It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or what day of the week they make the old fashioned candy out on the floor: the guy always, always shows up. They have the schedule posted on their website, sure, but that’s a lot of variation. The guy still shows every single time, watching enraptured even as Dean sets up the spacing bars on the cooling table, eyes wide as Sam pours the super-heated sugar into that controlled rectangle of space.
After the initial check to see if the guy’s showed up yet again, Dean doesn’t spare much attention his way. He’s gotta keep his eyes on his work space. Like glass, hard candy starts out as molten liquid, and it’s a fine dance, keeping it hot enough to shape, cool enough to touch.
Today, they’ve got a bit of an additional crowd, so Sam takes questions while Dean adds the coloring into the batch, swirling it in and burning off the water. Grinning slightly as Sam misleads a kid right into a trick question (“Dean’s turning that part yellow, what do you think the flavor is? What about the rest? The purple part?”) Dean unclamps the steel spacers and pops them away from the cooling mass with his metal spatula of a bench scraper.
By the time Dean’s cut the colored sections from the rest with his sheers, Sam’s revealed the answer: “We add the coloring separately from the flavor, it’s the same taste all the way through.” Dean glances over to the other side of the counter in time to catch their regular grinning along with Sam. The guy’s definitely been here enough times to know all the answers to Sam’s schitck, and as such, is definitely paying more attention to Dean shaping the candy. A taller newcomer beside him simply nods along thoughtfully. Probably a tourist, judging by the small black fanny pack on his hip.
“Oooh!” a kid shouts, pointing despite her mother’s attempts to shush her. Dean totally gets it, though: when he picks up a seeming slab of partially cooled sugar, the whole thing drips out of his hand like a melting plastic bag, its center still hotter than boiling water. With the hottest part dropped against the cooling table, Dean folds the rest of the red in with a pair of bench scrapers, kneading it like dough made of lava. He snips off the purple section from the cooling table, and gives that the same treatment. He molds it around this way and that until the temperature is the same all the way through, so the candy doesn’t snap itself into pieces before it’s even done being shaped.
Sam takes over the colored batches of sugar, bringing them to the heating table while Dean folds the remaining undyed amber portion. As Sam pulls and measures the candy-to-be against the templates over the table, he brings out yet another trick question for the kids (and parents) gathered: “What color does Dean have?”
The answers mostly center around some variation of light yellow. Dean actually gets a couple gasps of surprise as he pulls the sugar on their pulling hook. Gasps only from the kids, though: sadly, the adults don’t gasp aloud at the awesomeness of Dean’s biceps flexing as he pulls and loops and pulls and loops, one man doing the work of a taffy-pulling machine. The longer Dean pulls, the brighter the candy starts to shine, its amber phase quickly fading into an almost luminescent white.
As Sam starts talking about shaping the colored candy into a roll, the attention swings back to Sam as he works. The men down at the side of the counter still watch Dean pulling, so Dean winks at the newcomer, just to see if the regular will care.
The regular doesn’t seem to even notice. So, probably there for Sam, or just for the free samples. It’s been a point of debate for months, at this point, but brotherly stubbornness has led to neither of them asking the guy outright.
On the other hand, the newcomer definitely notices the wink and gets flustered, quickly looking away and back to Sam.
Over a hundred pulls later, Dean brings the bright white candy back to the heating table. Sam immediately smacks a chunk off, shapes it, and puts it off to the side. As Dean rolls out the white into a long, wide strip, Sam finishes up making a long series of stripes to stack together, wider in the middle, narrower at the top and bottom, yellow-purple-yellow-purple-yellow-purple-yellow. What Sam pieces together isn’t quite a circular log, but heat and gravity will want it to be, so Sam adds back the white candy he’d taken, now cool enough to hold its shape around the striped oval.
Sam rolls his sugar log back and forth a couple times before Dean relinquishes the long white strip he’s made himself. Then, as Dean starts up their ancient batch roller, Sam folds the white strip around the entire outside of the log, making sure it joins together all the way around.
All of it goes onto the batch roller, slowly twisting the candy longer until the six-inch wide log stretches and narrows into a one-inch rod. Sam cuts off the canes of the stuff as each gets long enough, and Dean rolls them back and forth across the counter like a much more handsome gas station hot dog display. Can’t have the candy sinking out of its round shape when they’re so closed to finished.
Once all the candy has become canes—and not the Christmas kind—Dean divvies up the pile as Sam pulls out a pair of tiny anvils, clamping them to the counter. Each brother looks the other in the eye, holds a sharp batch scraper ready, and nods.
“On three,” Dean says. “One... Two... Three!”
Sam cuts quick, but Dean reloads faster, getting canes to anvil as fast as Sam can slice canes into candy. The number of waiting canes rapidly wanes, chop chop chop chop chopped into pieces until:
“Sam!” the kid in front of them shouts as Sam lifts his bench scraper high in victory. Rolling his eyes, Dean chops the last of his final cane and pretends to defer to the very guy who used to want to quit the family business.
Everybody watching gets a fresh piece, still warm, and even the adults marvel at the design: a striped Easter egg, the lines clear and still a distinct oval despite all the rolling.
With that source of entertainment finished, the kids start to drag their parents elsewhere, or at least towards buying stuff. Sam hops on the register while Dean continues down the line. Their regular eagerly grabs his piece, but the newcomer beside him declines.
“No, take it,” their regular urges.
“It’s free,” Dean adds. “It’s banana flavored. Like, candy banana flavor, not actual banana flavor.”
The man shakes his head, not looking remotely tempted. “No, thank you.”
“Okay,” Dean says, shrugging. Some people don’t like that flavor, which is weird, because it’s way better than the real fruit.
“Caaaaaas,” their regular groans, “you could’ve given it to me.”
Yeah, here for the candy, then.
“Aren’t you here all the time anyway?” the other guy, Cas(?), asks his apparent friend.
The hard candy bulging in his cheek, their regular counters with a succinct “So?”
“He is here all the time,” Dean adds, leaning against the counter. “I’m Dean, by the way.”
“Yes, I know,” Cas says, eyes dropping to Dean’s apron and the embroidered letters there.
The regular elbows Cas in the side.
Cas looks at the guy blankly.
“Okay, I’ll start,” the regular says. “Hi. I’m Gabriel.”
“Oh,” Cas says. He looks back to Dean. “Castiel.”
“Gabriel drag you along?” Dean asks, popping Cas’ refused free sample into his own mouth. It’s always better warm.
“No, I followed because I wanted to know where he goes all the time,” Cas replies.
“I told you, my candyman sense was tingling,” Gabriel says with a shrug.
“You ditch work for an hour at a time?” Dean asks.
“Flexible lunch break,” Gabriel answers before sticking his hands in the pockets of his light jacket and craning around. “So, what else is new?”
Dean gestures him on over to the display. Cas follows, but it’s only Gabriel who exits with a bag of assorted flavors.
The pair enter together the next time. Sam passes out their samples this time, and Cas dutifully passes his piece over to Gabriel.
Not a mint fan, then.
For no reason he can name, Dean keeps track. Gabriel still comes alone sometimes, but Cas shows up too, more often than not. Cas asks questions that they don’t get too often, about temperature, about stickiness, about the antique equipment they use the same way both their grandfathers used to.
Gabriel, on the other hand, waits for his free sample and upcoming purchase. He eyes Sam a little too, maybe, but mostly, it’s all about the candy.
Cas never takes any.
And one by one, Dean mentally crosses off a list of flavors.
They run down the whole list of the usual suspects, all the popular flavors. Dean tells Sam they need to make sure they’re keeping up their variety, but the way Sam nods along is more than a little knowing.
Cas always looks so interested, is the thing. He watches like it’s more about the art than the sugar, the way Dean wishes everyone would watch. Cas looks admiringly, but sometimes, Cas even looks tempted.
Once, finally, he actually takes one. It’s during their flower phase, putting matching designs and flavors into the candies. He’d nearly taken the rose one, but the next week, Cas actually holds out his hand for the lavender. He looks almost embarrassed about it, glaring at Gabriel not to say anything.
“Best while it’s hot,” Dean reminds him while Cas simply holds it.
“I’m saving it for later,” Cas replies.
Something inside Dean quietly starts to scream.
As it turns out, there’s only so long a guy can talk about his fixation, re: shoving stuff into another guy’s mouth, before his mortified little brother points out that maybe, just maybe, this fixation is less about candy and more about the mouth in question.
Dean saves one from every flower batch they’ve done, puts them all in a little bag, and stashes the bag behind the counter. It’s a good gift, a great opening bid. Some people might prefer chocolates, but Dean’s never faced true failure with the family methods.
Cas is more of a partial failure.
“Oh,” Cas says, clearly surprised at the small bag. He looks over at Gabriel who is, naturally, dominating Sam’s attention at the register.
“It’s not for Gabriel,” Dean’s quick to say. “I mean. You’re not, the two of you?”
“Colleagues only,” Cas answers.
“Awesome?” Cas asks, blinking at Dean with that adorable blankness of his.
“Awesome,” Dean agrees, leaning forward against the counter with a smile.
Cas flushes. He looks down at the bag of candies in his hand. “Thank you, but...”
“You were curious about the flower ones, right?”
Cas nods, returning his gaze to Dean’s face. “I should have mentioned. I’m diabetic.”
...Oh. That’s not a dorky fanny pack.
Dean’s an idiot.
“...But you can still have those?” Dean asks weakly.
“Only occasionally,” Cas answers. “Type one. I control my diet fairly strictly.”
“Well, uh. If you ever need a sugar boost, you know where to come.”
Though looking apologetic, Cas still nods.
Forgetting himself enough to scratch the back of his head with his work glove still on, Dean says, “Pretty inconsiderate of Gabriel, to keep dragging you along.”
Shaking his head, Cas says, “No, I love watching you work.”
Dean blinks. “Yeah?”
“What you do,” Cas says, “it’s art.”
Slowly, Dean grins. “Yeah. Really is. Sorry you can’t enjoy it more.”
“I enjoy it enough,” Cas says before tinting red and allowing Gabriel to tug him out of the store.
“Ice malt?” Sam asks, reading over Dean’s supply order. “Really?”
Dean shrugs like he orders sugar-free alternatives all the time. “Yeah, why not?”
“The price tag?” Sam responds. Which, okay, fair.
“We should still offer it. Not like we can’t afford a small batch.”
“It doesn’t sell as well.”
“We haven’t tried to sell it in years,” Dean counters before going in for the final blow. “Plus, it was Dad who decided against keeping it in the first place.”
“Hm, yeah, okay,” Sam says, and places the order.
The next time they’re making candy, Gabriel shows up as always, Castiel fortunately in tow.
“I’m still working through the bag,” Cas admits, like that’s some kind of failing instead of an absurd piece of self-restraint. Dean could never manage that, and he’s fucking surrounded by candy all the time.
The molten candy takes longer to heat this time, around the tune of thirty degrees longer to heat. Sam brings in the giant pot with careful hands, pours it out on the cooling table, and Dean gets to business. Yellow at the bottom, black at the top, and a huge chunk of amber in the middle, waiting to be stretched white. Black’s a rare color for them, one that often misleads people into thoughts of licorice, but Dean’s had to improvise to keep with the flower theme when they’ve already run through all the flower flavors they have.
Sam takes his turn on the pulling hook while Dean molds his colors at the heating table. Stripes, yes, both yellow and black, but two long segments of black, too. When Sam returns with the stretched white candy, they roll some of the white into a pair of logs, but after that, Sam steps back and leaves Dean to this new design of his own making.
Black wrapped around white. Yellow layered with black. Yellow wrapped around a thin trio of tiny black strips. All three of these thinner logs combined together and wedged into place with more white. Dean had intended for a white outline, but he’d made more black and yellow than necessary: a striped outline instead, then, all three colors wrapping around the inside design.
As Dean works, Cas watches with a growing smile, clearly delighted by today’s complexity. Whether he recognize the pattern Dean wraps and molds and stretches into a log, Dean’s not sure, but it should become clear once they cut the candies.
They roll and stretch and cut. Dean has to be careful and not chop his fingers off when he sees Cas’ sudden smile at the revealed design: a cartoonish bumblebee, complete with two little eyes and a dot of a mouth.
“They might taste a little different,” Dean warns as he passes out the free samples. Sam presses on his shoulder in passing and silently takes over that job, nodding pointedly at Cas.
“Here you go,” Dean says, holding out one warm piece in his gloved hand. “It’s honey-flavored.”
“Of course it is,” Castiel says with a smile. He takes it just to look at it, holding it up to the light. “That’s amazing, Dean.”
“It’s also sugar-free,” Dean says.
Cas looks back at him.
Dean nods with a grin.
They probably won’t sell the whole batch, but Cas’ smile is worth every lost penny.