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the one that got away

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I.
The first time around, the sky is falling as they kiss.
Only, this time, no angel breaks the earth.
They are teenagers whisked away by the wind, Dean behind the wheel of the car his dad gave him for his birthday, Castiel only a breath away, as he has always been since he had moved into town, nearly a decade before, when they were just kids whose eyes could lock mischievously and fingers graze without any pretense.
Simpler days, carrying with them a different kind of excitement, but which were nothing compared to this.
Sticky notes hidden inside their pockets, lockers, textbooks; hands gripping tight under the cafeteria table; lingering kisses outside class, wandering hands, catcalls from Jo and Charlie and Sam and then.
Then, everything in between.
Graduation comes way too fast, and Dean worries, he worries that two states away will be too far, that other people will be too much, and that whatever kind of love high school had bestowed upon them had never been enough to begin with.
When summer comes and goes, Castiel drives away with a promise heavy on his tongue and lingering lips on his forehead.
"You're going to be so good at this, Cas."
He taps Dean's knuckles against his collar: "We both are."
Dean smiles, and Cas ducks inside the car.
Five years later, as he's holding a glass of champagne and eyeing the man at his side, Cas teases that his husband didn't even think they would survive growing up, but look at them now.
Sam laughs, Dean can only take his hand, squeeze tighter.
Castiel squeezes back.

II.
The second time around, they meet at a gas station.
Dean is fueling up Baby when he hears someone curse not-so-under-his-breath.
"Need a hand?"
And he does, he really does, because, you see, Dean has seen his fair share of fucked up engines in his fifteen years at Singer's Auto, and still, this one climbs rapidly his top ten, five even.
How mr. Blue Eyes even made it to a parking lot is a mistery in the first place.
"I'm sorry, man. There's really nothing you can do, apart from calling a tow truck, at least."
"Fuck."
And then, because Dean is so righteous and mr. Blue Eyes could very well be nicknamed mr. Hot Stuff, he offers him a ride. Which he declines.
"You're too kind, really."
Dean laughs: "Yeah, kind and also possibly a serial killer, I get it. But I'm only just heading south, I swear. Wouldn't mind company."
Mr. Hot Stuff eyes him curiously, head slightly tilted.
"All right. Thank you."
They split the fuel, which is great, and exchange names, which is embarrassing, because Dean almost called him mr. Something or Another twice now and, christ -get a grip.
So, in under three hours Dean has learned that his name is Castiel, because his parents were, apparently, religious freaks, and he has next to zero knowledge of anything Dean's stereo is playing.
Which is unacceptable.
"C'mon, man. It's Ramble On, not freaking Beethoven, how can you not even remotely recognize the sound?"
Castiel shrugs: "I am actually quite familiar with Beethoven's works, my mother was fond of him. Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, I never had the opportunity to branch through."
The windows are rolled down, the wind flowing through Cas' unkempt hair, the sun making its way across his throat. Dean watches him, scoffs: 
"You don't branch through this staff. You let it eat you alive."
Castiel frowns, tilts his head for the second time now and Dean has to bite down something soft gnawing at his stomach.
"Why would I?"
"Because it's one of those- you know, when stuff makes you feel so alive, you just let it do its thing. It's just worth it, Cas."
They fuck in the back of the Impala, parked on the side of the road as the sky still pours sunshine onto the ground.
It's dirty and fast and sweaty and perfect. Cas smells of earth and saltwater and, buried in the crook of his neck, Dean learns he smells faintly of leather and mint too, now.
"I'm sorry." He says, eyes closed against Dean's temple.
"For what?"
His fingers skim over the tender flesh of his throat, press softly. "I left a mark."
He did. It's there, bruising purple. A hickey.
Dean huffs a laugh. It dies as soon as Cas murmurs: "A love bite."
He did. It's there, bruising purple. And everywhere else.

III.
The third time around, they fail miserably; so much that the beginning feels way more like an end.
There's yelling and fighting and blood, inside and out and spat across the walls of a place they had once called home in the shape of angry howls.
The last thing Dean tells him, ugly and unfair, is that he loves him.
The last thing Cas tells him, in return, is that it's not enough.
They leave, fall in love a thousand times again with the night and all the things it carries on its back, but the things is.
The things is, some stuff you cannot help, like the way Castiel goes still everytime a chevrolet comes around, or how his fingers graze the grass and dip into green paint with a renewed reverence.
How Dean keeps losing himself in set after set of blue eyes, all of the wrong shade until, one day, the September air comes and brings him chances.
He sees him at the farmer market Sammy forced him to, same chapped lips and dark hair and crystal eyes. He sees him and he stops, slams against his larger than life brother who's giving him a look, tugging at his sleeve, asking him-
"Are you okay?"
And the thing is, he really is. Better than he's been in a long time, in fact.
That doesn't stop him from nearly having a panic attack when he realizes that he's been noticed, and he's being approached, and- fuck.
Fuck.
Dean watches him stroll through the crowd, he has a little girl hiding behind his leg and a ring sitting on his finger. That's new. He looks at him, at Sam, at the child, back at him again, and his chest is hurting with all the things he has been missing.
"Dean. It's been a long time."
His voice is soft, not all that different.
"Well, looks like you got your hands full in the meantime, huh?"
"I do."
He smiles, wide and proud, and Dean smiles back.
"It's good to see you, Jimmy. And who's this munchkin? Does she have a name?"
The child glares at him, tells him she does and it's Claire, thank you very much. Dean likes her.
Jimmy doesn't talk about Castiel, Dean doesn't ask, not until Jimmy is being whisked away by a blondie with her arms full of fruit bags and one- one that is light brown and yellow and is dripping honey from its texture.
Right there and then, his heart shatters a little.
Castiel is in Pontiac, now, Jimmy tells him. So Dean spends a month getting drunk enough to find the courage to start the engine and so much that Sam has to force him away from the Impala before he drives in a ditch.
He'd at least die happy, he muses, on the interstate with his destination filling the air.
In the end, he writes him a letter he never sends, it's filled with sorrys and tears and drops of whiskey. In the fireplace, it burns blue.
It takes him another few months and countless meetings in a basement of a church before he heads out again. He stops for the night and stays on the phone with his sponsor until he falls asleep, hand going lapse against the neck of an unopened bottle of Jack.
When he knocks, the next day, and it's Cas at the door who looks at him as if he's just been shot in the leg, it takes everything in him not to run.
He stays, instead, he stays and waits until they can look at each other without seeing the corpses of everything that they had lost.
One night, legs naked and tangled on the carpet, Cas asks him why now.
"Turns out," Dean whispers, "I learned to love you more than I can hate myself".

IV.
The fourth time around, everything is just the same.
Almost. Maybe, not quite.
There is a certain anticipation, in the mark Castiel feels burning on his arm, seems to forget about it as he holds Anna close to his chest, because he had lost her, then got her back only to have her watch him die. And come back, apparently.
"What did you do?"
But Anna watches him, eyes deeper than he'd cared to remember, and says: "Castiel, there was nothing I could do."
After that, they get creative, but nobody seems to know the first thing about his escape from Hell.
Until.
Gabriel is unconscious on the floor, and the stranger who has the lights flickering around looks at the dagger in his chest with a smirk playing on his lips.
"I'm Dean. I am an angel of the Lord."
And everything is just the same, except it isn't.
Except that what restrains the angel is not so much as a sense of duty as is a fierce protectiveness towards his kin, and a bone-deep love for a father whose voice he can't remember anymore.
Castiel, this time, can relate way more easily.
"We are both just soldiers in the end, aren't we, Cas?"
"I suppose. The difference is, I have no doubts about which side I'm on."
Dean, this time, has much more to lose.
When Lucifer arises, Dean crosses the sky and the earth and stands next to Castiel, one of his brothers by his side- but, mind you, it's the one that matters.
"You're turning your back on Heaven, your family."
But it's too soft to be a statement, too low to be a protest.
Dean shrugs, looks at him: "I'd rather have you."
After they've put the Devil back in its cage, they kiss the blood off each other's lips, and everybody is there to witness it.

V.
The fifth time around, there's not much left to the sky.
The shadows tower under Dean's knees, his nails scraping dust and fabric and digging into the palm of his hand hard enough to bruise.
There's nothing left to tell, to this story, it would be to no avail.
I could tell you about the way color had drained from Cas's eyes, the loud thump of his corpse against the ground, the even louder wail Dean let out; I could tell you about the sun shying away from its rightful rise, at the sight of him still kneeled beside Castiel, or I could tell you about the funeral, the way he gently tucked his feet inside the sheets, breath caught in his throat and his chest and just anywhere but his mouth; and I could tell you how Dean, from that, never really came back, of the feather inked across his heart and the one he hides under his pillow.
I could, but the truth is, none of it would really matter, would it?
Because, in this one, Castiel came and went, but he never learned of the way Dean had loved him back.