The Science of Gift Giving
It had been months since Dean tossed Castiel a mix tape. He’d handed it off to Castiel with averted eyes, a strange flush coloring his skin. “Made this for you,” he had said. Castiel took it from him curiously, promised to listen to it on his upcoming drive in his continued search for Kelly, and that was that.
It had been slightly less time than that since Dean had told him tersely that the tape was a gift, and meant to be retained indefinitely.
And, of course, Castiel had been dead for quite a lot of the elapsed time since then. Still, it bothered him that he had not yet reciprocated the gift giving.
At first it hadn’t occurred to him that reciprocal gift giving was something that ought to happen. It seemed apparent that Dean had some free time and had chosen to spend it creating a musical compilation for Castiel. And Castiel had listened to it. When he needed respite, he’d parked, closed his eyes, and let himself drift along the melodies on the cassette. He’d climbed up to the stars with the crescendos and fallen down into the thick earth when the songs fell low. Castiel kept the cassette in his breast pocket and when he’d fought back to life and retrieved his coat from Dean, the cassette had still been there. Waiting.
* * *
When hunts were slow and the itch for solitude began to feel like an entire ant colony under his skin, Castiel liked to go to the nearby public library. The library was an institution that he at first avoided, understanding it to be a warehouse of human fiction and a location for passionate assignations in the stacks. At least, that was the knowledge passed along to him from Metatron, and the hundreds of library romances Metatron had devoured.
However Metatron, who had claimed to deliver to Castiel all human knowledge, had missed a considerable amount of it. Namely, Metatron had apparently eschewed nearly everything except for fiction and biographies. When Castiel had realized that there were shelves and shelves of books he’d never read – or second-hand read before – he became addicted to the nonfiction section of the public library. Reading about how humans interpreted the world – sometimes inventively, sometimes laughably – had become both a fascinating diversion and a welcome retreat. (The physics textbooks were a delight when he needed a little light reading in the quiet morning hours.)
One comfortable afternoon he sat ensconced in a study carrel near the 300’s with a book cracked open before him: The science of gift giving. Castiel had pulled the book from the shelf, his heart rate speeding up a little. He appreciated a good scientific tome; they tended to be written in a slightly more straightforward manner. He looked forward to at last learning how gift giving worked. Castiel patted the cassette tape through his coat and began to read.
When Castiel finished the book he sat back in the chair, frowning at the white tiled ceiling. If anything, now he felt more confused than ever. Still, he resolved to try to apply some of the outlined lessons from the book to at last return the gesture to Dean.
Tip One: Give something they can use
Castiel arrived back at the bunker to a smoky hallway, the fire detectors in the bunker honking irritably, lights flashing. Castiel squinted among the chaos, then descended the stairs, his target acquired. Dean stood in the center of it, talking to Jack with exasperation painted across his features. He looked up when Castiel approached.
“Hey Cas,” he said with an expansive eyeroll towards the repentant young man leaning against the map table. “Just teaching Jack here how to cook is all.”
“Ah, and how is it going?”
Dean glanced around the smoky room, grimaced, and shot Castiel a thumbs up. “Awesome. What’s in the bag, man?”
Castiel shifted the large grocery bag he held awkwardly in his arms. “Um, I’d noticed you were low on shampoo, so I purchased some for you. I also have,” he peered into the bag as though he could have possibly forgotten which items he’d agonized over in the store, “beer, some magazines, a jar of peanut butter, an apple pie, and five bags of flavored beef jerky.”
Dean glanced at him then, an odd half smile lighting his face. “You planning a wild night there, Cas?”
Castiel shook his head and thrust it at Dean mumbling, “I thought you might need it, is all.”
Dean accepted the bag with a head tilt and a short laugh. “Uh, thanks, man.” He turned his attention back to Jack. “Tip nine,” he said sternly, “always use an oven mitt. You shouldn’t rely on your magic heaven powers to heal you every time.”
Castiel retreated from the smoky din to the quiet of his own bedroom and considered his next move.