Pairing: Sam/Castiel, Dean/Pie
Warnings/Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon, Stanford Era, Thanksgiving, Cooking in a Tiny Tiny Apartment
"Do you have any plans for tomorrow?" Sam asks, and Castiel gives him a puzzled frown. "For Thanksgiving," he elaborates.
Castiel tilts his head. "Giving thanks for what?"
It starts like this:
A shadow falls across the pages of Castiel's book, and Sam says, "Hey, you ready to get out of here?"
Castiel blinks up at him, looks around and realizes that the Classics library is completely deserted but for the two of them. A glance at the clock shows why— it's six minutes past closing time, and once again Sam has shooed out the recalcitrant professors, done all shelving, tidied up the long tables, righted the bust of Plato that is constantly listing to the left and now waits patiently for Castiel, the actual library employee, to return to reality and take the keys he has dangling from a finger.
"My apologies," he says contritely, and Sam laughs.
It's almost winter, and night descends early; after five, the university dims the lights to save on energy costs, and Sam and Castiel walk in and out of pools of harsh florescent light. "Do you have any plans for tomorrow?" Sam asks, and Castiel gives him a puzzled frown. "For Thanksgiving," he elaborates.
Castiel tilts his head. "Giving thanks for what?"
They're on the fourth floor, and as they wait for the ancient elevator to lumber its way up Sam gives him a strange look. "The holiday Thanksgiving, Castiel. You know, turkey and football and the parade?"
Castiel attempts to connect turkey, football and parades to any holy day he knows of, and fails. "I am unfamiliar with this practice. Please explain."
And Sam does. Castiel values Sam's friendship very highly, not just because Sam is the only friend he has, but because the law student is one of the least judgmental people he has ever encountered. Sam never makes Castiel feel slow or stupid when he asks questions like, "But where does the water come from?" or "If the pizzaman truly loves this babysitter, why does he keep slapping her rear?"
After he'd asked the latter, Gabriel had given him a wide-eyed look as much pity as it was shock. "Are you telling me you've been on Earth for a year and you've never seen porn? Cassie, baby, let me set you up!" The archangel had snapped his fingers and summoned an entire cheerleading squad, and Castiel had been forced to flee the penthouse.
Sam is saying, "—and everyone pretty much lies around and moans about full they are, I guess? Then they probably go to bed early. The day after's Black Friday— when a lot of stores open insanely early, for the start of the Christmas shopping season," he adds, anticipating the question.
Sam's uncertain phrasing catches his attention. "Probably?"
Sam shrugs, and the elevator doors open. "It was kind of a nonevent for us, growing up. I've never had the kind of Thanksgiving they show on television."
Castiel frowns as they enter the small metal box. In all the time he's known Sam, he has never heard him speak of his family or childhood. "What are your plans, then?"
Sam's face is rueful, and a little sad. "Don't have any, so far. Get caught up on reading?"
There is a meaningful gesture to be made here, something Castiel is human enough to sense the shape of but not practiced enough to know exactly what. "We could do something together," he finally offers, and sees that he has chosen correctly when Sam gives him a shy smile.
Or maybe it starts when Castiel first meets Sam Winchester.
The boy is twenty and working towards a pre-law degree, whereas Castiel is going on several hundred thousand and still having trouble remembering that human bodies need food, much less trying to further his education. Despite this, and innumerable other differences, their paths manage to converge one gloomy Tuesday afternoon at a rarely-used computer kiosk in the basement of Standford's undergraduate library.
Sam ducks in to get out of the rain and is just looking for a quiet corner to get some reading done. Castiel is in the library because he lives there, for all intents and purposes. He's human enough to need to eat, but not human enough to sleep, not yet, and to delay that inevitability Gabriel has made him swear not to waste unnecessary grace. Instead of flying, he walks, and rides buses, new ones every day, and one day the bus takes him to a building flanked by winged snakes and roaring lions. Intrigued, he enters, and finds himself surrounded by books.
For the first time since he Fell, Castiel finds himself truly delighted— of all the things God gave to his children, Castiel has always liked words the best, and to be surrounded by them is an unexpected joy. He reads, and forgets. He takes to haunting the labyrinthine network of shelves in main stacks, close and narrow like mining tunnels, and piling tiny closet-sized carrels high with treasure in the form of ink and leather and yellowing paper. When Sam slumps down next to him at the kiosk, Castiel has not left the library in two months.
The first words Sam says to Castiel are, "Excuse me, do you have a pen I could borrow?"
The first words Castiel says to Sam are, "You are one of Lucifer's true vessels." He remembers the day that Mary Campbell wed John Winchester well; the Cupid had been insufferable.
Sam's eyebrows shoot up, and he says, "Ooookay then."
Castiel blinks. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me." After all, it certainly isn't Sam's fault that he's at the center of a millennia-old attempt to end the world. "Would a pencil do?"
Sam still looks like he's trying to think of the most graceful way to flee, but good manners win out and he gingerly accepts the nubby golf pencil Castiel produces from a coat pocket.
A little later, Castiel is still staring in utter incomprehension at the screen in front of him and Sam is halfway through a seventeen-page introduction to an environmental law case study. Boredom, or perhaps those aforementioned good manners, prompts him to ask, "Uh, do you need some help?"
"… perhaps," Castiel admits. "I am attempting to locate an 'E'-book, which the young lady at the front desk assured me could be accessed from any one of these computational devices. However, this does not appear to be the case."
Sam leans a little closer. "Have you tried searching the library's database online?"
In what will quickly become a pattern, Castiel asks, "On which line, exactly?"
This chance encounter, stemming from Castiel's search for a biography of Elias Lönnrot, leads to an explanation of the World Wide Web, the powerful role of the library card in academia, and Sam's phone number in Castiel's pocket with the promise of future assistance. He leaves the library later that evening, after the rain has stopped, and finds his way back to Gabriel to declare that he wishes attend Stanford University as a student.
"You've been in the library this entire time?" his brother asks him, mouth full of toffee. "And here I was hoping you'd discovered the joys of free love and moved to a commune. No, really, marijuana and tantric yoga seem like something you'd be in to."
"I need a birth certificate. And GRE scores," Castiel tells him.
Gabriel swallows hugely and makes a face. "Exceptional GRE scores, references, and an entrance essay that would get you into Mother Theresa's pants. It's so much easier to live off the grid, Castiel— and, seriously, free love. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
"Eventually, I will have to support myself as a human might. And the primary function of higher education is to provide a necessary skill set, yes?" Castiel persists.
Gabriel waves a dismissive hand. "But you could go anywhere for that. Just how hot was this guy? Because a pretty face is nothing to base your future on, Cassandra."
Castiel frowns. "But… you are also here. At least at the moment."
His brother has always reminded Castiel of a cat: by turns overly affectionate and completely aloof, moods mutable and likely to change without warning. Right then, he's giving Castiel a sidelong look, head tilted away, chin slightly raised.
"Of course I wish to stay near you," Castiel tells him patiently. "Despite your abrasive nature and deeply questionable sense of humor, you are my brother and I love you."
"You wouldn't know a sense of humor if it bit you on the ass," Gabriel snaps backs, but a pleased smile is tugging at the corner of his lips.
"I am going to hug you now," Castiel decides, sticking his arms out. Gabriel blanches.
"Oh fuck no. No, get the hell away from— Dad damn it!"
Or, perhaps, it all begins when Castiel Falls.
It feels less like dropping and more like being pulled. He's built of photons, not electrons, his elementary particles more force carrier than matter, and so the concept of 'gravity' is intrinsically foreign to him: the distortion of space-time caused by attractive forces, the endless crushing draw of the supermassive.
Gravity feels like hands, like fingers wrapping tight around his ekam, clutching greedily at his wings and dragging him down, down, down. He remembers how Anael screamed, the terrible wrenching pain of her voice ringing through all the tiers of Heaven as she tumbled away into the void. It was a very long time before the echoes faded from his ears, and his brethrens' faces.
One of Castiel's many, many sins is pride, and he falls silently.
Gabriel catches him. God is merciful, and Gabriel happens to be looking just as Castiel is plummeting towards him like a shooting star, and before his grace can be dashed from his body on the earth the glorious seraphim wings surround him. It is weeks before he can bear to leave their embrace, as dark and cold as the world is after the eternal light and glory of Heaven.
"What should I do?" he asks the archangel then, blinking like a newborn in the murk.
"Whatever the fuck you want," says the being who once announced the birth of Christ. "I'm going to get take-out, are you in the mood?"
"I don't need food," Castiel says, almost sulkily.
Gabriel gives him a knowing look, and says, "You will."
However it starts, this is where it ultimately ends:
Castiel is not Sam's roommate. Nevertheless, his books are crammed onto Sam's shelves, Sam's tiny refrigerator is filled with whatever odd edibles catch his eye, and he is not-sleeping on Sam's new (second- or third-hand) couch very late Wednesday night when someone picks the lock to the front door and lets themselves inside.
Castiel watches curiously as the intruder creeps by, oblivious to his presence, and after a moment ventures a polite, "Excuse me." He has the thought that the phrase, which has served him so well in a multitude of other odd circumstances, might also be applicable to confronting thieves in the night.
"Holy shit!" says the thief, and gives a blind swing that strikes Castiel's jaw.
The blow does more damage to the man's hand than to Castiel himself, and Castiel merely blinks as the man swears and staggers away into the coffee table, windmilling for a moment before toppling backwards with a startled yelp. Underneath the rattling crash of the table and all its contents flipping and the man's rabid cursing, he says, "I would apologize, but I believe you brought that on yourself."
"What the— who the fuck," the man starts, just as the lights turn on and Sam stumbles into the living room, wild-eyed and brandishing a marble bookend in the shape of a lion.
The three of them stare at each other.
"They all out of baseball bats on Planet Geek, Sammy?" the man on the floor eventually asks.
"That is an antique," Castiel says severely.
"It was the heaviest thing in reach," Sam protests, then, "Dean? What the hell?"
The man, presumably Dean, levers himself into a sitting position. He winces and cradles his injured hand to his chest. "I was in the area, thought I'd, you know. Stop by. Fuck, I think my hand is broken."
"That is not my fault," Castiel says as Sam sets the lion down and goes to help Dean up. He shoots Castiel a strange look as he passes him.
"Why would it be? Dean, let me see."
"Is your face made of granite or something?" Dean asks, looking past Sam's shoulder at Castiel. "It feels like I punched a wall."
"Why did you punch—? Cas, are you okay?"
Castiel nods, pulling his knees to his chest. "Yes. Of course."
"What the hell were you thinking?" Sam hisses at Dean as he catches his hand at the wrist despite Dean's attempts to dodge him.
"Who even is this guy?" Dean demands, gesturing with his free hand. "What's he doing here?"
Sam starts carefully manipulating the fingers, eyeing them critically. "I'm not allowed to have friends, now?"
"Is that what he is?" Dean persists.
Sam ignores him, turning to give Castiel an apologetic look. "Sorry about this. This is class act is unfortunately my brother."
"Oh," Castiel says. A potential Sword of Heaven?
"The one and only Dean Winchester," Dean says with a cocky grin. "Ouch! Watch it, Sammy, or we're going to have a matching set."
Ah. He sees the Michael in him now.
"I think we've got ice in the freezer," Sam says, letting his hands drop from Dean's. "Any particular reason you decided to show up in the middle of the night?"
Dean shrugs a little awkwardly. "I, uh. Wasn't planning on sticking around long?"
"Seriously?" Sam says over his shoulder as he walks back towards the hallway. "You were going to break into my place and, what? Watch me sleep?"
"I was checking up on you, okay?" Dean says gruffly. "We do that, you know."
"Really," comes Sam's voice, sarcastic over the crackle of ice breaking.
Dean sets his jaw, glances at Castiel and away. "Yeah. More than you probably realize."
Sam doesn't say anything for a minute, and Dean shifts uncomfortably as the silence stretches.
"So. Cas," he says finally, looking around the room and flexing his hand gingerly. "You live around here or something?"
"Or something," Castiel says obstinately— because he is, strangely, starting to dislike Dean— just as Sam steps back in the room with a Ziplock bag full of ice wrapped in paper towels.
"Well, here you go," he says, dumping them in Dean's lap.
"Gee, thanks," Dean says wryly. "Gotta love the TLC."
"You can leave now," Sam says, folding his arms across his chest. "Since you've checked up on me and all."
"Bitchy much?" Dean settles the bag carefully over his knuckles and looks up at Sam, jaw set in a stare that mirrors Sam's. "Look, Sam, I—"
"You what?" Sam asks. "Would rather break in here in the middle of the night than actually have a conversation with me?"
"How many times have you done this?"
"I believe he was trying to," Castiel says, and both of them turn to stare at him.
"Cas," Sam starts on a sigh.
Dean butts in with an aggressive, "Fuck off, you don't know anything about it."
Castiel thinks that he does know something about it, or is at least aware of the vague outline of their fates as predetermined by thousands of years of artful manipulation by Heaven's agents. The details may yet escape him, but he is confident they will come in time.
"Was your visit prompted by the holy day Thanksgiving?" he asks Dean, because it seems a fairly logical conclusion, given the hour.
Dean says, "Prompted by the what now?"
"We should get a turkey," Dean says, hunched in next to Castiel, who is slowly but surely pecking out THANKS GIVING FOOD RECIPES into the searchbar on Sam's laptop.
"We are not getting a turkey," Sam says. He's standing at the tiny sliver of countertop next to the stove, staring blearily at the coffeemaker as it wheezes and gurgles its way through ten cups of coal-dark liquid. They'd found it beside the dumpster at the back of the building when Sam moved in, and it's been in near-daily use since. "They're expensive. And this oven can barely fit a cake pan lengthwise. Plus, don't you have to start thawing them the night before or something?"
"We should get part of a turkey," Dean amends, pointing to a link that Castiel obediently clicks on. "At least one leg. And the breast."
"We could eat out," Sam offers.
Dean turns to give him a scornful look. "It's Thanksgiving."
"So we should cook!"
"Really?" Sam says, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Our Thanksgiving meals were burgers and fries, Dean. We never cooked for it. Ever."
"So we could start," Dean says stubbornly, and Sam rolls his eyes as he takes three mugs from the chipped collection hanging under their single cabinet.
"With what? I have a stove that's older than I am and no counter space to speak of," he says. "No sink, either, and the fridge is in the bathroom. Or what would be a bathroom if it had an actual door."
"Easy reach?" Dean tries.
"I would like to cook," Castiel says. "I like cooking."
Dean gestures at him. "There, see? Two to one, we win."
"My kitchen, my decision. And Cas, no offense," Sam says as he pours the coffee, "but you remember what happened with the fish, right? And the spaghetti? And the eggs I thought were mushrooms?"
"Practice makes perfect," Castiel says, secure in the truism. And the eggs had been quite good, he thought, if you overlooked the color.
Sam eases onto the couch next to him and holds out a mug. "Sure. But you should probably practice someplace that isn't my highly-flammable studio."
Castiel accepts the proffered coffee and Dean steals the laptop from his knees, scrolling awkwardly through the page they have open. "We should have mashed potatoes, too. The flakey kind that comes in a box."
"I thought you wanted to cook," Sam says archly.
"They taste better," Dean says stubbornly, reaching without looking up for his own mug. "We need those yam things, too. And stuffing. And pie. I could really go for some pie."
"When can you not go for pie," Sam sighs. "Fine. We'll cook. But I want at least one salad on the table that does not involve mayonnaise."
"Fine, Roger Rabbit."
"And brussels sprouts."
Dean gives him a disgusted look. "Ew."
Sam glowers back. "Please, like you have room to talk. Who ate all those elk burgers in Duluth?"
"Hey, they were delicious."
"They were green!"
"And delicious," Dean insists, slowly and painfully typing in a new search term, one key at a time.
"Give me that," Sam says, and reaches around Castiel to pull the laptop away. "Hey, Cas?"
"Hmm?" He's been paying more attention to his coffee than their conversation.
"Was there anything you wanted? I mean, for food," he adds as Castiel frowns.
"Pancakes," Castiel says immediately.
Sam blinks, then smiles. "In general, or for our Thanksgiving dinner?"
Castiel gives this the due consideration it deserves. "Could we have some now?"
Sam laughs and gives Castiel's shoulder a squeeze, warmth lingering there as he gets to his feet and stretches up towards the ceiling. "Mmm. It is technically morning, I guess. Pancakes sound good to you, Dean?"
"Hey, pancakes always sound good to me."
Sam grins, moving back towards the coffee pot with his empty mug. "Great. You make them, then."
Castiel decides he likes Dean after all, because he's the first person to actually laugh at Castiel's Cato the Elder joke and, after a token protest, he makes amazingly delicious pancakes without any of the lumps or glutinous stretch that Castiel has become accustomed to while eating Sam's.
"Aw, thanks buddy," Dean says, crowded in edgeways at the kitchen table (which was also rescued from the dumpster). He reaches for the syrup and nearly drags his sleeve through the sticky mess on Sam's plate. "I like you too."
"Glutinous?" Sam says, fork paused halfway to his mouth.
"It's what happens when you overmix the batter," Dean says authoritatively, and shrugs when Sam turns his glare on him. "What? I saw it somewhere."
"My pancakes are not glutinous," Sam grumbles, stabbing at his remaining stack. Dean grins.
This is also something Castiel likes about Dean: his obvious affection for Sam, despite his teasing words. It reminds Castiel a bit of Gabriel, actually, which gives rise to another thought.
"Thank you for the meal," he says formally, and scoots carefully away from the spindly-legged table. It can be quite fractious. "I'll return shortly. I need to make a call."
"Sure thing," Sam says, looking up at him. "Wait. You have a phone?"
Castiel is technically in possession of a phone. It is virulently fushia, has a smiling cartoon princess emblazoned across it, and emits phrases like 'My favorite food is cake! What's yours?' and 'Let's have fun all day!' when he presses any button but the digit four. "Not as such."
"Uh, okay," Sam says. "Sure. Dean and I will clean up in here."
Castiel nods his understanding and departs, choosing the stairs outside Sam's apartment door as a spot as good as any for what will likely be a very short conversation.
Castiel presses the four and bring the small plastic phone to his ear, settling down on the top step to wait.
Gabriel picks up on the thirteenth ring. "'Yello."
"Castiel! I was just thinking about you."
"Well, it's been a while since the last time you accidentally killed yourself. I was getting worried. What's it this time? Refugees in South Sudan? Taiwanese earthquake victims?"
Castiel ignores him with the skill of long practice. "Gabriel, do we have plans for Thanksgiving?"
"American or Canadian?"
"Absolutely. I'll be in Dakshineswar, making love to a beautiful woman, and you'll be doing whatever the hell it is you do instead of enjoying life."
"I see. Thank you."
"Whoa whoa whoa, wait!" Gabriel says. "That's it?"
"You're not dying?"
"Are you sure?"
"Do you really expect me to be on the verge of death every time I call you," Castiel says impatiently, then belatedly realizes he most often is. "Well. I'm not."
A pause. "Did you want to do something for Thanksgiving?"
"It seemed prudent to speak with you before I committed myself elsewhere."
"My friend has explained that it's customary to spend this holy day in the company of family," Castiel clarifies, and Gabriel makes a noise of satisfaction.
"A friend! Hopefully a hot one. Fear not, brother mine— being in the same hemisphere with you is about as much family togetherness as I can stand per annum. See ya later."
The phone beeps, and then says in a young girl's voice, "I love you even more than I love cake!"
Castiel brings it away from his ear and frowns at it.
"Let's be friends forever!"
He sighs, and folds it closed.
When Castiel returns to the apartment, Sam has the laptop open in front of him and a page of neat, dense writing in an open notebook on the table. Dean's nursing another cup of coffee and leaning over to read it.
"I'm just saying, I think Stanford's messing with your brain," he says as Castiel reclaims his chair. "You've got all these, like, headings and subheadings and— wait, are you alphabetizing?"
"Jesus Christ on a tortilla chip, you are."
"Shut up, Dean. Cas, so far we've got turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes—"
"Oh, gravy. We forgot the gravy."
Sam sighs, and adds a tiny bubble of supertext over one of the items on his list. "Gravy, uh, cranberry sauce— Haute Cuisine over here wants the kind that stays in the shape of the can—"
"It's the best kind!"
"— but we'll be getting the berries too, so that, and the green bean casserole. And what kind of pie did you want again?"
Dean's eyes light up.
"After we buy the rest of the groceries," Sam amends hastily.
"Fine," Dean grumbles. "How long can that take, anyway?"
"We've been here forever," Dean moans, slumped over the handles of the grocery cart.
"It's been maybe an hour," Sam says without looking up from the list in his hand, drawing a precise line through beans, green. "I thought you wanted to cook."
"I did! I do! I just didn't sign up for this shopping bullshit. Everyone and their funny uncle is in here, can't we go somewhere else?"
"It's Thanksgiving, Dean! Of course it's packed, everywhere is going to be packed. Cas, do you see any cream of mushroom?"
Castiel examines the soup displays in front of him. "Low sodium?"
"Hell no," Dean says, and reaches around him to pluck a different can from the shelf. "Don't let the Man take away your God-given right to salt."
"I do not think He is concerned overmuch with human habits of consumption," Castiel says. "Will we need more than one?"
Sam consults the list. "Uh, yeah. Get two. Dean, do you see any fried—"
Dean throws a can that rattles into the cart from ten feet away. "Nothing but net! Cas, gimme five."
"Five of what?" Castiel asks, having deposited the second can of soup in the cart with much more care.
"Are you serious?"
Dean looks amazed. "Where did Sam find you, man? Are you Amish or something?"
"The Amish are a good and pious people," Castiel says, uncertain of Dean's tone, but Dean waves it away.
"Whatever. Look, when someone says 'give me five'—"
"Is this really necessary?" Sam calls, pointedly pushing the cart further down the aisle.
"I'm doing Cas a service here! You're obviously not taking care of him, who the hell doesn't know how to give a high-five—"
The produce department is a scene of pitched battle, Dean wading bravely into the fray to retrieve their prepackaged lettuce, sage and sweet potatoes while Castiel and Sam stand in the relatively safer meat section.
"We should get fresh turkey, just the breast maybe," Sam muses, surveying the leftover birds available with a critical eye. "There's no way we'd have time for a frozen one. Do you see—?"
Shouts break out to their right, and Castiel turns to see a small melee in front of one bin, a store employee with a pallet caught in the middle.
"Are those…?" Castiel asks, squinting.
"I'm going in," Sam says grimly. "Keep the cart safe, Cas."
"I— I'll try?" Castiel says, but Sam is already gone.
Dean has a split lip and Sam is limping a little, but they make it to the long, long checkout lines in more or less one piece. Sam nudges the cart forward inch by inch, and Dean reads Taste of Home disguised by the latest issue of Maxim.
"Oh, wait," Sam says, looking wearily back towards the baking section. "Dean, your pie."
Dean shrugs, flipping a page. "Nah, not here. Looked pretty picked over, and anyway, there's this great place just up the road," Dean says. "Makes the best apple pie you've ever put in your mouth, I promise. We'll get a pumpkin pie, too, and the strawberry-rhubarb, and maybe a blueberry one too."
"You're paying," Sam says.
"Mr. Tyler Steven is, actually."
"What? I thought it was creative."
"Creative is one word for it, yeah."
"Who is Tyler Steven?" Castiel asks, mystified, and Sam give a long, gusty sigh.
"I don't understand," Dean says again, looking devastated. "It should be here. It was right here—"
"Stores close all the time, Dean," Sam says soothingly. "It's okay. We'll just—"
"Wait. I think there was another one pretty close by," Dean says determinedly. "Let me think. It was across the interstate…"
"Maybe the chain went bankrupt?"
"Don't say that, Sam. You might be my brother but I will punch your lights out."
Sam snorts. "Like you could land a punch on me."
"Dean, so help me God—"
"Just a little further—"
"We're in Sacramento!" Sam yells. "We are literally in Sacramento, there it is, there's the city limits sign—"
"I would like to locate a restroom in the near future," Castiel says, but he may as well be talking to himself as the debate in the front seat rages on.
"Look! Look, there it is, I knew it! Suck it, Sam, I found—"
"Oh, Lord," Castiel says reflexively.
"Holy shit," Sam says.
"Daaaamn," Dean echoes, slowing the car.
If the grocery store had been chaotic, The Pie Shoppe is a previously undiscovered layer of hell. There are cars parked haphazardly on the curbs and grass medians, and a line stretching from the door all the way around the store, into the street and across the packed parking lot.
"You really want to do this," Sam says, still staring.
"It's pie, Sam," Dean says bleakly. "I need my pie."
"Okay," Sam answers, squaring his shoulders. "I'll circle the block?"
"Cas, you're coming with me," Dean says. "I've got a plan."
Several boldfaced lies, winsome smiles and a fictitious and very elderly grandmother later, and Dean and Castiel are inside the restaurant portion of the pie shop with two cups of coffee and a free piece of pie, given to them by an extremely stressed and apologetic waiter who deeply, deeply regretted Ethel Winchester's misplaced order and would get right back to them, sir, please have a seat. Dean allows Castiel one bite of the apple pie slice before he commandeers the plate, citing his greater efforts.
"This is very wrong of us," Castiel says.
"Yep," Dean says, licking ice cream off his spoon.
"What about all those people in line?"
"What about them?" Dean asks, leaning back. "They'll all get their pies eventually. One cut in line isn't going to matter."
"And the waiter?"
"I'm gonna leave this guy a tip the size of Texas. Trust me, he'll be fine."
"It's still not right."
"Hey, I'm not arguing with you," Dean says. "But it is easier, and it's what we need to do to get out of here in time to have dinner before midnight."
"Yes," Castiel says reluctantly, sipping his coffee and enjoying the heat that bleeds out of the porcelain into his hands. "Yes, I suppose so."
He looks up at Dean. "Yes?"
Dean's gazing down at his plate, nothing but crumbs and smears of ice cream left. "Can I ask you something?"
"Technically, you just did."
"Ha, funny," Dean says, dragging his spoon through the melted cream. "Look. No offense or anything, but… uh. Are you and Sam…?"
Castiel watches him. "Are we…?"
"Like, uh. Together?"
"We are often together, yes," Castiel says, and Dean looks exasperated.
"No, I mean together together."
Castiel considers him. "You seem to be attaching special significance to the repeated word, but I do not understand what it is."
Dean leans forward a little. "I'm trying to ask— are you two seeing each other?"
"We see each other nearly every day," Castiel answers, but Dean just looks frustrated.
"No, I mean— just— are you gay?" he says. "No judgment if you are, but. Are you?"
"Gay," Castiel repeats. "In the modern sense of the vernacular, meaning with a proclivity for homosexual relationships?"
"... a little wordy, but yeah."
"No," Castiel says. "I am utterly indifferent to sexual orientation."
"Okay," Dean says, sitting back. "Okay, so you're not dating Sam, that's— okay! Good to know."
"Oh." Understanding belatedly dawns. "You wanted to know if we were romantic partners."
"No, I— well." Dean rubs the back of his neck. "Don't take this the wrong way, Cas, but you give off some weird vibes around him now and then."
"Really?" Castiel says. "When?"
"I don't know, I— you know what, let's just drop it, sorry. Sam would kick my ass if he— oh shit, you can't tell him I asked you, he'd kill me."
"I don't think he would do that," Castiel says doubtfully, but then the waiter strides over, bearing their pies and profuse apologies for the 'mix-up'. Dean winks and slips him a fifty dollar bill as they leave.
"This is insane," Sam says dazedly, staring at the mountains of groceries on the table, counter, stovetop and floor of the apartment's kitchenette. It'd taken the three of them two trips per person to even get them all upstairs. "This is completely insane. We'll never eat all this. Do we even have enough pots and pans to cook everything in?"
Dean makes a show of rolling up his sleeves. "Hey, we'll figure something out. Cas, put those pies somewhere safe, okay? And Sam, can you grab that knife from next to the coffee pot?"
"I don't even have a cutting board," Sam continues, hands clutching at his hair.
"So we'll improvise!"
"Your face, if you don't get a move on!"
Later— much, much later, long after the smoke alarm and the girls in 3B coming up and staying for pie, and Castiel's trip the CVS around the corner for emergency aluminum foil and Glad containers, and the studio getting so hot from the stove and oven they'd taken turns laying on the roof outside the south-facing window, and the horrific, horrific mistake that is the boxed stuffing mix— Castiel wakes up next to Dean on the couch, groggy and still uncomfortably full.
Dean's fallen asleep in an improbable position, one leg hooked over the back cushions and his head hanging off the edge next to the armrest. His chest lifts as Castiel watches, and a thin snore issues from his open mouth. He has the apartment's only blanket drawn up to his chin.
It's dark outside the open windows, and strong breeze makes the blinds flap and Castiel shiver. The lights are turned off in the main room. The only illumination comes from the archway to the bathroom, and Castiel can hear the taps running.
"Sam?" Castiel rasps, sitting up.
A quiet moment, and then fingers appear at the edge of the doorframe and wiggle. "In here."
Sam's kneeling on the bathroom rug that's seen much better and cleaner days, scraping out a baking dish they'd ended up borrowing from the 3B girls. The bathtub is full of soapy water and soaking dishes, and once free of extraneous scraps, the dish joins them with a plop.
"Hey, Cas," he says, sitting back on his heels with a smile. Water darkens his shirt, makes it cling to his arms and stomach. "You guys crashed pretty hard, so I thought I'd get a head start on these."
"I'll help," Castiel says instantly, and Sam points to the clean towel laid out on the tile next to him, the dishes that are already there.
"Grab another towel and help me dry?"
Castiel collects a second towel and sits on the edge of the bathtub, taking the dishes Sam hands him and rubbing briskly as the water drips off them and onto his pants.
They work for several minutes in easy silence, air humid and warm. There's faint music and voices coming through the walls from some other apartment; a television, he thinks. There's a lot of cheering, whatever they're watching.
Castiel recalls that once, being encumbered with a human vessel seemed quite irksome. It's often struck him as awkward and undignified— the ceaseless input from his skin, cold-warmth, soft-hard constantly distracting him, provoking uncontrollable reactions from the rest of his body. He remembers once becoming so engrossed in the sensation of breathing he'd ceased to notice anything else for days.
"Cas, you're staring," Sam says.
"Oh," Castiel says, blinking.
Sam chuckles. "It's fine. You stare all the time, but you also stopped drying, so."
"Oh!" Castiel bends and wipes hurriedly at the pot in his hands. "I apologize."
"It's fine," Sam says, scrubbing forcefully at the deep pan they'd cooked the turkey in. "Something on your mind?"
Breathing is simpler, now. Other things have become more complicated with time.
"Dean asked me something today," Castiel says.
"Oh?" Sam hands him a glass, and Castiel polishes the water from its surface, fingers struggling to reach the very bottom.
"He asked if we were together."
Castiel looks up to see Sam staring at him, eyebrows rising.
"He asked if we were… together together?"
Castiel bends down to set the glass on the towel. "You know, he said the same thing."
"Wow." Sam blinks, shakes his head. "Just. Wow, Dean."
"Then he asked if we were seeing each other."
Sam frowns at him, then suddenly smiles. "You had no idea what he was talking about, did you?"
"He seemed quite frustrated," Castiel admits, and Sam laughs, sinking a hand in the soapy water and feeling around the bottom of the tub before bringing up another plate.
"Serves him right, the nosy asshole."
"He asked if I was gay."
Sam nearly drops the plate. "Are you serious?"
"I told him I was indifferent to orientation."
"Jesus, Cas, you should have just told him to go fuck himself!" Sam says. "That's— it's really rude, you know, to just ask someone something like that."
Castiel reaches out for the plate, and Sam sets it in his hands. "He said I 'give off weird vibes'."
Now Sam looks angry, and he glances with a glare towards the dark living room. "Ignore him, Cas. He's such a—"
Castiel has grown accustomed to misunderstanding, to being misunderstood. He thinks he needs to be as clear as possible about this. "Sam."
Cut off, Sam looks back at him. "Yeah?"
"He said I produce these 'weird vibes' around you."
For a moment, Sam looks surprised. "Well," he says. Then, strangely, his eyes slide away. "Don't take this the wrong way, Cas, but you don't exactly have a lot of friends."
He's right, of course. "True."
Sam continues, still looking everywhere but Castiel's face. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm your only friend."
Castiel thinks about this. "I believe you might be."
"Of course you look at me differently, then," Sam says, addressing his hands as he scrubs a wooden spoon with unusual vigor. "Of course you do."
The familiar sense of misconstrued motives rears its head, and Castiel sighs. "Sam."
"What, Castiel?" Sam snaps.
"… please look at me," Castiel says quietly, instead of, indifferent does not mean undesirous, or being your friend does not preclude loving you, or Gabriel was right, I am here because of you, only you, or I like you more than books. The human tongue is clumsy and he doesn't trust it to express what he wants to say.
Sam's gaze lands on Castiel's knee, then the plate in his hand. His eyes run up the line of his sleeve to the collar of his shirt, and when they finally lift to his face, Castiel is already leaning forward, damp fingers rising to touch Sam's jaw very lightly.
"Cas?" he says, right before their lips connect.
Castiel closes his eyes, because this feels— very nice, Sam's breath shuddering out against his skin and the give in Sam's plush lower lip as Castiel sways closer, a taste like salt and cinnamon as he dares to open his mouth a fraction and breathe him in. The apple pie, he thinks muzzily. The heat of the room, of Sam's wet palm settling on his leg and the water soaking into the fabric, is making him dizzy.
Castiel thinks— although it may be just his imagination, he thinks that Sam moves into the kiss, arching for a fraction of a second, a tiny noise breaking in his throat that sounds like acceptance, like want.
The next second, Sam has pulled away. Castiel's eyes blink open, and Sam is looking down at the water, hair falling over his red face.
"It's— it's getting late," he says, choked. "You should— sheets. Sleeping bag. Dean's on the couch, but—"
Castiel doesn't point out that they've shared the bed before, because things have changed. He's changed them. He can only hope it's for the better.
"I'll get them," he says gently, rising to his feet. The dishes are almost done, crowded into rows on the towel on the floor, and he is careful to step around them. "Goodnight, Sam."
"… goodnight, Cas," Sam responds, low and soft.