At first, Dean thinks he's just imagining things.
It's probably the lack of sleep and the exhaustion that makes him see monsters.
He hasn't had a good lay in weeks, too. That can't help, either.
They've been so bogged down in work lately, he hasn't had a chance to go out and forget about everything. He'd probably be less paranoid if he could just drive over to the next bar, chat up some lucky lady and spend the night at her place.
They hardly talk about anything else but the current case, so he tries to concentrate on that and not to let his mind go to other places. Dean's good with these kind of things. Ignoring feelings, pushing things away. And it'd been working quite well, too.
All those years of not letting his mind go to places and only slipping up when he's too vulnerable and Castiel’s too close.
He knows that there've been countless times when he wished to step even closer when the angel's forgotten about the importance of personal space. But he hardly ever does.
There have been days where he misses him so much, when Castiel hasn't shown up for weeks, when he lets his mind wander. The absence somehow allows him not to explain all his feelings away as brotherly – his choice of words almost makes him laugh.
"You're like a brother to me."
Because if anything, his relationship with his actual brother is just as messed up. Complicated, unhealthy and full of feelings that aren’t all all necessarily sibling-appropriate.
But Dean makes it all work. He's always known how to: swallowing all the feelings until they're nothing but a faint taste on his lips.
It's only when Castiel is gone, that they become uncontrollable. It's these times he starts crying silently in his room at night, because fuck it, people you love always leave, they all leave. It's only then, when he thinks that he will never see him again that he lets the love run through his veins and take control over his actions.
Because he needs him, damn it, and he'd do anything to get him back, even if it meant exploring his own scary feelings.
But then, whenever Castiel returns, it all goes back in. When Cas is there in the flesh right next to him, being his normal weirdo self, all of Dean's inhibitions are back on.
Of course, he stills knows their friendship isn't very conventional. Who’s to say he’s doing it wrong, though, when there’s no manual for angel-human relationships. There it is again, that sneaky r-word that makes him feel all weird inside. It's not a relationship, it's not. It's not. Not just because there's no physical intimacy to speak of – even just thinking about it feels all kinds of wrong.
He'll say things like "Destiny can't be changed, Dean" and regard him with this glance that seems all-knowing and curious at once. And all he can do is stare back until the moment passes.
He's always known that Castiel doesn't treat him like other people, that he's given up everything for him and that ‘profound bond’ that he likes to talk about? Of course, Dean feels it too. He's not an idiot.
But if you don't want to open Pandora’s box, it's best to just deny its existence in the first place.
It had never been a fool-proof system, but it had been working as long as everything stayed the same.
It doesn’t feel like it’s working now, Dean concludes. He tries to shift his focus on the task at hand, but the words in the book before him seem like nothing but esoteric-sounding mumbo jumbo. Nothing that will help them with their current case.
They're sitting around the round table in their shabby motel room. Sam keeps sighing while reading through his notes on his laptop.
"Are you feeling alright?" Castiel asks and looks up from his book, just as Dean is.
"I'm fine," Sam insists, his eyes peeled to the screen.
"You don't look fine."
Castiel is right. Sam really doesn't look too hot, his eyes heavy and red.
"Cas, I told you before, I'm fine!" He shoots Castiel a look, that Dean's never seen his brother give the angel before. One that tells him to shut up.
"Sam, I know you're not fine. These things don't become true just because you keep repeating them."
Sam shuts his laptop and gets up. "I just need some fresh air. I've been staring at this screen for too long."
Castiel gets up, too.
"I need some time alone, alright?"
"Alright." Castiel sits down again.
Dean watches his brother cross the room to the door.
"You sure you're alright, Sammy?"
"Yeah, yeah." He seems far away as his hands muss up his hair. "Just need some air." Then he’s out of the door.
"Yikes, what's up with him?"
There's a searching look in Castiel's eyes. "I have been asking myself the same question."
"What do you mean?" Dean asks, puzzled. "Since when?"
"Your brother has been behaving very strangely the past days."
Dean takes a gulp from the beer bottle that's been standing next to him. He hasn't noticed anything off about Sam. Sure, he's been brooding, but that's Sammy for you. Always thinking about an apocalypse or hell or being an abomination. Jeez, he needs to live a little and let loose sometimes.
Dean’s fingers are nibbling away on the paper label on his bottle, trying not to look up. But eventually he does. Castiel is looking at him intently, clearly weighing his words. He takes everything so damn serious, just like he takes every question literally. Dean has always found it endearing and funny, when he’s not annoyed by it.
"I don't know how to explain it," Castiel finally says. His forehead wrinkles, like he's not content with his own answer. "I have tried to talk to him about it, but he insists that he is fine."
When did they even have time to talk, Dean wonders. He’s been with them the whole time.
"Yeah, that's what people do, Cas. They lie when they're uncomfortable."
There's an uncharacteristic bitter note in Castiel's voice now, as he says: "Oh I know, I've spent enough years with you, Dean."
"What's that supposed to mean? Are you angry with me?"
"No." Castiel's voice softens. "I'm not angry. I'm merely suggesting that I've seen Sam's behaviour mirrored in yours before. It's just..." He hesitates.
"Spit it out."
"It's just that I find you easier to read."
Dean's not sure why, but it sounds like an insult to him.
"Oh great, thanks."
"You misunderstand me, Dean. I share a deep bond with you that gains me an access to your feelings in a way that I lack in regards to Sam."
"Yeah, ok..." He drinks up the beer. This talk about feelings and the deep bond always make him uncomfortable, and it doesn't help when Castiel adds: "I've watched over you day and night for so long, Dean, I feel I can read most of your expressions and behavior well. But yet even you confound me at times. Your actions sometimes contradict your feelings so much."
"Yeah." Dean gets up. "That's enough of that crap."
Castiel's eyes follow him across the room. "For example, I understand you're trying to escape this conversation but I don't understand why you'd run from me. I know your feelings and intents anyway."
"Not creepy at all, dude", Dean mumbles, turned towards the door. "Not creepy at all."
He's heard him say his name in all kinds of ways, but this one is his least favorite. The chiding one that seems to be left over from his by-the-heavenly-rulebook-days. That sounds like he's talking to an unruly child.
The door opens. Sam's eyes look even redder than before. The thought that he's spent the past minutes outside crying crosses Dean's mind. It’s an image that’s hard to shake.
"Are you feeling better, Sam? Did the night air help ease the strain?" Castiel sounds concerned and so full of compassion that it makes something inside Dean squirm.
"Yeah, thanks." Sam quietly shuts the door behind him. "Think I'm just tired. I need some sleep, I guess."
Sam heaves himself into the bathroom and shuts the door behind him.
Dean looks at Castiel looking at the closed door and he finally understands what's off: Castiel cares, really cares about how Sam is doing. Not just as means to an end, but for his own sake.
Clearly, this is a good thing and nothing for anyone to get their panties into a twist.
Dean clenches his jaw. If Cas is so good at reading his feelings and knowing what he wants and needs, why is he just sitting there, not saying anything? He should stand up and get so close that the proximity makes Dean run away again. That's their thing, that's how it works, and it's what Dean craves - even if it’s just because he's not allowed himself to crave more.
"I'm sorry you're upset," Castiel says, as if he's been reading his mind. And maybe he has. Dean's never been sure how any of that crap works.