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Human Conditions

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Dean Winchester was not a man to turn down a hamburger. Slap on some ketchup, cheese, a tomato slice (even a ripe one, on those rare late summer days deep in farm country), and you have one happy hunter.

It was a whole different thing, watching Cas barf up pink, wormy-looking chunks of the raw product. Turned Dean’s stomach a little, too, if he was going to be perfectly honest. But he wasn’t, because there was no one to be honest to; Sam was still wedged in the back of the Impala, shivering through the first stages of detox (and son of a bitch, had Dean hoped he’d never have to watch Sam go through that again), and meanwhile here was Cas, hunched over the motel john like any hard-partying schmoe.

“Dude, just let it out.”

That was all Dean’d found to say since Cas had first started making retching sounds just after they’d gotten back to the motel. Thank God his hair was short enough that Dean didn’t have to worry about whether or not to hold it.

There was a pause in the hard, wet hacking sounds; Dean looked up from where he'd uneasily settled on the edge of the bathtub. Cas’s eyes and mouth were closed, though he was still kneeling at the porcelain altar, his coat pooled out around him like the train of some royal robe.

“Better?” Dean asked.


Dean waited, but it was another day, another stillborn conversation with the angel. “You gonna puke some more?”

There was a pause. Probably Cas was, like, taking an accounting of everything in his stomach and all his cells besides. “I don’t want to eat hamburger ever again.”

“Yeah, food poisoning’ll do that to you. Crying shame. A real cheeseburger, with bacon and everything? Almost as good as getting laid.”

Castiel’s response was another upchucking session. It looked cooked this time, though? Which could only be a good thing, assuming this stuff was coming up in the same layers it went down in.

“Next time you want to chow down, we’ll start you in easy, okay? Tacos or something. Like, in a quantity we can count on one hand.”

“I am an angel. We do not eat.”

“Don’t see why not. You’ve got the apparatus. You’re missing out, man.”

“Dean,” Castiel said, in a certain aggrieved tone that Dean took personal pride in, seeing as how he was pretty sure the angel had never done any mood so human as ‘aggrieved’ before Dean. “If you were in my place, would you want me to talk about food?”

“Oh, uh, sorry.”

Dean stuck by, though. That was the price of an angel falling on your account; every damn break he didn’t get was on your head.

Eventually, it’d been ten minutes since Cas’s last puke. He straightened, rolling his shoulders very gently, one hand tentatively prodding at his stomach. Dean winced. A marathon session like that, Cas’s abs had to pretty sore. If Cas got sore at all. Ever.

“You want some water or something? You can rinse your mouth out, borrow Sam’s toothbrush. He won’t mind.”

Cas didn’t move.


“How can you stand this?”

“It’s no problem. I’ve held Sam’s hair out of his barf lots of times.” Not actually, but now he kind of wanted Sam to get hit with a bug or something, just so Dean could offer. Serve Sammy right, pretending he was too good for a decent pair of scissors.

“How do you stand this?” Cas looked down at himself. He flung out his hands and stared at them each in turn, and then he turned the stare on Dean. It was made only marginally less ominous by the presence of the bathroom’s general puke-flavored funk. “How do you live, knowing you might feel like this at any time?”

“Dude, you got the crash without the trip.”

It wasn’t like Cas moved. Cas never moved unless he meant to, and then he just did. He was a regular Yoda. Do or do not; there was no try with Cas.

Still, he was just that smidgen smaller than before, like a turtle hunkered back into its shell. Not a good look on Dean’s... on an angel. “I haven’t crashed yet,” Cas said. “I’m still in the process of falling. That’s worse. Isn’t it said that it’s the journey, not the destination?”

“Uh.” Damn it. “What I mean is, there’s good stuff, too, okay? Sex and Led Zeppelin and cheeseburgers - okay, sorry - and, I dunno.” Dean tried to think of angelic-type things. “That sister’s chapel in Italy.”

“The Sistine Chapel,” Cas said. Which, sure, was pretty much what Dean said.

“Yeah. It doesn’t all suck.”

“What would you recommend?” Cas was doing the staring thing again, like this was a hell of a lot more important than Dean just pointing him towards the right restaurant.

“Uh. Well, cheeseburgers are off the table, I guess. We tried sex with you already, that one time. I guess you could, you know.” Dean flapped his hands in an impression of wings. “Zap over to Italy. Maybe it’s day over there right now.”

Cas didn’t look exactly enthused. Dean wasn’t surprised; not that Dean didn’t have excellent taste, but all of those were pretty Dean-specific. Except for the chapel one. Also, Dean wondered if Cas might just not be up to flapping right now.

In fact, Cas looked, well, human. Pale and sweaty and exhausted, and the dude had just puked up significantly more raw hamburger than Dean really thought Jimmy Novak’s stomach ought to hold.

“Let’s get you off this floor, okay?” Dean got a grip on Cas’s elbow and pulled him upright. Cas leaned against him, an unsteady weight. Dean left him there in the bathroom leaning on the sink with both hands, and returned with a thermos. He put some water in it and made Cas rinse his mouth out, and then took his elbow again and moved him one shuffling step at a time until Dean could sit him down on the bed - Dean’s, it so happened.

Cas sat. Didn’t do anything, just sat, hands hanging between his knees, shoulders hunched.

Dean couldn’t deal. What’d it mean, when even a guy’s angel had lost hope?

Dean didn’t know much about angels, really, considering how long he’d been hanging around one. He’d have said he didn’t know what they did for fun, except he knew the answer to that one: nothing.

They sang, though, right? All those heavenly choirs and stuff.

“Stay here.”

He went out to the car. Sam was huddled in the back, more asleep than awake. “Hey, Sammy.”


“Just coming to get something. You can come in if you want. Barf brigade’s gone home.”

“Maybe in a bit,” which meant not.

“You up to spending the night? We'll get you to Bobby's tomorrow.” Speaking of crashes. Dean wasn't thinking about it.

“Sure,” came Sam’s mumble. He didn’t ask why, which was just as well.

Dean fumbled his way through the box under the front seat until he found what he’d come for. He shut the Impala’s door as gently as he was able and went back inside.

Cas was still sitting where he’d left him.

Dean unwound the earbuds from around Sammy’s overhyped desecration of a digital musical... thing. Dean’d played around with it one day, waiting for Sam. He knew there was more than just crooning and Creed on there. He slumped down on the bed next to Cas.

God damn it, this had been a long night. This junk with Cas, this was the easiest part of it.

“Found something for you,” he said, and gave Cas one earbud. Cas made no comment, asked no questions, just placed it in his ear.

Dean did the same with the remaining earbud. Good thing nobody’d see this, them huddled together shoulder-to-shoulder like two teenyboppers. He wasn’t going to leave Cas to meet Zeppelin all on his lonesome, though.

It took him a couple minutes of fiddling to figure out how to get the thing to play what he wanted. He grinned at Cas. Cas eyed him with, okay, not curiosity, but something other than the glassy-eyed hopelessness he’d been nursing all night.

Dean pressed the button.

There’s a lady that’s sure all that glitters is gold / And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

So it wasn’t a heavenly choir. It was the closest Dean had.

They sat through the whole song together. It was new again, fresh like that first time after Dad had bought the tape in some truckstop and told Dean that this was real music.

When it was done, Cas removed the earbud with painstaking care.

“So?” Dean asked. It occurred to him suddenly that Cas might not appreciate the Zeppelin brand of theology. He might not even like Zeppelin. There was no accounting for angel taste. “That’s classic, you know, man. One of the greats.”

“It’s a favorite of yours.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

Cas nodded to himself, once, a subtle, precise motion of conclusion drawn. “Thank you,” Cas said, solemn and grave, the way Cas said almost everything.

“Uh, you’re welcome.”

After another conversational pause – one that was approaching comfortable, at least on the angel scale - Cas said, “Would you mind if I used this bed for a while?”

Dean blinked. He’d have thought sleeping was another thing angels didn’t do. “Uh, sure. I’ll take Sam’s. He’s not sleeping in it anyway.”

Cas didn’t bother with teethbrushing or facewashing. He didn’t even take off his shiny tax-accountant shoes or his overcoat. He laid down on the Dean’s bed, straight and stiff, with the same care he gave to demon-smiting. He closed his eyes.

Sam stumbled in, hours later grumbling about his back. He aimed for the second bed, and Dean let him have it. Not like Dean was using it. He should have been, but he wasn’t.

Instead he sat at the tiny table in the one dingy chair, playing the same song on repeat and watching his angel and his brother sleep.