anactoria: (d&c)
[personal profile] anactoria
Title: Soul Kitchen
Characters/pairing: Dean/Cas if you squint, in a not-much-more-than-canon way. Brief mentions of Jimmy/Amelia and Dean/Lisa
Rating: PG
Word count: 3100
Warnings/contains: Angst
Summary: Coda to 12x05. Humans say the kitchen is the heart of the home; and since home is Dean Winchester, Castiel figures they must be right.
Notes: I originally started writing this after watching 11x18 but it kind of dropped by the wayside. Then I watched last week's episode, and probably read far too much into Dean letting Sam do the cooking. ;)

Jimmy Novak liked hamburgers. Castiel has known that for a long time, though he thinks he has only come to understand it in recent years.

He remembers the steady, insistent tug of Famine’s power at the filaments of his grace, unpicking his hold on his vessel one thread at a time until the seam burst and the hunger came pouring out. He remembers the flood of memories that accompanied it, too, though he dismissed them at the time, just another aspect of the problem.

Jimmy’s first date with Amelia. He’d wanted to treat her, but she’d already been dubious about him paying for the movie, and she’d refused flat-out to let him take her anywhere fancier than the burger joint across the street. It hadn’t mattered, in the end. They’d laughed the whole time, sharing a milkshake and both turning beet red when their noses touched. In the memory, the cold, rich sweetness of the shake was all mixed up with the laughter, with the nervous flutter in his stomach when they leaned in for their first kiss.

Taking Claire out after her first piano recital at school. She’d hit a single bum note and been so embarrassed she declared she was never going to touch a musical instrument again, but a trip to the diner with the fifties-style jukebox had cheered her up. She hadn’t finished her burger, so Jimmy had smiled and eaten the rest himself, and let her order a hot fudge sundae anyway.

Barbecues with neighbors. Childhood treats. Food meant comfort. That much was clear, and later, Castiel simply filed it away in his mental list of facts about Jimmy Novak. It didn’t become interesting until he realized it held true for most humans.

No: it became interesting when he realized it was also a fact about Dean Winchester.

 

----

 



Now, Castiel sits in a roadside café in Indiana, nursing a cup of cooling black coffee for the sake of appearances, and watches the sky fade from blue to pink to violet as the sun sets. They’ve seen no sign of Lucifer since Rowena banished him, and Crowley is, as humans say, wearing on his last nerve. Right now, he’s gone, vanished on some unspecified errand. Castiel decided against asking what, knowing that the answer might give him pause, and that he could not afford to hesitate with Lucifer still in the wind.

Castiel sighs and pulls his cellphone from his pocket. Dean hasn’t called him in almost a week.

The battery icon shows red: almost depleted. He hesitates a moment before pressing the pad of his finger over the charger port and releasing a small pulse of grace into the device.

Dean would chide him for wasting his energy on such trifles. It’s foolish, he knows. He is already far less powerful than he was, and facing Lucifer will likely require all he has. But Dean hasn’t called him in a week, and so Castiel watches the battery turn green and lifts the phone to his ear.

There is no immediate answer, and Castiel deflates as the voicemail message kicks in. Before he has the chance to return the cellphone to his pocket, though, the screen lights up again with Dean’s name.

“Sorry, dude,” Dean says, not sounding it. “Was kinds busy. Hot waitress, you know how it is.” He pauses. “Or, I guess you don’t. Anyway, what’s up?”

Castiel ignores the small heartache that always accompanies such statements. Besides, Dean’s cheerfulness sounds a little too forced, the innuendo in his voice a little too thickly laid on. By now, Castiel knows the difference between his casual indulgences and his performances, and some part of him is selfishly glad that this sounds like the latter.

A greater part twinges with worry.

“Not much,” he admits, with a sigh. “Lucifer hasn’t resurfaced.” He frowns. “And you? I take it you’ve been working a case?”

“Damn right.” He imagines Dean’s grin without seeing it, the cartoonish way Dean’s eyes widen when he cranks his bravado up a notch. “Hey, did I tell you I killed Hitler?”

Castiel blinks. “No?”

“Awesome. Because I’m pretty sure Sammy’s gonna deck me if I say it to him one more time. Anyway, I found this spontaneous combustion case…”

 

----

 



At Lisa Braeden’s house, they’d thrown barbecues in the yard. Castiel stood unseen among the neighbors and watched Dean grill patties and hotdogs, passing them out on paper plates—and once in a while, when he thought nobody was looking, pausing to steady himself, to glance around as though still unsure all this was real. Summer was shading into fall, but it hadn’t been long since Sam jumped into the Cage. Perhaps this was the first time Dean had been around so many people who didn’t know.

Here, in the fall sunlight, Dean looked both like and unlike himself. Ghostly, in the same way as an overexposed photograph. Castiel had been watching over him long enough to notice the difference; long enough that he knew watching over Dean Winchester to be an integral part of his being. He could no longer ask his friend for help, but he could no more shake the habit of his visits than he could switch off angel radio, or ignore the tug of Heaven at his grace.

Castiel supposed he should leave, but then Dean looked right at him.

There was no way he could have known Castiel was there, but for a moment, Castiel felt certain that he did. Some small part of him sparked with the desire to speak Dean’s name, to step into the world of sunlight and chatter, breathe in the savory tang of cooking food, and go to him.

There was a laugh, and then the child—Ben—was tugging at Dean’s sleeve. Dean blinked and looked down at him.

“Can I have another?” Ben asked, eyeing the hotdogs on the grill.

Dean grinned—genuine, this time—and gave Ben a conspiratorial wink. “Don’t tell your mom.”

This was the promise Dean had made to his brother, the life some secret part of him had always wanted. Castiel could only ever be a stranger in it, a reminder of the bad old days. He spread his wings, and was gone.

He stayed away from Dean a while, after that.

Souls no longer in Heaven leave their imprint on its fabric. Their memories linger, though they are oddly lifeless without the presence of their owners. Nonetheless, Castiel tucked away the urge to visit Dean in his present life and wandered through his past one instead.

He raised his face to watch the fireworks that blossomed in glittering streamers above Sam and Dean’s heads, their laughter ringing out across the empty field in the dark. He passed through other moments—sat in back of the Impala while Sam and Dean sang along to the radio up front; watched them play practical jokes on each other and share beers.

In the last memory he encountered, Dean was very small. Without Dean’s soul here, the memory replayed itself like a movie, the freckle-faced child Dean had been reaching small arms out to his mother to comfort her. She smiled and called him her angel. Castiel wondered how the Dean he knew, the one too familiar with the cruelties of Heaven, had felt hearing that.

Child-Dean smiled back at Mary, and after a moment, she let him go and turned away to wipe off the counter. Dean’s smile faded a little, then, and he watched her back with wide, worried eyes.

A human, Castiel thought, might have objected that children should not look worried.

Mary turned back, then, the plate of cookies in her hands, and Dean’s face brightened again as he picked one off the top of the pile.

The next time Castiel found himself on Earth, he stole a packet of chocolate-chip cookies from a grocery store. They were disappointing, dry and artificial, the crumbs clinging like sawdust to the back of his tongue. Perhaps Mary’s had been better.

 

----

 



In Purgatory, Dean often talked about food. It was mostly complaining—about the bitter roots and the tough meat of the animals he occasionally managed to trap, and about the endless gnawing in his stomach, because there was never quite enough of anything to be satisfying.

Sometimes, though, the complaining would turn into reminiscing. Dean would sigh and say, “Man, I could really go for some chicken wings right now. Like at that place in Indiana.” He’d chuckle, then. “Me and Sammy just got done on this werewolf hunt, and we were banged up pretty good. So the waitress spends the whole time looking at us like we escaped from the nuthouse, kinda thought she was gonna call the cops, but man, it was the best thing I’d tasted in for-fuckin’-ever…”

Each story involved Sam in some way. Occasionally his mother—a figure in hazy soft focus, dispensing baked goods and endearments. Dean would smile when he spoke of them, and the meals themselves would get lost among details whose significance was usually lost on Castiel; among private jokes and small moments of connection.

Then Dean’s eyes would refocus on the gray landscape around them, and he would shrug and go quiet. Castiel had neither food nor comfort to offer, so he stayed quiet, too.

Purgatory was supposed to be his place of penance, after all. It would not have been right for him to cling to Dean.

 

----

 




Dean hangs up the phone, and Castiel feels no easier than he did before they spoke. He’s still holding the phone, frowning to himself, when Crowley returns from whatever errand he’s been running.

Crowley eyes the cellphone too casually. “Winchesters pulling at your lead?” he asks. There’s something bitter in his voice; a jealousy that is both patently obvious and stubbornly opaque.

Rather than deal with it, Castiel frowns at him. “I’m not their pet,” he informs Crowley, returning his cellphone to his pocket. Then he adds, “But I am returning to the bunker.”

“What was that first part, again?” Crowley asks, but it’s rote, his smirk an afterthought, and he lingers a moment, leaning against the passenger side door, after Castiel has gotten into the truck.

Castiel glares at him. Crowley raises his hands and steps back. “Fine, fine. I’ll call you at the first sign of Satanic panic.”

Castiel puts the truck in reverse, and doesn’t answer.

 

----

 



April made him peanut butter-jelly sandwiches, and then tried to kill him.

Dean made him microwave burritos, and then sent him away.

Castiel made himself PB&J every day after his shift at the Gas ‘n’ Sip. He learned to get the proportions right, to savor the salt-sweet creaminess of the peanut butter and the fruity sharpness of the jelly. He has not eaten a burrito since.

Even at the time, he was aware his reaction was illogical—but somehow, it was easier to dwell on the small spark of human charity he thought he had encountered than to relive the false relief of a temporary homecoming. Both of them were lies, of course; but there was comfort in the thought that April Kelly had likely been a kind woman, and that if the reaper had not found her, she might still have helped him. Shown him where to find the local homeless shelter, or given him a few dollars for a hot meal. Or if Castiel had never run into her, somebody else might have taken pity upon him eventually.

It could have been any among thousands of people who offered comfort to a stranger. It could only ever have been Dean who threw him out of the bunker.

 

----

 




“He’s letting me cook.” Sam’s voice spikes with incredulity, and Castiel moves the cellphone away from his ear. “Seriously, I don’t know what’s up with him.” A sigh. “Well, no, I do know what’s up with him. I just don’t know how to get him to admit it.”

“Are you okay, Sam?” Castiel asks.

There’s a pause, in which he pictures Sam shoving hair out of his face, the pained expression he wears when he does not know how to fix things. “Yeah. No. I don’t know. Just—yeah. It’ll be good to see you, man.” Sam pauses. “I’m gonna go fix us some lunch.”

 

----

 



Despite everything, the bunker’s kitchen was the safe place Castiel’s mind created for him while Lucifer walked the earth in his skin.

The kitchen is the heart of the home. That’s what humans say. But Castiel knows what it is to have a human heart; he knows they are as often full of fear and doubt as of love. Perhaps the metaphor is still appropriate.

He numbed himself with mindless entertainment—and sometimes, wrapped up in those familiar surroundings, he’d been able to imagine that in a moment Dean might sit down beside him, offer him a beer or a sandwich. (C’mon, just because you don’t gotta eat doesn’t mean you need to miss out on the good stuff.) He’d hovered short of expectation, though, knowing that disappointment might remind him of reality.

Reality was impending Darkness. Reality was knowing he would be less use than the Devil in warding off the end.

He had done the right thing. Dean told him as much, later. But the ache of it gnawed like hunger in his guts.

 

----

 




Dean’s kitchen is untidy.

Not the kind of startling, explosion-in-a-grocery-store untidiness that signals the immediate aftermath of an epic cookery project, just a general air of uncared-for-ness that is somehow more disturbing. There are crumbs on the countertop where somebody has sliced bread and not bothered to clean up, a small collection of unwashed mugs beside the sink. On the table sits an uneaten pie in a grocery box, identical to the one Mary bought on their way back from Aldrich.

Castiel pauses for a moment, running his fingers along the grubby countertop. He’s unsure why he ducked in here before knocking at Dean’s bedroom door, but now it occurs to him that maybe he should have brought something to eat. That’s what humans do in times of stress. They come to one another’s homes bearing casseroles and cakes along with their condolences.

Not that condolences are in order, for once, but the bunker still has the air of a house in mourning about it. Perhaps it is just vestigia, clinging to the walls.

Only a few weeks ago, they were all gathered here—Castiel’s Father, and Lucifer, and their unlikely band of allies, all preparing for the fight of their lives. Then, after Castiel had regained himself, they huddled together here as the sun died overhead, an equally unlikely company with whom to face the end of days. Now they are dispersed, and the miracle of Creation’s survival has flattened out into the same old series of hunts and fights, small defeats and smaller victories. Perhaps it is no wonder that everything seems a little drained.

Castiel leaves the kitchen as it is and raps at Dean’s bedroom door.

Dean’s voice is muffled on the other side. “I told you, Sammy, I ain’t up for the Doctor Phil crap right now. So unless you got us a job—”

“Dean, it’s me.”

There’s a moment’s silence, then footsteps, and the door swings open. Dean blinks at him in the gap. “Dude,” he says. “What are you doing here? I thought you were still chasing down Satan.”

“I was,” Castiel allows, as Dean steps back to let him through the gap. “There’s been no sign of him. I thought I would take a break.”

Dean watches him a moment, eyes narrowing. “Sammy called you to check up on me, didn’t he?”

Castiel hesitates. “He did,” he admits, at last, “but I was already on my way back here.”

“Great.” Dean turns his back and bends to fidget with something on the nightstand, the set of his shoulders tightening. “Well, I’m fine. I’m dealing. So thanks for your concern, but—”

He starts when Castiel places a hand on his shoulder, turning on the spot with a hunter’s quick reflexes. The movement puts their faces too close together for normal conversation, and Castiel sees the sleepless smudges beneath his eyes, the strain in his smile. Dean wets his lips and does not move, apparently unsure whether to pull away or to put on the mask of a smile.

“Dean,” Castiel says. “I’m not here just because I was worried about you. Or because Sam was worried about you.” I missed you, he doesn’t say. I wanted to come home, because this is the closest thing I’ve had for a long time now. You are the closest thing.

He doesn’t say those things, but maybe Dean hears them anyway, because after a moment, he gives a huff of a laugh and says, “Yeah, I guess roadtripping with Crowley ain’t exactly a picnic.”

Castiel smiles at him. “That’s true.”

“So, uh. You gonna let me go now?”

Belatedly, Castiel realizes his hand is still on Dean’s shoulder, and he pulls it away. Dean turns to replace what he is holding on the nightstand. It’s one of his old photographs; the one of Mary and himself as a child. He places it face down.

“She will come back,” Castiel offers. It seems like the right thing to say.

Dean’s face does something complicated. “Yeah, well,” he says. “I guess you’d know all about runaway parents.” His voice is tight.

“My Father returned, eventually.” Privately, Castiel knows there is no comparison. Mary is simply confused; his own Father had (has) no such excuse. He also knows that now is the time for comfort, not scrupulous adherence to the truth. He’s learned that much during his time on Earth.

“Yeah, well,” Dean says, a lightness in his voice that his expression doesn’t bother to sustain. “Let’s hope it doesn’t take an apocalypse to bring her back, because I dunno about you, but I’ve had enough of those at least another year.” The tense set of his shoulders has softened, though, and when he looks at Castiel, he’s smiling enough for the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes to show. Something about Castiel’s presence has helped.

Just the act of returning, perhaps.

Dean’s stomach rumbles, then, and he looks down at it in faint surprise. “Guess I did skip lunch,” he realizes aloud. His smile brightens a notch. “Hey, Cas, you want some pie? I could go for some pie.”

Castiel nods firmly. “I would like that very much.”

The reprieve is likely only temporary. Mary’s absence is a void too big, too sudden, to be filled by small happinesses. But for a moment, as he trails Dean to the kitchen, Castiel allows himself to feel at home.
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