Dean has only been in love once in his life.
Or at least he thought he was in love when he was with Cassie nearly a decade ago. She was beautiful and Dean can still remember what she smelled like when she walked by him in the café; warm cinnamon with a splash of citrus. Somehow, the smell quenched the aroma of the big slice of pecan pie that the kind old lady placed in front of him and all he knew at that moment was that he would give anything to be close to her.
So he did. And Cassie quickly became more than a scent carried on chocolate skin and bouncy curls. She had a brilliant, wide smile and her eyes sparkled whenever he made her laugh. But it was her wit, her devotion to her family and the way she never took Dean’s shit that eventually made him fall for her for real, despite his brain shouting that: you’re a hunter, when you leave this town you’re gonna be leaving her too, don’t get comfortable, this isn’t what comes with the deal. Naively, he told her the truth because he thought that maybe if she got a piece of Dean, the real Dean, then maybe she would understand that despite his nomadic lifestyle, he would always find his way back to her.
Dean can’t help but scoff at that idea now, untying the rough laces of his boots before lights out. She behaved in the same way everyone else did when faced with the truth of what’s really out there. She shut him out, dumped him and pushed him away in fear and denial. And when Dean got into the passenger seat with his dad, quiet and brooding and desperately trying to hold back the swell of heat behind his eyelids, he couldn’t find it in his heart to hate her for it. Because well, what did he really expect? Why would someone as brilliant and perfect like Cassie want to wait around for someone like him? Dean’s life was pretty cut and dry back then: you get the job done as quick as possible and you get out and you keep doing that until all those sons of bitches are dead. To hell with what you want.
10 years later he still hears that particular speech in his dad’s voice.
Dean has only been in love once in his life. It wasn’t with Cassie.
I’m sorry Dean.
Castiel had turned back one last time before the wall began to crack and crumble, the souls bursting from his body and diving back into Purgatory like they were running from something. It makes sense now; the souls were desperate to escape because there was something greater and more sinister sharing the crowded space along with them. Purgatory was pure and it was safety for them, better than sticking around with a swarm of ancient Leviathan.
Castiel had apologized continuously while Dean and Bobby prepared the ritual: I’m sorry. You were right. You were right all along, I was a fool. I’m sorry for what I did. To Sam. For everything. I am sorry. I regret it with everything I have left. I’m sorry.
Dean had made it his duty to look anywhere but at the bloody and scarred mess that was his former friend, huddled on the floor and looking up at him with pleading eyes. Asking for forgiveness before he died. But it wasn’t that easy and even though it would have meant everything to Castiel, would have offered some absolution before death, Dean remembers how he wanted to keep that from Castiel because he didn’t think Castiel deserved it. Bitterly, Dean wanted to punish him, break his heart in return and keep Castiel from feeling any sort of relief from the pain of a loved one turning their back on you.
It was petty retribution and he regretted it when Castiel lay dead and cold on the marble floor. Hated himself more when Castiel gathered all the strength he could and dragged himself and the festering Leviathan into the river, drowning them with himself. So it goes.
Dean knows now, laying in his own room in the Men of Letters’ bunker that he had been in love with an angel in a trench coat for over a year. It just took his complete absence from Dean’s life for all the signs to point in that direction. It took Sam giving him sad almost pitying looks and sighs whenever Dean would fall silent or ask for some time alone outside. It took Castiel’s miraculous resurrection for Dean to notice that it wasn’t emptiness he was feeling when he believed Castiel was dead and gone. It was a hole waiting to be filled, when he saw him on the bottom of the porch steps. A space filled up too quickly and sloshing at the brim with too much emotion and need that it made everything that was once numb hurt again. But it also made it painstakingly clear that once Dean got him back he would never let him go or push him away.
You’re a better man than your daddy ever was.
Which is why Dean found it within himself to look Castiel in the eye and hand him back his trench coat, stowing his old resentment and vulnerability away because Sam was dying in there and he trusted Castiel to do this.
It was trust that allowed Dean to stop forcing Castiel to help him kill Leviathans. Trust, because he knew his Cas was still in there.
The Cas that abandoned home and heaven to get down in the mud on Earth with him.
The Cas who helped stop the apocalypse and would follow Dean to the ends of the Earth if it was what Dean needed.
And Castiel did come back to him, smiling softly and saying, “Then I’ll go with you.” Anywhere. To our deaths or to whatever waits for us. I’ll go with you.
Suddenly, the emptiness wasn’t so full anymore. It solidified. The pain was still there, and Dean reckons it will always be there because this is his life but it wasn’t all he could feel. What he feels now is all consuming, confirmed, love. Dean knows this now, has gotten over the fear of it and has let it settle over. It’s not like he’s planning on telling Castiel anytime soon – if ever. Yeah, right.
With Castiel in the wind, the stolen angel tablet taken hostage with him and no ways to get in contact with him, Dean, not for the first time, feels useless. Torn between grieving Benny, Sam’s burden of the Trials and Castiel’s continuous disappearance.
Hey, not everything is your responsibility.
Dean rolls over, trying to get comfortable and reaches over for the light post, shuts off the light and slides his phone and blade beneath his pillow, sighing out loudly. He doesn’t pray tonight, not sure who else is listening out there.
“Sometimes you forget. That he is the fire of a thousand burning suns. And the ice of a thousand freezing winters. Sometimes, you forget. Or you choose to forget. Because to you, he is just Cas. And this is how you will keep him for the rest of your life.”