to torch the tops of the marshmallows because Sammy loved that shit.
He was 15 when he finally figured out how to make noodles with a coffee pot, and the two of them practically lived on ramen for the next two weeks.
But they weren’t always in motels, sometimes crashing with another hunter or renting out an apartment for a couple months when Dad thought he had a real lead for the yellow-eyed demon in the area. Not that he always prioritized paying the gas bill, but he did so just enough that Dean learned his way around a kitchen.
He figured things out through trial and error, made cautious by the memory from when he was 12, of Dad slamming his fist into a wall after Dean had accidentally let his attempt at a meatloaf burn, leaving them out $17 of food money. (He had gotten distracted from the oven by the sounds of Sam crying in the other room, teased by some asshole at school for his dirty clothes. Dean knows most of the anger he got from his Dad was warranted, brought on by his own failings, but he could never find it in himself to regret missing the oven timer for the way he got Sammy to smile again).
He’d never tried his own hand at pie, though, even though he loves it dearly.
It never quite felt right, like it was something that belonged to the road. He had a couple cassettes that were the same way, mixtapes he’d burned together of his favorite pedal-to-the-metal jams that always felt a little blasphemous listening to within the confines of four walls.
Because the thing about pie is: well, first of all, it’s friggin’ delicious. Doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that, and fuck you Sammy for rolling your eyes every time Dean goes into raptures over the flavor of the day.
But the other thing about pie is that it’s diner food. Even in the greasiest of the greasy spoons, the kinds of places that gave up on handing out menus and just have a chalkboard over the bar listing the sides you could get with your meatloaf or turkey melt, where the laminated vinyl is peeling open in every booth and the other patrons — if there are any — have moved way past “regulars” and have pretty much become part of the decor.
Doesn’t matter where you are, from the shiny chrome airstream-looking diners in upstate New York to the wood-walled cowboy diners with boots hanging from the ceiling down near the border in Texas to the 1950s Americana joints along I80. Dean knows the geography of local watering holes like the back of his hand and anywhere you go in the country, you can count on them to serve pie.
Not that it’s always good. He’s had more than his fair share of soggy crusts or straight-out-of-the-can filling like cherries are supposed to taste vaguely metallic. But the kind of place where they really know what they’re doing, oh man.
It’s not really a sweet tooth thing. (He definitely has a sweet tooth, not saying he doesn’t, but just that it’s not about that.) It’s just a good thing that he could mostly reliably depend on in a life without a lot of constants.
Baby’d keep him moving, and a cold beer tastes sweetest when your muscles are tired and you’re sporting a fresh bruise, and there’d be a checkered linoleum and a plastic case of half-cut pies in foil tins under fluorescent lights somewhere at the end of the road.
But then he found some other things to count on.
Sam came back, and then he left and came back again, and then a few more times before it became pretty clear that the two of them just weren’t built to freeze each other out. They lived out of each others’ pockets for so long that the knock-down drag-out fights just couldn’t seem to take.
And then somehow they stumbled ass-backwards into having a home. Four walls and a key to the front door that belonged just to them.
Before the bunker, when Dean thought about having a home it was always some hazy, rose-tinted suburban image, something out of a TV show or a commercial or a false memory of Lawrence. He could never quite see himself fitting into it, like those painted wooden panels at carnivals where you’d stick your face in the hole and pretend your head matched the painted body, so he figured having a home that wasn’t just black metal and four wheels wasn’t in the cards for him.
And of course he wasn’t cut out for white-picket suburbia. Looking back, he guesses yeah, maybe he should have figured that one out earlier. But it was always such a black and white thing, the way getting a home always seemed to mean getting as far away from hunting as possible, clawing your nails into normal. The problem is, there’s not a hunter on earth who knows a damn thing about what normal means.
So it’s a good thing Dean didn’t have to figure it out himself. That he and Sam, both known to head straight for the white picket fences every time they tried to get out of the life, could just open a door and find a place with tidy beds and a full-size oven and neatly organized boxes of bezoars and cursed coins and griffin feathers. Turns out you can split the difference between stability and normalcy. Took him a few decades but he finally figured out how.
Somehow, against all the odds, having a home — a place to land — became a thing Dean could count on.
It took long, long years for Cas to fit into that category too. To go from Dean’s most terrifying maybe-ally, to a foxhole buddy he could spill his deepest fears to and then not see for a month straight, to a best friend who could break Dean’s heart with his lies in a way Dean hadn’t ever seen coming til the pain was already there, to the guy Dean only realized was actually the goddamn love of his goddamn life when he was gone.
And then he came back.
And eventually he became, well, one of those precious few things Dean could count on. Someone Dean could turn to in a way he couldn’t with anyone else, because Cas owed him nothing, knew everything about him and stayed anyway.
Cas stayed, and stayed, and stayed, and Dean didn’t let himself ask Cas when he was leaving but he went to sleep every night figuring it would be the next day. Or the day after. Even when he wasn’t going to bed alone anymore, even when he’d fall asleep with an arm around his waist and Cas’s breath warm on the back of his neck, he never let himself believe he could actually, really, get to keep this.
It was the apple trees that finally changed his mind. Of all the stupid things.
One day Cas wasn’t there when he woke up, and he wasn’t in the kitchen when he made breakfast, and Dean thought to himself yep, knew this day would come and tried unsuccessfully to pretend that having been steeling himself for this pain for months now meant it didn’t hurt much.
“You seen Cas?” he asked, voice very casual, when Sam came back from his run.
Sam, wiping his forehead, gave him a look like he’d never once bought Dean’s bullshit and wasn’t planning to start anytime soon. “Out back,” he said. “He’s doing something in the field, not sure what.”
At least Sam makes an attempt to hold back his laughter at whatever he sees cross Dean’s face, so Dean doesn’t have to punch him for mocking his emotional torment.
Sure enough, Cas is out kneeling in the grass on the far side of the bunker, just past the line where the walls cast long shadows. It’s already warm for April and Cas’s hair is damp with sweat where it curls against the back of his neck. He figures Cas heard him coming by the way he doesn’t startle when Dean tugs gently at a particularly long curl of hair.
“You’ll have to cut that for me soon,” Cas says, leaning one shoulder against Dean’s leg.
“Nah, leave it for now,” Dean tells him. “It’s a good look.”
Cas lifts one dirt-stained hand to block the sun, squinting up at Dean and smiling. “You don’t need to butter me up, Dean,” he says, fond. “You know I’m a sure thing.”
Which — actually, hits a little too close too home for Dean, thinking about that dark treacherous certainty he’d felt waking up alone for the first time in a long time.
“Wasn’t sure where you’d gotten off to this morning,” he says, carefully neutral. “You’re never up before me.”
Cas hums. “I’m surprised you didn’t wake when the alarm went off. I wanted to finish this before it got too hot.”
“This” turns out to be a row of four small spindly trees, a couple feet tall each and about ten feet apart from each other. Cas has got a trowel with the sticker still on it, and all but one of the trees has been rooted into fresh, dark dirt.
“We’re gardening now?” Dean asks.
“Did you know apple trees grow well in the Kansas climate? Only certain types, and they do best if you cross pollinate. At first I thought just two trees, but Stacy made a very compelling argument for starting off with four, to lessen the odds of losing the whole batch to bad luck.” He’s so earnest, long fingers gently touching the earth at the base of the tree in front of him as though to reassure the sapling he won’t let anything happen to it.
“Stacy?” Dean asks, unable to bite back a smile, knees popping like an old man as he drops down to sit cross legged in the dirt beside Cas.
“She writes the Bumbling Bee Gardener blog,” Cas says, unselfconscious. “I found her advice to be direct and uplifting. Though she spends an unfortunate amount of time talking about her husband, who is clearly close to infidelity based on how she describes his behavior.”
“Poor Stacy,” Dean says gravely.
“It is a shame,” Cas says, equally grave, and now Dean’s not sure if Cas is being earnest or if he knows Dean was fucking with him and is fucking with him right back. It’s a fine line between totally clueless and deeply sarcastic with him, and he dances a friggin’ waltz across it every day.
Dean shakes his head, bested. “Where’d the whole idea for this come from, anyway?” he asks.
“I missed creating things,” Cas tells him, and then slants him a quick look. “And no, I don’t regret my humanity. Not for a second.” He doesn’t let Dean even try to pretend he wasn’t going to interject — and hell, it’s not like he’s wrong, that’s always the first thing that comes to mind when Cas references what he used to be able to do when he was all powered up. Cas is very good at heading Dean off at the pass these days.
“But anyway,” he goes on, a note of disdain in his voice like Dean actually had interrupted him, “I used to make so many things, when Creation was young. And I remade your body, and that turned out pretty well. So I thought it might be nice to make something grow again. Something living.”
There are like, three things in there that Dean tucks away to turn over in his brain a lot later, when he’s in the shower and having his weekly crisis about how an impossibly old, impossibly powerful cosmic force shoved itself permanently into the shape of a tax accountant to settle for Dean.
“And you decided on apple trees,” he says, faintly disbelieving.
“It’ll be nice to have fresh apples in the fall,” Cas says blithely. “Jack and Claire can help pick them. Sam can reach the ones we can’t.”
“Cas, buddy,” Dean starts, pauses. He really doesn’t want to ruin this for him. He feels like an asshole, but: “You know it’ll take these trees years to get to a point where, you know, we actually have apples to pick, right?”
“I watched the Garden of Eden grow out of the desert,” Cas informs him. “And I’ve read everything Stacy has written on Bumbling Bee Gardener dot net. But please, Dean, share your wisdom about apple horticulture.”
Yes, this time the sarcasm is not in doubt. But something’s still not clicking. “So we’re not going to have apples in the fall,” Dean says, slowly.
Cas honest-to-god rolls his eyes. “Well not this fall,” he says, like Dean is a particularly slow child. “It will take about three years for the first apples to grow, but we won’t have a real harvest until about 8 years from now."
“And you’ll be here. To harvest them,” Dean feels like his brain is maybe melting, just a bit. “In 8 years.”
Cas gives him a long look, eyes unreadable. “That’s the plan,” he says. “Unless you— if you don’t want—”
“No! No,” Dean scrambles, kicking himself for letting Cas remember the way he’d forced him to leave the bunker all those years ago, torn up inside with grief and shame and guilt. “Not. I mean. Yes.” His neck is hot. “I want.”
“So there we have it,” Cas says, any trace of doubt unraveling from his face in an instant. His eyes are wide and warm when he meets Dean’s gaze. “We’ll have apples in the fall, eight years from now.”
“Okay. Apples,” Dean says eloquently. “Right. Okay.” Something very simple is gently but firmly clicking into place in his heart, like the cylinder of a revolver sliding into alignment. Something he didn’t realize was missing; something he thought he’d be just fine without, until it slotted into place.
Cas gives him a look like Dean’s an idiot, but also like he loves him. And hell, both of those things are true, Dean thinks with faint amazement.
So Cas might have moved into the bunker a while back, and moved into Dean’s heart well before that, but the apple trees are when he moves onto the very short list of things in Dean’s life that he knows he gets to keep.
Anyway, the point is, Dean wakes up one morning some months later and realizes a couple things.
Frst of all, he loves pie. Okay, that’s less of a realization and more of a given.
Second of all, he loves to feed his family.
Third, he’s got a good kitchen, an oven that’s not just a fancy toaster, and a few decades of built-up opinions on what makes a good pie that he figures will give him a pretty good start.
And last, he realizes, he’s not living on the road anymore. Still loves a road trip to visit Donna or Jody and the girls or Garth; the hunting’s slowed down but he’s never gonna pass up the opportunity for something particularly weird or turn down a request for an assist. But no matter how much time he spends in his Baby, he’s got another home to return to at the end of the week.
So maybe pie, just like Zep’s Kashmir, doesn't need to just belong to the road anymore.
And that’s how Dean finds himself out in Phillipsburg, leaning on the counter of the corner bakery and flirting relentlessly with Miz Caroline, who still makes all the pies by hand — arthritis be damned — until she writes out her recipe for him on the back of a receipt and hands it over.
When he tries it back at the bunker, the crust comes out tough, nothing like the flaky melt-in-your-mouth buttery goodness of the stuff he’d bought from her the other week.
But Dean Winchester is nothing if not a stubborn motherfucker, so he drives 45 minutes back out to Phillipsburg and turns the charm offensive up to 11 until she finally swats him with a paper menu and says, “I’ll be making tomorrow’s batch after I close up at 4. Be back here then, and bring whiskey. Not the cheap stuff, either.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says with a shit-eating grin and a salute.
When he comes back with a bottle of Bulleit, courtesy of the poker game Sam had ruthlessly hustled a few weeks back, she nods approvingly and points him to a drawer with her spare aprons.
Dean had been expecting to just observe but she puts him to work, chopping whole sticks of cold butter into little cubes and then sticking them back into the fridge while she finishes weighing out the flour.
She teaches him how to press the butter into the dough between his fingers, keeping whole pieces of butter the size of raisins intact. “If your crust was tough, it’s because you mixed it too much,” she tells him, adding water to the bowl just a few drops at a time by flicking damp fingers at the mixture. “Making pie dough’s like soothing a baby. You have to be firm, but gentle.”
She lets him roll out one of the doughs, watching like a hawk.“We’ll make a baker out of you yet,” she tells him as he puts the rolling pin in the middle of the circle, rolling one side up and draping it over the pin to transfer it into a tin, and he ducks his head, grinning at her approval.
They drink the whiskey out of measuring cups while they wait for the pies to come out of the oven — Miz Caroline is 80 if she’s a day, and she drinks like an iron-livered hunter.
“If you remember half of what I’ve taught you, your wife’s about to be a very happy woman,” she says as she adds 5 minutes to the timer, unknowingly throwing him into an entire mental spiral as his self-preservation instincts (well, preservation of this perfectly easy afternoon) war with the part of his brain that refuses, absolutely fucking refuses, to feel any kind of shame about the best thing he’s got going in his life.
And that whole mess comes out as a very eloquent, “Uh. Huh. Um.”
He’s been really at the top of his game, charm-wise, so she slants over a suspicious look at this sudden display of incoherence. His face must really say a lot, because without missing a beat she amends, “Or your husband’s about to be a very happy man.”
He’s so stupidly relieved that he doesn’t have to fumble through a whole embarrassing coming-out speech (if she’d reacted badly he’d have had to never come back on principle, which would have been a real shame because her maple bars are truly unreal) that he doesn’t even catch the husband piece until a couple seconds later. After he’s already ducked his head and said, “That’s the hope.”
It’s not like he and Cas are legally married. Legally, he’s dead and Cas never existed, so it’s not like they can stroll into the Smith County Clerk’s office and pick up a license. They haven’t had any kind of ceremony or made it official.
It’s just that somehow, now, after half a dozen times betraying and fighting and abandoning each other, they’re at a place where Dean knows with absolute certainty that Cas is gonna wake up beside him tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day they’re on this earth and then plenty more after that. Having that certainty in his heart, so bright that even the shadows of doubt and repression and fear can’t touch it — that’s more precious, more concrete than any ring.
Still, Dean thinks absentmindedly, hearing her say husband. It might be kind of nice to get Cas a ring.
The blackberry pie he takes home from Phillipsburg that day is extraordinary.
The first one he makes on his own, without Miz Caroline’s watchful eye is actually pretty good, and the one after that is really good, and after that point pie-making finds itself on the list of things Dean is truly excellent at doing with his hands.
(At one point in his life, that list had mostly included things like flaying and carving and slicing. Now, he finds himself spending more time using his hands to weave strips of dough into a lattice and peel potatoes and pull shuddering gasps out of Cas.
He likes the list a lot better the way it’s looking these days.)
He and Cas are driving through Minnesota, heading back from an assist in St. Cloud that they’d both figured immediately was a crocotta just from the description the pair of young hunters had given over the phone. They drove out anyway, since Dean had been getting restless and the kids seemed young enough that he wanted to see them eye-to-eye —“Trying to decide if you should adopt them,” Cas had said with a snort, and Dean had elbowed him and said “Look who’s talking.”
They get a steady stream of calls these days, now that Sam’s set up a kind of centralized HQ in the bunker and done a pretty impressive job getting the phone number out into hunter circles. Dean’s always been a little uncomfortable with the way every hunter he meets knows exactly who he is, but he figures it’s a good thing overall if it means the more junior hunters, like these two, know who to call when they need a hand.
At least Aaden and Jamilah hadn’t been quite at the level of hero-worship he sometimes gets hit with, though neither of them could look Cas quite in the eye.
Turns out it had been a crocotta after all, and the kids seemed like they knew what they were doing enough that Dean didn’t have to call their parents (“Dude, we’re 24,” Jamilah had said when he mentioned that.) They left with a promise extracted that the kids would swing by for dinner if they were ever found themselves in Kansas or southern Nebraska.
He doesn’t want to get caught in traffic around the Twin Cities so he cuts straight south on state route 15. It’s his favorite kind of country highway, just one lane in each direction, skirting past the dotted lakes in the landscape and a little early morning fog still burning off the fields.
And then he sees a handpainted wooden sign stuck on the side of the road, letters faded in the sun like it’s been used for years.
He turns down the music, switches his left hand to the steering wheel so he can nudge Cas’s thigh with his right to get his attention. “What do you say?” he asks, nodding at the sign. “Wanna see what your orchard’s gonna look like one day?”
Cas frowns at the sign. “I don’t understand,” he says. “Isn’t it customary for farms to pick the fruit for you?”
“Yeah, except for a couple weeks in the fall when everyone goes crazy to pick their own apples,” Dean tells him. “I don’t really get it either. But we should buy a basket of the pre-picked variety. I’ll make a pie when we get home.”
“I’d like that,” Cas says. His nose crinkles as he smiles out the window.
And if he leaves his hand on Cas’s leg til they park at the orchard, well, that’s his goddamn right.
They wind up getting two bushels of apples, because Dean gets some notion about making his own apple butter and canning it for when they can’t get good fresh fruit anymore in the winter, because he’s apparently gone way past “nesting” and ended up at “prairie wife.”
They also get cider donuts, fresh from the fryer. After one bite, Cas immediately demands a second, and then proceeds to get cinnamon sugar all over his mouth. So then Dean obviously has to crowd him up against the impala and kiss it off, just to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
Cas hums along to Born to Run as they pull back onto the road, and Dean’s hand knocks against his on the seat between them and stays there, and he’s just so stupidly happy for a minute that he doesn’t know what to do with it all, tapping a hand against the wheel reflexively and grinning like a fool out at the wide Minnesota sky.
The bunker’s empty when they get back that evening, Sam and Eileen off visiting an old friend of hers who’s in Kansas City for the weekend. They’re supposed to be back later tonight or tomorrow, if they decide to get a room in the city for the night, which means yeah, they’ll be back tomorrow.
Cas helps him carry in the apples to the kitchen, Dean rolling his neck from side to side to get out the stiffness of 8 hours in the car. He figures that, between his immediate need for a shower and his less immediate but still looming need to sleep in his own bed, he’s not going to have enough time to get the pie into the oven that night, but he can still get the crust prepped to let it chill overnight.
He catches Cas by the hip as he passes, heading out of the kitchen on his way to the showers.
“Hey,” he says, and then his mind stalls in the best way as Cas comes, obliging, pressing up against him. They’re both tired and softened in the way you get after a long drive, mind a little fuzzy from the rolling pavement and skin warm from the sun filtering in through the windshield.
Cas drops a kiss to Dean’s shoulder, where a few lifetimes ago he left his mark on Dean’s skin before they even knew each other. The mark he’s left on Dean’s soul may not be visible, but Dean knows that one’s not fading anytime soon.
“Hey…?” Cas prompts, voice gravelly. Dean traces his thumb where it rests just above Cas’s belt, on the soft skin of his hip, and feels Cas press in a little closer.
“After we shower, come back to the kitchen. I wanna teach you how to make a pie.”
Cas’s eyebrows draw together, just enough so that the wrinkle over his nose forms. “You told me I was banned from cooking, after the last time.”
Dean winces a little at the memory, but he won’t be dissuaded. “You just need proper supervision. And expert tutelage.”
“And the expert tutelage…that would be you?” Cas makes a whole show of sounding skeptical, because he’s an asshole who has made frankly inappropriate noises over Dean’s pies before. Dean swats his hip in retribution.
“Welcome to the Winchester culinary school, baby,” he says. “Aren’t you lucky to be our first student.”
“I am,” Cas says, dropping the act. “Lucky, I mean.” He’s so unbearably sincere that Dean groans, dropping his head to rest in the curve where Cas’s neck meets his shoulder.
“God, you’re a sap,” he says, and his voice comes out so fond because it turns out he, also, is a goddamn sap. “Go take a shower. T minus 10 minutes til pie crust time.”
When Dean gets back from his own shower, he takes advantage of the fact that Cas is still a menace when it comes to hot water use to set a few things up. He fills up a cup with water and a handful of ice cubes to let the water get as cold as possible before they need to use it, pulls out the battered metal bowl that he always uses for dough, and pops open a couple beers (not necessary for the crust, but necessary for the baker).
It’s at least fifteen minutes before Cas finally emerges, damp-haired and soft in a worn AC/DC t-shirt because he is also a menace when it comes to stealing Dean’s clothes. Not that Dean’s ever gonna tell him to stop. The way his own clothes stretch across Cas’s shoulders still feels like a minor miracle to witness.
Dean nudges the second beer towards him on the counter and Cas picks it up with a grateful look, tilting back his neck for a long swallow and revealing the fading remnants of a hickey tucked up under the corner of his jaw. Dean makes a mental note to refresh the bruise later.
“Grab the flour, would you?” he says instead, tilting his own bottle towards the right cabinet. “And the sugar. Top shelf.”
He leans up against the counter, shamelessly watching the way Cas’s shirt (his shirt) rides up as he stretches to retrieve the red-and-white bag of King Arthur unbleached all-purpose.
Dry ingredients secured, Cas comes to stand across from him on the other side of the counter.
“So the first rule of pie crust is, everything has to be cold,” Dean starts.
“Oh, so you were serious about this,” Cas says, raising an eyebrow.
“I never joke about pie.”
“I thought I was just going to watch you make it,” Cas tells him, shameless.
Dean snorts. “Once a creep, always a creep,” he says. “Cas, this is an important human skill for you to master. C’mere.”
Cas circles the counter to join him, bumping his shoulder against Dean’s. Something about his formerly-grace-powered body always seems to run warm, and even through his flannel Dean feels the heat of Cas's skin all along his side.
“Anyway, everything has to be cold. So basically, we’ll mix the dry ingredients and then add the cold butter, but I’m not going to take it out of the fridge til we’re ready to use it. Actually—” he pauses, realizing that Cas’s warm fingers are going to play havoc with the butter temperature. “Hang on.” He crosses to the fridge, moving the gold butter package into the freezer just to get a little colder before they need to use it.
“Grab that measuring cup,” he tells Cas, pointing at the red plastic half-cup measure as he rejoins him at the counter. “You want two and a half cups of flour. Miz Caroline says it’s better if you use a scale but we’re not that fancy, and the cup works just fine.”
Obliging, Cas grabs the measurement and scoops into the bag. “Like that?” he asks, holding up the cup for Dean’s approval.
“Yeah, just—” Dean wraps one hand around Cas’s wrist to hold the cup in place, sliding the index finger of his other hand along the top of the scoop to even it out. “You don’t want to pack it in there. Should be on the side of lighter rather than heavier.”
Cas looks down at where Dean’s hand wraps around his wrist, then raises his gaze to meet Dean’s eyes. His eyes are dark. “I see.”
Dean’s next breath is audible, and his fingers linger as he slowly lets go of Cas’s wrist. “Pie first,” he says, mostly as a reminder to himself.
Cas’s mouth twitches, always so pleased with himself at the reactions he can draw out of Dean without even trying. Smoothly, he turns his wrist to let the flour fall into the bowl without losing eye contact.
It’s almost a mercy when he has to look away to retrieve the bag of flour for the next scoop.
After he’s added two and a half cups of flour, Dean pulls out a spoon — the smaller kind, like they use for cereal — and directs Cas to add two scoops of sugar with it.
Because Cas has a sweet tooth that’s somehow even bigger than Dean’s, his first scoop is enormous, sugar mounded on top of the spoon in a tiny mountain.
“Okay, Willy Wonka, calm down,” Dean tells him, laughing. “It’s the filling that’s really the sweet part. The crust doesn’t need much sugar at all.”
Cas slants him a look that is deeply skeptical, but at least his next spoonful is more reasonably sized.
Dean figured out a while back that it was easier to just keep salt in a bowl by the stove instead of pulling out a shaker every day. “So I just do two pinches, like this,” he tells Cas, demonstrating how to pinch up the salt between his thumb and fingers.
“Four fingers?” Cas asks, deadpan, cocking his head innocently. “Or is three enough? Since my hands are large, you know.”
Goddamn flirt, Dean thinks, face reddening. Cas knows exactly what the fuck he’s doing with comments like that. As soon as he gets a reaction out of Dean he won’t stop, every bit the battle-hardened tactician finding a weakness and pressing his advantage ruthlessly.
“I don’t want to make the crust too salty,” Cas goes on, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but his eyes are dancing.
“I’ve created a monster,” Dean tells the bowl of flour. “Cas, go get the butter before you start something you can’t finish.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“Jesus christ. Stop flirting and get the goddamn butter.”
Cas looks smug as hell, but he at least retrieves the butter without further comment.
“Okay,” Dean tells him, unwrapping the package and chopping all of it into little cubes. “So the thing is, the reason the pie crust is good and flaky is you gotta keep the butter and the flour from getting over-mixed, right. Like the butter pieces get blended in with the dough, but they both keep their own form. That way when the butter melts during the baking it leaves those layers.”
He scrapes the butter cubes into the bowl and uses his hands to toss them around in the dry ingredients, getting every cube coated with flour.
"I understand, Dean,” Cas tells him, serious. “The two parts of it are best when they come together but still retain their individual natures, because their different individual natures, together, are what makes the combination successful."
Dean pauses, fingers still in the flour.
“Wait, is this a metaphor?” he asks, suspicious. “This feels like a metaphor.”
Cas’s brow wrinkles as he looks up at him, eyes wide and guileless. “I don’t know what you mean. Do you think it’s a metaphor for something?”
“New rule. Pie isn’t a metaphor. No pie metaphors allowed in my kitchen.”
“Your rules are so arbitrary,” Cas complains and Dean grins.
“That’s because it’s my kitchen. Now watch closely, this is the important part.”
Using two fingers, he pinches a butter cube into the flour mixture, pressing gently until it tears into smaller pieces, both coated in flour. After a couple rounds of this, the mix starts to look less like cubes-in-flour and more integrated with butter pieces of different sizes.
“Your turn,” he tells Cas, with drawing from the bowl. “Work fast, though. I don’t want your freakishly warm body melting the butter.”
Cas is always a quick learner, and he’s spent over a decade obsessively observing Dean’s movements, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he picks up the motion immediately.
Dean watches closely — just for baking purposes, of course, nothing to do with the way his mouth goes a little dry at the motion of Cas’s long fingers, gentle as they work the dough. When the mix starts to look like little pebbles, he taps Cas’s hand. “Okay, that’s good. My turn.”
He retrieves the glass of ice water, fishing out the partially-melted ice cubes with floury fingers.
“How much water do we need?” Cas asks him, and Dean lifts a shoulder.
Cas sighs. “Very precise.”
“It’s about a half a cup, but it’s more by feel than anything. I’ll show you what to look for.”
Dean drizzles in a decent-sized splash of the water, then digs his hands into the mixture, scooping around the edges. He pulls his hands up, lifting and tossing the pieces together.
“You gotta mix gently, like this,” he says. “Otherwise Miz Caroline will drive out here and glare at us.”
“Sounds very fearsome.”
“You’ve got no idea.”
He keeps tossing the mixture, pausing to add another splash of water. As he works, the dry pieces start sticking together, forming something more like a dough on every toss.
He bumps a shoulder against Cas. “See that?” he says. “There’s still a couple spoonfuls of dry flour bits in the bottom. We want to add just enough water that there’s no dry flour anymore, and no more than that.”
Cas, very precise, adds a few droplets where Dean indicates. “Perfect,” Dean tells him, and gives the mixture another few tosses.
“Last step. We work it three times. No more than that, because we don’t want it to get tough.” Dean folds the dough over itself, pressing it together once, twice, three times, and then stops.
“Babe, grab me the plastic wrap?” he asks, not wanting to make a mess with his doughy hands. Cas follows his instructions to lay out two squares of plastic wrap on the counter, and Dean splits the dough into two halves, shaping them with quick movements into circles a couple inches thick and wrapping the plastic tightly around each.
“Those go in the fridge,” he says, and Cas complies.
“I see why you wanted me to join you,” Cas tells him. “You just wanted manual labor.”
“Think of yourself more as a sous chef,” Dean says, crossing to the sink to wash his hands.
“Well, that’s certainly a promotion from, let me see, ‘an absolute terror who was literally raised in a barn and is never allowed near my oven again’.” Cas’s voice is dry and Dean doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to know that he’s definitely doing stupid air quotes.
“Personal growth, Cas. Told you I was the best teacher.”
When he shuts off the water and turns around, Cas is right there, eyes warm and direct on Dean.
“You’re certainly something,” Cas says, a smile in his voice, and crowds him up against the counter to kiss him.
Dean’s hands are still wet when he wraps them around Cas’s waist, and Cas squirms against him but doesn’t break the kiss.
After a long moment, Dean pulls away, pressing a kiss to Cas’s cheek. “C’mon,” he tells him, close and quiet in his ear. “Let’s go to bed.”
Cas steps back, brushing stray flour off Dean’s flannel, and smiles up at him before turning.
He doesn’t need to check that Dean’s following him. They both know he is.
It’s kind of ironic, Dean thinks in the morning, that now that he’s practically old and semi-retired, he’s got all the energy he never had in his twenties, when he had to chug diner coffee to blink the sleep out of his eyes most mornings.
Incredible what regular sleeping patterns and a partner whose presence wards off at least half the nightmares can do for you. Who would have guessed it.
Said partner, on the other hand, is currently grumbling into the pillow and cursing the presence of light.
“C’mon, Cas,” he says, weaving a hand into Cas’s hair and tugging gently, just to hear the grumbles momentarily turn into soft pleased noises. “Can’t sleep all day.”
Cas says something unintelligible that’s almost certainly watch me and digs further into the pillow. As a human, it’s like he wants to play catch-up for the billions of nights he spent wide awake, and has taken to sleeping like a duck to water.
Never having learned to hide his wants, like humans do, he’s shameless about his pleasures: nesting deeply into the bed or taking obnoxiously long, hot showers or telling Dean exactly where and how he wants him. Former angel of the lord, now noted hedonist.
Dean wonders sometimes, guiltily, if it was like this the first time Cas was human. Dean wasn’t around much then, something he’ll never stop regretting, but Cas seemed to spend much of that time miserable and confused, too busy trying to make it through the day to focus on anything beyond subsistence.
Dean does his best to take his own advice, to let go of his past regrets, but that guilt’s never going away. All he can do now is try to make up for it, buying Cas soft flannels and feeding him things he enjoys and not dragging him out of their warm bed in the morning.
Except on days like today, when they have important pie things to do.
He lowers himself to lie along Cas’s back, propping up on one elbow and ducking his head to press a kiss to the curve of Cas’s ear. “Time to get up, sweetheart,” he tells him.
Finally, Cas stirs, rolling over under Dean’s body to blink up at him with sleepy, warm eyes.
“Not yet,” he says, hooking a finger in the collar of Dean’s t-shirt and tugging him down.
Okay, so the pie can wait a little longer.
It’s late morning when they get up for real, and Dean heads to the kitchen while Cas goes out to check on his trees. Now that the weather’s starting to turn, he’s been worrying about how they’ll handle their first winter — Kansas winters are pretty mild, but the trees are still delicate in their youth.
“How are they looking?” Dean asks as Cas re-appears in the kitchen doorway, jeans smudged with grass stains at the knees where he knelt on the ground to check their roots.
“They’re growing beautifully,” Cas tells him, crossing to wash the dirt off his hands in the kitchen sink. “The Farmer’s Almanac says the coldest temperatures won’t hit until mid-December, so that’s when we’ll need to keep a close eye on them.”
Dean is suddenly hit with an image of himself bringing Cas piles of quilts and blankets to wrap around the trees and keep them warm.
It’s an absurd image, and he laughs a bit at the thought. The worst part is, all things considered, it’s definitely plausible.
If Cas asked, he couldn’t say no.
“Alright, teacher,” Cas says, leaning up against the counter and watching Dean measure spices. “I’m ready to learn.”
“Today’s lesson starts with peeling apples, padawan,” Dean tells him, pushing the bowl of apples and potato peeler towards him. “You peel, I’ll chop.”
“Can’t I just use my blade?” Cas asks, wrinkling his nose at the potato peeler.
“Absolutely not,” Dean says firmly. “If it’s been used to kill someone, it doesn’t belong in food prep. House rules."
“You and your rules,” Cas sighs, picking up the peeler.
They fall into a comfortable silence as they work, Cas passing over the apples once their skins are gone and Dean chopping them in half, then in quarters. His paring knife slides easily along the inside of the pieces, removing the seeds and tough core, and it’s quick work to slice into quarter-inch pieces. He gets ahead of Cas at one point and goes to set the pot of water on to boil while he waits for the next apple.
When the apples are all sliced and the teapot is whistling, he pours the boiling water into the bowl of apples and covers it with a sheet pan. “We let that sit for about 10 minutes, and the apples won’t shrink down when we cook ‘em later,” he tells Cas.
“How’d you learn this?” Cas asks him, curious.
Dean waves an airy hand. “Oh, read about it online,” he responds, very casual.
After how much time he’s spent ribbing Cas about his obsession with gardening bloggers, he figures discretion is probably the better part of valor when it comes to the amount of time he spends reading cooking blogs. Not just the recipes, oh no — he finds himself strangely invested in the mostly unrelated stories they start off with, spending hours reading about PTA drama and baby announcements and fond childhood memories.
Cas squints at him like he sees through the studied carelessness, but he doesn’t comment.
While they wait for the apples to soften, Dean retrieves the discs of pie crust from the fridge and sprinkles flour on the counter. He rolls out the first one, showing Cas how to turn the dough every couple passes with the rolling pin to prevent it from sticking. Of course, Cas’s roll-out of the second crust is flawless, a near-perfect 12-inch circle of impeccable evenness.
“Show-off,” Dean grumbles, draping the crusts into the pie pan and returning them to the fridge. Cas smirks at him.
“So the student has become the master,” he says, and Dean rolls his eyes.
“Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.”
In payback, Dean puts him to work slicing a lemon and squeezing the juice into bowl while Dean sets the oven to preheat to 425. Cas delicately picks out the seeds, wincing as the acid hits a hangnail.
Dean had to sweet-talk Jordan at the grocery until he made an order for tapioca starch on top of the regular cornstarch, and now he guards his Goya bag carefully for times like these.
The apples have been sitting for long enough that they’re nice and soft around the edges, and Dean strains out the water. The lemon juice joins the apples in the bowl, and Dean and Cas take turns adding everything else, working quickly now that it’s almost done: brown and white sugars, starch, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a final pinch of salt.
When it’s all mixed together, Dean retrieves the pie tin and lays out the bottom crust properly so Cas can slide the whole apple mess in.
“No, you gotta—” he pokes at the apples, making sure they lie flat on top of each other, nestled together like shingles. “Like this. So you get as much apple as possible.”
Once the apples are in place, he bumps Cas out of the way with his hip so he can gently place the top crust over the whole thing and roll up the edges to seal them.
“C’mere,” he says to Cas, tugging on his hands to place them along the edges of the crust. He crowds up against Cas, hooking his chin over his shoulder and weaving his arms between Cas’s so he can guide Cas’s fingers into pressing the dough into wide curves around the rim.
In the stillness of the kitchen, they’re close enough that Dean can feel the rise and fall of Cas’s breathing. Dean has met gods and walked on other worlds and seen a thousand impossible things in his life and yet this, that Cas is here and alive and breathing in time with him, is the miracle he hasn’t stopped being awed by.
Cas leans back into him, weaving their floury fingers together with the same gentleness he used to crimp the crust, and Dean wants to hold this moment in a bubble forever, the smell of cinnamon in the air and the warmth of Cas against him as they stand here, together, in their home.
They don’t move until the oven beeps.
Cas turns as Dean pulls away, reluctantly, eyes soft as he watches Dean crack an egg and beat it with a fork.
He keeps meaning to get a pastry brush, but for now he just uses his fingers to spread the beaten egg over the whole crust. “Cut a steam vent,” he directs, and Cas, as adept with a blade as ever, slices a perfect star neatly into the middle of the crust.
He lets Cas cover the whole thing with another few spoonfuls of sugar while he washes the egg off his hands, and then the whole thing goes on a pan in the oven and that’s that.
“How long do we have to wait?” Cas asks, impatient.
“At least an hour,” Dean tells him. At the look in Cas’s eyes, he has to add, “But we have to turn down the temperature in 20 minutes.” He pulls out his phone to set the timer on it, just to be safe.
“20 minutes,” Cas repeats, considering, and nods decisively. “I can work with that.”
He takes Dean’s hand, tugs him out of the kitchen, and Dean goes.
The hardest part of the whole pie-making process turns out to be holding Cas back from cutting into it too early.
“You have to wait,” Dean tells him, laughing when Cas grumbles. “Otherwise it’s not set on the inside.”
“It smells good,” Cas says, grumpy. “I want it now.”
“Can’t believe after all these years I’ve made a pie fiend out of you,” Dean says. “Sam’s gonna be so annoyed. He always said I was a bad influence.”
“You’re the best influence,” Cas tells him, so sweet and earnest it takes Dean’s breath away. “Are you sure we can’t cut it yet?”
“God,” Dean laughs, and hooks his fingers into Cas’s belt loops to tug him closer. “Who would have thought?”
“You and me, man. That we’d be here.” At night, Dean traces the shape of their friendship in his mind sometimes, marveling at the arc of it. It wasn’t always pretty. It’s been violent, and painful, and the whole friggin’ universe was dead-set against it.
And now Cas loves pie, and his apple trees will be ready for harvest in 8 years. In 8 years they’ll still be here, and they’ll pick apples and bake them into pie together.
Dean, who never saw much of a future past the next thousand miles, now sees a decade unfolding before him, and it smells like cinnamon.
And he realizes there’s something he's gotta ask.
“Hey, Cas,” he says, and swallows. His mouth is dry, heart pounding just a beat faster. Cas must hear the change in his tone, because he pulls back a couple inches to catch Dean’s eyes, his face soft and worried.
“I, uh. I’m not one for big speeches, but. When I see my future, the rest of my life, I see you in it. Plain and simple. You’re it for me, man. And maybe it won’t always be easy, with us both being who we are, but after all the shit we’ve gone through, we’re gonna make it work. I know we will.” He hitches in a breath. “And I love you, and. It’s not really a legal thing, but Cas, I want to call myself your husband.”
Cas’s face is lit up, eyes wide and so full of love that Dean’s own love surges in his chest, like it’s a physical thing pressing up against his ribcage. And Dean didn’t actually ask a question but it doesn’t matter because Cas is kissing him, fierce and happy, whispering yes, Dean, yes and you are mine and i’m yours against his lips.
The pie, when they finally slice it open, is the sweetest Dean’s ever tasted, and it’s got nothing to do with the sugar Cas added.
So Dean, who lived a solo life on the road and pretended that accepting he’d never get anything more was the same thing as not wanting anything more, found himself settled. He found himself in a home with a roof overhead, and a full-sized oven; a ring on his finger and a partner in his bed.
It doesn’t look one bit like what he figured a normal, apple-pie life would look like.
But he’s so damn happy with his totally bizarre apple-pie life that he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Chapter 2: recipe
Recipe adapted from the following:
Kierin Baldwin's Apple Pie, adapted by Sam Sifton for the NY Times
Lisa Ludwinski, Sister Pie
Erin Jeanne McDowell, The Book on Pie
Dean’s Apple Pie
- 2 1/2 cups / 300 g flour
- 1 tsp kosher salt (1/2 tsp if you’re using table salt)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 226 g unsalted butter (two sticks of American butter or one package European)
- Ice water (set aside a cup of water with ice in it, but you won’t need the whole amount)
- 2 ½ pounds apples, peeled and cored, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch, or substitute 1 tsp cornstarch + 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 egg, beaten + 1 tb sugar (preferably coarse) to top
For the crust:
Mix dry ingredients together. Chop butter into cubes and toss into the flour mixture til all sides are coated. Using a pinching/rubbing motion, break apart the butter pieces into the flour (being careful not to let the butter melt — if it starts to get too soft, stick the bowl in the fridge and wait for 10 minutes). Keep getting the butter into smaller, flour-coated pieces until the butter is mostly the size of raisins.
Starting with about 1/3 cup of the ice water, pour the water into the bowl (remove the ice cubes in advance, so they don’t fall in). Use a tossing mixture to incorporate the water into the mixture, adding more water a splash at a time when necessary until there is no dry flour at the bottom of the bowl. Err on the side of less water — you don’t want the dough to become sticky, just moistened enough that it holds together easily when pressed.
Work the dough gently no more than 3 times so it holds together smoothly with no cracks. Split into two halves, form each into a disc shape about 2 inches tall (being careful not to overwork as you shape it), wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.
For the filling:
Boil a kettle of water. Once apples are prepared, pour water into the bowl and cover (a sheet pan works great if you don’t have a lid large enough for your bowl). Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain. Toss with lemon juice, mix together sugars, starch and spices and add to apples. Mix with a spatula until apples are fully coated. Let this mixture cool (you may want to refrigerate) before assembling pie.
Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out both crusts. Use one to line pan. Fill with apple mixture, and top with second crust. If you want to be fancy, find a youtube tutorial for a lattice crust — they really aren’t that tricky! Roll the crust edges together, rolling inward so the bottom crust rolls over the top crust. Using your thumb and index finger of one hand, pinch the dough around your other thumb to form a crimped edge.
If you’re still waiting for your oven to pre-heat, stick the pie in the freezer to chill before baking. (You can stop here and freeze a whole pie, actually! It will bake up beautifully straight from the freezer, as long as you add about 20 minutes to the baking time).
When ready to bake, brush the top of the pie with beaten egg, cut in steam vents, and sprinkle with sugar all over.
Place on a baking sheet, preferably parchment paper or foil lined — pie does bubble over. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, or until the top crust is evenly golden brown, then lower temperature to 325 and bake for about another hour. It’s done when you can see it bubbling through the steam vents in the middle.
Let rest for at least 3 hours before slicing.