No slash intended. Strong/emotional Dean and Castiel friendship. Mentions of Sam.
Set some time during season 5.
The Discovery of Oceans
Around 2 AM and Dean can't sleep, so he leaves the motel room and takes his leather jacket on his way out. The Impala waits across the parking lot, beaded with rain he hadn't heard come down. The tar gleams where light hits it, and the air still smells wet. He doesn't hurry, just looks around him to be sure of his surroundings. It's quiet in that way of small towns, middle of the night, away from major highways. He feels like he might be the only person in the world, except for his brother asleep nearby, and after years of secret pleasure at that feeling Dean now finds the two-man world idea provokes anxiety because it's no longer out of the question. He reaches the driver's side of the Impala and fishes his keys out of his jacket pocket. When he slides into his spot behind the wheel and shuts himself inside, he takes a moment to breathe and lean his head back on the seat. Almost like relief but he isn't sure why.
Sitting there, hands on his thighs, he thinks for a few minutes before deciding this is one of those times where he needs a cigarette. Dean's never been "a smoker," at least not in his mind. The only thing he's ever been addicted to—if you define "addiction" by the book—is his family. Smoking's just one of those things he's done throughout his life when his mood calls for it. The most he ever smoked were those years when he lived and worked alone, after Sam split for Stanford and Dad split for whatever unknown bullshit reason. A pack a week, for a while, just because smoking calms him down. He pulls out the pack he keeps inside his jacket, unbeknownst to Sam, and they're the same Reds he's always used. He lights up with his Zippo and takes a long first drag, immediately relaxing, almost melting down into the vinyl.
"You know that's unhealthy, Dean."
A little surprised at himself for not startling, Dean just looks over at Castiel sitting in Sam's place.
"Out of all the ungodly, unhealthy things I do on a daily basis, you decide to bitch about this?" Dean says, gesturing with the cigarette in his hand. He turns his attention back to the windshield. "I don't do it that often."
Castiel looks away from him and doesn't answer.
"What are you doing here, Cas?"
"I was lonely."
The angel says this in his usual monotone, and instead of thinking he's a pussy for it, Dean feels a sudden twinge of pity.
"Angels get lonely?" he says.
"No," says Castiel. "It is not something I have experienced often. Only recently. I think it's a symptom of my isolation from heaven."
Dean swallows and smokes, guilt rising inside him. The angel may not blame him for it, but Dean sure as hell blames himself. He's the only reason Castiel's on the angelic shit list, and it doesn't look like that's going to change any time soon.
"Do you experience this as well?" says Castiel.
Dean snorts, his eyebrows rise and fall, and he half shakes his head.
"I'm human," he says. "And I'm me."
Castiel turns his head to look at Dean again.
"So this is a common condition to humans?" he says.
"Last I checked, it's pretty common."
"That is unfortunate. Loneliness feels—unpleasant."
"No shit," says Dean. "But if it's any consolation…. I know what your kind of loneliness feels like."
He meets Castiel's blue eyes, and there again is that too-deep stare they share all the time. Sometimes, Dean feels as if they're looking to see each other's true form—Castiel's disembodied self and Dean's soul as it was in Hell—because knowing each other like that must have felt…. more. It must have felt the way Dean feels with Sam sometimes, the way he feels whenever he thinks about Sam: something he doesn't have the words for, too deep and too real and overwhelming with power and rightness.
"What do you mean?" Castiel says.
"Your father's gone, and you don't know if he's ever coming back. Your brothers turned against you. You're—"
Dean's voice breaks, so quick he didn't have time to anticipate it, and he stops for a moment. He looks down and bites his lower lip, then looks back up at the angel with regained composure.
"Being alone sucks," he says. "Living without your family sucks."
He sucks on his cigarette again and Castiel lowers his own eyes slowly, as if considering Dean's words and emotions, trying to connect the two. They don't speak for a while, and the smell of cigarette smoke fills the Impala. Dean thinks about rolling down a window but decides against it, just because he knows Sam will give him a bitch face in the morning for the smell. Dean misses Sam's bitch face.
"I was thinking today," says Castiel. "I remembered the night you attempted to lead me into sexual sin."
Dean chuckles a little and misses the way Castiel regards this with a slight crinkle in his eyes.
"Yeah?" says Dean.
"I realized that there are many more human experiences foreign to me besides the ones heaven looks upon with disapproval, which are the only ones you seem to encourage."
"Like what? You know, I did introduce the bacon cheeseburger to you, that counts."
"I did not mean to suggest ingratitude. The burger was a rewarding experience."
"Damn right, it's rewarding."
Dean puffs on his cigarette and stares out his window at the white streetlight and the empty road beyond the parking lot.
"I am greatly inexperienced with touch," says Castiel.
"How's that?" says Dean.
"I have a moderate amount of experience with the other four senses: sight, hearing, taste, and smell. But I realized today that what little touch I have experienced was usually of an unfriendly nature."
"If by unfriendly, you mean getting tossed into walls and punched via demon and dick angels, then yeah—unfriendly's one way of putting it."
Castiel doesn't say anything for a few minutes, and Dean waits for him. When he looks over at the angel, something about Castiel's face fills his chest with sadness. The angel stares into space, lost in his own thoughts, and for the first time Dean sees how alone his angel really is. Maybe he doesn't understand. Maybe he never can. He has Sam—if nothing and no one else, he will always have Sam—but Castiel?
"I saw a woman hold her child, in a park," the angel says. "I have not experienced this."
"What?" says Dean, softly now. "Having a mom?" He knows that pain…. "Or a kid?" He knows that one too.
Castiel shakes his head, just a little.
"I have not experienced touch that comes from love," he says. "I do not know what it feels like to have someone—put their arms around me."
Dean blinks at him, stunned. He may not be the most touchy-feely guy in the world, but he spent his whole life hugging his father, until the man died. He's held his brother. His brother's held him. They're always touching each other, as if it means nothing because it means everything. He's been hugging Bobby over the last few years, each time with more and more emotion because the piece of him that is Bobby's son and not John Winchester's deepens with time and blood and the shrinking of Dean's world. He remembers his mom and the way she touched him all the time during the first four years of his life—and feels the pain of all the years after the fire, when she couldn't touch him anymore. He can't imagine never once feeling that, knowing it. How old is Castiel? And never?
"Do you—do you want me to show you?" says Dean, without giving it much thought.
Castiel looks at Dean with eyes so clear and naked, shining so bright with that isolation that they make Dean feel as if he doesn't know the beginning of loneliness.
"You would do that for me?" the angel says. Dean shrugs one shoulder, unsure why he doesn't feel the least bit awkward but almost compelled to do it.
"Yeah," Dean says. "As long as, you know, you don't make a big deal out of it."
Castiel doesn't reply, just stares at him with an unreadable expression. Dean thinks he sees the tiniest nod, so he opens his car door and throws the cigarette out. He sits still and looks at the angel, a little hesitant. Castiel waits, the eternally patient student. Dean clears his throat a little.
"Come—come closer," he says. Castiel scoots toward him on the bench seat, stopping when his leg rests just against the console and the gear shift. His eyes remain fixed on Dean's, and Dean suddenly feels anxious—weighed down with responsibility. He's the angel's first hug? What if he sucks at the hug thing? He doesn't want to ruin it for Cas….
Fuck, he thinks. He's being ridiculous.
Dean darts forward without warning and snakes his arms around the angel's chest. He feels Castiel startle a bit and then go deathly still. For those first few seconds, man and angel are stiff and unnatural in this pose. Castiel's arms hang limp at his sides, and Dean leaves enough space between them that his shoulders tense and hunch up a little. It isn't until Castiel brings his arms up to circle around Dean that the tension begins to soften. At first, he places his hands flat on Dean's back, much like Dean's hands on his. Part of Dean thinks—it's been long enough, shouldn't he pull away? But he doesn't pull away. Castiel doesn't move at all.
God damn it, thinks Dean. I won't let this suck. Mother and her kid—that's what Cas saw. Me and Sammy. How does Dean do this with Sammy?
He pulls Castiel closer and moves further in, until they are chest to chest and Dean's arms fold down over Castiel's back like wings. Dean searches for something without thinking—searches for the right feeling. He thinks of hugging Sam and looks for that feeling…. Love, sheer love, so much that he can't stand to come apart, to live separate from Sam's body. He closes his eyes and thinks of Sam, remembers hugs with Sam, trying to recreate the emotion. But quicker than he would have ever anticipated, the river of Sam thoughts change into Castiel, his angel, his guardian angel, Cas pulling him from Hell, Cas giving up his own family for Dean, Cas with his silent and hidden love for him, smoldering too deep for Dean to see. He feels and feels these things, sees memories of himself and the angel, and for a flash of time he thinks he can feel the Castiel with his whole being.
He doesn't notice his own hands now fisting into Castiel's clothing or the tear escaping from his left eye. He doesn't even feel at once how Castiel presses into him with the strongest show of emotion and desire he's ever made, how the angel's hands fist into Dean's own clothes. He can't feel the angel breathe or his heart beating, just his own heart and cold-shaken air hissing away from his lips.
The longer they sit together embracing, the more the intensity gives way to a softness, their muscles relaxing into each other's. Dean rests his head on Castiel's shoulder until he can almost sleep there, and Castiel moves his hand to the back of Dean's head and his other arm tighter around Dean's back. He keeps his eyes closed too, his face red with a feeling he's never experienced. Its power almost scares him, the strange pain in his chest—it's pain, isn't it?—and a new urge in his head, in his face, somewhere around his eyes but in his throat too. To cry? Is that what he wants to do? His fear calls him to pull away, but he doesn't want to pull away. He needs this. He needs this. He did not know need before. He is afraid.
"Dean," he says, as quiet as can be. "I am afraid."
"Cas," says Dean, bottom lip quivering but no more tears. "Cas, I love you."
The angel's face scrunches up at these words. He can sense it when Dean speaks them, how honest they are. He tries to pull away when he feels too much, something he's never felt, too many things he's never felt. He doesn't know if they're good or bad, but he's afraid. Dean won't let go of him, not even a little. The angel doesn't put up a fight. He slumps back into his original position, his blue eyes wide and glassy and searching the air in front him. He doesn't know what this feeling is. It could be pain, but it doesn't feel the way pain has before. It's too much, too much.
"Dean," he says, whispering. "Is this love? Is that what I'm feeling?"
"How does it feel?" says Dean.
"I don't know. I don't know. I don't want you to let go. I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"I don't know. I've never felt this. I think it is a kind of pain."
"Do you want to stop?"
"No," the angel says, gaining certainty when he confirms this out loud. "No, I do not."
Dean remains as he is, and they don't speak for a while. He doesn't know how much time has passed, but he's sure they passed the cuddle point long ago. Thank God Sam's asleep.
As they hold each other, it strikes Dean that he's never felt love like this before—not to say he loves Cas more than he loves Sam but that it is a kind of love he's never felt for anyone else. He starts to think maybe it can only exist between human and angel but stops before finishing the thought because now he's really being a chick.
"Dean," says Castiel. "I—I think—that I love you too."
Dean does not expect hearing that to mean as much as it does.
"Thanks," he says, voice husky and low. He's pretty sure he's fucked for loving this angel, but it's too late now. For the both of them.
When they finally pull apart, they're quiet at first, facing the windshield again. Then, Cas says Dean's name, and Dean says what.
"I would like to do that again some time," the angel says.
"Hug for a million years?"
"Yes. And say—tell each other that we love."
Dean instinctually tries to think of an insult or a joke, wants to vehemently resist and assert his impeccable heterosexuality. But instead, after a pause, he just says,
"Not in front of Sam."