Summary: Four kisses taking place during 8x07. SPOILERS for that episode. AO3 link is here.
Dean kisses him first before Sam has a chance to come to the bathroom door and goggle at the two of them. Quick, brief, hot, with Dean’s fingertips burning into Cas’s no-longer-just stubble and his mouth tingling with the press of tiny hairs above and below. Just a surge forward, impulsive, and lips pushing against lips. Solid, to make sure Cas is solid. With eyes open, just in case he flies away.
And then Sam’s inevitably coming to the door and goggling, as expected, and Dean pushes away and blushes and refuses to talk about it. Thank God that Sam moves on quickly to goggling at Cas’s reappearance — thank God that’s the one thing that’s honestly more unexpected than catching Dean kissing him.
And God, yeah, he is, and Dean shifts, ignoring Sam’s pointed look, smiling, fighting the urge to jump right up and pull off that tie and put it on the right way, because that’s kind of embarrassing. It’s like a light switch has gone on in his brain, and all at once he’s back in time, back beside the highway with a clean-shaven angel who knows nothing about being human but is doing his level best in the most comical of ways.
He’s missed that, as much as he’s become used to the scuffed-up, scruffy, bleary-eyed man who trudged by his side for months in Purgatory. They’re both Cas, but this Cas is still a sight for sore eyes.
Sam clears his throat, murmurs something noncommittal about getting the trunk packed up for the ride out, and rises from his chair; the motel door slams closed, and now there’s just Cas, looking proud, and Dean, sitting in his chair, trying to figure out how to move or what to say.
“It feels better,” Castiel says, finally, looking down at himself and running his hands over his newly pristine coat. “At any rate.” And he glances up at Dean, briefly, just enough that Dean knows Castiel is waiting for him to say something.
Dean gets up. He coughs into one cupped hand, trying to find his voice, then slides haltingly forward, rubbing his hands on his jeans. “You clean up good, Cas,” he says, feeling like an idiot. “Tie’s a bit—” and he can’t find the words, cause he’s close, and Castiel’s face is rapt staring at his, waiting.
“My tie?” His lips, curving around the words, are a fascinating shape. Especially with the smooth skin all around them, skin Dean hasn’t seen bare for months.
“I’ll fix it for you,” Dean hears himself say, and he lifts his hands to pull at it, but he never gets there. Because on the way to Cas’s collar the back of his hands brush against Cas’s clean-shaven jaw.
He turns them over.
His palms on Castiel’s chin, his cheeks. Feeling as though he might never touch them again.
Castiel twitches. “Dean,” he says. A protest that dies before it’s begun.
Dean pulls him in. Their noses bump, a jarring sensation that stops them briefly.
“Dean, my tie,” Castiel presses.
The words come out in a rumbling rush— “Your tie’s fine”— and Dean seals his mouth over Castiel’s, feels the smoothness and the newness, and they’re back in time once more, beside a highway keeping an appointment. Don’t ever change, Dean said then, but Castiel did. They both did. Inevitably. Still, this clean-shaven kiss, this soft exploration, takes them back to that island of time when they could just be themselves, together, without the uncertain future always bearing down on them.
Castiel’s mouth opens, and then there’s more heat than there ever was before, and Dean is groaning, licking at his lips. Castiel touches his waist, gingerly, with one hand. The contact, tenuous as it is, sends a straight shot of fire up through Dean’s ribs and down into his gut, and when Cas makes a small sound into his mouth, Dean thinks he’s going to combust.
The motel door clicks open. Sam clears his throat again. They come apart like a pair of clinging magnets that have just been rendered useless metal.
Sam’s gaze sweeps over the two of them. “Ready when you are,” he says.
“We’re ready,” Dean says, stopping Sam’s retreat. He’s not gonna make his brother feel like he has to run away. He strides forward, but Castiel catches him by the wrist. Dean turns back.
“Is there something wrong with my tie?” Castiel asks. He’s leaning forward, his coat and tie falling in front of him comically. The diamond-shaped patch of the tie’s lining hangs there like a pendulum.
Dean shakes his head. “You’re just fine,” he says. He wouldn’t change a damn thing.
“I didn’t leave you.” Dean’s voice shakes, and he wonders what he’s saying, why he’s saying it now. They have more important things to think about, for sure, but a moment ago sitting in that car with Cas in the back seat was like sitting in a vat of boiling water over a stove burner and it was too much for him to take.
So he exploded out of it, exploded at Cas, but all the anger and the pressure is still bubbling inward. Nothing he says, none of the harsh words or the blame he’s trying to pin on Cas is sticking, and he just feels dirty, dirty and wrong while Castiel is standing there clean and brilliant and whole. Unlike him.
But there’s mist in Castiel’s eyes, and he furrows his brow in that way that says he doesn’t understand something — not something simple, like a backward tie, but something fundamental. What is there not to understand? Dean failed him. He hates it, but it makes sense. It’s what always happens.
“You think this was your fault?” Castiel says, and he moves forward and stares at Dean so closely Dean’s eyes nearly cross. Slowly, he shakes his head, and his lips part as though he’s going to explain something.
Whatever it is, Dean doesn’t want to know it, and he shakes his own head, backs off. Castiel follows, stubbornly. Doesn’t allow the gap between them to widen.
“Cas, stop it,” Dean mumbles, but he’s afraid of his own lips, how they seem to swell and slow in the cold night. He’s afraid of Castiel’s closeness, too, and of the whole reality of his world being ripped away by whatever Castiel has to say. He’s just afraid.
“Dean.” What is it about how Castiel says his name that paralyzes him?
Castiel leans forward, murmurs something Dean can’t hear, and then his lips are brushing Dean’s, maybe still forming the shape of the inaudible word as they go. Dean’s eyes close, as though he’s bracing himself, and in his blindness he can’t see Castiel’s hand rise to touch his cheek. Warm fingertips and tentative lips and oh God what is happening, more of his world and his reality are being torn away by something warm and unfamiliar, something he should reject and run from.
He can’t. He can’t even move. And when he wavers, Castiel’s mouth finds a firmer grip on his, and he doesn’t deserve this, not when he wasn’t the one to save Cas. The fact that he failed is still sitting hard and jagged-edged in the pit of his stomach, weighing him down, but Castiel doesn’t care.
He should. He should feel betrayed. He should be pushing Dean away, not pulling him close.
Headlights flood brightness into his closed eyes, and he staggers, mouth breaking from Cas’s in a too-loud sound. The Tran family van is pulling up, and Sam’s getting out of the car, and Dean is pulled out of his own mind and back into reality too quickly, like coming out of the shower on a cold day. He’s all bristles and prickling skin, and he hunkers down into business like a blanket, pushing everything else aside.
Beside him, Castiel keeps looking at him through misty eyes, though, and Dean can’t help feeling like there’s a floor beneath him that will fall through any minute now. He prays it will hold a few minutes longer.
“You can’t save everyone, my friend,” he said.
“Everything isn’t your responsibility,” he said.
And then the truth, pushed into his head though Dean didn’t want it, raw and real and everything Dean had wanted to forget.
Dean’s reeling, for minutes afterward, as Sam comes up to them and they bid goodbye to Kevin and his mother, as they head out toward the next case and the next distraction from the guilt and anger and helplessness that’s slowly crushing him. It’s worse, it’s all worse, with what Castiel’s told and shown him. Was that supposed to be a relief, to know that Castiel pushed him away, that Castiel forced him to fail? It’s not. It’s burning him up.
“Damn it, Cas,” he mutters miles and miles away, when he thinks Castiel can no longer hear him.
Dean curses and staggers backward. “Can’t I even complain about you without you showing up? What the hell?” Castiel stands silently, looking down at himself, apparently just as surprised at his own presence. Which should ping an alarm bell for Dean, but it doesn’t, not in the midst of the Mardi Gras of bad feelings currently whooping it up in his gut. “Seriously, first you’re gonna push me away and then you’re gonna show up?”
Castiel remains silent for a long moment, then says, “Apologies. I’ll go.”
Dean isn’t about to let him. “I’m still damn angry with you, you know,” he says, pointing a finger at Castiel. “So you thought you deserved to stay in Purgatory, huh? What about me? Did I deserve to go through hell thinking I’d left you there to rot?”
“Dean, I had no way of knowing you wouldn’t remember what happened.”
“And what if I had? Was that your way of punishing me, to make me think you’d rather stay in frigging Purgatory than take your chances topside with me? How do you think that makes me feel, Cas? Either I abandoned you or you couldn’t wait to be rid of me. Either way, it sucks ass.”
He hasn’t even thought about that yet, but as he lays into Castiel about it, it makes more and more sense. Either way, he’s not someone Cas should want to be around. One way, he’s a miserable failure. The other way, he’s lesser company than a Leviathan. The hurt chokes at his throat, stings his eyes. And still Castiel stares at him, head tilted in that way, eyes inexplicably sad. What right does he have to be sad? He’s the one who lied to Dean — who let him believe, that whole time, that they were gonna make it home together — and, in the end, rejected him.
“Letting go of you,” Castiel says slowly, “was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
The words are deliberate, pressed into Dean’s consciousness one by one, and Dean feels them like brands. He winces. “Then why’d you do it?” he says, his own voice weak. “Never mind for you, why’d you do it to me? Did you want me to suffer? Are you punishing me for something? For not believing in you enough? For Benny? What did I do to you, that you thought it was okay for me to go through that?”
Castiel’s gaze meets his, and his eyes are still misty, but the blue is piercing. “I once saw a man sell his soul so his brother could live to watch him die,” he says.
Dean’s throat constricts.
“I learned a lot from that man,” Castiel adds.
And then it’s quiet, and the air between them is cool, chilly even. Unvarnished truth is never warm to the touch. And Dean suddenly, desperately, craves warmth.
He moves forward, raises his arms, pulls on Castiel’s coat sleeves until they’re toe to toe and face to face. Their foreheads brush. The warmth thaws Dean out, each inch of his skin flushing, words starting to spill like melted ice. “I didn’t want to fail you,” he says. “I tried, I swear I tried. I didn’t want to leave you.”
“You didn’t leave me,” Castiel says, hushed.
“Then you left me,” Dean says. “And that’s worse.”
“I didn’t deserve—” Castiel stops, and he takes in a small breath. “Dean, I didn’t want to leave you. I’m—” His hands find Dean’s arms, fingers curling around his elbows. “I’m too happy to see you, Dean. And I shouldn’t be happy after what I’ve done. Not ever.”
“And what about me?” Dean says. “Do I deserve to be happy?”
“Yes, of course—”
“And how’m I supposed to do that knowing you’re still punishing yourself, Cas? How am I supposed to think I deserve anything, if the one guy I tried like hell to save wouldn’t let me save him?”
Castiel starts to speak, then shakes his head. “You present an interesting paradox,” he mutters. One corner of his mouth turns upward in a half-smile. Dean reaches up, touches it, tries to pull it further out with his thumb. The motion makes Castiel laugh. “Stop that.”
“Live with it. You gotta be happy so I won’t be miserable.” He lifts his other hand and pulls on the other corner of Castiel’s mouth.
“That’s not fair.” Castiel’s mouth opens, catches one thumb by accident and tries to spit it out again. “Stop doing that. Dean.” But Castiel looks so funny with the false smile painted across his face that Dean can’t help himself; he pulls one thumb, then the other, watches Castiel’s mouth go crooked in one direction and then the next.
Castiel lifts his own hands from Dean’s arms, plants his thumbs on Dean’s face, tries to do the same to him. And suddenly from near-tears they’re laughing, pulling at each other’s mouths like children, and it shouldn’t be nearly as funny as it is but they’re so exhausted from being guilty and lost that everything is striking them odd. The way Castiel’s eyes crinkle. The feeling of his thumb against Dean’s lips. It’s all bizarre and hysterical, and the weight on Dean’s heart is lifted.
It’s Castiel who does this to him, isn’t it? Castiel who always makes him feel like maybe he can feel something that doesn’t hurt.
The realization wipes through him like a wave, and his smile fades entirely. Cas sees it go; his eyes widen, and he forgets to smile, his thumbs relaxing on Dean’s face so they sit soft and easy on his jaw.
Dean blinks. Castiel’s face is minutely closer when his eyes open again. Their fingertips are skating over each other’s skin.
The air sinks away, and their mouths come together, effortless. Castiel’s arms slide backward to Dean’s hairline and sink in; Dean’s hands stay on Castiel’s face, cupping it, tracing faint lines against his jaw. No more smiles, but warm, open mouths, warm lips and wet tongues, breath and heartbeat. Cas, alive, next to him. Touching him. And Cas’s touch is making him happier than it should.
He lets it linger far longer than he should, too, and he groans when it’s torn away, leaning in to keep his face close to Castiel’s even when the openness of the kiss is gone and all he can do is breathe hard and listen to the thudding of his pulse in his ears. “I know I didn’t deserve that,” he says with a huffed chuckle.
“Maybe we both just have to live with this,” Castiel says. His voice slurs, and Dean knows the heaviness that must be weighing down his lips, the strangeness of feeling so wet and so thoroughly touched when you’re trying to speak. Dean’s feeling it too. “Maybe we both have to be happy, even though we don’t think we deserve it.”
“To keep each other happy,” Dean says, cracking a smile again. “What a sucky deal.”
The smile doesn’t last long; it’s pulled into more kisses, and by the time they’re done the strange joy has settled so deeply into Dean’s heart that he can’t feel the weight of guilt anymore. It’ll all rush back tomorrow, no doubt. But for tonight, he’s been saved.