Dean starts falling in love with him on a slow Sunday morning under slanted sunlight that slips through the gaps in the trees.
It's a precarious thing, Castiel knows. Almost a stumble, tripping over a root he's not expecting to be there. He smiles when he realizes Castiel is beside him, even before he's laid eyes on him. It's an unconscious smile, something naturally sweet, something unknown and crafted unawares. Castiel wishes he could fill his pockets with all those like it, like candies to carry around with him.
"I see why you like it out here, Cas," Dean tells him, the warmth in his eyes depthless, unending. Castiel could drown in it. Sometimes, he feels that he is. "It's kinda nice, huh?"
"It is," Castiel agrees. "It's calming."
Dean makes a low, considering sound as he scans their surroundings. The arching trees above them, stripped bark almost a sparkling gray with the sun glittering over the dew that clings to it. The leaves underfoot, damp with the cool humidity that hangs over and under everything, mostly in the balance, wet in a way that feels like mist. The Bunker in the backdrop, looming in washed-out pewter and dashed with rust—seemingly abandoned, yet a home where it's assumed to be gutted and left bare.
Castiel knows when Dean gets an idea. It's in the way his eyes brighten, shoulders settling a little taller, his eyebrows twitching as he gazes at the two trees to their right. The idea—whatever it is—seems to crawl right through his whole body, making him shift, making him move with it until he's got his hands stuffed in his pockets and his lips pursed with serious contemplation. It has him slowly dragging his eyes from the trees to look at Cas instead, oh so expressive about his many secrets.
There is this thing Dean will do, this thing he has done for a very long time. He flicks his gaze over Castiel's face, up and down, a quick pass like he's still trying to learn him after all these years. Castiel adores it, the roaming gaze that seems to be instinctive and unplanned, like Dean can't help it. He has always liked it, and Dean never seems to know that he's doing it. If he ever realizes it, he'll snatch his gaze away and force himself to stop, so Castiel has long since learned not to do anything that will call attention to it.
He's doing it again now, studying Castiel, taking him in unhindered. It takes some time before Dean looks at him solidly, holding his gaze. By then he's already gone too still, frozen, anchored in place by his own distraction. Castiel counts the number of times Dean has swallowed or licked his lips—this time, it's three for the first and two for the second. It's either anticipation or nerves, or both, and Castiel has spent a good portion of the last decade or so fascinated with the ritual. He makes Dean's mouth go dry. He always has.
"Those two trees kinda look like a doorway, huh?" Dean asks, casting his gaze to the trees in question, tilting his head a little. "Right through 'em, there's that open area. You see it? Be a good place for some sort of gazebo or something, don't ya think?"
Castiel considers that for a moment, looking at the trees and onward between them. He can see what Dean means, so he nods. "That'd be nice."
"You'd have some place to sit out here," Dean muses, his eyebrows crinkling together. Thinking and thinking. Castiel enjoys watching him do it, turning a problem over and over to examine the angles, an engineer's mind. For him to believe he's destructive, he's so very inclined to building off of things, rather than tearing them down. "Hell, it could be one of those gazebos with the swing installed into it. Like, a porch swing. Sit out there, enjoy the breeze and fresh air. You'd like it."
"Yes," Castiel confirms, because he would. It warms him to know that Dean is already aware of that.
"Huh." Dean narrows his eyes and looks out past the trees for a little longer, then purses his lips again. After a long moment, his face relaxes as he looks over at Castiel once more. "Well, I gotta head into town. You need anything?"
"No, but thank you," Castiel murmurs.
Dean bobs his head and flicks another glance through the trees, then he takes a solid step back. "Alright, I'll be back later."
Castiel smiles at him and is rewarded with a quick flash of a crooked smile in response before Dean ducks his head and starts picking his way back towards the Bunker. Castiel watches him go, tracing the line of his shoulders, how they shift; the scrunch of fabric from where his jacket meets his jeans, an outline of a gun underneath; the curve on the inside of his legs, his boots a foundation to his easy stride.
The hill dips down, sinking Dean out of sight. As he goes, he throws a quick glance over his shoulder, looking back. Castiel shamelessly continues to watch him, looking directly at him, and Dean whips back around as he picks up his pace. Castiel's lips twitch, a small curl of fondness pulsing in his chest.
Once Dean is out of sight, Castiel turns and looks between the trees, wondering at all the different ways in which people look at the world. Much the same, he marvels at all the different ways Dean is prone to looking at him. For a second, just a split second there, he'd looked like a man in love.
"Good god, something has got him started," Sam mutters, standing next to Castiel with his eyebrows raised as Dean marches through the room with a tool bag, not paying them any attention.
"He does seem...focused," Castiel can't help but agree, his head tilted as Dean stomps up the stairs and disappears outside.
Sam clicks his tongue. "He stole your truck yesterday, you know. Used it to haul multiple trips of wood and bricks. I don't know what project he's got planned, but it's already looking like an obsession."
"It's not stealing," Castiel counters. "Dean is welcome to everything I have."
"Uh huh." Sam shoots him a look, something mildly pointed but mostly just apologetic. "You've been doing good. Or, it seems that way, at least. How have you been holding up with...ya know?"
Castiel squints at him, unsure what Sam is attempting to say. "I don't know, actually."
"Just—just, um, you two. I mean, you know I don't get involved, but…" Sam shrugs a little awkwardly, clearing his throat. "If you need to—talk, I guess, you can… Well, I know he's my brother, but you're my friend, so if you needed to—to—"
"Ah," Castiel says, suddenly getting it. He's amused in an instant. "No, Sam, there's nothing I need to discuss. I'm fine. More than, even."
"Oh." Sam blinks. "So, are you two...uh…?"
"Not—" Castiel narrows his eyes, considering his options, "—yet, or definitively, or indisputably. Take your pick. Either they all work, or none of them do."
Sam's lips twitch. "So, what, you've got the idea that you two might…"
"Sam, your brother loves me. How he does is for him to know," Castiel murmurs, sighing.
"And you to find out," Sam says. He shakes his head and crosses his arms. "Yeah, I hear you. I mean, you could always ask."
Castiel hums. "I could, but he doesn't have an answer right now."
"I could, like, put in a good word for you, or something," Sam offers a touch sheepishly. "Maybe drop some hints. Give him a little bit of a nudge. I'd do that for you, man."
"As kind as that offer of solidarity is, I'll refuse. I don't need anything out of him that he doesn't already give," Castiel tells him.
"You really love him," Sam says softly, huffing out a quiet laugh.
"Yes," Castiel agrees. Yes. Always. As limitless as the sky that stretches into an endless universe.
"Well," Sam starts, only to cut himself off as Jack comes shuffling into the room, clanking a little ridiculously as he does.
There's a tool belt wrapped around his chest, much like an ammo belt would be, crossing over one shoulder. Various hammers and wrenches hang from it, knocking into each other with every step that he takes. When he sees them, he beams.
"Jack, what are you doing?" Castiel asks, his eyebrows folding together.
"I'm helping," Jack declares cheerfully. "Dean said I could wear the tool belt."
Sam snorts. "Oh, I'm not getting involved in this. Good luck to the both of you. I'm going to go call Eileen and not get dragged into Dean's project."
With that, he carries on his way up the hall, and Castiel eyes Jack curiously. He ushers him out the door, following Jack outside, unsure if he should be as amused as he is by the sway and clatter of the tools hanging off of him. Jack seems pleased enough, so the amusement remains unstifled.
Whatever Dean is doing, Castiel can't help but be warmed by his willingness to include Jack. They have had something of a strained relationship, a result of tensions and mistakes previously unaddressed being given the space to actually surface between them. It's not so much that they're rehashing things from their history; it's more that they never actually buried their hatchet, so to speak.
Dean and Jack have an unquestionable fondness for one another, and outside of that, a complicated love that was put to the test too much, long before it could solidify into something unshakeable. With time, things have eased between them, and they've both made an obvious effort to mend the patches in their relationship. Castiel has firmly stayed out of it, but little delights him the way seeing them interact positively with one another does.
Such as now.
Dean is located past the two trees, a pen between his teeth as he holds up an extended measuring tape. His eyes are narrowed in concentration, and he's tapping a small, wooden pike into the ground like he's marking his place. When Jack clanks towards him, he looks up and grins around the pen, the corners of his eyes crinkling up.
"Y're li' a walwin' 'ool 'el," Dean declares, then rolls his eyes and spits out the pen to hang it off the collar of his shirt. He quickly translates. "You're like a walking tool belt, kid. I wasn't expecting you to wear it like that, but uh, whatever works."
"How can I help?" Jack asks, earnest and eager.
"C'mere. You're on raking duty," Dean says, waving Jack over with his hand.
Castiel watches with his head cocked as Dean points out the rake, then spends the next few minutes showing Jack what area he wants the leaves cleared from. Jack's more than happy to do it, and Dean only has to readjust the rake in his hands one time before he seems to get the hang of it.
Slowly, Castiel approaches, mildly curious. He thinks he has an idea of what's going on here, but he doesn't want to assume. Dean shoots him a look as he draws closer, a glance that drifts over and lingers for a beat too long, then darts away before bouncing right back. He's gripping the now-retracted measuring tape so tightly that his knuckles are pale and bloodless.
"What are you doing?" Castiel asks.
"I figured—I mean, I've got the time, and you said you would like—" Dean cuts himself off, gesturing around the small clearing a little jerkily. "I ain't got nothing else to do. Anyway, you wanted—um. Just, I can—I can do this for you, so I thought…"
Castiel is struck, once again, by Dean's proclivity for showing his affection through actions. A physical manifestation of it, his very own creation in some ways, an act that can be tangible. Words often mean so little to him, as he has watched iron-clad truths wither into lies, promises broken time and time again, and declarations lose all meaning. Doing something for someone, or to someone, is real in a way words simply can't be for him. Even if it's just in that moment, it's real.
Sometimes, the loudest Dean gets about caring for him is when he hasn't said anything at all.
Truthfully, Castiel knows that there are implications in the words I can do this for you, a suggestion that there's something he cannot. It's not disheartening the way Dean must assume it is, the way it would be for others. Castiel does not demand anything that Dean would not offer to him willingly.
"You don't have to," Castiel tells him.
"I know, but I—" Dean clears his throat and looks away, shrugging. "Like I said, I don't have anything better to do."
"Would you like my help?" Castiel asks.
Dean's head whips towards him. "What? No, dude. It's for—" He halts. He opens his mouth. He closes it. He looks away again. "Uh, thanks, but me and the kid can handle it. You can hang out if you want; I know how much you like it out here."
Castiel wonders if Dean knows that he can hear all the things that he leaves unsaid. I know, but I—want to, Castiel finishes. It's for—you, Castiel fills in. He has perfected the art of understanding the things Dean can't bring himself to say, getting better over time. It has been a gradual process, cultivated through paying attention, a habit formed through the years that felt natural long before having a body ever did. That willingness to put in the effort, so curious, so intrigued. Drawing closer, studying him, trying to unearth the unspoken things that never feel like secrets, the things that seem trapped away within him. Castiel wanted to know him in the ways no one else ever has, or ever will. He thinks, in many ways, that he got his wish.
To know him is to love him. Castiel never stood a chance. He laid his weapons down at the altar of Dean Winchester the moment he understood his testimony, and he only picked them up again in his stead. To this day, even now, Castiel studies him like a devout man studies his bible, determined to draw the gospel into himself until he knows it by heart.
It has gotten startlingly easier to do since his divulgence, though it's said that unburdening oneself through confession can offer clarity in unexpected ways. Castiel will have to agree. Certain things he couldn't see before has become so clear to him now. It's liberating.
"If you change your mind and want my help, I'd be happy to give it," Castiel murmurs, lips curling up.
"Yeah, I know," Dean mumbles, a flush of red rising underneath his freckles. He always has more during the summer, and Castiel finds himself thinking of the saying that freckles are marks left behind where an angel has kissed you. If only, if only.
Dean mumbles something and makes his way back over to continue bringing life to his plan. Castiel smiles against his will, and he watches.
"Whatcha readin', Cas?"
Blinking, Castiel looks up from where he's perched on a lone tree stump, not too far away from where Dean's making headway on the gazebo. He has apparently decided it was time for a break when Castiel wasn't paying attention, wandering over with a bottle of water in his hands. There's a truly ruinous sheen of sweat clinging to him, dampening his t-shirt—he looks like he's shining.
"I found an old journal in one of the storage rooms," Castiel murmurs, holding up the worn journal in question. "It belonged to a resident of the Men of Letters. One of their wives, I believe."
Dean's eyebrows jerk up. "Oh? Got some hot gossip? Anything about my grandfather in there?"
"This predates him, it seems," Castiel admits, glancing down at the book. "It belonged to a woman named Cordelia, and she wasn't a Men of Letters, but she lived with her husband in the Bunker. From what I've gathered, she was having an affair with one of the other female residents—a Men of Letters acolyte. She has written quite a bit of poetry."
"Holy shit. Secret lesbians," Dean mutters, peering down at the journal in surprise. "Poetry, though? Roses are red, violets are blue; I want to leave my husband, oh what do I do? Shit like that?"
Castiel chuckles quietly and shakes his head. "Not as such. It's more...violent in nature, generally."
"Violent?" Dean asks, narrowing his eyes.
"Cordelia had very strong feelings for Iris. There was little they could do to be together at the time, so I believe the longing became...passionate," Castiel muses, eyebrows raised as he looks down at the poem he's currently reading.
Dean snorts. "Passion isn't automatically violent, dude. I ain't buying it."
"Hm. Listen." Castiel trails his finger down the page to find where he left off, nearly finished, and he picks it right back up. "Eat my heart, for it is yours. I have given it to you for nourishment, a love so consuming that it will leave me starving, and you satisfied ad infinitum. It is worth it to hunger so you may be satiated. Eat my heart, eat my heart, taste me as I crave you. My love, you shall never be hungry again."
Castiel glances up and catches Dean already staring down at him, and for a second, it's as if everything goes silent in their surroundings. Dean is visibly holding his breath, a result of it hitching in his throat and getting stuck there. His fingers are slack around the water bottle and seeming to grow weaker by the second, his wide-open eyes blinking rapidly when the bottle slips from his grip to land on the ground with an audible crinkle. He jolts, exhaling shakily, and the spell is broken.
"Um. Uh, yeah. Violent," Dean chokes out, crouching down to grab the bottle, not quite meeting Castiel's eyes. His face is so very red, and he does not stand back up.
Castiel smiles at him. "It may be violent, but it's not destructive. From what I've read, they loved each other gently. It's come up in recent entries that they wanted to run away and grow old with one another."
"Do they manage it?" Dean mumbles.
"I haven't found out yet," Castiel admits. "I think it's getting closer. Cordelia's husband is starting to suspect something."
Dean's lips suddenly twitch, and then he's grinning right at Castiel, his eyes bright with amusement. "Are you reading about two lesbians and treating it like it's a story, even though it's real?"
"I'm aware that it's real," Castiel says, rolling his eyes. Dean exasperates him so. "That does not mean the history isn't intriguing."
"You, uh—" Dean pauses, working his bottom lip between his teeth as he considers Castiel, clearly uncertain. Castiel wishes he wouldn't look at him directly whilst doing that. It makes some of his more carnal desires harder to ignore. "I mean, you don't have to tell me, but you...relate to it? Because you're, ya know, um—because you're—"
Castiel's eyebrow sweeps up against his will, an automatic response—so human of him to have instinctive reactions now, when he expressed so little before. "Because of my preferences?"
Dean clamps down on his bottom lip so hard that the impressions of his teeth turn the bruised pink of them into a colorless white. He frees it slowly, the color returning as his lip settles back in place. Castiel looks at it for a moment, the surge of want coiling tight in his chest, hot as a brand. He wants to bite it and knows—oh, how he knows that wishing to do so won't help him in the future. It'll be on his mind every time he looks at Dean's mouth. That's how acknowledging his desires always go. He shapes them out and lets them form fully, and then he never escapes them. They live under his skin from that point forward, aching to be acted on.
"Right, your…" Dean waves the hand not gripping his water bottle around lazily, flippantly, though his fingers are stiff. He looks at Castiel, then looks away, eyes narrowing. "Those. Whatever they...are."
Castiel is struck with the idea that this may be, in some ways, very confusing for Dean. While he himself doesn't operate on human constraints cultivated by a misguided society, Dean has been exposed to it for years. He can see why this may be ever so slightly muddled in Dean's mind. It's not as if Castiel has ever voiced these things before, and he hasn't since the one time that he did. Clarification is clearly necessary for all the ways it wasn't clear enough.
"My preferences are just you," Castiel informs him, refusing to mince his words. He has known for years now that Dean appreciates direct words, being blunt, straight to the point. The only thing he's ever wanted to talk around was the thing between them, whatever that is, but Castiel is no longer doing that. Ah, the freedom in confession.
Dean purses his lips in thought. Please stop, Castiel thinks, staring helplessly. No, don't, he counters inwardly when Dean's mouth relaxes as he wrinkles his nose. "Just me, huh?" he asks skeptically. "So, what, your type is just...assholes with pretty eyes?"
"My type is Dean Winchester," Castiel says flatly, heaving a sigh. For him to be so intelligent…
"That's...limiting," Dean murmurs, his voice weak. He's turning red again. And, true to form, he's searching for a way around it in a heartbeat. "What you're saying is, if I had a twin, you'd—"
"He would be beautiful," Castiel admits, "but he would not be you."
"Jesus, Cas," Dean mumbles, reaching up with his free hand to rub the side of his face, shaking his head. He exhales slowly, hanging his head and dragging his hand to grip the back of his neck.
"But," Castiel continues mildly, glancing down at the journal thoughtfully, "there is something to the idea that a woman's love for another woman resonates with me more deeply than, say, a love formulated between a man and a woman."
Dean clears his throat, lifting his head and nodding at Castiel. "I reckon it would. Makes sense. 'Cause you, uh, relate to the shit you understand."
"I think you'd relate to Iris," Castiel muses and completely ignores the low, choking noise Dean gives in response. "She is, in many ways, a Hunter exposed to the bizarre and deadly. If nothing else, I imagine her disdain for murderous monsters would be something that would resonate."
Dean opens his mouth, then closes it, then tips his head in a half-nod. "Yeah, okay, you got me there."
"You're not going to relate to everything you read. For example, Cordelia is a housewife who cooks and cleans for all the residents in the Bunker, and she's expected to produce children for her husband when she has no desire to," Castiel explains. He frowns down at the journal. "I don't relate to any of that."
"Good point." Dean raises his eyebrows, then his eyebrows drop and draw together. "Do you, uh, relate to the whole...violent love thing?"
Castiel stares at him. "Are you asking if my love for you has ever been impassioned to border on violent, or even past that border?"
"I mean…" Dean swallows, the dry quality to it loud amidst the shifting leaves and whistling birds. "You don't—you don't have to tell me, Cas."
"But you're asking."
"I guess I am."
Castiel hums quietly, looking away, considering. He doesn't have to think about his answer; he knows what that is. It's more about phrasing. He has learned that the way he says certain things to Dean matters just as much as the words he uses.
The truth is, Castiel has loved Dean in every way imaginable. Violently? Yes. He has loved Dean to the point that he'd be willing to ruin everything for him, kill for him, die for him. He has done those things, in fact. He's loved Dean so much that he has wanted to take Dean and shake him, rattle him in his frame, force him to see it, to understand. I rebelled and I did it—all of it—for you. He has loved Dean so selfishly and possessively that he's marked him, that he's wanted to wrap himself around Dean until no other could look at or touch him. He's beat Dean bloody and still thought him lovely; he's stared at Dean covered in the blood of an innocent and still found him beautiful; he's been the target of Dean's most hateful rage and loved him with a ferocity that matched it, unending and just as brutal.
Just the same, Castiel has loved Dean tenderly. Selfless in that he so desperately wants Dean to be happy, no matter what that happiness looks like, whether or not he's included in it at all. Loving him with soft affection, wanting him to smile and needing him to have reason to. An unwavering, unconditional love that exists no matter Dean's flaws—in spite of and because of. A kind love that makes him happy to do it, something that doesn't fester or ache, something that makes him look at Dean and be so thankful that he's alive. It's not a demanding love in the least, nothing violent about it. There's freedom in it, in loving him so.
In the end, Castiel settles on the safest response, which is a very short, very honest, "Yes."
"Oh," Dean says, and it comes out a little hoarse, scraping in the back of his throat.
"You're making exceptional progress," Castiel points out, simply because the silence has become stifling. Dean's eyes bulge slightly, and Castiel raises his eyebrows again. "On the gazebo, Dean. That's what I was talking about."
Dean's breath explodes out of him, and he coughs loudly, blinking rapidly. "Right. I—knew that. But uh, yeah, it's...going well. You like it?"
"I do," Castiel murmurs, casting his gaze over to it, his lips curling up.
He can't help but be pleased by it. Dean truly has been working very hard on it, sometimes wasting most of the day to come out here and continue building. The foundation is solid, outlined in gray stone that almost seems to glitter when the sun hits it just right. It's bigger than Castiel thought it would be and more of an octagon in shape. Dean's currently painting and polishing the floor of it, thick wood painted a hickory brown and glossed with varnish. He likes the sound it makes when Dean's boots walk over it, a slight echo of tread on planks.
"It's so easy to make you happy," Dean murmurs, like he's marveling at it, a small wrinkle forming between his eyebrows.
Castiel smiles at him directly, unabashedly. "You don't have to do this to make me happy, Dean. I already am."
"But you like it, though," Dean says, knowing it.
"Well, it's kind of you," Castiel tells him. "It's also quite a lot of effort. I am...appreciative."
Dean huffs a quiet laugh. "Are you?"
"Very," Castiel confirms, holding his gaze. His smile has fled, ushered away by parted lips.
"Yeah, I can...see that," Dean mumbles, his eyes flicking over Castiel's face, apparently seeing something. He swallows, and the pink tinge under his freckles from the sun and heat flares a little brighter. "You can just say it, you know. M'not gonna be a dick about it. I mean, it's—it's basically getting a gift from your...from… Well, from your—your—"
"Beloved?" Castiel suggests.
Dean drops the water bottle again, his fingers spasming. "I—I was just gonna say your crush, Cas, goddamn."
"That insinuates brief infatuation. What I feel for you is not and has never been something that will simply pass," Castiel tells him.
"That's—I don't know what to say to that," Dean croaks weakly.
Castiel smiles again. "Okay. In any case, it is nice that you've decided to do this for me. You don't have to, of course, but I appreciate it all the same."
"I just thought…" Dean shakes his head and sighs, grimacing slightly. "I don't know what I thought. I just… I do want you to be happy. You know that, right, Cas? I dunno if I ever told you that, but I do."
"You never mentioned it, no, but I'm aware." Castiel tilts his head. "As I said, I am happy. Now more than ever before. Dean, I am."
"Yeah, but—happier," Dean insists, frowning, frustrated. "You should be—I want you to be—"
"Dean," Castiel says as gently as he can, because he's clearly struggling to vocalize what he's currently feeling, what he's doing and what he wants and what his actions mean.
It makes Castiel's heart thud in his chest—a distraction, not a priority. Yes, he knows what Dean's struggling with at the moment. He has been there before. That first need taking root within, something he couldn't get away from, just the feeling that someone else deserves better, deserves everything, and longing to give it to them whatever it takes or costs.
It is frustrating not understanding it, having to adjust to it becoming a part of you, a constant necessity that has nothing to do with yourself. Castiel still deals with it to this day, and he's much more fond of it now than in the beginning. Back then, it confused him, as well as infuriated him. He shouldn't—he couldn't, and then he did anyway.
He regrets precisely nothing in that regard.
But, whether Dean is feeling that or not, Castiel needs him to understand that he is happy. He knows Dean, and he knows exactly where this could lead, if left unchecked. Eventually, he'd believe that there is no gift in the world that would suffice to make Castiel happy other than the one thing he's outright said he wants. When he reaches that conclusion, he'll offer himself up in a heartbeat, and Castiel knows it.
It won't be organic. It won't happen naturally. And that's worse than if it never happens at all. Dean does not see himself the way Castiel sees him. His self-worth is abysmal, quite frankly, and he'd essentially give himself over because, in his mind, he might as well. Castiel can follow his train of thought before it even leaves the station. Cas died for me. He's my best friend. He should get to have what he wants, and even if I don't want the same, what does it matter? I care about him, I don't want to hurt him, it could be worse. Just that, pretending, removing his own wants from it entirely, as if they mean nothing.
Today, it's a gazebo. Tomorrow, it's his body. Castiel won't allow that to happen.
"I just—" Dean cuts himself off, shaking his head, clearly still frustrated.
"Dean, I need you to know that I am—very pleased with my life," Castiel informs him. "The gazebo you're building is kind and lovely, and it does—it truly does please me, yes, but it's not something I require. You don't have to. You never have to do anything for me, not unless you want to. Perhaps it's cliche, but it is genuinely the thought that counts."
Dean glances at him, holding his gaze. The frown on his face hasn't gone away. "But you weren't happy before. You can't expect me just to forget that, Cas."
"I am now," Castiel murmurs.
"How do I know that for sure?" Dean whispers.
"How can you doubt it?" Castiel counters, narrowing his eyes. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Nothing has really...changed," Dean says.
Castiel blinks. "I'll have to disagree. Jack is safe, and he has a home. Claire is well, and she gets to experience love. The world is free from the turmoil Chuck regularly put it through, and you and Sam are free from being forced to suffer during perpetual attempts of saving it. Those are changes. Very good changes, in my opinion."
"Yeah, but changes to do with you," Dean clarifies. "Like, you know, your personal life."
"Well, I get to love you openly and freely," Castiel says, tilting his head in consideration. "That's a change. A positive one, I would say."
Dean swallows again. "Even though we're not…"
Castiel is helplessly pleased that Dean doesn't seem to know what they're not either. How does one describe what they aren't when there is so much that they are, or could be? He doesn't have a solidified word for it, no more than Castiel does.
The longer the silence stretches where Castiel doesn't offer some sort of label, the more flustered Dean seems to get. He opens and closes his mouth, looking a little lost. There's quite a bit of helpless confusion clouding his gaze, the green of his eyes seeming so much brighter with the trees outside surrounding them. It appears that this is the first time it has ever occurred to him that they're too much of what they are to be anything they aren't.
Castiel never really imagined that Dean would one day fall in love with him, but he's mystified with watching the process, if that's what this is.
"As I said," Castiel murmurs, lips curling up, "I am happy, Dean. More than you'll ever know."
Sometimes, Castiel catches Dean watching him in between building the gazebo. He'll be stalled out, swaying in mid-motion like a stray thought has halted him in place, or perhaps just looking at Castiel manages to trip him up.
It's very close to being finished at this point. Castiel has watched its progress over the past few weeks, enthralled by the way Dean works—how his body moves, how his hands fit around various tools, how gruff his voice gets when he's cursing because he's hot or just dropped something on his foot. Jack has been a big help, and even Sam and Eileen have offered assistance when they felt like it. Mostly, Dean prefers to do it himself, it seems.
He refuses to let Castiel do anything. Wouldn't be much of a gift if you helped, he'd muttered, and Castiel had left it at that. He thinks he understands.
Nonetheless, Castiel dutifully comes out here to watch and read. He has finished Cordelia's journal by now. He was very pleased to read that they'd gotten their happy ending, though not without Iris first shooting Cordelia's husband in the knee and defecting from the Men of Letters. For a life of love, Castiel can't blame her. He'd do the same.
In a way, he did.
It's that thought that keeps him from looking away when Dean is caught, once again, looking at him. Something in his chest quivers, almost like he's not getting quite enough air, but he holds steady. He's been so curious as of late.
Castiel thinks back to that slow Sunday morning when he first acknowledged the idea that Dean might be starting to have feelings for him. In the few weeks since, it's almost as if there has been as much progress in that regard as with the gazebo. Dean just keeps looking at him, and he does it so often that Castiel struggles to find a time that he isn't. Years and years ago, Dean struggled to hold his gaze for long periods of time. Now? It's all he does, as if he can't bring himself to look away.
Well, as of this very moment, Dean's staring right at him with hammer dangling limply in his grasp, his eyes wide and bright even from that far away. He continues to stare, so Castiel stares back, that quivering sensation growing worse by the second.
It's not until Dean drops the hammer, fumbling with it, that he actually breaks the gaze. It makes him jolt, his shoulders jerking and his head ducking as he rushes to get the hammer again. Castiel feels his lips curl up in automatic response, and Dean doesn't look at him again for a while.
Castiel remembers what that felt like when he first came to understand it. That persistent urge to look, a hunger that had nothing to do with consumption, yet a feeling he was sure he could survive off of. It was always enough to just look at Dean for a little bit longer, again and again and maybe forever, if Dean would let him, if he could be so lucky.
All of it is terrifying in a visceral way, all that more so because it's not something one can escape. Once you're falling, that's all there is. It doesn't matter what other obligations require your focus or your devotion. It doesn't matter if you want to stop or go back. That foundation of safety has crumbled beneath you, and then you're falling, falling, falling.
As an angel, it should have been the most painful and disgraceful experience of Castiel's existence. Because of Dean, it has been the most precious.
"Hey, Cas, c'mere for a sec," Dean calls out.
Castiel sits aside his current book and stands from the tree stump, making his way over curiously. Dean's currently installing the swing, so he must require some help. So far, he hasn't let Castiel do much of anything, so this is new.
"Yes?" Castiel asks, stepping up into the gazebo and immediately smiling when Dean heaves a sigh, grimacing a little.
"Do me a favor and hold up that side of the swing a little," Dean mutters, shooting him a warning look. "Just that. You don't get to do anything else."
"I'm happy to contribute," Castiel reminds him, moving over to do as he's asked.
Dean grunts and stands up on his toes as he wrenches the chain through the anchor-mount, yanking it down to make the swing level. Castiel has a very simple task overall, just holding the arm of the swing up a little to give Dean the leverage he needs. He's also been given a direct view of Dean's arms, which are very distracting. Castiel knows better than to stare, but there is something very compelling about the way Dean's body moves.
"There we go," Dean declares with a huff once he's finished, dropping his arms and stepping back. He glances over at Castiel and flaps a hand, scowling at him. "Stop it, you're good. Let it go. It's done."
It takes grandiose effort to bite back the words yes, dear. Truly, it pains him to swallow them down. Humor so rarely strikes him as genuinely funny, so it's a shame he can't share this. Something in him worries Dean won't find it amusing the way he does.
"Anything else?" Castiel asks instead.
Dean shakes his head. "Nah. I got a few finishing touches to handle, but I'll probably do it tomorrow. It's mostly done now. Whaddya think?"
"The same thing I thought when you proposed the idea to begin with," Castiel says. "It's lovely."
"Right? I mean, where can you get a better view than this?" Dean jokes, cracking a smile and turning to lean against the railing, swinging his arm out to gesture at the surrounding woods.
Castiel hums thoughtfully and moves to stand next to him, squinting out at the trees and the various flowers that bloom from large bushes. It is beautiful, admittedly, but Castiel has seen far better views in his time as an angel. No view better than Dean, of course, but as far as nature goes, the world has so much to offer. A random patch of woods in Kansas can't really compare, no matter how fond of it Castiel actually is.
He glances over to tell Dean as much, but instantly gets distracted by Dean's current distraction. He's staring fixedly down at where their arms are brushing, not even blinking. Castiel inwardly chastises himself and pulls away minutely. He doesn't mean to do this; it's genuinely an accident.
In many ways, Castiel relates to the way a compass works. Drawn over and over, consistently, to the north—magnetized, quite literally. As such, comparatively, Dean is his North. There is something so sincerely magnetic about him, and Castiel always finds himself moving towards him without noticing. It's not even necessarily about the urge to touch, especially not at first. He just wants to be closer. He always has. The desire to touch came with time, but Castiel is usually better about steering clear of such things. Or, he believes he is.
Since unburdening himself and returning from the Empty, Castiel has been very careful not to overly indulge. He never endeavors to make Dean uncomfortable, so he's been operating under the assumption that Dean would appreciate him keeping his distance. He doesn't stand too close or reach out mindlessly to touch. It's constant self-correction and surprisingly hard to do.
If Dean has noticed, he hasn't mentioned it. Castiel thinks there are times that he's aware of it. He knows that Dean has caught him abruptly turning in the middle of the room to six next to Sam, or stand next to Eileen, or turn his gaze to Jack—all rather than automatically focusing on him, like a bees instinctive attraction to nectar. Whatever his response to it is, Castiel would not know. He was going through desperate lengths to keep his distance, after all. He can only assume that Dean was thankful for the effort.
"Why'd you do that?" Dean mumbles.
Castiel glances over at Dean, surprised to find him staring right at him with a frown. "Do what?"
"Ya know." Dean wiggles his shoulder a little bit, then clears his throat. "Pull away from me."
"I don't wish to make you uncomfortable," Castiel admits quietly, glancing away. He's frowning now, recalling the multiple times that Dean expressed discomfort because of Castiel's proximity.
There's a long moment of silence, then there's suddenly the weight of Dean's arm pressed against his again. Castiel blinks, turning to look at him, startled. Dean has his jaw clenched, and he's staring straight ahead, but he's leaning right into Castiel's space like they've done many times in the past. He's close. He's warm. He looks so very beautiful, a better view than anything this world could ever offer.
"Well, you don't," Dean mutters, his voice gruff and his eyes downcast.
"Okay," Castiel says simply, risking a longer look at Dean's side-profile. He stares, taking him in, studying him. He thinks he could do this forever and be content. He'd consider himself lucky.
Dean flicks his gaze at him. "What?"
"Nothing, I'm just...admiring," Castiel says.
"The view's that way." Dean waves a hand towards their surroundings again, red rising under his skin. His shoulders have gone tight with tension, and ah, there's the discomfort.
"Mm," Castiel agrees with a sigh, turning to scan outside the gazebo lazily. It doesn't compare. It's as disappointing as turning from the ocean to stare at a tiny, dull pebble. Something to appreciate, yes, but nothing quite like the crashing waves of the sea, the shifting ripples of the water where it blends far out, like the sky is kissing the distant tide. What is a pebble compared to that? Meaningless, really. He wonders what Dean would say if he simply asked to just look at him instead. He doesn't dare. "You know, Dean, there are better views."
"What?" Dean asks.
Castiel hums. "There are better views that I've been lucky enough to see. Beautiful mountains in Japan. Magnificent forests in Germany. Rivers in Iceland. Jungles, beaches, and canyons. Various views nature has created to be appreciated. There are many that I haven't seen as well."
"What, Kansas doesn't make the cut?" Dean blurts out, and the sharp edge to his tone makes Castiel frown.
"If I'm honest, it doesn't compare," Castiel tells him, because that's true. The world has so much to offer.
Dean grunts and taps his hand to the rail. "Right, there's just so much out there to see."
"Yes," Castiel agrees. His lips curl up thinking about it. He thinks he'd like to take Dean to see them, though he knows airplane rides are out of the question. There are beautiful places in the United States, however, and he can imagine the wonder on Dean's face when met with the sight of them. He's never really been able to appreciate the world's beauty, despite all the places he's been.
"And you wanna go see 'em?" Dean grits out.
Castiel smiles a little bigger, helpless to stop it. He's thinking about it a little more seriously now. If Dean would be agreeable, they could go. Why shouldn't they? With this newfound freedom, what would it hurt to visit places worth basking in? All the beautiful views in the world, and Castiel is sure that they'd only be worth looking at if Dean was there alongside him to see them as well.
The mere thought is peaceful. Dean tipping his head back with an awed smile to stare at trees so tall that the tops aren't visible, making jokes about Sam's height. Dean watching the sea, his toes in the sand. Dean perched on Baby's hood, gazing contentedly at a mountain in the distance, an unconscious smile on his lips. All those views to admire, and Castiel knows he'd be looking at Dean instead.
"I'd like to," Castiel murmurs.
"Well, you can't," Dean snaps.
Castiel jolts a little, yanked from what he's quite sure is daydreaming of a sort. He glances over at Dean, inexplicably stung. He knows Dean can't read his mind, but the blatant refusal feels like a rejection anyway. As with all of his desires, this one crawls into the heart of him, staying there, remaining. He's always going to want this now, only Dean has shut it down before the courage to ask could even form. In fact, Dean seems genuinely upset by the mere idea, and he doesn't even know what it is. Castiel doesn't understand, but he rarely does. Just when he thinks he has a better grasp on Dean, a moment such as now crops up to remind him that he never will.
Because he doesn't understand, he asks, "Why not?"
"'Cause you fucking can't," Dean tells him, turning to glare at him. "I don't give a damn if Kansas ain't nothing more than a stain on the wall to you, Cas. You're not goin' anywhere, and I'm not asking."
"I don't—" Castiel blinks, bracing one hand on the railing and turning to mirror Dean, eyeing him in confusion. He feels—as he sometimes does when it comes to Dean—that they're having two very different conversations. "Dean, what?"
"You don't get to leave, because you said—you told me you—" Dean's nostrils flare, and he looks away again, shaking his head. He inhales sharply and abruptly fixes Castiel with a glare. "I'm telling you that you can't. You're staying here. With me. I'm not askin', because I'm tired of wanting people to stay when they just wanna go."
"Dean," Castiel says, realization dawning on him as sudden as a lightning strike and just as powerful. He understands in an instant. He wants to correct the blatant miscommunication immediately, but Dean's not giving him the time to do so, it seems.
Apparently, he's gaining steam, by the looks of it. Arguing when there's nothing to argue about, as Dean is prone to doing. "No," he continues forcefully, slicing a hand through the air between them. "I don't care. I don't give a goddamn if it makes me selfish, Cas. You're staying. You said you love me, right? So, fucking prove it."
Castiel bristles without even meaning to. He narrows his eyes. "Maybe it's presumptuous of me, but I assumed the last twelve years I've spent being in love with you was proof enough."
"Shut up," Dean bites out, like a knee-jerk response, a reflex. His expression is solid and unwavering, locked into a scowl. "I knew—I knew you'd do this. I was waiting for it."
"Waiting," Castiel repeats harshly, rearing back a little in offense.
"What the fuck does it matter that you've got yourself convinced you're head over heels for me if you just wanna leave? It's bullshit, Cas. You're either dying, or you're out the door. Is it—do you even—"
"Convinced. Convinced? Are you doubting—"
Dean huffs, blinking hard and working his jaw. His whole body is tense. "It doesn't matter what you feel or don't. I don't know. I don't—I don't fucking know, so it doesn't—"
"I told you," Castiel snarls, resisting the strong impulse to reach out and shake Dean. "There isn't anything to doubt, Dean. You can't. You don't get to. I've put it as plainly as I can, and I don't know how to make it any clearer. You aren't allowed to say you don't know, because you do know, because I told you, you ass. I said it before, and I will say it again if you've forgotten—I love you. I am in love with you. My preferences are you. That has not changed, and it will not. How is this confusing for you?"
"Because you turn around and do shit like—like—" Dean waves a hand around, his words harsh, his fingers shaking. Castiel notices it and feels some of his irritation melt away. Dean's hands are shaking. He sounds—there's fear in his voice, the faintest tremble, barely perceptible. "And then you do this. So, I just—I don't care. You're not going. You're staying, and that's—that's all there is to it."
"Dean," Castiel says, his voice softening, the growl of annoyance drained away.
"No, stop. Don't." Dean is blinking again, fast and hard, and Castiel can suddenly see why he is. When the light catches his eyes right, they shine in a way that makes Castiel's chest go tight. "Whatever you're gonna say to explain, or to smooth it over, I don't wanna hear it. You don't get to leave me anymore. I've fucking had it up to here with that shit, so you don't get a choice. I'm not asking. If—if you want to go... If you don't want to stay—if you don't—"
The moment Dean's voice cracks, his breath hitching in his throat as abruptly jerks his head to the side, Castiel is moving without much forethought. He reaches out and places his hands on either side of Dean's neck, pressing his left thumb into Dean's jaw, urging him to look at him. Dean does, lips pressed into a thin line, blinking hard.
"Dean," Castiel murmurs, "when I said I'd like to see the beauty the world has to offer, I meant I'd like to do so with you. Given the choice, I would be by your side every day. If you're waiting for me to want to leave you, you'll be waiting for the rest of my life. All I want—all I have ever wanted—is to stay."
"Oh," Dean whispers, the tension in his face cracking into something a little more raw. He looks pinned somewhere between sheepish and hopeful, astonishingly enough. "Well, now I just feel stupid."
Castiel's lips twitch. "You're very smart, but you certainly have your moments."
"Right. You can—you should stay. If you want. I mean—" Dean lets out a startlingly high-pitched chuckle. Nervous. He's nervous. "Well, you do want to. Uh, you still do want to, right? Even though I, um, said you have to? I know you're a rebel, or whatever, but if you could—just this once—do what you're told, that'd be… I'd really appreciate it, man."
"Yes, Dean, I want to stay with you," Castiel assures him, smiling a little wider against his will. He watches the way Dean reacts to those words, how his chest stutters on an exhale, the way his eyes light up. He starts to pull his hands away now that he's gotten a handle on the situation, but Dean's hands snap up to catch his wrists.
Dean swallows, his fingers flexing around Castiel's wrists, squeezing. "That's somehow more romantic than just saying you love me."
"Is it?" Castiel asks, surprised. He can't imagine how that outweighs love, but Dean tends to be a very strange man when it comes to intimacy.
"Everyone in my life has wanted to leave at some point," Dean mumbles, staring down at where their hands are poised in the air, his eyebrows wrinkled. "I've never had someone want to stay for as long as they knew me, and definitely not as long as you have. People love me. Fine, whatever. But that isn't enough to make 'em want to be with me all the time. And I know why. I know I'm just—I know how I am, Cas. I know I'm a fuckin' trainwreck walking. I mean, hell, I just told you that you couldn't leave. That's not—that's pretty fucked up. It's even more fucked up that I meant it. Dunno how I was gonna make it work, but I meant it. So, I know I'm a mess, and I know people love me even when they know. But they still wanna leave at some point, or they used to, or it's best for 'em if I leave. You wanting to stay, even if you couldn't always, is—it's...ya know."
"I see," Castiel says softly, considering that thoughtfully. There's always something new to learn about Dean, and no matter what it is, it feels like he's been given a gift to learn it.
This makes him wonder how many times he left because he felt like he had to, even when he didn't want to, when Dean simply wanted him to stay. It makes him wonder at the times Dean has asked him to go, or refused to ask him to stay, and whether or not Dean simply wished that he would or could anyway. It makes him wonder about the times that he died and Dean's demeanor upon his returns, ranging from cheerful to relaxed to hopeful, all with an undercurrent of clinginess that had warmed Castiel to his core each time.
He does see, suddenly. Dean and his many complexities. He's so very tangled up, feeling so much and barely capable of expressing any of it. Love has never gotten him anywhere in life, for all that he's done everything because of it. Yes, every single good thing he has done for family and the world, he has done because of love. And every single awful thing he has suffered, he has done so despite love. It wouldn't be as romantic as a proclaimed wish to stay. What has love offered him besides loss? The promise of permanence would move him emotionally in a way that love can't.
"You did it again," Dean croaks.
Castiel frowns faintly. "Did what?"
Dean's fingers spasm around his wrists. "You pulled away. You've been—you kinda do it all the time these days, since getting back. Dunno why."
"As I said," Castiel says slowly, "I don't wish to make you uncomfortable."
"And I said you don't," Dean mutters, like a challenge. His eyebrows draw together as he tugs on Castiel's wrists, an unspoken nudge to touch him again. Permission.
"Dean," Cas murmurs, a warning in his tone, though he does place his hands right back where they were. Perhaps in many ways, he is strong. When it comes to Dean, he is far from it.
This is getting into dangerous territory, Castiel has to admit to himself, at least inwardly. Being given express permission to touch Dean is...concerning in more ways than one. To start, Castiel finds it much harder to focus when he can cup the warmth of Dean's skin in his palms. There's also the lines drawn to consider—or, more accurately, the lack thereof. At some point, there is too much touching, or touching where he isn't allowed, or both. If Dean doesn't tell him what's too much or where he isn't allowed to go, he's likely to make a mistake and cause discomfort. As of now, this is just in the area of the shoulders, close enough to them and barely draping the sides of his neck to be a problem. He's careful not to touch Dean's jaw again.
A more pressing issue is that Castiel worries Dean's starting to have the train of thought that he worked to derail a few weeks ago. It doesn't seem believable that Dean's in love with him. If he's falling in love is even questionable at this point, despite Castiel thinking he has been. He's suddenly struck with the worry that it's simply wishful thinking. Either way, there's no realm of possibility where Dean has enough feelings for him—if he ever will—to want contact like this. Dean's never wanted contact like this. It's far too close to intimacy.
"I don't get it, man," Dean says, soft and low, shuffling closer. He's flicking his gaze over Castiel's face, doing that thing that he does, that oh so very tempting thing. Swallowing and licking his lips. Anticipation? Nerves? Desire? Castiel sometimes wants to just ask outright, but he's not sure Dean even knows. "I don't get you. I just—don't."
Castiel has to take a fortifying breath, steadying himself. Calm, serenity, unaffected, he thinks, willing it to be true. Dean's proximity is a heady thing, and now is a terrible time to lose focus. "I'm not...sure what you mean, Dean. Anything that you'd like to know, you can simply ask. I have nothing to hide."
"Ever since you've been back, it's like—it's like you're just happy now," Dean tells him, scanning his face. "It's like you don't even want anything. It's like you've got everything you want already, but that can't be right. I don't get it."
"Should I be unhappy?" Castiel asks, most certainly confused now, vastly so.
"Well, no, but—just—" Dean exhales heavily and tugs lazily at the wrinkled fabric of Castiel's sleeve. It's actually a hoodie that Eileen bought him—black with the words she's 99% angel, but that 1%... Dean had cracked up the moment Eileen handed it over, and Castiel has worn it often ever since, just to see him smile. It's soft cotton, and Dean seems ever so slightly distracted by it now, his fingers plucking at it as he shakes his head. "It's just that you don't want the gazebo, ya know? You don't want a gift. You don't want to—to touch me. You don't—I don't know, Cas. You realize the first thing you've said you wanted is to stay? That's it. That's all you've wanted since getting back. And you're just happy with it."
"Again, I've told you about this before. Dean, do you even listen to me?" Castiel squints at him.
Dean's lips twitch. "Only, like, half the time."
"I feel a lot of your confusion about the things you don't get could be cleared up if you simply listened to me." Castiel rolls his eyes up and over, heaving a sigh, always so exasperated by Dean. "Once again, I don't require anything. Things have changed for the better. Truly, what am I lacking in life? The children I care about are healthy and safe. My friends are free to live kinder lives. And I, personally, don't have to swallow my love for you. What more could I want, Dean?"
"You told me you wanted me before you died," Dean states, the words bursting from him in a rush, his gaze snapping up to latch on Castiel's.
"I have you," Castiel says quickly.
"Not the way you wanted," Dean counters.
"That's—" Castiel forces himself to hold Dean's gaze, though it is a trial. This time, it's him who swallows thickly. "I also told you that there is joy in just saying it. Being it."
"Fuck that," Dean tells him forcefully. "That's bullshit."
"If so, the Empty would have never been summoned. I meant what I said, Dean. I'm thankful for—"
"No, no, I don't wanna hear what you feel like you're lucky to get. Like I'm god's gift to—"
Castiel raises his eyebrows. "Well, if you wish to be technical—"
"Stop it, Cas, I'm serious," Dean snaps, clearly frustrated. "We can't do this shit forever, man. At some point, it's just fucking stupid. You really wanna spend years going round and round in circles? You really don't want anything else?"
"You genuinely don't listen to me." Castiel glares at him and struggles not to remove his hands, knowing he'll regret it the moment he does, even if he does it out of spite. "I am happy. What more could I want?"
"Me, dumbass. You could want me," Dean says with a huff, tugging on Castiel's sleeve a little more insistently. He looks embarrassed and equally angry about that embarrassment.
Castiel wavers, opening his mouth and closing it. He proceeds with extreme caution, or he tries to. "Dean, I...do want you. Of course I do, but—"
"Okay, so great," Dean cuts in gruffly, clearing his throat and averting his eyes. He shrugs a little and resolutely does not meet Castiel's gaze. "You can have me. All you gotta do is—have me."
Suddenly, Castiel is as tired of talking in circles as Dean is. He's weary. This is almost painful to endure, and he's not willing to draw it out any longer. This will either erase their chances entirely, or it will reassure Dean that he's welcome to take his time. Either way, Castiel is in no mood to approach this situation with caution any longer.
"Dean," he declares firmly, "I want you only on the terms that the sentiment is returned. I refuse to demand anything from you, or take anything you offer unless it's authentic. Yes, of course I want you, but that is not the one thing I believed I couldn't have. I understand you may have misinterpreted it, but allow me to clarify. I want you to want me back. I want you to want me to stay as much I wish to. I want you to love me the same way that I love you. Those are things that you cannot give me through gifts, or your body; it has to be real. So, no, I can't just have you. And that's okay."
Dean's eyes snap up to his, and then he's just staring. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"That wasn't a joke, no," Castiel says.
"Come on, Cas, I fucking suck at shit like this," Dean mutters, grimacing. "I don't get how the hell you missed it. Dude, I built you a gazebo."
"That was very kind of you," Castiel admits.
"Kind. Kind." Dean rolls his eyes to the roof of said gazebo, then closes his eyes and sighs. "Jesus Christ, Cas. I thought—why the hell didn't you ask? You never even asked."
"Asked about your feelings, you mean."
"Yeah. You always have before. Always with the: talk to me, Dean. You're not fine, Dean. Yada, yada, yada. All that bullshit, and the one time… Jesus."
Castiel narrows his eyes. "Would you have known if I asked?"
"Yes!" Dean blurts out, nearly a shout. His eyes snap open as he stares at him incredulously. "I know my track record is shit, but it's been months since you've gotten back, Cas. You don't think your little Romeo and Juliet routine hasn't been playing in my head every goddamn night since?"
"I—well…" Castiel's eyebrows twitch together. "I assumed you were just… Well, you never said anything."
Dean stares at him blankly. "Well, how the hell was I supposed to know you even wanted—I mean, you've been walking around on rainbows since you got back, and it's like the easiest thing in the world for you to stay away from me. You didn't seem to want anything else, like saying what you had to say was all you wanted to do. What was I gonna do? Just walk up to you and say hey, you seem pretty happy with the way things are, but I'm crazy selfish and wanna shake things up even when they're really good for you?"
"Things are good for me," Castiel clarifies, chagrined despite himself. "I'm not opposed to them getting better, though. I thought they might have been. I'll admit, I was beginning to think you were starting to have feelings for me, but I didn't want to assume. I certainly didn't want to hope if that wasn't the case, and I didn't want to force it."
"Starting—" Dean releases a huff of disbelief, staring at him in a rather rude manner, as if he's perhaps an idiot. "Cas, buddy, I've been gone on you for fucking years. I blew past starting to have feelings a long time ago. I'm pathetic about you, don't you fucking know that? I built you a gazebo!"
Castiel's lips part as he sucks in a sharp breath, and his heart skips a beat. That can't be healthy. The effect Dean has on him is remarkable. "The—the gazebo didn't have to mean—"
"It meant. Cas, it meant," Dean interrupts loudly.
"Ah, okay. So you—so we're—" Castiel wrenches his hands back abruptly and blinks rapidly as he steps away, needing space between them. He breathes. He stares at Dean and almost can't look directly at him, somehow pinned between both. Weakly, all he can bring himself to say is, "I thought there was a chance that you started falling in love with me four Sundays ago."
"You're off by, like, six hundred," Dean tells him.
"That doesn't make any sense," Castiel whispers, looking down at his hands. He doesn't know why he does, only that he has studied his hands in moments when he felt lost. This might be the most lost he has ever felt. "Dean, that doesn't make any sense. You have never—not once in the time I've known you—shown even a hint of...of…"
"Maybe you just didn't pay attention," Dean suggests.
Castiel's head snaps up. "I always pay attention. Your feelings for me have remained consistent through the years. I am family to you. In fact, you've told me that I am like a b—"
"Hey, shut the fuck up," Dean cuts in hastily, his eyes bulging. "I don't need the goddamn reminder, okay? Can we just—forget that I ever said that? I'd really like it if we forgot I ever said that."
"But you said it," Castiel insists. "That's my point."
Dean grimaces again. "Yeah, I know what the fuck I said, Cas. I get what you mean. But look, I had my reasons, alright? Now, you don't wanna know what all those reasons are, so just trust me when—"
"No, I do," Castiel interrupts, staring him down.
"You...want...to...know," Dean says slowly, haltingly, looking so stricken that Castiel almost feels bad.
"Tell me," Castiel declares.
"Well, ya know, it took a while for me to even realize that I, um…" Dean waves his hands, giving him a significant look. Castiel assumes the motion means his feelings. "And then I sorta still didn't really know? Had some major denial going on, anyway. You're an angel, right? So, what the hell was I even doing? No way in hell you'd even—but then you did, as it turned out. Point is, I thought I couldn't, so I tried real hard not to, and I managed it so well that I circled right back around to doing it anyway, only I wasn't even really...aware. Also, fuck you, okay? I didn't go running around Purgatory to find you for a goddamn year for you to say there were no hints."
"That was—" Castiel frowns. "No, that doesn't count. We arrived together."
"You just wanna argue with me," Dean mutters, wrinkling his nose. He holds up a finger. "Alright, argue with this one, asshat. Every time you die, I don't recover. Ever. It's bad, Cas. I don't even wanna live if you're not. Actually, you remember when you showed up in that meadow after Jack woke you up in the Empty? Yeah, not too long before that, I was dead. I'd killed myself to become a ghost for a case. Billie pulled me into her office, told me I could ask for somethin', and I didn't ask to go back. I didn't wanna go back. Sam was there, so I should've wanted to, right? But you weren't, so I didn't."
Panic immediately grips Castiel at his core, a few years too late. Despite the fact that Dean stands right in front of him now, alive and well, Castiel still feels fear turn his veins to ice. The mere thought that Dean was—that Dean had—
"Woah, hey, okay," Dean says quickly, inching closer with his hands raised like he's surrendering. "Relax, Cas, I'm all good. Probably shouldn't have told you that. Definitely shouldn't have. But, I mean, it's a strong selling point. I stand by it."
"That's not okay. That's not okay," Castiel rasps, staring at him with wide eyes. "Never again. I do not care what happens, but you will never—"
Dean reaches out to grab his arms, rubbing up and down a little frantically, a wrinkle in between his eyebrows. "Kinda hoping I don't gotta worry about that in the future, actually. Let's leave it at that."
"Leave it at—no, Dean, we will not leave it—"
"Well, we are, 'cause you're getting off topic. Anyway, it does make sense. Me being...ya know. Six hundred Sundays, give or take a few, I mean."
"You never said anything," Castiel gripes, knocking Dean's hands away from him and stepping back again, regretting it immediately just as he thought he would. It does help him clear his mind, though.
"Oh, like you get to talk," Dean says with a derisive snort. "You thought the best time to bring it up was t-minus ten seconds before you died."
"You know why I did what I did."
"Yeah, sure, but you knew for a while, right? Never crossed your mind to mention it before?"
"I doubted it would do anything other than cause strain between us. There was enough of that without the additional complication."
"I think it woulda solved a few of our problems, at least. Just saying."
"Yes, well…" Castiel trails off and looks away, still frowning. Inexplicably, he feels as if he's been betrayed by his own mind. "You gave me a mixtape."
"Sure did," Dean agrees, and when Castiel glances at him, he's scratching at the side of his nose while staring down at his boots. He looks embarrassed again. "That's a thing I did, yeah. It was, um, probably as close to admitting anything to myself or you as I was ever gonna get."
Castiel stares at him, stricken. "You built me a gazebo. With your hands. You built—"
"Sucks, doesn't it?" Dean cuts in, glancing at him with a wry grin. "Feeling stupid like this."
"Immensely," Castiel admits, displeased. "I was under the impression that I knew you better than most, but to have missed this…perhaps I was wrong."
Dean is shaking his head even before Castiel has finished speaking. "Nah, man, nobody knows me the way you do. Nobody. I mean, Sam knows me like brothers are meant to, but you—Cas, you know me like I never expected anybody could. I always figured if anybody did, they'd go running for the hills, but you always liked me anyway. Liked me more than everyone else too, while you were at it. 'Course I was gonna fall into those six hundred Sundays. What the hell else could I do? You're just...you, and I was—I'm just so… God, I'm so stupid when it comes to you."
"Let's not call it stupidity," Castiel suggests, needing to reframe it more positively in regards to Dean, as he always has. "We were just...similarly invested in the foundation of our friendship and equally cautious about putting it in jeopardy."
"Sure, whatever you say," Dean allows, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "Let's go with that. But uh, I'm not gonna argue if you wanna ruin the friendship. We can call it an upgrade."
Castiel considers that for approximately two seconds before he tosses the friendship he was so desperate to never lose completely out the drain. He nods. "Okay. Yes."
"Right, so I gotta question," Dean says, inching closer yet again, though he does it in such a way that suggests he believes it looks casual when it absolutely does not. He even rocks back slightly, then shuffles forward some more.
"What is it?" Castiel asks.
Dean purses his lips, then swings one arm up to scratch lightly at his neck before dragging his hand around to grip the back of it. "So I know it's a gradual thing or whatever, but when did it stick for you? When did your six hundred Sundays start?"
Castiel pauses to seriously consider that, because he hasn't ever really done so before. In a way, his six hundred Sundays started before there was a Sunday at all. Time is variable for angels, and the structure of it is and has never been linear. The point is that there isn't structure; time isn't so much a stream that flows in multiple directions in the shape of a circle as it is a small pond that different pebbles are dropped into, resulting in ripples. All those ripples can and do and also do not exist at once.
The ripple Dean caused in Castiel, so to speak, echoed through him so fundamentally that he'd go as far as saying that he's loved Dean from the moment of his own creation. He knew in some inexplicable, indecipherable way from the moment he located Dean in hell and laid claim to him. Chuck could not understand why Castiel could not simply do as he was told, why he was the one out of so many other versions to rebel, but he did not know that somewhere in this pond, there was a pebble unlike any other that caused a ripple in Castiel that was never part of the plan.
Castiel could say his moment was the very instant that he laid a hand on Dean in Hell. He could say it was when their eyes met the very first time. He could say it was echoing through him with the very creation of the earth. He could say it was when Dean knelt before him, a mere man in the grand scheme of things, somehow so vibrantly important that his plea managed to break through celestial inculcation. He could say years ago, or last Tuesday, or four months from now. All of it is true. For as long as he lives a life where he knows Dean, it's true.
"It never started," Castiel admits. "It simply never stopped. My love for you is eternal—existing forever, without a beginning or an end."
Visually, Castiel's love is a circle. Aurally, it's an echo. Kinesthetically, it's breathing. Overall, it is not fate, and it is not chance; it is choice. He would not choose differently if he could go back and do it again, and that's why he didn't choose differently from the start. This is who he is. He is Castiel, as he always has been and will always be, and loving Dean is something he chose to become a part of him.
"Well, shit," Dean mumbles, blinking at him. "It's gotta be a little crazy when an angel is smitten with you, I guess, but it really is kinda wild, huh? Like, you know, it's big. Really big. Unfathomable."
"Does that make you uncomfortable?" Castiel muses, his eyebrows pinching together.
Dean swallows. "Scares me a little. Not because I don't want it. Just 'cause I'm—well, I don't—"
"You don't think you deserve it," Castiel says softly.
"Right back where we started, huh?" Dean croaks.
Castiel smiles gently, feeling such tender affection for the man before him. "You're not the same man you were at that time, but just as you did then, you deserve every good thing that finds its way to you. I will tell you now what I did not finish saying back then, simply because I did not know how to put it into words. Good things do happen, Dean, and I so desperately want to be considered one of them."
"Is that what you wanted, even back then?" Dean asks, swallowing.
"I did not realize it, but yes," Castiel answers.
Dean takes a deep, shuddering breath, then slowly exhales. "Well, you're in luck. You're probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. Not probably. You are. You make me glad I went to Hell, you know that?" He shakes his head, huffing out a laugh, though his gaze roams Castiel's face with earnest curiosity—almost awed. "I'd do it again, Cas. How do I explain that? One of the worst things I've ever suffered, and it was worth it to meet you."
"You're very charming when you want to be," Castiel notes, tilting his head to the side. He has only felt this way in response to certain things Dean said. Little moments where Dean is unexpectedly sincere, borderline sweet, and Castiel feels the phantom flutters in his chest that once alarmed him and now comes to life every time Dean smiles.
"You're kinda biased, dude." Dean flashes him a weak smile. "I'm usually better at this. Well, I mean, I'm not. I haven't ever—I'm not trying to get laid, is what I mean." He blinks, then jolts. "Uh, I'm not not trying to get laid either. It's just that I'm not pretending you're a woman. Which, obviously, I wouldn't because you're not, but if you were, I'd be better at talking to try and get laid. Not that I am. Not that I'm not. I'm just—I'm—" His mouth dangles open for a moment, then he sighs and tosses up his hand. "See what I mean? Yeah, I'm a real charmer. Dean Winchester, what a fucking catch."
"Well, I think you are. Perhaps I am biased," Castiel says, his lips curling up.
"You gotta be, man. You fucking gotta be. I don't even know how you—why you're—" Dean shakes his head, openly mystified. "I don't get it. I don't have a damn thing to offer you."
Castiel just gazes at him, endlessly fond.
"And—and I don't even know what the hell to do with you," Dean continues, gesturing a little spastically at Castiel. He waves his hands around wildly to encompass all of him. "You're just—you, and what the fuck do I do with that? Jesus."
"Apparently you build me a very nice gazebo and offer me as many Sundays you have in your future to be with you. Frankly, Dean, you are doing so well," Castiel tells him, delighted when Dean's hands flop back to his sides, his face going red at the praise.
"Whatever," Dean mutters, but it just sounds like he's choking on the word. "You can have 'em. All the Sundays and every day, if you want."
"I would like that very much," Castiel says, because he would. He doesn't think there's anything he wants more than to spend every day with Dean.
Dean clears his throat. "Great. See? Look at that. Wanting a little more ain't always a bad thing. You should get to have the things you want."
"I want to touch you," Castiel informs him bluntly. He does. He misses it. He wants to touch Dean even while he's touching Dean, and he doesn't understand the urge at all. He's never worked that one out, admittedly. How he can want what he actively has. Perhaps he simply wants to do it all the time, or at least have the permission to.
"Where?" Dean blurts out, then immediately starts shaking his head. "Doesn't matter. Okay. Sure."
Castiel narrows his eyes. "Is that something you want, Dean?"
"Oh god, is this going to be a thing? Cas, you can't make this a thing, man. Look, I'll tell you quicker when I don't want something than I will when I do. Just—just assume I wanna do whatever you wanna do unless I say otherwise, capiche?"
"That's statistically improbable."
"Trust me, pal, it's really not. We'll probably run into shit you're not okay with before me." Dean taps his fingers against the rail, staring at him, but Castiel isn't budging. Dean makes the expression he always does when Castiel is being stubborn, his own exasperation and irritation filtering through. "Yes, fine, I want it. Whatever, just—just—"
Castiel steps forward and inwardly marvels at how Dean's breath hitches audibly in his throat, his body going tense and swaying forward anyway. He blinks slowly when Castiel reaches out to cup his face, clearly startled and blatantly stunned. It's something that Castiel has always secretly wanted to do, one of those desires that live under his skin, hot and alive in his rushing blood. Just the urge to frame Dean's face in his hands and study him at his leisure from far too close. So close, in fact, that their noses are almost touching and Castiel can make out the finer details of the crinkles at the corners of Dean's eyes.
"You are so very darling to me," Castiel whispers.
"Shit, what do I even do with that, Cas?" Dean asks hoarsely. "What am I supposed to do? You're so fucking—you're just… Fuck. Fuck. You could—if you wanted, you could kiss me."
"Yes, I imagine I could," Castiel agrees, because he's quite sure that he can. Dean's eyes are latched on his mouth with single-minded focus. It's invigorating.
"You're not going to?" Dean asks, his words coming out slow and soft, distracted.
Castiel hums. "If you want me to."
"You're a bastard," Dean breathes out. "But yeah, I'd really like it if you'd just—"
The first kiss is tentative, just a mere brush of lips on lips. Castiel wants to feel it in increments. He wants to learn the shape and feel of Dean's mouth in levels, one moment at a time. It's almost a tease to begin with, simply the gentle contact before pressure is applied. He tries so very hard not to lose himself too quickly. This is too important.
Castiel is so very careful, giving weight to it as is due. The rushed kisses can come later; the distracted kisses will one day be normal. This, however? This is the very first, and it will be treated as such. It's as gradual as they are, slow-going until Castiel feels that he's soaked up the warmth of the sun to carry around in his chest, until he's almost bursting at the seams with it, like his grace is trying to escape him.
It's as natural as breathing and feels right in a way no kiss he's participated in ever did. He's not sure that it could feel better, but then Dean's hand lands on his shoulder and slides up to hook on the back of his neck as he scoots in closer, parting for a brief moment to release a ragged breath. He sounds dazed for that split second, and then he moves right back in. Castiel once again tries not to lose himself to it, but this time, he fails entirely.
It just feels—it feels—
It resonates through him how deeply he wants this, and having it sends reactions through him so quickly that he can barely keep up with them. He's leaning up and into it, getting closer, deepening the kiss far too eagerly. He can feel every point where Dean's hands are on him, his grip tight like he's asking Castiel to stay just like this. He's so very responsive, far louder with reactions than words, crowding in close and kissing Castiel the way a dehydrated man would feel while quenching his thirst, oh so grateful and unwilling to stop.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—Newton had it correct, yes. In this, for example, when Castiel risks giving into the urge to test the shape and feeling of Dean's bottom lip between his teeth, Dean responds with a sharp inhale and very quiet, very muffled noise of encouragement as his hands tighten on Castiel to wrench him even closer. He's so warm. Even his mouth is, and Castiel finds himself thankful that they never did this before they agreed to be together. If they had and he wasn't sure he could do this every day, he's quite sure he wouldn't have survived it.
Please, Castiel thinks helplessly, love me tomorrow. He knows instinctively that it will be a plea he makes every day he has in front of him.
Dean murmurs something that sounds vaguely like a protest when Castiel breaks the kiss, though he doesn't go very far. He turns his head and rests his forehead against Dean's temple, breathing and attempting to settle, his eyes shut as he lightly drags the tip of his nose over Dean's cheek.
"Okay, that was—that was really..." Dean sounds soft-spoken and hoarse. "Fuck. That was good."
"Mm," Castiel hums in resounding agreement. It had been. He already wants to do it again.
Dean lifts his head and blinks at him, seeming to just take him in. He doesn't say anything for a long moment, then he exhales and taps the side of Castiel's neck, shaking his head. "All those damn Sundays, man. We could have been doing that the whole time."
"Well, we have many more to come," Castiel points out, his eyes tracking the way his hand moves down Dean's arm, still struck by how close they are.
"You really wanna go look at nice places on the map?" Dean asks.
"Maybe someday. There's no rush. Truthfully, I don't have to go very far to see the most beautiful thing this world has to offer." Castiel looks up at him and smiles. "I need only look at you."
"You always going to sweet talk me like that?" Dean mutters, his face going red again.
Castiel chuckles. "Seeing as I have the freedom to be sincere with you, yes, it's likely."
"You're better at this than I am," Dean tells him.
"You're biased," Castiel murmurs, pleased by the notion, taken with the idea that Dean is partial to him simply because of love. For something that has led to so much suffering in his life, it guides him strongly nonetheless.
"Yeah, maybe. I figure—I mean, I guess love will do that to a person," Dean says, looking at him and looking away and looking right back yet again.
"Yes, I hear that it does," Castiel agrees quietly, reaching up involuntarily to brush his thumb over Dean's mouth, then over his cheek. Tender, so tender. Shamelessly adoring.
Dean swallows. "When you want something, Cas, you gotta tell me. 'Cause you can have it all."
"Dean," Castiel says softly, cupping his cheek, "I'm quite sure that I already do."
Before Dean can crack a joke or form a protest, Castiel leans in to kiss him again, sighing into it as his eyes flutter shut. For all that he adores seeing Dean, the sensation of them coming together in the gazebo Dean built him, the wind rustling the leaves and grazing through their hair, is something that he feels safe enough to cherish with his eyes closed.
The sun shines on them both, warm and steady, and Castiel soaks it in the same way he soaks up every second of this moment, as well at the ones promised to come. He is deeply, irrevocably happy in a way that he can never imagine being outdone. Yet, he'd thought the same when he sacrificed himself.
Perhaps the thing about true happiness is that it does not come around once or last for only a moment. He feels it now and cannot fathom that he will feel it like this again, or even better than this, and yet he's sure that he will somehow.
His happiness, as it turns out, is like his love. It does not have a beginning or an end. It's eternal.
When the leaves start dying and begin to rain down, Castiel finds himself visiting his gazebo very often. There is something so effortlessly peaceful about the way the crisp breeze causes the branches to sway, resulting in leaves swirling down to blanket the ground. It's starting to grow cold, but he doesn't mind. The world is beautiful with the onset of winter, just as it is when it's blooming in spring. One has to roll in so that the other may find its way back, and Castiel enjoys watching nature turn.
There is also something very satisfying about the sound of stiff leaves crunching beneath Dean's boots when he approaches. He usually does, seeking Castiel out when he has disappeared. Always, always, always finding him again. Knowing where he goes, knowing that he has not gone far, knowing that he stays. Turning up at his side, joining him.
Castiel tilts his head back and stays the swing, giving Dean the opportunity to sink down next to him. When he does, he helps Castiel get it moving again, gently rocking them along. He looks over and smiles, and Castiel echoes it.
"M'gonna start bringing my coffee out here," Dean says, his tone idle and calm, relaxed.
"That would be wise," Castiel agrees. "It will warm you, at least."
Dean snorts and scoots across the swing in one quick slide, settling against Castiel. "Well, that's what I got you for. The coffee's just a bonus."
"Mm," is Castiel's lazy response. He leans his head over on Dean's shoulder and closes his eyes when he feels Dean's nose press into his hair. He feels more than hears the kiss against the top of his head.
They stay like that for a long time, not speaking, just leaning on each other. Dean's hands eventually must get cold because he stuffs one in one side of Castiel's hoodie pocket and the other in his own. He huffs a laugh under his breath when Castiel slides his hand into the other side of his pocket to tangle their fingers together. They do this often, small touches just for them—hands held under a blanket, feet hooked together under a table, things that aren't hidden or obvious, just theirs alone.
Sam teases them good-naturedly for being so tactile, but he's only an audience to half of the touches they share. Dean just likes to be close to him, it seems, always agreeable to any contact. Castiel feels the same. He no longer knows how to be in a room with Dean without being right next to him, and he thinks that he never quite learned to start with.
Castiel enjoys the casual intimacy as much as he enjoys every other form of intimacy they share. He likes it when Dean mindlessly plays with his fingers just as much as he likes the sounds Dean makes in bed. He likes their quick kisses when they're heading out the door just as much as he likes the kisses that feel impossible to end. In short, he just likes every part of being with Dean—the movies they watch, the smiles they share, the bickering they fall into, the sex and the fights and the undeniable pulse of love. It's there in their every interaction.
"You didn't fall asleep, did you?" Dean whispers.
His question is fair, considering that Castiel does fall asleep these days. Well, he doesn't fall into it. He makes the decision to do so on occasion. Sometimes, it's just very nice to wake up to Dean being next to him. There's something inexplicably delightful about opening his eyes and relearning to exist with Dean being his very first view of the day.
Castiel almost responds to tell Dean that he is awake, only simply basking in the moment, but Dean chuckles fondly and presses his face back into Castiel's hair. He moves his head back and forth and releases a quiet sigh.
"What am I gonna do with you, huh?" Dean asks, his voice quiet, careful not to wake him. "Jesus. I'm fucking crazy about you, you know that?"
He doesn't say anything else, but he does squeeze Castiel's fingers in the pocket they're sharing. The birds sing from the trees, and Dean keeps swinging them back and forth, rocking his foot and resting his cheek on Castiel's head.
Castiel keeps his eyes closed and lets himself drift a little, at ease with Dean's proximity and warmth, happy yet again in a way he always finds himself pleased by. He shifts, lifting his head, blinking open his eyes as Dean moves to give him the room to look around, but Castiel is only looking at him. He doesn't really feel the need to look elsewhere.
Dean gazes back as he always tends to, and the warmth in his eyes, the way his face softens, seeps right into Castiel. He feels warm and soft all the way through. He's grateful, so very grateful, to have this. Because he does. It's not slipping away; it's his to hold onto. This, all of that comes with it, and most importantly, Dean.
And, on a slow Sunday morning as the slanted sunlight slips through the gaps in the trees, Castiel starts falling in love with Dean because he never stopped. He will do it again, and again, and again on countless Sundays that await them.
Happiness is knowing that they have plenty.