"You'd better have left me some hot water," Sam bitches. He's the last one back to the motel, having spent the day interviewing witnesses, rather than down at the sheriff's office with Dean and Cas. They've both taken their turns in the surprisingly awesome shower already.
Dean holds up his hands. "Don't look at me, Cas was in there way longer than I was." In fact, he'd only just emerged from the steamy bathroom right before Sam came in, and there are still droplets in his hair, that Dean is absolutely not captivated by.
"Wait, do you even need to shower, Cas?"
"Dean was going on about how great the water pressure was," Cas shrugs. "I wanted to try it out for myself."
"Right," Sam says. "Dean, don't corrupt the angel with your freaky shower fetish." He disappears through the door, only to emerge a moment later, clad in a towel, and looking perturbed. "Uh, Cas? Want to tell me why there are feathers in the drain?"
They're in a diner that might once have had a deliberate retro vibe going on, but which now just looks old. The food smells amazing, though, and Dean surreptitiously jerks his finger towards the burger a waitress has just placed in front of a trucker who's hunched over the counter, sky-high with toppings, and with perfect golden brown fries and onion rings on the side.
"I know what I'm getting."
Sam gives him a look that clearly states, You're going to have a heart attack by the time you're forty, Dean. He looks to Cas to back him up, but Cas is staring consideringly at the architectural wonder of a burger.
"I think I'll have one, too," he decides, and both brothers look at him in surprise.
"I didn't know you were eating these days." There's a hint of a question in Dean's tone.
Cas waits perhaps a beat too long before answering. "I haven't been. But I believe circumstances have changed enough that I may be able to enjoy food again, without tasting the molecules. I would like to try it."
"What do you mean, circumstances have changed?" Dean demands, "What-" He cuts himself off as the waitress approaches, notepad out and ready to take their orders, and the subject is dropped for the time being. It's worth the niggling itch in the back of his mind to see Cas inhale the burger with gusto, which he does, after removing the pickle, which he declares unsettling.
"I can see why you enjoy this so much," he informs Dean solemnly.
"You know, Cas," Sam tries, "If you want to eat human food, there are a lot of healthy, delicious options, too."
"I'll keep that in mind, Sam," Cas promises, not sounding as if he has any intention of doing so. He pops his final onion ring in his mouth and licks the grease off a finger, and Dean's brain short-circuits.
"Uh, napkin," he manages, shoving one at Cas, as if he or Sam have any room to talk to Cas about table manners.
"Thank you." Cas wipes his hands on the napkin instead, and Dean ignores the part of himself that is disappointed.
It's as they're shuffling their way out of the diner that Dean happens to glance back towards their booth. There are three fluffy white feathers on the bench where Cas was sitting.
"Hold on." He makes a show of patting his pockets. "Think I dropped my phone." Dean hurries back to the booth and gathers up the feathers with a frown. In the parking lot, he passes them over. "Everything alright, Cas?"
"Y'know," Dean says, a couple days later, in a different diner. He points his fork at Cas. "Now that you're eating, again, you should really try some pie. You haven't had it before, have you?"
"No, I haven't."
"Well, you're in luck. We ate here last time we came through this way, and the pie is to die for." He rolls his eyes heavenwards in apparent ecstasy, and Cas can't help smiling at him fondly. Sam shakes his head, but Dean catches Cas's look and grins. "So you'll have some?"
Cas glances down at his empty plate, where he just finished devouring a reuben and a heaping stack of fries. "I don't know if I can manage a whole piece," he admits.
"So we'll share," Dean offers, while Sam's eyebrows make a valiant escape attempt. He nudges Cas with his elbow. "C'mon, split a piece with me."
"Very well," Cas agrees, indulgent. They chat quietly about their case, until the waitress, a woman in her fifties who looks like she could take any of them in a bar fight, arrives to bus their plates.
"Anything else I can get for you boys?" She asks, balancing the stack of dishes on her forearm.
"A slice of that strawberry-rhubarb pie, if you don't mind," Dean requests with a charming smile.
"Sure thing, honey." She turns to Sam.
"I'll just have a coffee, thanks."
"One coffee. How about you, sugar?" she asks Cas.
"Oh, uh, I'll have what he's having," he fumbles, nodding towards Dean. "Um. But just one. With two forks." There was a time when he couldn't blush, but he's pretty sure he's bright red, now. Dean is shaking with suppressed laughter at his side, and Sam shoots his a consoling glance across the table.
The waitress pats him on the shoulder kindly. "You got it, sweetie."
The pie is, indeed, delicious, once he gets over his embarrassment, and Dean seems pleased to let him take the lion's share.
"I can't believe you're sharing your pie." Sam looks far too amused at his brother's expense.
"Shut up. Cas deserves to enjoy the good things in life."
"You just like that he likes the same things you do."
"That's because I've got awesome taste, Sam. Tell him, Cas."
"It is very enjoyable." Cas smiles as Dean offers him the last bite. "Thank you."
"Oh my god." Sam rolls his eyes, grinning. "Only you would corrupt an angel with pie, Dean."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Dean says, but he's distracted by an itch at the back of his neck. Reaching back, he discovers a piece of down that's gotten stuck between his collar and his skin. He twirls it idly between his thumb and forefinger, watching Cas scrape the last of the sticky filling onto his fork, and pop it into his mouth.
Cas looks over, feeling Dean's eyes on him. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't ask if you wanted the last bite."
"Nah, it's okay, man. I'm glad you liked it." He slips the feather into his pocket, determined to think about it later.
Dean can put two and two together, and the final straw comes when he wakes up to a face full of loose feathers. His explosive sneeze wakes Cas, who is dozing beside him on Dean's memory foam mattress.
"Mmph," Cas says, barely cracking his eyes open. "Whrrmmi?"
Correctly parsing the question as, "Where am I?" Dean replies, "You're in my room, buddy. We must've fallen asleep watching the show." Dean had spent the evening introducing Cas to the joys of his favorite trashy telenovela via a marathon rewatch, but the comfort of the mattress, combined with the exhaustion from a long day of driving must have caught up with them at some point.
"Good," Cas mumbles, already letting his eyes drift shut again. Within seconds he is snoring quietly, a small feather wafting gently downwards to settle on Dean's pillow. Dean, on the other hand, is wide awake. Cas is falling, and he realizes with a sinking heart that it is entirely his fault.
When Cas finally shuffles into the kitchen several hours later, Sam is freshly back from his run, and Dean is prepared. “Guess I'll start on breakfast,” he remarks casually, as if he has not spent the whole morning racking his brains for ways to slow Cas's fall. So far, this is his best idea. “How'd you two feel about egg white omelets?”
Sam's eyes nearly bug out of his head, and he chokes on his water. Dean watches him surreptitiously slip a flask of holy water out of his pocket.
Cas wrinkles his nose. "That sounds bland," he opines.
"I'm not possessed, Sam." Dean scowls. "And it's not bland, Cas. It's healthy." He feels the urge to cross himself for such blasphemy. "Sam eats them all the time."
Sam's eyebrows are ascending steadily into his hairline, and Cas continues to look skeptical. Dean crosses his arms, spatula and all, across his chest.
Mouth twisting in amusement, Sam offers, "They really are tasty."
Finally Cas relents. "Very well. I'll try this egg white omelet."
"You won't regret it," Dean promises.
Cas regrets it.
"I'm sorry, but I think I would have preferred the molecules," he informs Dean, as he picks at the rubbery scraps on his plate.
"I'll finish it." Sam reaches for Cas's plate, and Dean slaps his hand away.
"He needs to eat," he insists around his own tasteless mouthful of egg whites.
"I don't need to eat yet," Cas argues. "Sam you can have my eggs." He passes over his plate, ignoring Dean's attempts to protest while swallowing.
Mouthful gone, Dean demands, "What do you mean, 'yet'?"
Cas doesn't answer, pushing away from the table to refill his coffee mug. Dean frowns.
"Are you sure you should be having so much caffeine?" he asks. "What do you mean, 'yet', Cas?"
"What are you watching?" Cas asks several days later, poking his head into the room they have repurposed for watching tv.
"Nothing!" Dean fumbles for the remote, but not before Cas catches a glimpse of The Passions of Santos on the screen.
"Another telenovela?" Cas's face lights up. "I'll join you."
"Nope. No, no, actually no." Dean finally manages to switch away from his show. "I'm not really watching this. I just flipped to it during the commercials." He conveniently ignores the glare of the Netflix home screen. Cas narrows his eyes at him.
Dean clears his throat. "Anyway, I was about to watch this," he scrolls to a documentary on Machiavelli that Sam's been going on about for weeks. "You can watch too, if you want."
Cas is giving him a quizzical look, that he pretends not to see. "Can we make popcorn?"
Dean rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "Sorry, no popcorn. I bought rice cakes, though. I'll just go get them. You sit tight."
Although Cas watches the documentary with an expression of polite interest on his face, it's clear that he isn't enjoying it. Who can blame him? The narration is as dry as the rice cakes, which are quickly discarded. Cas had nibbled on one, while watching Dean cram one in his mouth and promptly choke.
"It's like eating cardboard," he'd complained around a mouthful of crumbs.
Cas had gently set his aside. "Maybe we can feed them to the squirrels."
They'd settled in to watch the movie, but forty-five minutes in, Cas makes a noise of impatience and grabs the remote, pausing on an uncomfortable close-up of the narrator's face.
"Hey, what are you stopping for?" Dean asks. "Come on, let's power through this." The sooner they turn the show back on, the sooner it will be over.
"Dean," Cas chides. "Why are we watching this?"
Dean chuckles weakly. "You're not enjoying it, huh?"
Cas's look of scorn could give Sam a run for his money. "It is poorly filmed, badly narrated, and wildly historically inaccurate."
"It's not that bad, is it?" Dean asks placatingly. He wilts under Cas's gimlet eye.
"You're not enjoying it either," Cas points out calmly.
"Fine, you're right." Dean deflates. "It's awful. Sam has terrible taste."
"You're the one who insisted on watching it." Cas navigates back to the main menu, while Dean grumbles under his breath. "Is this what you were watching when I came in?" He clicks on Santos, settling comfortably back into the couch, close enough to touch Dean, who is frozen in dismay.
"Cas," he tries, but Cas shushes him.
"Quiet, Dean. I need to catch up."
Sure enough, when they turn off the t.v. so Dean can make dinner, and Cas departs with the bag of rice cakes to gift to the neighborhood rodents, he leaves behind a drift of white feathers. Heart in his throat, Dean gathers them up with gentle hands, cursing himself for being so careless. He can't drag Cas down with his trash. He just can't.
Dean agonizes all through cooking and eating dinner – some quinoa-based monstrosity that Sam practically inhales, and that Cas merely picks at. He racks his brains all through washing the dishes, and turns in early to toss and turn on his divinely comfortable mattress, trying to come up with a solution. The way he sees it, it's pretty clear:
- That Cas is falling.
- That it's happening whenever Dean convinces him to share his greasy food, or his trash t.v., or his stupid, self-indulgent creature comforts.
- That Cas has no interest in being steered towards healthy food, or Sam's nerdy shows; and
- If Dean can't convince him to try those things, then he has no way of stopping Cas's fall.
With no idea how to convince Cas to slow his introduction to humanity's more corrupting elements for his own good, Dean takes to avoiding him instead, leaving him to Sam's tender mercies. Maybe Sam will be a good influence on him – a better influence than Dean at any rate. As luck would have it, cases are thin on the ground, so there's lots of time for Sam to work his magic. So far, it's not working. He knows, because Cas has got in the habit of sleeping until Sam comes in from his morning run, sweaty and cheerful, and encouraging Cas to join him next time. Cas turns him down every time.
"You should go with him," Dean encourages him one day, from his place at the stove, and Cas whips around to stare at him, which, fair, Dean hasn't said more than a handful of sentences to him in the past week. He clears his throat, ducking his head back over his cooking. "Be good for you. Don't be a lazy ass like me."
"You're not a lazy ass, Dean." Dean can hear the frown in Cas's voice.
"Yeah, well," he grumbles.
Avoiding Cas has been easier said than done. For starters, there's the betrayed looks Cas has been shooting him whenever they do happen to be in the same room. For another, there's the way Dean misses him with a gnawing ache that is ridiculous to feel over someone who is living just down the hall. He's bad for Cas, he reminds himself; he just drags him down into the muck. He can spend time with him again once Cas is out of danger of falling.
That's all well and good, until the night he steps into the kitchen for a late-night snack and spies Cas sitting alone and eating Ben and Jerry's out of the tub. He beats a hasty retreat before Cas can look up and see him, and stomps off in search of his brother.
He finds Sam doing chin-ups in the Bunker's well-equipped, if dated, gym. "Sam," he barks, when he's at the highest point. Infuriatingly, his brother doesn't even startle. "Why the hell did I just see Cas eating an entire pint of Cherry Garcia?"
Sam lowers himself slowly. "Concerned about his figure?" He does another chin-up, smirking. "Maybe he's heartbroken about something."
"Sam!" Dean snaps, not at all in the mood to be ribbed by his brother. Sam rolls his eyes, and lets go of the bar, dropping neatly to the floor.
"Why do you care?" He asks, picking up a hand towel to mop his face. "You can always buy more ice cream if he eats it all." He picks up a water bottle and squirts it directly into his mouth.
"Not the point," Dean growls. "You're supposed to be introducing him to your nerdy, salad-freak ways, not letting him give himself diabetes or-or a heart-attack!"
"Dude," Sam says. "You were the one who was all about introducing him to junk food. 'The finer things in life,' you called it. And I'm pretty sure angels can't have heart attacks."
"Sammy," Dean says, his voice breaking open, "he's falling."
"What?" Sam instantly turns serious.
Dean rubs a hand over his mouth. "It's my junk food. And my crap t.v. And every stupid thing I like to indulge myself with. I just wanted him to enjoy himself, but every time I introduce him to some more of my trash-" he throws his hands up. "Feathers."
"He's losing feathers?" Sam asks, and Dean can tell he's wishing there were some sort of WebMD for angels. But he doesn't need that, because Dean's already figured it out.
"Which is why," he explains, "you need to get him into your Sam things. Y'know, healthy things, classy things, intellectual things. Stop me from dragging him down into the human muck."
Sam raises an eyebrow. "You know my things are human things, too, right?"
"Shut up," Dean mutters.
"Look." Sam holds his hands up placatingly. "Right now, Cas isn't interested in my things. But maybe if you go talk to him-" he trails off, letting Dean fill in the rest.
"Fine," he grumbles, because he knows Sam is right, dammit, and now Dean's gonna have to do it. He's going to have to explain to Cas that he wants him to eat salads, and go on runs, and watch boring documentaries because he's worried about Cas's health.
"Good." Sam pats him on the shoulder, and Dean half-heartedly swats his hand away. "I'm gonna shower and then go to bed. Don't get in a shouting match."
Cas looks up with a tentative smile as Dean enters the kitchen. "Hello, Dean. Would you like some ice cream?" And yeah, it's a little melty, and Cas has been eating directly out of the carton, but damned if Dean doesn't need some comfort food if he's going to have this conversation. He does fetch his own spoon, even though Cas offers up his, because that is a road too far.
He eats two spoonfuls of the cool treat, before reluctantly discarding his spoon in the carton and squaring his shoulders. "Cas," he says, voice weighty, "we need to talk about the feathers."
"Oh." Cas sets his own spoon aside and absently runs his tongue over a spot of melted ice cream that's caught on his upper lip. Dean nearly has heart palpitations. "You can use them for spell ingredients. I don't mind."
"Jesus, Cas." He blows a breath out through his nose. He's very carefully stored all of Cas's dropped feathers in a box in his room, precisely so they won't get mixed up in any spells. "I don't want to use them-" and now Cas looks mildly offended, like Dean thinks his feathers might not be up to snuff. "I want to know why you're dropping them at all."
"Oh," Cas says, as if it's the most casual thing in the world. "I'm falling."
Dean gapes at him. "You-you're falling. That's great, that's just-" He pushes out of his seat to pace a few short, sharp steps away, and then back, scrubbing a hand over his face. He takes a deep breath. "This is because of me. Because of all the human things?"
Cas considers this. "Yes," he concludes, and isn't that a blow to the solar plexus. But then he continues, "Or at least, that's a large part of my motivation."
"Your motivation?" Dean squawks, suddenly lost.
Cas stands, too, examining his face in that too-intimate way that he does, and Dean can feel his cheeks heating under that steady gaze. "Dean," he says, gently, "I am falling voluntarily."
At that, Dean thumps back down into his seat. "So, you've chosen this?" He asks in a dazed voice.
"Yes," Cas confirms, resuming his own seat, close enough that their knees are brushing.
"And the feathers?"
"The method I've chosen is a gradual process. The feathers shed faster as I enjoy human things. I enjoy the things you've introduced me to."
Dean glances off to the side. "They're just a few measly creature comforts."
"And I enjoy your 'creature comforts' very much." The overly solemn way Cas repeats Dean's words makes him huff a laugh, looking back up into Cas's smiling face.
"Alright, alright." He shakes his head. "You sure you want this?"
Cas's countenance is shining and open. "Yes, Dean."
"Okay." Dean runs his tongue over his lips, glancing curiously at Cas when he sees that his gaze is tracing the same path. "I'm just gonna need a minute to recalibrate, here. I thought you were dying, man."
"Not dying." Cas shakes his head. "Living."
There is a bubble of warmth spreading in Dean's chest. "There, uh, any human experiences you particularly want? I can help you out." Cas says nothing for a long moment, and when Dean looks up at him, he is once again studying Dean's mouth closely. "Uh, Cas?" he asks, licking his lips again, butterflies erupting in his throat.
Cas meets his eyes. "May I kiss you, Dean?"
He gets as far as, "Yeah, uh-" before soft lips are pressing against his and there is down in his hair. In the morning, Sam will be confused to find a trail of feathers leading from the kitchen to Dean's room, but right now, Cas is warm, and solid, and so very human in Dean's arms, and hey, at least they don't shed any clothing until they reach the bedroom.
"I like this," Cas says when they break apart to breathe, and Dean grins against his neck, as he urges his arms upwards so he can shed his shirt. "I like this very much," he says when Dean has removed his own shirt and is nibbling at his jawline. Then it's a breathless litany of "Dean, Dean, Dean," as Dean finishes undressing him, and shoves him onto the bed, and proceeds to go down on him with every ounce of skill he possesses, because if Cas wants human experiences, then Dean is going to damn well give him the best human experience he can muster.
He moans, achingly hard, when Cas tugs on his hair, and then, without warning, Cas is coming in his mouth, and it was quick, but that's okay, because Cas is new to this, and he sighs something that sounds suspiciously like I love you when he comes, and then Dean is crawling up his body, shoving his own pants out of the way and rutting against his hip, mouthing, "Me, too. Me, too," against his jawline, until he comes with a strangled cry.
When he rolls onto his back, the room is a mess of feathers.
The last of the feathers fall a few weeks later, when an otherwise dubious motel gives Dean the chance to introduce Cas to Magic Fingers. Sam takes a room well across the building from them, but neither Dean nor Cas has any regrets.