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~ i ~

The end began in a motel room.

Of course, many ‘ends’ for the Winchesters had begun in motel rooms, so maybe Dean needed to be a little more specific.

The end of the period of time that Dean was able to deny the fact that he was hopelessly in love with Castiel began in a motel room. Specifically a motel in Queens, New York.

And it was all Dean’s fault, really. Leave it do Dean to let his feelings for someone be the thing that caused that person to discover his feelings for them. Shit, that was so convoluted that his head hurt.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed, Sam having seen how pale he was and told him to rest while he followed up on a lead. He was staring at the wall and missing Cas.

His angel had been absent for quite a while, and Dean had been praying to him to come home every day until he sort of lost hope. The last time he prayed to Cas was five days ago, though, so he figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another shot.

Hey, Cas, he thought, reaching out with his mind. I, uh. I’d really like to see you. It’s been weeks, man. Whatever you’re doing, it can’t be taking this long. And Sammy wants you to come back, too. So… come home? Please?

It was somewhat of an unorthodox prayer, but it was genuine, and he figured that Cas would get the message.

He had too hard of a time choking out, I miss you, even mentally.

He waited a couple minutes and he was just starting to give up, sighing and leaning back to try and sleep, when he heard a very quiet sound behind him.

“I think I heard a whoosh,” he commented to himself before turning around.

And there, standing right in front of him, was Cas.

“I owe you an apology, Dean,” he said. “Unavoidable heavenly business.”

“You don’t have to apologize for anything, Cas,” Dean whispered back. “I’m just happy you’re here.”

“I do need to apologize. I haven’t been answering. I heard your prayers. I could feel how concerned you were. But I couldn’t come back to you, and for that I am sorry. I have let you down.”

“You haven’t let me down, man. You’re just fine. In fact, you’re better than I’ll ever be.”

He wasn’t entirely sure where that sentiment came from, but he did mean it. It was a very honest, primitive feeling, one that ran as deep as his love for Sam.

You’re better than me.

Because of course he was. He was an angel – a literal angel. And Dean was human, and mortal, and absolutely, 100% going to hell – I mean, shit, he’d already been there – and he was nothing. He was morally grey, skewed and compromised, and Cas was righteous, blazing with the might of God’s own Will.

You’re better than me.

Dean wondered if Cas knew what Dean really meant by that. He wondered if his angel could tell how unbearably close it was to something else. He wondered if he heard, ‘you’re everything to me.’

~ ii ~

Cas didn’t know – Dean was almost sure of that – but Dean did, and now the floodgates were open.

That was a whole ‘I love you’, right there in his past, and it had sparked the kind of conscious revelation that doesn’t surprise you as much as you would expect it to because you always knew it subconsciously.

Dean had known he was bisexual since he was fourteen. That had never surprised him. However, Dean had also known he was in love with Castiel since their fifth interaction. He just hadn’t accepted it.

He did now. He didn’t have much of a choice anymore.

The next time he fucked up was on a hunt. He dragged himself out of reach of the disgusting slime creature they were fighting and took a moment to breathe as Sam bore down on it from behind. It whirled on him, catching him in the side and sending him flying across the room.

And then Cas was there, and Dean was instantly more relaxed. Cas knelt beside him and rested a hand on his shoulder.

“Dean, are you okay?”

“What? I’m fine! It’s Sammy you need to worry about!”

Cas stared at him. “But I’m worried about you.”

“Please help Sam,” Dean pleaded. Even mostly hidden from Dean’s line of sight by the monster as he was, it was still obvious that Sam was struggling to get back up. He had blood on the side of his face and his arm was bent jarringly at a bizarre angle.

“Are you sure that you’re okay?”

Dean would have thought it’d be incredibly difficult to ever trust the fate of his brother to anyone else; angelic, demonic, or human. He had spent his entire life protecting the kid and he didn’t even fully trust himself to do it half the time.

But this was Cas, and Cas was like nobody Dean had ever known.

“Cas,” he uttered seriously, “I trust you with my life.”

Cas seemed to know what that meant, because he teleported across the room to smite down the threat and tend so Sam’s wounds as Dean looked on in reverent awe.

The realization that he loved Cas more than he had the day before hit him like a hammer to the chest.

 

~ iii ~

Dean didn’t love the bunker.

Well, that was a lie. He did love the bunker, he just didn’t love certain things about it, like the way it was kind of impersonal and in many ways colder even than some of the motels that they’d lived out of as children.

Waking up to that at three in the morning was not always super helpful for his nightmares, so he’d taken to wandering. He would walk aimlessly through the halls of the bunker until he found the courage to face his bed again – or until Sammy woke up and made his coffee with extra shots, whichever came first.

On this particular day, he’d found his way into the kitchen and discovered an unopened bottle of whiskey in one of the cabinets.

As of the moment Cas found him, he was getting well and truly wasted on the cold tile floor in nothing but his boxer briefs and a six-year-old gray bathrobe that at this point deserved a hunter’s funeral. The angel stepped into the kitchen, wearing a look that was somehow simultaneously impassive and sympathetic. Dean glanced up at the intrusion.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas murmured. Dean grunted his acknowledgement and took another long swig.

“Are you okay?” the angel inquired. Dean shrugged.

“I’ve been worse,” he replied. “I’ve also been better. But that’s about par for the course, innit? I am aggressively mediocre all the time, except when Sammy’s hurt, cause then everything sucks, or when you’re smiling, because then everything is great. My life is shit. This is how I deal.”

Cas’ smile turned hard at the edges and he grabbed Dean’s shoulders, exercising only a fraction of his total angelic strength to get 250 pounds of mostly muscle to his feet. He wrenched the mostly empty bottle out of the hunter’s grip and put it back into the cupboard.

“Okay, Dean, you’re going back to bed,” he insisted. Dean writhed in his grip like a petulant child and then he writhed in his grip like a fully-grown legal adult who had put a large amount of a foreign substance into his body and was about to blow chunks. Cas let him go and he ran to the bathroom, emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl.

He retched for a few minutes before coming back to earth, flushing his vomit down into the plumbing and washing out his mouth. Once he was done, Cas took him buy the elbow and gently led him back to his room. He wrapped the bedsheets around his charge like a burrito and the brunet hummed, only half-conscious. As Cas took a step away to leave the room, Dean reached out toward him with one hand and groaned in discontent.

“Stay,” he requested simply. Castiel found himself shocked into silence. “If you want to, I mean,” Dean added hastily.

“Are you sure, Dean?” Cas asked, worriedly.

“I need you here,” Dean murmured sleepily. “I’ll sleep better if you’re here.”

Cas smiled at him. “If you want.”

His angel obediently climbed under the covers with him and he smiled secretly to himself.

He didn’t have another nightmare that night.

~ iv ~

Dean would never admit it to anyone but himself (coughSamcough), but their grocery runs were his favorite part of the week. He got to be alone with Cas and Zep and the Impala, the three things he loved most in the world that didn’t simultaneously annoy him half to death (sorry Sammy).

But three days after his little middle-of-the-night drinking stint, on their drive to the store, Cas was unexpectedly subdued.

“What’s up, man?” Dean asked him, glancing worriedly at the angel riding shotgun over the steering wheel. Cas sighed resignedly.

“How do you do it, Dean?” he asked. “How do you navigate the world with these minds and these bodies and these feelings?”

Oh.

“Well,” Dean said slowly after a long pause, “I think the only reason we can do it is because it’s all we’ve ever done. The human race has never known anything beside physical form, touch and feel, and so many thoughts crowding in at once, drowning out the other stuff, and so many emotions competing for our attention. We probably wouldn’t be able to handle it if we’d all been multidimensional wavelengths of celestial intent like you have. You’re doing pretty well, okay?”

“Angels are designed to be perfect, to be incapable of sin. Those who are not Fall to Earth – or farther. I’ve always thought that the beauty of humanity was its capacity to be flawed, and yet, still to love itself despite its flaws. Because of them, even. Humans are created to be fundamentally imperfect, and they embrace those imperfections and make them a part of their identities, and that is what makes them – what makes you – my Father’s greatest and most precious creation.” Castiel sounded like he’d thought about it a lot.

“Yeah, but we’re not as good as all that,” Dean muttered back. “Not all of us love each other’s flaws – or our own, for that matter. Not all of us can embrace our own imperfections. Some of us are prideful, or… or scared.”

“A flaw,” Cas pointed out. “All you have to do is learn to overcome it. And then, when you die, to ask my Father for His forgiveness. His mercy is infinite, you know.”

Dean glanced at his friend again. He seemed so much more relaxed than he had been a few minutes ago. “Is it weird that even after all this, even after getting viable proof that God and angels and the Bible are rea… I’m still an atheist?”

Cas laughed in surprise. “No, Dean. You believe what you will believe, and you have always been a contrarian.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, then. Dean was proud of himself for distracting Cas from his issues with humanity, at least for a little while.

However, just after Dean shut off the Impala’s engine but before he opened his door, he looked at his friend again, and Cas’ shoulders were shaking with silent sobs.

“Dean,” he croaked. “I hate this. I hate this so much.”

And Dean just gathered 5’11” of trench coated angel into his arms and whispered into his messy black hair.

“I know, Cas. I know.”

~ v ~

Sammy was sick.

Who would have thought? Big, bad, scary, ESP-wielding hunter who’d fought through dislocated limbs and broken ribs and excessive internal bleeding, incapacitated by the flu.

But that was their lives, wasn’t it? The last thing you would ever expect was the one they got. At least Sam was safe back at the bunker while Cas and Dean went on this hunt – alone. Without ‘parental supervision’.

Sam had emphasized that part before they left. He may as well have tossed a package of rubbers at them and shouted, “go have fun!”

They weren’t.

Right now, they were sitting in a diner, eating diner food paid for with stolen money on fake credit cards, and definitely not talking about the case.

“Okay, eat these pancakes. The strawberries and the whipped cream-” Dean kissed his fingertips. “Delicioso.”

“That is somewhat racially insensitive of you, Dean,” Cas pointed out as he slid the plate Dean had shoved toward him across the table. “As a white man especially, you should be careful of the way you talk about women and people of color, and try not to appropriate their culture.” He dug into the pancakes with his fork and hummed approvingly. “This is very good,” he commented around a face full of sugar.

“I know, right? It’s like heaven on a plate.” Dean caught Cas’ amused look and flushed. “I mean- well- you know-”

“I understand your meaning, Dean,” his angel replied fondly. Then he sighed. “I am very tired,” he commented.

It was just after that that Dean had his fifth epiphany. Cas laid his head down on the table and Dean’s heart stopped beating. He stared at the angel as he realized it yet again.

This man is mine. This is my angel. He belongs to me, and I love this asshole like nothing else.

He wanted to say it out loud, but the words stuck in his throat, so he just choked out, “it’s okay.”

Cas gave him an indulgent look that could have meant anything. Dean wondered if he was finally getting it.

(Spoiler alert: he wasn’t. It took him two full days.)

~ +1 ~

Cas halted the whole world with his revelation.

Dean was listening to Journey on his iPod, sitting in the library with his roommates as they had a friendly but extremely nerdy debate about something that some dead white guy had done three hundred years ago. But then Cas stopped mid-sentence, turned a full 180, and stared at Dean with an awed and shocked expression.

The hunter pulled his earbuds out. “Is something up?” he prompted expectantly, waving the device around.

“You love me.” It wasn’t a question and, in all honesty, it never had been. Dean was destined to love this angel from the moment he was born. “Don’t you?”

Dean smiled. “Cas, you already know the answer to that. But what about you?”

“I would like to hear you say it,” Cas admitted.

Dean’s smile, if possible, got even bigger. “I love you,” he said simply. “But what about you?” he repeated.

Cas’ grin was face-splitting, somehow both blindingly angelic and sharply human. It was a painful sort of beauty to behold.

“Dean Winchester, I love you.”