“There's things, there's...people, feelings that I—I want to experience differently than I have before, or maybe even for the first time.”
It's not that Dean hates himself any less, that he's miraculously recovered from the crushing weight of all his issues and trauma built up over decades and multiplied with each death. But for the first time, in along time, he wants the chance to. He wants the chance to get better; he wants the chance to want. Those people, things, experiences... he doesn't know if he'll ever have them, or even come to actually believe he deserves them, but he wants the time to try.
He thinks of Cas, who's also running out of time, and a bitter taste rises up in his mouth when remembers how time is always fucking up on them. They could have made it a few times, maybe, could have taken the leap. For Dean's part, he can recall the painful memory of each and every time he almost told Cas everything, almost asked, almost grabbed his hand or his collar and showed him just what was boiling, burning in his chest. But he never took it, never scarified himself to the fall, too scared or distracted by other high stakes like the end of the damned world.
But he still thinks about them, the what ifs, the roads not taken and what he would do if he ever came upon those crossroads again. And he wants to find that place, make it back to those forks in the road and get a chance to make a choice, heart racing and feeling fully and terrifyingly alive. It's been so long since he's last wanted that, wanted to live really and truly, that he hardly knows what to do about the confession that it's changed. Just who is Dean Winchester without a death wish? Thinking of himself as a whole person has been such a foreign feeling for so long.
It's these thoughts that swim in his mind on the ride home back to the bunker. Normally, he'd be shoving these feelings down, trying to forget about any and all distractions from the Mission, whether it's in the form of Abaddon or Crowley or saving Sam. But this time, it's about him. It's him who's the time bomb, the volatile, dangerous substance. And so if he doesn't let these ideas of hope and happiness somewhere behind the fog and shadow on the horizon, he will only think about the pulsing poison on his arm, whispering in the back of his head, a constant thump, thump, thump thirst for chaos and blood.
He takes his boots off slowly when he enters his bedroom for the first time in days, sitting down silently on his bed. Usually he mightn't even have bothered taking his dirty shoes off before collapsing back on his pillow for four hours of restless sleep. But sleep just hasn't come easily at all these anymore, and Dean doesn't want to think about what inhuman reason that might be. So he takes his time getting into bed to distract himself, and draw out those lonely hours of off time where Sam recharges and Dean pretends he is.
His phone rings in the middle of unlacing his left boot. He struggles for a second to retrieve his phone out of his back pocket, but once he sees Cas' contact picture glowing on his screen (a candid picture taken in the kitchen one morning, months ago with Cas sitting across from him, hands curled around a warm, untouched cup of coffee), Dean can't help but relax back into his perch on the mattress.
“Hey,” Dean says by way of greeting, phone tucked between his shoulder and his cheek as he finishes removing his boots. Cas' familiar deep voice filters through the speaker as the last of his boots falls to the floor.
“Hello, Dean,” he says, sounding tired but relieved to hear his friend's voice. Dean knows the feeling. “How are you?”
“Well, I'm still me, if that's what you're asking,” Dean says upfront, to get it out of the way.
“Not entirely,” Cas replies cryptically, “but that is good to know.” The wind from where ever Cas is blows sharply into the receiver.
Dean frowns. “Where are you at right now?”
“I'm in Pontiac, Illinois,” Cas states, his rough tone completely conscious of the weight that town name carries, and though Dean doesn't really know what answer he was expecting, it certainly wasn't that.
“Dropping in for Jimmy's high school reunion?” Dean tries to joke, but it falls flat for both of them.
“Actually, I'm here for you,” Cas says after a moment. “Though I will admit, thinking of Claire...” Cas sighs, a heavy, regretful sound. “I almost went back to the house, her house, just to see if—Well. I don't know what I actually wanted.” He almost sounds bitter, to Dean's ears, frustrated with himself for his confusion. Dean knows the feeling intimately, and grimaces in solidarity, though Cas cannot see it.
“Yeah,” he huffs, “Been there buddy.”
It takes Dean a second though to process the first part of Cas' answer. “Wait—what's there that has to do with me?”
“It will—” Cas starts and then pauses, as if renegotiating his tactics with himself. After a moment he begins again. “You might find it overly sentimental.”
Dean can’t help but smile wryly into the receiver. “Try me.”
“I returned to your grave,” Cas says, voice as gravelly and sombre as ever.
Dean's stomach drops. His mouth goes dry, and he remembers with shocking vividness the smell of burnt flesh and dirt and dust caking his lungs and the desperate confusion of realising he was alive but that the 40 year nightmare was not a dream. The mark on his arm screams with malicious delight.
“Dean?” Cas’ concern breaks through the ringing in Dean’s ears, a lone clear sound piercing through the buzzing fog. He must have completely zoned out, for he blinks and its only then that his bedroom comes back into focus.
“Yeah,” his voice cracks. “Yeah, I'm—I'm still here.” He says, but a lump forms in his throat as he tries to swallow down the unspoken “for now.”
“If this is uncomfortable for you to discuss—“
“No, no it's—“ Dean wipes a tired hand down his face, “it's just been a long day, man.” It's not a lie, but it's not quite the truth either. It's a been a long lifetime, really.
“It has,” Cas agrees, for his own part.
“So did you... find anything?” Dean asks, though he only has half of an idea of what he’s even asking about.
Cas sighs. “I don’t know. Perhaps,” he says, and Dean likes to think he can hear him frown. He can picture perfectly the way the lines around his mouth twist down, the way his forehead creases, the sight so familiar and comforting despite their sentiment that it makes Dean’s mouth twist into a smile. “I don’t know quite what I was hoping to find when I drove out,” Cas continues, “but I think... I’ve been struck with an idea—a memory.”
Cas’ responding answer is certainly not what Dean expected. "What do you remember of the first time we met, Dean?” he asks.
Dean blinks, and tries not to think about how his palms are suddenly sweaty.
“Uh... In the barn? Hard to forget any of that, man,” Dean chuckles half-heartedly, trying to liven the heaviness that’s engulfed the conversation, but it’s a botched effort.
He takes a deep but shuddering breath. Dean thinks he could live for a thousand years and still remember that fateful night as clear as day.
“No,” Cas says, and Dean stops breathing, “I mean the first time.”
“Oh,” Dean offers blankly, as it dawns on him exactly what Cas means. When Cas means. “Um. Not much,” he says, because it’s true. He remembers too much of Hell, of the horror, or the long years and decades being ripped apart and put back together, but not this. He doesn’t remember being saved. He wonders if he ever was.
“It’s all—it’s flashes, if that,” he tries to explain. He rubs a hand over his eyes. God, he’s tired.
Dean shuffles up on his bed to lean against the headboard, kicking his sock feet up onto the bed.
“I’m sorry, Cas,” he says, and he means it so ardently. “I wish I could remember you. Must have been something.” He doesn’t know what he thinks Cas looked like back then, but he knows it was bright.
And Cas, the smooth fuck, just comes back and says, “You were.”
Dean scoffs to keep from coughing and hacking up his lung. How does this guy just say shit like that. Not that Dean doesn’t—well, he sure the hell thinks something special of Cas, too, but this... Never before has it been spoken so openly. Dean tries not to squeak when he replies weakly, self-effacing, “Yeah, I bet.”
As if like magic (or who knows, maybe it is some freaky angel sense), Cas can tell Dean is brushing it off in self-defence, even without being able to see his drawn and exhausted face.
“I’m serious, Dean,” he tells him, soft but serious. When I first perceived your soul in hell, I knew. I knew it had been worth it. All the pain, the toil of the siege. The fallen brothers and sisters who I would never see again.” His tone is deceptively steady, but Dean can feel the wavering undercurrent of his frantic heart. He can feel it because it’s his heart, too.
And then Cas says, “Everything was worth it the moment I laid eyes on you,” and Dean very nearly bursts out crying right then and there.
instead, Dean huffs out through his nostrils in disbelief. “You sure know how to chat a guy up, Cas,” he croaks, trying to break the tension with a joke. It’s not really a joke though, is it? God, what has he gotten himself into in such little time.
“Even then, you were breathtaking, Dean,” Cas says, so earnest. Dean can barely take it. “Beautiful.”
Dean breaks. “Cas—”
“I did warn you it would be sentimental,” Cas says softly, sounding like he’s smiling. “Though nonetheless, entirely true.”
Dean huffs out either a scoff or a bitter laugh, he doesn’t know. “I guess I fucked up all your hard work in saving me then,” he says, as the Mark burns steadily on his arm. He clenches his free fist as he closes his eyes.
“Oh, Dean, no—” Cas’ voice breaks then, too, a mournful aching sound that makes Dean’s bones rattle. “It made me think, as I remembered, that maybe, if i found my grace, the same thing could work again...”
Cas trails off and Dean frowns in confusion. “What do you mean?” he asks, prodding his friend to clarify. Cas sighs before he speaks again, as if mustering courage. Dean’s mouth goes dry in response, as his heart quickens.
“When I found your soul in hell, it was caked in the soot of that horrid place,” he explains slowly, enunciating each word clearly though the less than amazing connection. “I cleansed it, purged the poison away by the light of my grace. I didn’t fix you, Dean,” he clarifies, “there was nothing to fix, but I did—I shined your soul back to its true gleam, so to speak.”
“Cas,” Dean whispers huskily, as if grasping shakily around the name because there’s nothing else to hold on to, anymore. His eyes still remain clenched shut in the dim light of his room, head resting against the cool finished wood of the headboard. He daren’t open them anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s begging Cas to stop talking, or to tell him more and never stop.
“I wonder,” Cas continues, “if I could find my grace, if that would work again.”
And that’s when the ball drops. This is what Cas meant, when he said he was in Illinois for him, seeking some last minute self-sacrificial solution that may or may not even work ‘cause who knows what more surprises the Mark has in store for all of them. But Dean won’t have it. Can’t have it. Can’t have his family and friends dying for him when he’s been a lost cause for too long now. He wants to fight still, he does, he knows that now, but not at that high a cost.
“Listen, Cas,” he begins, “I get what you’re doing. I do. I’m glad for it. I’m—fuck, I don’t know why you keep doing to much for me, but I’m grateful, man, I am. But don’t strain yourself—”
“I’m not ‘straining myself’,” Cas objects testily, and it’s so Cas that Dean almost laughs.
“I mean don’t die tryin’ to stop me from dying,” Dean implores him. Begs him, whatever it takes.
“I don’t know if that’s a promise I can or want to keep,” Cas replies honestly, and though it’s not what Dean wanted to hear, he can’t fault him for that.
“Pretend for me, at least,” he asks, dragging a hand down his face before opening up his eyes to stare at the bare and boring ceiling. His forearm, of course, continues to throb, undeterred.
“Cas, I don’t want to die,” Dean interrupts, and takes a deep breath before laying all his cards on the table. “But I don’t want to lose you either. I don’t want anyone to die. I’m so tired of—of all of it.”
There’s a silent beat on the line before Cas says, in his sad, steady voice, “I will do my best, Dean.”
“Yeah,” Dean breathes out, exhausted and forlorn, “I know.”
When Sam gets back from his weird sad bug movie Dean doesn’t talk to him about his run in with Rowena. It’s half because he doesn’t really know any kind of tactful way of bringing it up without making Sam unduly paranoid about a situation he’s already dealt with, but also because he himself still doesn’t really know what to say about all the rest. The shadows in the mirror, the resilience of his body against dark magic... It’s all happening so fast. Just last week he was ready to try and live again, but now he wonders if it’s already too late.
So in the worn and true Winchester fashion, he avoids the necessary conversation by hitting the bar. At least he’s of his right mind enough not to drive, as the place is only about a 20 minute walk from their perch on the hill.
Dean doesn’t even have to sit down at the bar before Donnie’s nodding towards him in greeting and asking, “Usual?”
“Hit me,” Dean says, tapping the counter top as he slides onto the stool. “Um, hold the nachos tonight, though,” he adds quickly, before Donnie’s even turned towards his rack of glasses.
Donnie raises an eyebrow. “You on a diet or something now?”
“Nah, that didn’t stick,” Dean chuckles evasively. “Just not hungry,” he says, because it’s the truth. Why that’s true, considering he hasn’t really eaten all day, is something else. He tries not to let that thought worry him, how he feels less and less human by the hour.
Thankfully, Donnie doesn’t push it. Well, for a blessed minute as he hands Dean his freshly poured pint. As Dean takes his first, slow sip, he peers at him knowingly, and says, “Ah, I get it.”
Dean sets his pint down and wipes his lips with his sleeve. “What?”
“You don’t feel like eating, ‘cause something’s eating you,” Donnie says, looking at him pointedly as he leans against his bar.
Dean writhes in his seat, suddenly extremely uncomfortable, but tries his best not to show it on his face. “You don’t know how accurate that is,” he mutters under his breath. Play it casual, Winchester, he tells himself. He knows this self-preservation tactic well.
More loudly Dean says, “Isn’t that all your clientele?” with a dry smirk.
Donnie can’t help but nod, taking a glance to the day drunks in the corner before returning his gaze to Dean. “Touché.”
“I don’t know man, I’m just...” Dean bites his bottom lip, searching for a way to say this without letting the whole fucking tidal wave come out. “God, I don’t even know.”
“You want me to play some bar therapy?” Donnie leans against the bar rail to ask. Dean peers at him over the rim of his pint before setting it down again.
“You licensed on the side?” he jokes, evasive.
“Yeah,” Donnie chuckles, “it’s called my licence to sell liquor.”
Dean feels like he has to concede to the smoothness of that one. “Fine, hit me,” he says, for if he can keep Donnie chatting instead of him, maybe he can avoid vomiting up all his insecurities for a little while longer.
But Donnie is too goddamned smart for his own good. “Nah, not how this works,” he says, smiling kindly. “You talk to me.”
Dean sets his jaw, trying to shut own the burning in his arm and in his chest for just a moment. Just a blessed moment.
“Ain’t got much to say, Donnie,” he grits out, before he downs another sip of his beer, clenching the fist of his right arm in his lap, unseen under the counter top. His nails dig into his palm, but the sting is not enough.
“Now I know that’s a lie,” Donnie observes.
“Yeah? How so?” Dean stalls, rubbing the condensation on his glass idly, not looking up.
“’Cause you got shadows behind your eyes, friend,” Donnie says, voice softer than it was before. “Ain’t nobody lived a life not worth talking about if they got ghosts like them.” To Dean’s ears, it sounds like Donnie speaks from intimate experience, and for that, Dean can’t fault him for prying.
“You have no idea,” he huffs out finally, shaking his head and shutting his eyes for a moment, trying to make sure he doesn’t entirely float away with the hurricane in his head.
“No, I don’t,” Donnie admits. “But I am listening.”
Dean swallows thickly. He could evade the bartender again—easy enough, he’s experienced at it. He could walk out in a rage, yelling that it’s none of his fucking business and how goddamned dare he. He could walk out with out saying anything and run across country in the middle of the night to find some monster to wrap his fists around until his knuckles bleed and he can tell himself that his pain is human. But he doesn’t do any of these things.
No, instead, Dean tells him.
He edits, of course, doesn't mention the things that go bump in the night. Donnie is too nice of a guy to deserve that wake up call. But Dean's creative in his omissions, and he tells him the rest. The whole sordid tale of losing his mom and losing his father, losing his brother and losing his—Cas.
The name sits heavy on his tongue, but yet it’s also warm to the touch.
He tells Donnie everything, especially how he’s losing himself.
“Think that guy’s looking for you,” Donnie interrupts, when Dean begins trailing off. He’s gesturing with his chin at someone behind Dean, who’s just come in by the sound of the door swinging shut behind him.
Dean naturally assumes it’ll be Sam, coming to drag him back home to the bunker. If not, the second option his mind jumps to is Rowena again, back for another ill-timed chat. He doesn’t know why it doesn’t occur to him that it’d be just the person he was speaking of moments before, but maybe that’s love for you: all kinds of fucked up expectations.
“Cas!” Dean exclaims when he turns around and sees him. And thank god his mouth has it together faster than his heart rate or brain, ‘cause the moment he lays eyes on Cas and his bedraggled but sorely missed appearance, his heart is stuttering forward and his brain is fizzing out.
By the time his mind has crawled out of its blissful gutter, Cas is sitting down next to him at the bar, casual as ever. Dean can’t help but quirk the side of his mouth into a smile, at how easy Cas slides into human habits nowadays. It makes him happy, but it also makes him ache.
“Donnie, Cas; Cas, Donnie,” Dean gestures between them by way of introduction, when he remembers his manners.
“Cas, huh?” Donnie looks at Dean knowingly, and Dean immediately starts to sweat. Right. That thing where he kind of told Donnie... most of everything. He didn’t exactly say he was, well, head over heels for Cas, but even he’s self-aware enough to know it’s fucking obvious. Pathetic, he chastises himself.
Beside him, Cas replies to Donnie. “It’s a nickname,” he states flatly, turning his attention back to Dean. Dean can’t help but indulge in a little bit of satisfaction at how rude Cas is prepared to be to others to get a chance to talk with him.
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Donnie raises his brow, not too impressed. “So what’ll you have, Cas?”
Cas turns to look at the bar selection, frowning. “Nothing, I’m—” but Cas cuts himself off when he glances at Dean out of the corner of his eye. “Whatever he’s having.”
For whatever reason, this appears to be the right answer, for Donnie immediately brightens up and offers Cas a genuine smile.
“Comin’ right up.”
As Donnie shuffles down the bar to get a clean glass, Dean turns to his friend. “You could have just hung around the bunker, you know. Sam wouldn’t’ve kicked you out,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant. He’s giving Cas an out, or maybe he’s trying to give himself one. He doesn’t know anymore.
“I know,” Cas says, face scrunched slightly in confusion. “I wanted to see you.”
Dean swallows thickly, trying not to let himself bask too foolishly long on those words, and the way they light up his lungs and set his chest on fire. I wanted, he says, as if it’s so obvious. I wanted to see you, as if there’s nothing else he’d rather see.
“So Sam didn’t send you over to babysit me?” he asks, ‘cause he’s a fucking masochist and a bitter one at that. As much as he’d like to believe Cas was just here out of the goodness of friendship, he also wouldn’t put it past Sam and Cas to conspire on a watch rotation.
“Sam’s asleep. I doubt he even knows I’m here,” Cas replies evenly, as he accepts the pint of beer Donnie passes him from over the bar counter. He sets it down without taking a sip, as Donnie walks off to serve another customer, giving them some private space.
“Then how’d you find me?” Dean wonders. He knows Cas’ poisoned grace gives him some angelic power back, but he also knows its waning faster than Cas would like to let on.
“This is the only pool bar in town, and you left the Impala at the bunker,” Cas shrugs in that way of his that’s more in his tone than in his movement. “I knew you couldn’t have gone far.”
Dean is equal parts unnerved and flattered that Cas can read him so well. The Part that's already ruled by the Mark of course is quietly furious, yearning to lash out at such intrusion. But the part of him that he likes to think is still him enjoys the fact that Castiel doesn't even need angel mojo to pin him down anymore, just sheer familiar intuition. It's so rare that anyone gets to stick around long enough in Dean's life to know him that well.
“Well, you certainly got me pegged, haven’t you?” he drawls, taking another sip of his beer.
“I like to think I’ve made a good study of you over the years, yes,” Cas responds dryly, eyes scrunching up at their corners in a way that's not quite a smile, but Dean can still hear its mirth.
“Found out anything good?” Dean continues to banter back evenly.
But Cas doesn't match him this time, instead turning the conversation back on its head to serious, delicate territory. “Many things,” he says, shifting slightly in his seat so that he's looking Dean in the eye straight on.
“I—” Dean begins, and falters. “Cas,” he says a little helplessly instead, voice cracking as soon as the 'C' passes his lips. He feels too exposed all of a sudden, far too raw and vulnerable. There's hardly anybody else in the bar at this hour, but Dean feels like the whole world is staring at him.
But no, it's just Castiel.
And Dean's done pretending that isn't all he fucking wants.
“Dean,” Cas says gently. And there he goes again, making Dean's heart fucking melt with the open sincerity in his eyes and the warmth of his presence. Even in his clearly tired state, just the sight of him makes Dean feel more relaxed more at home in his ever more alien feeling body.
Well, here goes nothing.
“You know I—” Dean takes a deep breath. “I don’t know how long I got.” Cas opens his mouth as if to protest about this fact but Dean stops him. “None of us know,” he continues. “And I—Fuck.” he shudders to a stop, trying to get his bearings before he goes spinning off to who knows where. It's not even that he's had too much to drink—half a pint of watered down beer is nothing to him by now. But there's something about spilling all your feelings to the weird angel guy who might just be the love of your life that feels even more disorienting than being drunk.
He takes another breath. In and out, Winchester. He has to get through this, for it might be the one chance left that he's got.
“I don’t want to go out without—”
“What, Dean?” Cas prompts. Dean teeters on the edge.
“Without telling you—“ he looks around the bar room, paranoid suddenly that someone unwelcome might be listening in. “Um, fuck, I don’t wanna do this here.” He gets up suddenly. “You wanna split?”
He's acting ridiculously nervous, Dean knows. But he also hopes Cas will get it. God, he has to.
“My car’s parked outside,” Cas replies, mirroring Dean and standing up as well.
“Donnie?” Dean calls down the bar, to where Donnie's settled down with another one of his regulars. “Gonna close up. How much?”
“On the house, my friend,” Donnie waves at him.
“You can’t keep spotting me like this, dude.” Dean grins, and then slides that smile into a smirk. “It‘ll give me all the wrong ideas,” he drawls, low and sultry, flirting shamelessly. Bad timing, he knows, but he can't help but fall back on his old defence mechanisms when the going gets hard. Uh, no entendres intended.
Donnie chuckles. “Nah, would never wanna steal you from your man,” he gestures with a nod of his head to Cas, who's already at the door waiting for Dean to follow. “’Sides, got a guy of my own at home who might be jealous,” he adds with a wink.
Now there’s something Dean wasn’t expecting.
“What—Really?” he starts, but then thinks better of prodding further. Maybe it’s not so weird after all. He can always come back for that story, anyway. His own is just about to begin.
“Go on,” Donnie says. “He’s waitin’.”
Cas, bless him, doesn't talk until they're both comfortably seated in the broad interior of the Continental and pulling out onto the road. It's dark by now, meaning Dean must have been gone for a couple hours, at least. Honestly, he's surprised Sam hasn't called him in a panic, yet. He must really be knocked out.
“What did you want to tell me?” Cas asks to break the silence, pulling Dean back into his earlier train of thought.
“Uh—” Dean looks out the window, blinking blankly at the dark passing shapes of trees. How oddly peaceful they look, unaware how Dean Winchester is falling apart in his best friend's car.
“Jesus, um, yeah. I—” Dean begins, trying to keep his gaze on anything but Cas' face. “I needed—I need to say—”
Wow, what an excellent, eloquent start, he mocks himself inwardly. Somehow, being in the car with just Cas isn't making this any easier. It's not home, in the same way his car has been, in the same way the bunker is now. All that's home here is Cas' face, in his rough, tender hands gripping the steering wheel, and his calm, concerned expression.
“Fuck, can you pull over?” Dean blurts out, needing suddenly to have Cas' entire attention.
“Yes, I—” Cas glances at him, frowning, but does indeed slow down and pull up on the shoulder of the road. “Dean?” he ventures, when the car is parked and off.
“Just a sec,” Dean says, rallying his nerves together. His hands grip his knees tight, though it's too dark now to see the way his knuckles whiten, even in the dashboard light. From beside him, Dean can hear Cas shift in his seat, fabric rustling as he turns his torso towards Dean.
“Okay, okay, I’m good,” Dean says. “Well, ha. As good as I can be, considering,” he laughs shakily. “Shit. Here goes nothin’.”
He turns to Cas then, who waits patiently, eyes curious and mouth hanging slightly open, as if inviting Dean inside.
“Cas, I need you to—I need you to know that—That you’re kinda... It, for me,” he says in somewhat of a rush. For so few actual words, he feels so breathless. He's been waiting years for these words to make their way out of his throat. He doesn't dare blink, or move his gaze, lest Cas disappear from right in front of him. They've waited too long for any mistakes.
But again, Cas surprises him. He doesn't react badly or drag him desperately over the shift stick to kiss him. Doesn't leap out in anger or balk in surprise. Instead, he simply smiles, that lovely, slightly crooked smile that Dean thinks about at night.
“I do, Dean,” he says, as if nothing has changed.
But Dean, because he's Dean, pushes, thinking no, Cas must not get it. Doesn't he know what this means?
“No, no, I mean. I—” he gulps. “I want things, human things, you know?” he impresses, slightly more desperate. He moves an anxious hand from his knee over to Cas', and when it lands, a jolt of heat shoots up Dean's arm that has nothing to to with the fire of the Mark. “With you,” he adds, a bit lamely.
Slowly, Cas covers Dean's hand with his own, and Dean lets out a shuddering breath. Cas' mouth is turned down in a slight frown as he observes the shadows of where their hands meet, but when he flips Dean's palm over to lace his fingers in between his own, the lines of his face smooth out, content. “What kinds of human things?” he asks, and then looks up to catch Dean's gaze again. Even in the weak light of the car, his eyes are so blue, so bright.
“The messy stuff,” Dean says, trying to be bold and honest, “but only messy ‘cause it’s so good and you’d do anything not to lose it.”
“Things... like, this?” Cas raises their joined hands, mouth quirked up on the side in a small, coy smile.
“Yeah,” Dean chuckles, as he lets the feeling of relief fill him.
“I see,” Cas says, as he settles their hands back into his lap, face schooled serious again. “Things people do as a romantic couple.”
Dean can only nod, too scared that he's entirely lost his voice by now to speak. His heart thumps wildly in his chest, drowning out the ever present simmer of the Mark.
“I’ve wanted these things, too,” Cas almost whispers, and Dean realises then that he's getting about as choked up as him, in his own way.
“Dean, I—” Cas' grip tightens, and Dean lets himself be pulled in. “I’ve loved you for so long I don’t know quite where to begin.”
Dean laughs for real then, because he’s far too buoyed on relief of requital to do anything else. “Well, you’re in good company,” he says, but then sobers up. “I know this is kinda, um, shitty timing,” he admits, as he idly rubs his thumb against Cas' hand. “But better late than never, right?” he smiles up at Cas hopefully.
His friend's returning glance is soft, understanding. It makes Dean ache.
“I guess I just... needed you to know, before—before anything happens,” he says, as a heavy lump begins to form again in his throat.
“And that no matter what happens,” Dean says, “I want you to remember me like this.” And then Dean kisses him.
It's both everything and nothing like Dean imagined it would be, all those nights staring up at the ceiling of his too empty bedroom, all those groggy mornings jerking himself off in the shower. Cas' lips are far softer than he thought they would be, for how dry they always look, but Cas is nothing but an incredible package of deceptive appearances, Dean thinks. He kisses Cas, and he forgets everything he thought he knew, and sighs into Cas' mouth.
It starts of gentle, but after a moment, Cas untangles their hands to brace both of his against Dean's face, cupping his cheeks and reeling him in harder, more desperate. He kisses with an intense focus, a quiet ferocity that he brings to everything. Dean's heart races ever faster, and Cas' mouth chases it, sprinting to match it.
“I won’t let this be our last, Dean,” he says roughly, when they break. His hands have fallen to cup Dean's neck, thumbs resting on the curve of Dean's stubbled jaw. “I won’t let it.”
He sounds so fucking determined it makes Dean's heart break. Somehow, in the midst of all their making out, Dean's right hand has found his way to Cas' shoulder, and Dean thinks, how poetic a place.
“Even you can’t hold off everything.”
“Then I will die trying,” Cas asserts, with no less certainty.
Dean huffs, turning his head into Cas' neck, and breathing in. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” he says quietly, before he regretfully begins to pull away.
“Well,” Cas says, letting Dean sit back, but still not letting go. He moves his hand down to Dean's thigh, so dangerously warm. Dean can't help but swallow thickly, as blood begins to run south.
“As wise man once told me,” Cas continues, “‘If there’s anything worth dying for, this is it’.”
He says the old words like they're a treasured mantra, and Dean shuts his eyes tight to make sure he doesn't cry right then and there. How did they get here, the two of them? One lost and fallen soldier to another? Dean can hardly believe one fresh drop of water in the desert should taste so painful, yet so sweet.
“Sounds like a dumb ass to me,” Dean huffs in deflection.
“Sometimes he can be,” Cas teases gently, “though not as often as he himself would believe,” he adds more seriously. “Most of the time though, he is smart, and good, and kind.”
“Cas—” Dean croaks, opening his eyes. Cas' face is close, the outline of his harsh, handsome jaw glowing against the shadows that dance behind him.
“And, though I’m almost afraid to believe it,” Cas pauses as if hesitating, but in a split second decision, he leaps across the final gap. Raising his right palm back to Dean’s cheek, Cas looks him in the eye, holding him there, strong and steady, and affirms, “He’s also mine.”