Castiel slipped quietly into the kitchen, closing the door behind him. It looked, frankly, like a kitchen that had been not just in a war zone, but the lab that had been used to create the biological warfare that left it a desolate wasteland which only freakish mutations could survive in.
A stack of cake tins, mixing bowls and spatulas twisted and spired out of a heap of dirty plates in the sink, in such a gravitationally unsound way that it would have made Tim Burton blush. The trash was overflowing from the can, with two bulging black sacks full of cardboard egg boxes either side of it. Icing sugar was smeared over every surface, along with gloopy brown cake batter, and flour floated through the air like volcanic ash.
And in the middle of it all, Gabriel stood, his back to the door, his hair sticking up at odd angles from a combination of sweat and greasy hands pulling at it, casting a strange silhouette. He had both hands gripping the counter, and looked very much like he was using it to hold himself up, his head hanging low between his angled shoulders.
"Is there a problem, Mr Goldman?"
Gabriel didn't tense. He didn't even move. Castiel heard a half-hearted laugh.
"You mean aside from me working my ass off for those ingrates? No, none whatsoever."
Castiel tried a different approach, although without actually physically approaching because the shoes he had on were relatively new and there did not seem to be a safe place to step.
"Don't you say a word, not one word," Gabriel spun around, pointing an accusing finger at Castiel, his face set in anger. "You think I want to be doing this? Any of it?"
Gabriel gestured around at the mess, before quirking an eyebrow at Castiel, daring him to answer. Castiel looked at the ground, biting his lip before carefully selecting his next words.
"It's not ideal, and I know it's a lot of work…"
"Not ideal. Yeah, I'd say it's pretty far from i-fucking-deal! You know…" Gabriel started, eyebrows drawn together and looking very like he wanted to tell Castiel something, but he took a deep breath, closed his mouth and turned away, grabbing a bowl from the top of the ludicrous pile of dishes and putting it down on the side with more force than was absolutely necessary. He turned his back on Castiel, opening the fridge.
Castiel stared at the back of Gabriel's head, suddenly feeling he might have caught up to him.
"Why aren't you in pastry school?"
"What?" Gabriel said, not looking at Cas as he grabbed the egg box from inside the fridge and set it down next to the bowl. Castiel stepped forward, avoiding a large splatter of what he fervently hoped was red food dye, and stood behind Gabriel as he broke the remaining eggs into a bowl.
"If you can turn a domestic kitchen, and an underwhelming one at that, into a production floor for near professional standard cakes, why aren't you in pastry school?"
"None of your damn business." Gabriel threw the eggshells at the bin, only to have them bounce off the pile of trash and land on the floor. He made no effort to pick them up. "You're here to fix the frat, fine. But don't try any of that pop psychology bullshit on me, and don't think I owe you some debt of gratitude." Gabriel grabbed the flour bag from where it sat, sagging dejectedly on the counter, and poured a few ounces into the bowl, letting loose a flurry of swirling dust that danced straight into his face. He stepped back from the bowl and coughed, spluttering into the crook of his elbow. Castiel navigated the small obstacle course between him and the sink, found a relatively clean cup and poured Gabriel some tap water. Gabriel took it, sipping as he got his breath back.
"If it wasn't happening here, it would just be happening somewhere else, right?"
Gabriel looked at him, before slowly setting down the cup of water and turning back to cake construction.
"I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to. What's your major, Gabriel?"
"And whose idea was that?"
Gabriel pulled open a drawer, without looking at Castiel. He grabbed a wooden spoon out from the tray, and started stirring. For a while, he just stood, mixing the eggs into the flour. Castiel didn't move, just watched him concentrate on his work.
"Not mine," Gabriel said, at length, before putting the bowl down and stepping away from the counter, running his hands through his hair once more, making it take even crazier angles.
Castiel nodded, watching Gabriel pace, crunching his way through eggshells and splatting his shoe print into floor dough.
"I think you should get some sleep."
Gabriel looked at Cas, opened his mouth, closed it, and turned back to the mixing bowl. There was another silent pause.
"Maybe I should," Gabriel said, after a while, "because stirring flour into eggs is not how you make cake batter."
Cas was in the kitchen for a long time, Dean noticed. Unfortunately, he was too busy sponging frosting off the wall to go help. He was starting to worry that Gabriel might have killed him, when both Cas and the Gordon Ramsay Imitator walked through the crash room. Everyone froze and stared at Gabriel as he wandered up the stairs, looking like he might collapse before he even made it to the second floor.
"Wh-… Where's he going?" Chuck dropped his sponge on the remaining cake and stood up, apparently leaving the floors to Ash. "Becky… Becky's cake… Gabe! It's not done!"
Cas had been waiting by the foot of the stairs, but now he turned smartly on his heel, back in drill sergeant mode.
"Mr Goldman has worked himself to the point of exhaustion, and I have advised he go upstairs and sleep. He will have time to finish the cakes not yet finished, but in the mean-time I suggest we all work on a better show of gratitude for him." Dean watched Chuck turn slowly pink at that, and made no effort to stop him as he grumbled and muttered into the hall and out of the house, the door slamming behind him. Castiel nodded, a curious pinched expression on his face, and, after everyone had turned back to the cake-stains they were cleaning up, he ducked into the kitchen.
Dean was still watching, though, and dropped his sponge.
"Keep cleaning," he instructed, "I'll be back in a few."
Dean eased the kitchen door shut behind him, and saw Castiel attempting to clear the sink of cookware and make room for water.
"Need a hand?" He said, trying to ignore the Willy Wonka explosion that had happened since he last saw the inside of the kitchen.
Castiel slipped off his coat, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and turned on the taps.
They stood in silence for a moment as the sink filled with warm, bubbly water. Dean found the one remaining clean towel and stood ready for the first cake pan, staring at the wall.
"Thanks," he said, after what seemed like much deliberation.
"Hm?" Cas didn't look up from the sink.
"Thanks. You know, for this."
"It's just some cake pans, Dean, it's not difficult…"
"No, I mean…" Dean waved the towel vaguely, taking the gleaming wet pan that Cas handed him. "For everything. For trying. You coulda given up on us, but you didn't. So… Thanks." Dean put the pan away in a cupboard. Cas shrugged.
"Well, you're all respectable young men. Or, you can be. We'll drag this place up to standard. Frankly…" Castiel gave a sarcastic sort of smile as he put his hands back into the water.
"Frankly," Castiel looked up at Dean, and spoke in a conspiratorial mutter, "after meeting the Alphas, I really want to take them down a peg or two, and this seems the perfect way to do it."
Dean laughed, and took the next cake tin from Cas.
"You and me both… but, I'll settle for not getting expelled."