Away from the bar, above the casino, down several halls, in an uncharacteristically clean hotel room, Dean backs into the door with a look of amazement on his face, the ghost of Cas's mouth still on his. "Wha- what the hell was that?"
"Sorry," Cas says, looking down, shoulders hunched in embarrassment.
"No, don't- don't apologize," he laughs, reaching a hand out to Cas's shoulder. "I mean, what- we just kissed? Are we kissing now?"
"Well, not anymore." Dean wants to laugh at that but he can't because Cas is pulling him in close again, lips solid against his and hands moving up his shoulders and damn, for a nerdy angel, he can kiss. When Dean breathes him in it's like that first breath after crawling out of his own grave, like he's never known Cas until this moment, this man made of dust and linen and light that he-
"Listen," Dean tells him in the shallow space separating them, "I wanna tell you something."
"What?" Castiel looks flushed but happy, intensely happy in a way Dean can't remember seeing him before.
"Well, you know how I'm this…" Nervous, he scratches the back of his neck. "This emotionally-screwed alcoholic drifter who freaks when things get too serious and is way too attached to his car?"
"You are?" The sarcasm in Castiel's voice could make the King of Hell tremble.
"Shut up." But he smiles, eyes finding the crazy patterns in the carpeting. "But it's like my whole life, I've been lying to everyone. I mean, that's the job, that's what we do. And then I met you, and… and to be honest, I didn't really like you that much." Cas starts trying to close the small space between them and Dean has to push him away, lightly. "Would you stop? This is a soul-bearing confession, here."
"I'm an angel, not a priest," he says, mouth curved upward. For the first time in years, in years, there's not a trace of upset or worry in his gaze.
"Cas," Dean says, the last few bricks of the wall in him that Cas has effectively smashed crumbling away, "Castiel. All I'm trying to say here is… when I met you, I didn't like you. Now?" His teeth shine in the dark hotel room in Colorado, against the dark of his swollen lips. "I love you."
Once it's out, Dean looks even more surprised than Cas. "You-" the angel tries to say, but Dean cuts him off.
"Son of a bitch."
"I love you." He says it like Cas didn't hear the first time, like these are the words that could get them out of today's disaster, and tomorrow's, and the one after that. "I love you." Like these are the first and last words in human history, likes the phrase is more important than any lyric his vast collection of mixed tapes could scratch out. "Jesus, I can't say that to anyone. I love you, Cas."
"You- you said that."
"Four times now."
"I love you."
"Five-" But Dean grabs him by that stupid eternally-askew tie and shortens the space between them, which suddenly seems wider than Purgatory. Against Cas's mouth, he mumbles, "I love you, I love you," over and over again until the words should lose all meaning but they don't, mumbles the words until Cas has to hold him back while he laughs, sounding whole and healthy and happy. "I love you, Cas. I'm sorry-"
"Don't apologize," Cas repeats, eyes cinching together when he looks at Dean, his face a map of joy and freckles.
"Sorry. Dammit." He laughs at himself. "I just- I mean I really can't stop. I love you. If you don't shut me up, I'm gonna say it again, I love you."
Cas nods, but for whatever reason a shadow passes over his face. "I thought," he says, looking anywhere but Dean, "that you just needed me."
"I do need you," Dean replies, sounding confused, but he notices Cas shrink inwardly, like he's telling himself how to stand, to be a soldier, to be of use. "Hey, not like that." Leaning down to catch Cas's eyes, he puts a hand on the angel's shoulder. "I need you to be okay. I need you to be here." He thinks a bit, looking Cas straight in the eye. "I don't need you just to fight for me. I need you to fight for." Cas seems a little surprised at that, but not unhappy. "And I love you." Dean cracks a grin, mainly directed at himself and what's gotten into him. "Oh, look there it is again. See, you- you thought I was done saying it. But I wasn't."
The next morning, they're having coffee at a table downstairs and Cas says, suddenly, "Dean, you said 'I love you' a lot last night."
Dean blinks at him over the rim of his cup. "Yes."
"It's just… Well, I can't actually remember if I said it back."
"Oh." Then- "Well, I do. Love you." Remarkably, it's like Dean didn't expect it, and he smiles down into the cream in his coffee.
"I love you, too."
"And I hate both of you," Sam mutters darkly from the other side of the table.
"C'mon, Sammy, it's your own fault for walking in. We did put a sock on the door."
"A sock cannot Windex the memories from my mind."
"Here," Cas says, two fingers extended as he reaches toward Sam's forehead across the table, but Dean catches him by the sleeve of his trench coat.
"No, don't, it's funnier this way." Sam employs his most powerful bitchface and Dean just laughs. Despite the heavy rainclouds outside the window, the sound of it makes all three of them feel a little lighter.