Title: Season To Taste
Prompt: From acerbus_instar for the deancastiel Secret Angels III fic exchange. The prompt was: The quest for Castiel's favourite food, à la Dean. Sam referees.
Summary: Dean is saddled with an unusual curse, and Cas and Sam help as best they can, under the circumstances
Warnings: Uh, excessive cooking?
Spoilers: Up to 5.14
A certain degree of separation was to be expected when it came to the Winchesters. Intellectually, Castiel knew this. In fact, it was he who instigated the separations the vast majority of the time, knew it was necessary if they were to keep going and he was to continue in his search for God. Still, this time he seemed to be feeling the separation more keenly than usual —or, rather, he was feeling it for the first time. The sensation perplexed him, not that being perplexed was anything new. If anything, spending that much time with the Winchesters and humanity in general seemed to guarantee that he would never fully understand what was being said ever again. Too much time had passed since he'd walked the earth in any form, and local idiom was even more complex than it had been a thousand years ago.
He thought it might have something to do with Famine. Before the events of Valentine's Day, it was nothing to him to leave for days or weeks at a time. This time, though, he found himself feeling uneasy, anxious, even, if he had to give a name to the feeling. Of course, he'd left both brothers in reasonably good health: he couldn't in good conscience leave them when Sam was in the worst throes of withdrawal and when Dean's despair and pain were so palpable, and so he had stayed until he was reasonably sure they were both over the worst of it. Sam had come out of the panic room a weak, pale, shaking version of his former self, and Dean's face had the same pinched, pained look, but they were together again, and that was what mattered most.
There was no logical reason to be worried now, he told himself, but apparently that didn't much matter when it came to human emotions: they imposed themselves whether he wanted them or not. There was no answer on Dean's cell phone —yet another reason to worry— but Sam answered his on the first ring. He reassured Castiel that everything was fine, but his tone was guarded, and so the moment Castiel discovered their location, he dropped everything and went.
It was Sam who startled at his arrival directly behind his chair in the kitchen at Bobby Singer's house. "Gah! Uh, Castiel. Hi," he managed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I wasn't exactly expecting you to show up. Weren't you—" he gestured vaguely.
"Searching for God? Yes. I have returned."
"Yeah, I get that. Uh, I'm guessing no luck?"
"No," Castiel replied simply, staring past Sam to where Dean still had his back turned, facing the stove. He was whistling cheerfully, although as usual it was impossible to tell whether he was in tune. The smell of heating oil and garlic wafted through the kitchen, which was looking considerably cleaner than Castiel ever remembered it being. Dean spared a glance over his shoulder.
"Cas, you're back! Hey. You hungry? I'm making a stir-fry."
Castiel tilted his head to the side, then cast a questioning look in Sam's direction. Sam just shrugged. "Dean," Castiel said, "I thought that you and Sam were going to be heading east again? You said last week you were going to leave."
"We did, and we came back," Dean said, nodding, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Hey, Sammy, do you suppose Bobby has any All-Spice? I was thinking I could make a casserole later."
Sam rubbed a hand over his face. He still looked tired and worn, Castiel noted, and his hands still shook occasionally. Over a week in the panic room, unable to keep much down except for water, had taken its toll on him, no matter how good a face he was trying to put on it.
"Try the spice rack. If it's anywhere, it'll be there. The cooking spices, I mean. Stay away from the drawer with the magical herbs, okay?"
Dean snorted. "I'm not an idiot, Sam."
"I know." Sam gave Castiel a helpless look, and shrugged.
Something wasn't right, here. "What is going on?"
Dean stiffened, then forced his posture to become loose again. He strode over to the refrigerator, and began rummaging through the crisper drawer. "Nothing."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Uh, it's kind of a curse."
Castiel felt his eyebrows shoot up almost to his hairline. "A curse? Why did you not tell me sooner?"
Sam shrugged again. "Well, for one, we didn't figure out what it was right away. For another thing, it's not exactly the worst thing that's happened lately, so we figured we'd let you do your thing while we dealt with it."
"What sort of curse?"
To his surprise, Sam's face broke into a grin. "Okay, so Dean kind of pissed off a witch—"
"Not my fault she was touchy!"
"Right. Anyway, he made a crack about women being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen—"
"I was being sarcastic! She just had no sense of humour."
"And she took it badly. Maybe because she's eight months pregnant and wasn't in the mood for jokes. So, uh, she kind of cursed him."
Castiel was pretty sure he was missing a vital piece of the puzzle. "What sort of curse?"
"A pretty mild one, as far as I can tell," Sam looked over to where Dean was now busily scraping the zest off an orange. "She sort of cursed him to... I don't know... go all Martha Stewart, or something."
"Shut up, Sam. It's not funny," Dean snapped, but he didn't stop what he was doing.
"Oh come on!" Sam smirked. "It's kind of funny. Anyway," he continued, turning back to Castiel, "the first indication I had was waking up at 3am to find him scrubbing the motel bathtub. I couldn't get him to give it up, so we came back here, to see what Bobby could come up with."
"Which was exactly squat," Dean answered Castiel's next question.
"Oh, come on, that's not true," Sam leaned on the kitchen table with both elbows, resting his forehead in his hands. "She was a minor-league witch, you know how these things go. It'll probably wear off on its own."
"Great. In the meantime, I'm stuck re-enacting Julia & Julia," Dean grumbled on his way back to the stove, but Castiel thought that his tone lacked conviction. Certainly his body language seemed to indicate that he was relaxed, far more so than Castiel remembered him being ever since the events in St. Mary's convent.
"I don't understand," Castiel sometimes had the impression that those were the words he used the most around the Winchesters. "She cursed you with cooking?"
"Freaking feminist witches."
"No," Sam clarified. "She said she wanted him to get a better appreciation for the domestic skills all men apparently take for granted. According to her, anyway. So it doesn't matter what he's doing, as long as it's some kind of household chore. I don't think Bobby's house has ever been this clean. We kind of stumbled across the cooking thing by accident, mostly because Bobby threatened to fill Dean's backside full of bird shot if he went near his study again with the Pledge. It was pretty gruesome."
"Where is Bobby?" Castiel asks, and Dean shrugs a bit before answering.
"Locked up in his study with his shotgun."
Sam grins. "He said to come get him when, and I quote, 'you idjits have sorted yourselves out.' I think he has an emergency stash of food in there."
"At least he didn't lock himself in the panic room. That would have been insulting. And awkward."
"What? It would. Hey, you think this needs something?" Dean shoved a spoonful of something Castiel couldn't quite see at Sam, who recoiled from it, his face draining of what little colour he still had.
"Dude, no. Please, please stop trying to get me to taste your stuff."
"C'mon, since when don't you like my cooking?"
"Your cooking isn't the problem," Sam pointed out, still leaning away, bringing a hand up to his mouth. "Seriously, Dean, point that elsewhere if you don't want me to hurl all over your clean floor." He turned a supplicating look toward Castiel. "Hey, Castiel, uh... think you could help out? He gets seriously anxious about this stuff, and I just —I can't." He grimaced.
"What do you mean?"
"Sam's off his feed," Dean pursed his lips in obvious disapproval, but pulled the pot away and set it back on the stove. "Hasn't touched anything except toast and water since he came out of Bobby's panic room."
"Look, I'm sorry, but nothing else stays down," Sam put his head back in his hands again. "The toast is hard enough."
"You're going to waste away," Dean moved back to the table, and in a gesture that looked at once familiar and entirely out of place he reached out and snaked his hand past Sam's, pressing his palm to Sam's forehead, insisting when Sam tried to jerk away with a muttered complaint. "You're running another fever."
"It's fine," Sam muttered, barely audible. Now that Castiel had had it brought to his attention, he could see that there were hectic spots of colour in Sam's cheeks, his eyes a little too bright.
"You are still experiencing withdrawal symptoms?"
Sam shook his head. "Not really. I think it's just a bug. The witch had another kid down with the 'flu or something. Must've picked it up there. I'm fine."
"Go take a nap," Dean said firmly, in a tone that brooked no argument. "Take the couch."
"Dean, I'm fine."
There was a derisive snort. "Sure. Sam, just... just go lie down, would you?" Castiel looked up, surprised at the sudden change in Dean's tone. It was no longer simply the gruff concern he'd shown a moment before: now it was laced with anxiety, much more than was warranted by a simple illness. "Please? I'll bring you a blanket and some Tylenol."
Sam looked just as surprised as Castiel felt. "Dean, it's just the 'flu."
Dean turned aside abruptly, hands twitching at his sides, and Castiel could see his jaw working. "Sam..."
Understanding seemed to dawn on Sam, although it hadn't yet for Castiel. "Oh. Oh! Right. Okay, okay, Dean. Sure." He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, and went to rest a large hand on Dean's shoulder. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. Not our usual MO, you know?"
Dean nodded tightly, but he didn't turn around. "Yeah."
"I'm going. Promise."
Castiel watched the tension ease from Dean's shoulders, and decided he would probably get more answers from Sam about what was going on. "I will come with you. To make sure you are settled," he amended, when he got strange looks from both brothers. "Your food will burn, otherwise," he added for good measure, and felt an unexpected pang of guilt as Dean started and turned back to the stove.
He followed Sam into Bobby's living room, and sat carefully in the chair opposite the couch while Sam, to his surprise, sat down, true to his word. "I need you to explain what's going on. I don't... I don't fully understand what's happening."
Sam lifted his hands in a slightly helpless gesture. "It's the curse, I'm pretty sure. It just ratchets up his anxiety levels when things around the house don't run smoothly. When I tried to get him to stop cleaning the first time he had a panic attack and hyperventilated so badly he blacked out."
"And just now?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it has to do with me. I mean, Dean raised me, so that kind of makes me, uh, like his kid, I guess? So if I'm sick, then he's probably feeling compelled to make sure I'm taken care of. More than usual."
Castiel nodded as things began to make more sense. "So if he perceives that you are not resting and getting better as a result..."
"He freaks out," Sam confirmed. "It's a mild curse, but it's still a curse." He eased himself onto the couch, adjusting the cushions and settling down with a small sigh. "The cooking's better than the cleaning, but Bobby's having nothing to do with us until this all blows over —not that I can blame him: Dean's acting ten kinds of neurotic— and I can't... I can't really help much."
"He can't cook without having someone eat the food," Castiel was beginning to grasp the full implications of the curse, "and you've felt too ill to stomach it."
"Pretty much. Uh... you think you could help us out? Dean's a good cook, always has been. It's not the worst thing that could happen."
Sam's eyes slipped shut as he adjusted himself into a more comfortable position, and Castiel guessed he must have been feeling more ill than he'd been letting on, not that that came as much of a surprise. He reached up to pull down the blanket that was folded over the back of the couch and laid it over Sam's legs, remembering Dean's promise of a blanket and pills.
"Of course I will help. Get some sleep, and I will watch over Dean for you. I always do."
"I know you do, Cas. Thank you." And with that, Sam was asleep.
Castiel found Dean beating some sort of egg mixture in the kitchen. Dean looked up at him with a sheepish expression that managed to be worried at the same time. "How is he?"
"He is fine. Asleep," Castiel confirmed. "What are you making?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Soufflé. Just... don't say anything, okay? This is bad enough without comments."
"I wasn't going to say anything."
"I did not know you knew how to prepare such a dish. I was given to understand that it's rather complicated."
"Hey, I can cook. Who do you think kept Dad and Sammy fed all those years? Sure, it wasn't fine cuisine when I was eleven, but let me tell you: Spaghetti-os get to be pretty vile after a while. It's a skill like any other, so I taught myself after I turned fifteen. I've never made soufflé before, mind you. It kind of sounds girly. I figured I may as well give it a shot while I can blame it on the curse. Just don't tell Sam, okay?"
"I have never eaten soufflé before, either. It will be a novel experience for the both of us." Castiel prudently said nothing about Sam.
Dean blinked at him, but Castiel could see the tension that had been building in him ease again. "You're... you're staying?"
"Of course. Sam is unwell, and he says Bobby is unavailable. I wish to help, in any way I can."
Dean jerks his head a bit in one of those gestures of his that indicate things aren't going the way he expected, but that the surprise isn't unpleasant. "Okay, then. You can help by telling me if you think that casserole needs more salt."
Castiel hesitated over the steaming pot on the stove, stirring it experimentally with a wooden spoon. The smell was nice, now that he was paying attention. "How am I supposed to be able to tell?"
"I don't know, Cas. Just taste it and see what you think. You're not one of those people who doesn't like salt, are you?"
"I wouldn't know."
Dean spooned the egg mixture into a ceramic dish, and nudged Castiel aside so he could place it in the oven. "Seriously, Cas? How do you not know?"
"I don't ever eat, Dean, except that one time. I've never needed to."
"So... you don't know what you like. Not even cheeseburgers?"
"The cheeseburgers were... unpleasant, by the end."
Dean tilted his head in agreement. "Overdose. I hear ya. Did you like the first one, though?"
Castiel considered the question while he tasted the casserole dish. He didn't think it needed salt, but then, he wasn't sure what it was supposed to taste like. It tasted a lot like it smelled, and the overall effect was pleasant: warm and savoury, and with a hint of herbs that it takes a while to identify as rosemary and thyme.
"The first one was... not bad. I don't think I like them as much as Jimmy does, however."
Dean was already piling dishes in the sink and applying a wet rag to the table top. "So what kind of food do you like? Can you take a wild stab in the dark at it?"
"I honestly don't know. The casserole is... tasty."
He could have sworn that Dean actually seemed more cheerful at that. "Well, then. I guess as long as I'm cooking and you're the only one eating, we should figure out what it is you do like. Just... let me check on Sam, and I'll come right back. Have some more casserole."
It turned out that Sam was right. As curses went, this one was quite mild, although it was disconcerting to watch Dean's moods swing from a kind of placid contentment to a state of such anxiety that he would tremble from head to foot until whatever had come between him and whatever he imagined constituted domestic perfection was resolved. Over the next couple of days, Castiel found that he became attuned to the small shifts in Dean's mood, and tried to adjust to keep things running smoothly. Mostly it was a simple process: eat what was put in front of him, help with the dishes, and make sure Sam was comfortable. Sam wasn't even particularly ill, just feverish and uncomfortable, but every time he so much as tried to get up from the couch where he'd first settled, Dean would work himself into such a state of anxiety that he gave up altogether and simply stayed put.
Castiel thought that Sam was secretly relieved to simply be able to sleep through the worst of the illness. In the angel's experience both Winchesters, but Dean in particular, insisted on carrying on unless there were broken bones or unstoppable bleeding involved. He'd watched them both hunt while suffering from colds and fevers and, in one memorable case, the stomach 'flu. While he'd been impressed with their determination at the time, now that he had a better grasp of the recuperative powers of the human body, he was beginning to think that taking a few days to rest was not as unreasonable an idea as Dean normally seemed to think it was. Now, though, it seemed as though the curse was allowing them both a respite, as Dean wasn't inclined to leave the house for any reason, and hovered over his brother, alternately feeding him weak broth and Tylenol whenever he could rouse him long enough.
It was easy enough dealing with the rest of the curse. Dean seemed at his happiest when he was experimenting with food, and since Castiel had no trouble eating whatever was put in front of him, no matter how much of it there was nor what time of day it was, keeping Dean on an even keel proved to be a fairly easy task to accomplish. What was less easy was figuring out what his "favourite" food was, which had quickly become an obsession with Dean. Most of the food was good in one way or another, but they were all different, and thus it seemed impossible to Castiel to choose just one that he favoured over all the rest. Sam tried to explain the concept of a "favourite" food as one which brought comfort as well as pleasure, a food that one would turn back to in times of distress.
"It's the familiarity of it as much as anything else," he said, making a face as Dean tried to coax him into having a bowl of tomato rice soup. "Like this stuff for Dean."
"Come on, this is your comfort food, don't try to deny it."
"Never said it wasn't. I just wish you'd try to act like you enjoy it a little bit."
"I do. Just... not right now."
"Sam, you still haven't had anything more solid than toast and broth. This can't be good for you." Sam just turned away, swallowing hard, as though the mere thought of the soup was going to make him empty the contents of his stomach, and Dean huffed in exasperation, and reached out to press a hand to Sam's forehead. "Dammit. You shouldn't still be this hot. I'll get you more Tylenol. You want some water?"
Sam shook his head. "I'm okay."
"Yeah, well. 'Okay' isn't the first word that springs to mind." Dean tilted the red and white pill bottle and shook out two capsules into Sam's hand, and followed it with a glass of water in spite of Sam's earlier protests. "Drink up. Even if you don't eat I'm not having you dehydrate on my watch."
Sam just groaned softly, and Castiel thought it prudent to retreat to the kitchen while the two brothers argued this time around. He was fairly certain that Sam wouldn't allow Dean to become too agitated, and by now he was almost as curious as Dean was to find out which food he preferred over the rest. He was enjoying this, he realized with a small jolt of guilt as he sat at the kitchen table and helped himself to some of the apple cobbler Dean had made only an hour before. It was still warm, and Dean had insisted he try it both with and without ice cream. He drummed his fingers on the table, then stopped as he realized what he was doing. He wasn't sure when he'd picked up so many human habits. He ought to be searching for God. He'd put his quest on hold for the few days they hoped it would take for the curse to wear off, and he'd told himself it was just temporary, but he'd actually managed to forget about it entirely for the past couple of days. Simply spending the time here, watching Dean actually smile for the first time in months, was something he had never contemplated doing before.
"Cas?" Dean was leaning in the doorway. "Sam's asleep, finally. Poor kid's still burning up. What is it with little kids breeding germs like petri dishes, anyway? Oughta be a law," he grumbled. "Anyway, I'm going to turn in, if that's okay with you."
"Of course," he agreed readily. It was odd, having Dean ask permission for something like this, but doubtless it would disappear along with the rest of the curse. At least it was mild enough that it didn't prevent him from sleeping. On the contrary, he'd been pleased to note that it almost forced Dean to keep a regular schedule and get six or seven hours' of sleep every night, which was more than he'd had in the past two months combined.
Castiel spent the night sitting next to Sam. He still hadn't quite gotten the hang of sleep, although food no longer held many mysteries after the past few days, and he felt at least a little useful watching over his friend and making sure he didn't get any worse. Waning powers aside, this was something he could do, with ease. Sam was a restless sleeper at the best of times, and the fever he was running didn't help, but just as Castiel was seriously contemplating forcing him into a deeper sleep the fever broke, and the lines of pain eased from his face.
Dean was jubilant the next morning. "I am officially no longer possessed by the spirit of June Cleaver!" he announced, fairly bouncing into the living room. "This might just possibly be the best day of my life," he grinned.
Sam grinned weakly in return, pushing himself upright. "So what's with the tray, then?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "I don't see you getting up and getting food anytime soon. Just because I'm not compelled to go all Julia Child doesn't mean you still don't need feeding. Relax, it's just oatmeal. Should be fine even for your sensitive stomach, princess. Here, Cas, I made you some too."
Castiel accepted the bowl and dug his spoon into it, watching as Dean sat down next to Sam with a grin that would rival that of the cat from that children's book Castiel had come across once during his research, watching as Sam gingerly tried one spoonful of the stuff. A pleased, if somewhat incredulous smile spread over Sam's face after that, and he began eating with more relish than he'd shown in weeks. If his knowledge of human anatomy didn't tell him that it was physically impossible, Castiel would have sworn that Dean looked about fit to burst with pleasure, his own bowl of oatmeal balanced carefully on his knee. He glanced over at the angel, and his expression turned curious.
"What're you smiling about, Cas?"
Castiel took another bite of oatmeal. "I think we may have found my favourite food, after all."