So, I've been massively blocked on ficcing, and so, inspiration came from the unlikely location, of Wisteria Lane. Happy one shot everyone

Castiel has told Dean that he loves him.

It would probably be a surprise for most people to learn that, but that is because, 1. They don't see Castiel as the kind of being that would choose to articulate, or even be capable of developing, feelings, and certainly not for an alarmingly violent, intrinsically unlovable, fundamentally flawed, miserable, dirty, oftimes sadistic, hopelessly blinded by his younger brother, man, like Dean Winchester.

And 2. Because those people, that 'they', occupy a timeline in which all remains of his declarations of love have been erased.

Castiel has told Dean that he loves him over three hundred and seventy four times. And each time, he has had to rewrite the moment, remove those words from his own mouth, and substitute hyperbole, backwards talk of duty and power and friendship – bite his own tongue, lest Dean do it for him. Redundant timelines, small tide pools of time, exist between them, the fragile moments in which Castiel is laid bare and waiting, agonising. A fish out of water. A bird without song.

He told him in Hell, the first time, and the words shot from him without warning, in his true voice, and sound he had never heard before, called up by the pillar of salt and soot that Dean's soul had become, bloody and bitter as an orange ice, sharp against a bleeding tooth-bed.

It was impulsive, foolish. He didn't even understand it.

Begin again.

The second time, he was standing in a barn, bathed in sparks, and, seeing the awe in Dean's eyes (now that Dean had eyes to show his awe) had made him love himself – sinful, that pride – but it had made him adore the human again. Dean's soul recognised him, dark and light and shattered glass inside of him, reaching out.

Castiel spoke without thinking, using his borrowed mouth.

Stabbed again for his trouble.

Scrub the time stream clear, enter again. He told him he deserved to be saved, not in so many words, but it was there, beneath the surface, love me, believe me.

He told him in every heated moment, the arguments, the silences – the words would break out, and it scared him how little control he had over them.

Take it back, take it all back – just to wipe the disgusted, uneasy look from Dean's face.

Replace it with stoic silence, with a gesture, a show of loyalty.

I love you. I will always love you.

Throwing him against a wall, making his face bloody as he tries to make him understand that he is worth something – worth more than dissolving himself in Michael's grace.

I need you.

Don't you ever leave me.

Trying, over and over. Saying it with his absence, leaving Dean to the life he wanted, coming to him in the end anyway, asking for help, telling him...

No, scrub it. Dean turned away from him. Raked leaves.

Castiel took it back, left him alone.

Over and over and over. Until he started to forget all the times that he had said it, started to forget he even felt it.

I love you.

I love...

I...

Until it was swallowed into blackness, and he lost himself, gained all the power he could ever want, and tried to stop feeling what could never be adequately explained.

And then, blissful forgetfulness. Almost ironic after all the times he'd washed Dean's mind clean of his clumsy declarations.

Couldn't last though.

Nothing did.

And then...he was strangely content, at last, saying it as boldly as he dared, showing it – loving, almost openly. Still too scared to use that word. Only one more letter than 'God' but so much more powerful.

And then...

Nothing.

Just the blackness of the forest, ink dark against the sewer water sky. The howls of creatures. His last act of devotion had led them here.

In the time that followed, days, weeks, years of time, in which Dean became a hunter in the truest sense that he had ever been, and hunted too, unable to hold them at bay for long. And Castiel would fear, all the time, that each confrontation would be Dean's last. That he would end, a brief, painful life, cut short in the howling nothing of a dimension neither of them should have ever seen.

Until, one night, in the starless dark of eternal night, lying on a ground that is at once wet and parched, barren of life, looking at each other until Dean closes his eyes, (for what else is there to look at?) Castiel forgets himself, forgets that he can no longer turn back time, and says,

"Dean...I...lov-"

Dean kicks him lightly in the shin, a tap of his boot to Castiel's thin leg.

"I know."

Castiel blinks. This has never happened before.

"Know?"

"For a while." Dean opens his eye and looks at Castiel, "It's ok...mean, you should have said something sooner."

Castiel frowns.

Dean rolls over onto his back and Castiel lies in stillness, wondering if this is as close to peace as he's ever going to get – being allowed to love Dean, permitted to feel.

Dean breathes out a long tired breath.

"Me too." He says quietly.

Castiel feels as if one more ounce of pleasure might capsize his carefully maintained equilibrium. That is to say – render him undone. It would not do, he knows, to be the angel that cried in purgatory.

"Well, there it is," Dean says quietly, then sighs, "managed to convince myself...like the world would end if I ever said anything." He looks at Castiel, "worlds almost ended enough as it is, figured...what the hell right? We're stuck here...might as well talk."

And that's when the world does not end, but rather, keeps spinning and turning from light to dark over and over.

And a dimensional wall cracks open, depositing angel and hunter back into the world of men.

Castiel takes a breath, and lets the seconds tick by, uninterrupted, and that, more than disobeying heaven, more than standing up to Lucifer, more than opening purgatory, more than swallowing Hell for Sam...

Is the more frightening thing he has ever had to do.

But, like the rest,

It is entirely worth the fear.