Friendship Comes First: What (Good) Fanfiction Can Teach Us About the Romantic Subplot.
I love all forms of storytelling: television, books, movies, you name it. As long as it’s quality, its ripe for the picking.
It’s so easy for me to become engrossed in the lives and psychologies of fictitious characters, to care for them as though they’re people I really know. Which, on some metaphysical level, I suppose is true, but that’s a topic for another essay.
However, in the midst of all my possibly Asperger’s-fueled hyper-fixation and nerdery, there’s one inevitable aspect of seemingly every plot to which I will almost always role my eyes and click the fast-forward button: the goddamned romantic subplot.
So many times have I seen the exact same variation of romantic love between fifty homogeneous couples, and each time, I failed to see the appeal: in books, the smirking, obnoxious male love interest will woo the object of his desire through flagrant disrespect, the same toned bodies will copulate furiously on my television screens (typically at the exact same moment my parents or small siblings will walk into the room), the same vapid, flirtatious stares and generic dialogue will be exchanged.
But where’s the basis for it? Yes, these people are stressed to be attracted to one another to the point of obnoxiousness, but do they even like each other as individuals? Are they even friends? Is there any three-dimensionality to their relationship besides sizing each other up and deciding to bump uglies?
Simply and also sadly, the answer is very rarely. And so, it
seemed to me that romance was not my cup of tea, both in the
fictitious world and out of it. Or so it seemed.
Because it was then, at approximately seventeen, that I discovered
a remarkable phenomenon that would change my life forever:
Never before had I been so enraptured in the relationships of
fictional characters, and I was baffled as to why. Yes, I’ve
read a tremendous deal of fanfiction that is, in fact, book quality,
but as an avid bibliophile, I was perplexed as to why I’d never
been so captivated by the romantic endeavors of a published author as
I was by the passion-projects of writers not much older than I was.
After a lot of time, careful consideration, and the illuminating
words of some of my fellow bloggers, however, I believe I can finally
put words as to why.
1. Give your characters a narrative purpose (besides being The Love Interest.)
Do you ever wonder what inspires Supernatural fans
to tirelessly churn out fics about their favorite human-on-angel
pairing? I have, and this is someone who’s a proud proponent
of the stuff.
The sheer magnitude of free literature available, constantly repositing the
pair in all manor of situations and walks of life, is absolutely
baffling, and undeniably impressive. Indeed, some of the best works of romantic literature – and yes, I do consider fanfiction to be a form of literature – I have ever come across were starring none other than this specific pairing: from the infamous Twist and Shout (which I don’t recommend if you ever want to listen to Elvis Presley music, visit a beach, or feel joy ever again) to the charming Have Love, Will Travel (probably my personal favorite), some truly beautiful love stories have blossomed from a pairing that has never even been confirmed onscreen to have romantic connotations.
Perhaps just as baffling is the other end of the spectrum: Lisa Braeden. Lisa, for those unfamiliar, is basically posited as the love of Dean’s life, with whom he lived for a year before being forced to give up his dream of a family life and return to full-time demon busting. They’ve canonically kissed, had sex, shared a bed, and everything typically associated with an onscreen couple.
Yet comparatively no fanworks exist about them. When Lisa does appear in a fic, she is usual Castiel’s rival for Dean’s affections, or simply a hapless bystander.
Why is this? Well, a disillusioned observer might point to straight women’s apparent predilection towards fetishizing male homosexuality (I, for the record, am not straight myself; I’m a proud bisexual who, thus far, has only dated women.) I’m inclined to retort that this isn’t giving female fans nearly enough credit.
For starters, remove all context from each relationship and examine them with a critical eye: on the one hand, you have Castiel, Dean’s angelic savior from forty years in perdition. Castiel is clearly fascinated with Dean, appearing in his bedroom, somewhat suggestively (advertently or otherwise) inquiring about his dreams, watching him sleep, routinely invading his personal space, and ultimately rebelling against heaven in accordance with Dean’s wishes.
On the other hand, you have Lisa, a perfectly nice character who’s introduced as “the bendiest weekend of (Dean’s) life” and…well, that’s about it. She’s later shown as a sort of amalgamation of Dean’s subconscious desire for a mother figure and normal life, but she, as a character, remains somewhat underdeveloped and hollow.
You can’t expect fans to hold the two relationships to the same caliber and then cry internalized misogyny and fetishization of gay and bisexual men when they don’t.
The fact of the matter is, onscreen “friendships” are typically much more developed, much more three-dimensional, and much more ideal of what a truly epic romantic plot should be. A character with a clear place in the narrative and three dimensional characterization all their own will almost always be more charismatic than a character who’s introduced as exclusively The Love Interest.
This is not to say that what makes fanfiction so great is that it sexualizes or romanticizes friendship. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it’s the other way around.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Make sure your characters are friends.
It’s a romance for the ages. A love like no other. They’re soulmates, yin and yang, a match made in the stars.
But do they enjoy each other’s company? Laugh at each other’s jokes? Take part in each other’s interests? Are they even friends?
The sad fact of the matter is, romance and erotica are, as a whole, starved for values of friendship and camaraderie.
This is something I realized only after my love of fanfiction took root, when I tried to return to my normal sources of adult entertainment (romance, erotica, and porn) and found them, by comparison, almost bafflingly lacking in warmth and camaraderie.
What I think makes fanfiction so addictive is the fact that it’s built upon the established relationships of two or more characters (the Onceler and company notwithstanding) who, typically, care for one another as friends and compatriots.
Look at some of the internet’s favorite pairings: Dean Winchester and Castiel remain a classic. Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers are always crowd-pleasers. Kara Denvers and Lena Luthor are seeing a rise in popularity. We all know Sherlock has somewhat fallen from grace, but the union of its two main characters still retains a devoted following.
This is no accident: despite lacking onscreen confirmation, these characters have proven themselves to care for one another as more than objects of their sexual desire. They’re friends, with relationships based in loyalty and warmth that are, unfortunately, sorely lacking in typical fictional romances.
Once you get a taste of this brand of friendship-infused romance, in fanfiction or otherwise, it’s hard to go back.
This isn’t just limited to quote-unquote “fanon” couples, either: couples such as Mulder and Scully, Bones and Booth, Yuuri and Victor, and Ladybug and Chat Noir can all attribute their popularity to this strong basis in friendship, camaraderie, and mutual respect.
This is also the leading cause as to why the formerly booming 50 Shades franchise, and other arguably sexist, abusive dynamics, are struggling at the box office.
Which reminds me…
3. Make sure your characters are equals.
Unless you’re writing a Lolita-esque social commentary, it’s probably your best bet to keep your characters on fairly equal ground.
I mean this in every sense of the word, too: I have a difficult time getting invested in a romance when there’s a pretty blatant power imbalance, which oftentimes occurs due to the implicit sexism of the entertainment industry.
Disproportionately young actresses are assigned as love interests to much older men, such as Emma Watson’s twenty-something-year-old character lusting over a man almost twenty years her senior in Irrational Man.
Physically mediocre or average-looking male characters are frequently pared with stunningly beautiful women who like them because they’re “nice,” fueling the existing mentality of all self-proclaimed “nice guys” who think society owes them a hot girl.
I love Splash and the Fifth Element as much as anybody, but both films incorporate all these tropes in ample proportions, and it’s frankly ridiculous. (On the topic of Splash, however, I’m greatly looking forward to a subversion of this trope in its remake, starring Channing Tatum as the titular merman and Julianne Belle as his human love interest.)
On the other hand, you have fanfiction. I’ve read numerous essays professing that fanfiction is becoming increasingly popular due to the fact that same-sex relationships tend to be implicitly devoid of these sex-based imbalances, and I’m inclined to agree.
However, I’ve read others stating that male-male pairings tend to be so popular because male characters are typically more well-developed by writers, making it perfectly understandable that fans would be more invested in a possible romance between two characters of equal multidimensionality (see point 1) than one that is sorrowfully underdeveloped. I’m inclined to think that this theory is even more on point.
Because look at some of the successful onscreen relationships I listed prior: we root for Bones and Booth’s inevitable union the same way we swoon over slowburn fanfiction, delighting in Mulder and Scully’s banter and craving their interaction.
These are, in my opinion, some examples of straight couples done right, because they’re portrayed as friends (see the previous point), and just as importantly, as equals.
Last, but certainly not least, the male characters in both pairings are depicted as having nothing but respect for their female compatriots, depending on their intellectual know how and not being ashamed to say so.
A more contemporary example that gets this wrong? Well, not to offend any fans of the pairing, but Mon-El and Kara, a la Supergirl. Mon-El was, at the beginnings of his arc, consistently disrespectful towards Kara, putting her down and insulting her in the very same episodes in which her female compatriot – Lena Luthor – is shown vocally admiring and praising her.
Mon-El has since improved on his behavior, but the damage is done: I still have a difficult time seeing him as a likeable character, much less a suitable love interest for my beloved Kara.
These are just a few recommendations, based on the ways in which my somewhat obsessive love of transformative literature (i.e. good fanfiction) have helped me as a writer and helped me view the implicit problems with mainstream romance with a more discerning and critical eye.
Here, I could provide a counterpoint with the recurring problems I’ve noticed in fanfiction, or I could go into some recomendations for writing explicitly gay and lesbian relationships. Both of these, however, are topics worthy of another essay.
Disclaimer: I am assuming that any and all readers are trying for an enjoyable, healthy romantic subplot with equally charismatic, consenting, and likable characters. Dysfunctionality can be just as interesting from a literary standpoint, but again, this is a topic for another essay.
There will be essays like this published at least once every other week, so be sure to follow my blog and stay tuned for future writing advice and observations!
Dean barely notices when Sam runs into the house to investigate the nephilim situation. His eyes dart this way and that, taking in the tattered, broken wingspan spread out before him.
All of the times that he lost Cas, he never saw his wings. Not once. And it feels so…final.
Dean’s lips tremble as he casts his gaze upwards towards where he knows heaven is watching. He wonders if the angels care. He wonders if God cares.
He knows Chuck probably isn’t even in heaven, and maybe he has his ears turned off while he’s having the family meeting to end all family meetings with Amara, but he tries anyway. He wants to beg, bargain, and scream, but he’s not sure he can speak. He sends up a plea, his lips mouthing silent prayers.
The air is still. Too still. Deathly still.
Dean squeezes his eyes shut and slumps down to the ground. He bows his head down, but he can’t yet bear to look. Not yet. Not again.
He breathes, and it feels like a monumental effort. He is hyper aware of being alive, of his lungs filling with oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide, and suddenly he thinks he might understand why yoga helps to clear the mind. Maybe he’ll take it up. He could do with a nice, clear mind after…after…
He opens his eyes. Cas is there, but he isn’t.
Dean swallows against the burning lump in his throat as he reaches a hand out. Hand touches hand. One is cold.
Dean stares at the eyes and wills them to open as he curls his fingers around the still, cold hand. And finally, after much effort, he finds that he can speak.
“Please,” Dean pleads, his voice smaller than he thinks it has ever been. “Please. Cas. I need you.”
No. That’s not right. That’s not enough.
“I love you.”
Too late. He says it, finally, after all of these years, and it falls on deaf ears. Ears that will never hear those words.
Dean’s eyes sting. “Come back. Like you always do.” His voice cracks. “I love you. I love you. I love you. Please come back.”
The world is still. Too still.
He’s not coming back this time.
Dean folds himself over Cas’s body and finally allows himself to break.
stopping to fuel his Impala, and when he is waiting in line to pay, he spots
some keychains of stuffed animals. One of them is of a guinea pig, and without
thinking it twice, he gets it and pays for it along with the gas.
Once he is
back in the bunker, he finds Cas in the kitchen and he gives him the keychain.
Cas looks at it, studying the stuffed guinea pig with his usual intensity
before he looks at Dean, silently asking a question.
keys of your truck,” Dean answers, trying to sound casual, but nothing is
casual when it comes to Cas. “Just so you have something to remember home when
turns around to hide his obvious blush, he manages to see Cas’ surprised but
pleased face. Dean busies himself with the cupboards, trying to find something
to eat, waiting for his flush and embarrassed smile to disappear. He almost
startles when he feels Cas’ hand on his shoulder, but immediately melts under
the familiar touch, his heart skipping a beat when he sees Cas’ bright and
remember home when I’m away,” Castiel says. “But thank you for the present,
Dean. I really like it.”
and smiles, trying to hide how much Cas’ words mean to him. “No problem, buddy.”
how Castiel strokes the guinea pig, smiling at the soft touch. Maybe this
little gift will make Cas come back home sooner the next time. Maybe when Cas
is gone and he sees the little keychain, he realizes the unsaid words Dean is
never able to say every time Cas is away.
i. you touch him and it’s like a war. the burning in your bones overpowers your mind and your heart pounds like the drums calling soldiers to the bloodbath. it’s violent and visceral and you feel some part of you latch onto to his skin, a mark left on you for the stars to find when they uncover your story.
ii. he smiles at you and the stars become surpassed in what brings you light. it’s all teeth but there’s a hint of joy in the way his mouth moves around you. the sun’s blaze turns to ash and you feel warm and wanted. you are living in the darkness until his grin finds yours and from that moment, everything in you is made with his echoes.
iii. his voice becomes your compass, becomes your truth north. his voice is the one you can pick out in the middle of the crowd, in the middle of the battle because it is the map to home. the sound of your name coming off his lips is your anchor and without his voice you would drown, down to bottom of the endless ocean.
iv. his eyes are dark enough to fall in. his eyes hold the torment he has been through and you wish you could heal his scars but you can only try to take away some of the ache. his eyes would make the deities of the ancient world throw themselves into the pit to prevent anymore loss. his eyes find yours and the colors of the universe seem brighter, seem softer, seem more beautiful.
v. you love him. that is what the pounding of your heart sings. you love him from this universe to the next and the constellations will yearn to chart your story and the history books will place your names side by side and it will never be enough. because you love him and even after death, you’d find him.
Long after the beer in their bottles had warmed, long after Sam had excused himself to ‘do some research,’ Dean and Castiel sat at the table in silence. Dean shot furtive glances at Castiel, who had taken to rubbing his thumb around the opening of his bottle.
The silence was deafening.
“It wouldn’t be the end of the world, you know,” Cas said abruptly. Dean blinked. After today, Cas could be referring to just about anything.
“My death,” Cas continued, thumb moving in slow, methodical circles around the top, “It wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
“Cas…” Dean’s voice was rough, thick with worry. He’d heard enough of what the angel, and Lily, for that matter, had said to him. Not to mention nobody could hold a self-grudge quite as well as the angel.
“You saw how today went,” Castiel continued evenly, “You almost died. Again. Because of me.”
“Pretty sure you weren’t the one coming at me with an angel blade,” Dean replied, weakly trying (and failing) to interject a tone of humor.
Cas scoffed. “It doesn’t change the fact it was my mistake that dragged you into the mess to begin with. It was my mistake Lily Sunders was dragged into it too and…” he paused, thumb on the edge of the rim, balancing over a precipice it seemed. Cas sighed, his hand fell away from the bottle. “Perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst thing for you if I was gone.”
The floor seemed to fall away and Dean had to stifle a gasp. He’d spent most of his time nursing a not-so-subtle anger at Cas and when Cas had returned it, Dean had taken that as a sign that Cas was fine. And yeah, Cas offering to let Lily take him down would have been worrisome, but Cas was smart, he was kind, he was just saying what she needed to hear…wasn’t he?
Castiel proffered a small smile, looking up at Dean at last. “At least you wouldn’t have to worry about my stupid ideas anymore, right?"
It’s said with some humor, like Cas expects Dean to agree and smile right alongside him. Dean just felt sick to his stomach. Taking a shaky breath, Dean stood. Made his way to Cas. Knelt at the angel’s feet, anchoring himself by putting both hands on Cas’ knees as he looked into the angel–his angel’s eyes.
"I would never recover.”
Cas blinked. “What?”
“If you die, man. I…I wouldn’t recover.”
Castiel sat frozen in place, his hand still next to the empty beer bottle.
“It might not be the end of the world, but it would be the end of my world. Cas, I had to face that today, with the banishing symbol and you have no idea–” Dean was breathless now, trying to say the things he could rarely bring himself to even admit, “I know the angels say we treat you bad. And I–I do and I’m sorry, man, but I can’t lose you. Not again.”
Hanging his head, Dean tried to say the other things, the other, far more secret words. The sort of words that the angels would likely claim corrupted Castiel beyond repair. So he wouldn’t say them. He couldn’t. A silent I love you was all he could give Cas.
But as he struggled, a strange thing happened. The faintest of touches on his hands. Dean looked down, really looked, to see Castiel’s hands hovering over his own. They locked eyes. Castiel let his hands drop firmly atop Dean’s.
Dean had always thought that a good quality comforter was the most luxurious thing to wake up under. But ever since he started waking up like this, his thoughts had changed entirely.
As sunlight gently peeked through the curtains, shining a cautious soft beam of light over the queen sized bed, Dean felt Castiel’s large, black wing loosely drooped over his body. The feathers were softer and warmer than anything a comforter could ever get him, large enough to cover his upper body and part of his legs. He smiled lazily. The feathers brushed against his bare skin as he stretched and moved around to shift closer to its owner.
Castiel lay on his back, his other wing stretched out over the edge of the bed down to the floor, his naked body exposed, blankets kicked aside in his sleep. Dean looked at him from under the wing, his fingers automatically gliding over soft raven feathers and smooth lines, known little bumps and the thicker parts.
Castiel looked peaceful. His lips were slightly parted as he slowly breathed in his steady rhythm of sleep. Dean lay there for a while, observing Cas as he let the warmth and softness of the feathers embrace him. He caressed he feathers still. Dean had been mesmerized by them ever since Castiel first exposed them. They were huge, majestic, and radiated a power Dean couldn’t compare with anything else.
And yet, they looked gentle and fragile when Cas injured them and Dean picked out the ruffled feathers. Castiel had taught Dean how to groom them and use the preen oil, an activity Dean found himself to enjoy, often compared with soft chatting. Sometimes a movie would be playing in the background as they sat on the floor and Dean plucked feathers, pressing kisses in the crook of Castiel’s neck.
Sometimes, Dean would take it a step further with his massages, out to get the little whimpers and groans from Castiel. He’d ended up with a panting, desperate Castiel several times, Dean’s hands full of feathers and his own body filled with arousal.
He loved it all. The quiet moments, the loud ones, the moments when Castiel held Dean with his wing or when they lay on the couch, curled up together with Castiel’s wings wrapped around them. Dean couldn’t get enough of them.
Castiel muttered softly and stirred, his eyes opening slowly.
The wing draped over Dean fluttered and shifted in Dean’s fingers. Cas turned to look at Dean, blinking the sleep from his eyes. The angel smiled.
“Morning sunshine,” Dean whispered and his own lips curved as well. Castiel made a soft noise and shifted closer. He stretched his wings for a moment, then covered Dean with his right one again and pulled him closer with the wrist of his wing.
“Good morning, Dean,” Castiel muttered, his primary feathers rustling. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah,” he answered and pressed a sloppy kiss to Castiel’s unshaven jaw. “How couldn’t I, hm?” He slipped his fingers into the pack of feathers carefully, and Cas smiled again.
“You seem to enjoy my wings a lot.” They moved again.
“I think they’re beautiful, you know that.”
Castiel shifted and pulled his wing in, gesturing his head. Dean understood and he got up so Cas could slide his wing under Dean. As soon as Dean sank down into the feathers, Castiel pulled him closer.
Dean’s naked body pressed softly against Cas, covered by the angel’s wing and casting a shadow over their faces.
Dean kissed Castiel’s jaw again, pressed a few more kisses down his neck and shoulder.
The wings replied to the touch, shifting and shuddering when Dean softly nibbled on the skin.
“It’s rare for an angel to show his wings this… casually.” Castiel spoke, his voice still thick with sleep. His eyes were closed again, enjoying Dean’s kisses. “It’s only for… special occasions. And special people.”
Dean looked up and feathers softly brushed over the back of his head and Cas looked back. He softly rested his hand on Dean’s waist. “You’re special, Dean.”
Dean didn’t know how to reply, shy suddenly. He smiled a coy grin and pecked Castiel’s lips.
“Think I’m glad about that.” He muttered, shifting back into the feathers. This was how Sunday’s had to feel, he thought. Calm and peaceful and warm and right.
He found Castiel’s hand and tangled their fingers together.
“Maybe we should get up for some coffee soon. I’m sure Sam’s already awake.” Dean whispered, his eyes closed.
“Probably,” Cas answered. “Just- not yet.”
Dean hummed in agreement and gently slid his free hand through the silky feathers. He didn’t want to think about the case they were working on or the monsters they had to fight. Not yet. Just a few more minutes.
Sam’s trying to keep it together but it isn’t easy with Dean wandering off like a child, nothing even resembling a lead on the witch, and the metaphorical clock ticking so loudly that he can practically hear it. The television kept Dean’s focus for a while, but now he’s restlessly wandering around the motel room, complaining. Racking his brain for a game to pull up on his phone to keep his brother occupied, Sam entreats him to sit back down on the bed, but Dean shakes his head.
“I wanna go outside,” he says again.
“I need to keep working so we can get you…better,” Sam says, with a false note of confidence. “If you could just give me some time to research—“
“I wanna go outside,” Dean insists, like a child who wants to play. Sam’s trying not to snap at him when Dean’s suddenly present again with a pained lucidity in his eyes that Sam hasn’t seen for the past few hours. “It’s too much being cooped up in here, Sammy, waiting for whatever I’m gonna lose next. I need some fresh air. I need to see the sky.”
Sam’s on his feet in an instant. It’s bad enough when Dean lets Sam lead him around, happy to be along for the ride and pleased with whatever simplistic answers Sam gives him. But at least in those moments Sam can pretend it’s a stranger wearing his brother’s body. These flashes of awareness are exponentially worse and Sam is determined to give him whatever he needs.
“Ok, Dean,” he suggests. “How about this?” He moves a chair into the motel doorway, propping the door open with it. It will leave him close enough to get a signal while he keeps one eye on Dean outside. The Impala is parked right at the curb and he leads Dean to it, hoping that the familiar sun-warmed feel of the hood will comfort him in a way that words can’t. Dean climbs onto the hood with his eyes trained on the clear blue sky. As Sam watches, Dean begins to relax, leaning back against the windshield. “You want your sunglasses?”
Dean doesn’t answer, just shakes his head no. Sam gets back to work.
The calm lasts about a half hour until clouds begin to move in, marring the blue with a promise of rain.
Dean clambers awkwardly down from Baby and comes to stand before Sam. “The ocean,” he says with no preamble.
Sam blinks up at him. “What about it?”
“I want to go see the ocean.”
“Dean.” Sam tries to keep his voice calm and gentle. “We’re in Arkansas. There’s no ocean here.”
“But I want to see it.”
“I’m sorry, Dean. That’s not something we can do right now.” Dean’s face begins to crumple, so Sam quickly adds. “I have an idea,” and that’s enough to elicit Dean’s interest. Back inside the room, Sam takes out Dean’s laptop and types ocean into Google image search. “How about you look at pictures of oceans and tell me which one you want to go see when we’re all done here?”
Dean’s already fixated on the blues and greens filling the screen and he reaches for the computer.
“Just click right here to make each one bigger.” Sam points to the trackpad and he’s treated to an eye roll from his brother that he finds equal parts jarring and reassuring.
“I’m not an idiot, Sam.”
You forgot your own name, Sam wants to say, but there’s no point in burdening Dean with that.
“Ok, Dean. Find the one you like best.”
Sam gets back to his research as Dean takes his assignment to heart. There’s a steady stream of clicking and muttering as Dean opens and then rejects photo after photo. Finally, he stands and brings the laptop over to Sam.
Sam smiles at him and takes a look to be polite. It’s a beach in French Polynesia with tropical waters as deep and blue as…
“Good job, Dean. I’m gonna call Cas, ok?”
Dean nods, never taking his eyes away from the screen.
On his way to meet Rowena, Sam pauses in the doorway. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he tells Cas, who is sitting on one of the beds.
Calmer than he’s been all day, Dean lies with his head in Cas’s lap. When Cas turns to say goodbye to Sam, Dean reaches out a hand to Cas’s cheek, angling his face so he can continue to stare up into his eyes.
Do you think Dean has tapes with rock songs he knows Cas likes and he purposely plays them when they are in the Impala and Dean tries to hide his smile every time Cas hums to one of said songs? Because I do.
In the middle of writing a full review I feel I have to pause and scream about this for a bit:
PUPPET ALESHA: What did you do?
[takes Max’s bloody hand and gasps in both shock and care]
PUPPET ALESHA: Are you hurt?
Now I ADORE how many mirrors and parallels there are this episode. There were enough to give me a bit of a headache. But I have to talk about this one. Because yes, the most obvious Dean mirror here is indeed Max, but the mirror for the puppet creatures this episode? Cas.
The puppet creatures were controlled by the witch, made of twigs and twines but still contained a fundamental part of their original form: the Heart. Therefore still holding onto their original memories and emotions and seemingly completely unaware that they were actually puppet creatures until the witch called upon them to do their duty.
When Max brings Tasha back at the end in puppet form, she cares for him, is concerned for him and seems like she is her old self, though Max knows in his heart she is not the same. Doesn’t this remind you all of last week?
“You’re hurt” Cas says as he reaches out for Dean and heals his pain, even though Dean knows for sure that this Cas is not HIS Cas. Similar, still with heart and emotion and still perhaps believing he is in control of his own decisions… but ultimately under the spell of Lucifer Jr.
Cas is the puppet creature this episode, controlled and in no way free, bound by the spell of the baby just like these puppets were bound to the witch by the twigs and twines, but their hearts are still their own… is the heart Cas’s key to escape?
The walls are still naked, the bed has no covers and nothing but the occasional borrowed book from the Bunker’s library resting on the nightstand indicates that anyone even lives in this room.
But there’s a hidden box under the bed, a box Dean only found by accident, when he was returning Cas’ freshly washed trenchcoat. The box is empty - except for two photos (one of Claire, one of Sam and Dean) and a small, frayed black feather.
The box stays in the room, under the bed, even when Cas isn’t there. It makes Dean breathe lighter, to know that Cas leaves something here that is valuable to him. That way he knows Cas is coming back sooner or later.
And he does.
Because there’s something valuable waiting for him back home, in the Bunker.
Sam shakes his head, laughing at his brother. “Always with the scissors, Dean.”
Dean doesn’t even dignify him with a response. Rock-Paper-Scissors is a sacred, binding contract for laundromat duty and he’s lost fair and square. He picks up the duffles full of dirty clothes and hoists them over his shoulder.
Cas, who has been watching this exchange with interest from the far bed, gets to his feet. “I’d be happy to assist you.”
“Oh, how sweet,” Sam practically chirps. “A laundry date.”
“Shut up, Sammy.” He looks at Cas. “C’mon if you’re coming.”
They try to time things to be back at the bunker before they’re out of clean clothes, but an unexpected addition to their last case had them heading four hundred miles in the wrong direction.
Dean slings the bags into the back seat while Cas searches for to the nearest laundromat. It’s not far from the motel and, from the pictures on the website, it looks fairly bright and cheery as far as coin laundries go.
Dean parks out front and they each grab a bag. Inside, the washers stand in rows while dryers line the walls. Dean drops his bag on a high counter meant for folding clothes and goes to find the change machine. By the time he returns, his jacket pocket heavy with quarters, he finds Cas standing between two open washer doors carefully studying one of Sam’s t-shirts.
He looks to Dean with the same face he uses when he’s making sure a sigil is correct. “Is this considered a dark or a light?”
“What are you doing?”
“Well, stop it.”
“Dean,” Cas says with the utmost concern, “the label says to wash separately.”
“They all say that, Cas. Time to live on the edge.” He reaches into the second washer and grabs the couple of things that are in there and throws them in with the other clothes.
Cas frowns, but pulls some more clothes out of the bag.
Dean sighs. “The trick is to not touch any of this nasty stuff. Have you met Sam Winchester?” He shudders; there’d been Mexican food recently.
“Of course I have, Dean,” Cas grouses. “And he said I should sort the laundry.”
Dean takes the bag from Cas’s hand and dumps it into the washer, then slams the door shut with a flourish. “Ok, maybe at home that’s fine, but on the road it’s all about cheap and efficient. And as long as there isn’t anything—“ he glances around at the other patrons before continuing, “unnatural on the clothes, you can wash them all together in cold water.” He’s still pissed about the ectoplasm that ruined one of his favorite band t-shirts. Sam knows that shit needs to be treated with vinegar first.
“I don’t understand why clothing comes with rules if you’re just going to ignore them.”
“You,” Dean says. “Mr. I Rebelled From Heaven. You’re judging my laundry law-breaking.”
Cas’s scowl lightens into something close to a smile.
Grinning, Dean hands Cas some quarters. “Go get some soap.”
When the soap is added, Dean slots the quarters one by one into the washer. “This used to be Sam’s favorite part. I had to lift him up so he could reach.”
“You spent a lot of time in laundromats as kids.”
“Yeah, and let me tell you most of them weren’t nearly as nice as this one.” He ushers Cas to a couple of empty seats where they can keep an eye on their washer. He nods toward the sign announcing free wi-fi that hangs over the row of vending machines. “Plenty of times Dad left us in one and went off to a bar.”
Cas gives him that same pinched-brow look he always gets when Dean talks about John, but Dean waves it off. “It was actually kind of fun. Sam and I played a lot of hide and seek in these things.” He nudges the wheeled laundry cart with his foot. “Raced around in these when the place was empty.”
It hadn’t been all bad. Even without a door to lock between them and the rest of the world, laundromats felt safer than motels a lot of the time. They were mostly populated by moms and old ladies and sometimes they shared snacks or gave quarters when John left them lacking in one or the other. The swishing sounds of the washer, the hum of the fluorescent lights, even the startling buzzers from the timers. These were all soothing, familiar sounds that led to the simple joy of clean, warm-from-the dryer clothing. Even after the years of having the bunker to call home, Dean still finds himself hoarding quarters just in case.
It’s funny to think that he learned all this as a child, but now he’s teaching an older-than-dirt angel how to do it. But it’s kind of nice to have him here, tagging along not because he has to but for the sheer sake of keeping Dean company. That’s been a happy realization, since the two of them became…well, whatever the hell they are these days. The way that having someone by your side can make even the most mundane tasks fun. Things like grocery shopping, where Cas studies coupons like they’re instructions for defusing a bomb, or washing dishes, which was inevitably followed by instructing Cas on how to snap a dishtowel. (Cas had gotten surprisingly good in a short amount of time with Dean’s ass as his target.) Not to mention the unexpected bonus of decreased nightmares that came with having this particular warm body next to his each night.
They sit in comfortable silence as the washers whir and the dryers tumble. Cas keeps his knee pressing against Dean’s, and sometimes Dean still can’t believe he spent all the time lecturing him on personal space. Especially now when he’d like nothing more than to pull him onto his lap and kiss him until they are both gasping for breath. But that’ll have to wait. They’ve still got a few more days on the road before they can head home again. He tries not to think about how they’d be spending their time alone at the motel if Sam had been the one banished here.
Dean’s eye is caught by their washer accelerating into the final spin. Checking that the row is empty of people, he tugs Cas by the hand, leading him over to it. There, mostly hidden from view, he backs Cas up against the washer and kisses him, pressing against him so that the vibrations tingle through them both.
“Soon,” Cas whispers.
“Soon,” Dean agrees.
There’s time for one more kiss before the buzzer sounds.
looking at the bowl while he mixes the batter for the pancakes, but he steals
some glances at Cas, who is making coffee for the two of them and Sam, who will
wake up in a while. Dean watches Cas, still trying to make sure that this is
real, that Cas came back to life, that Dean finally told him that he loved him
and kissed him the moment Cas opened his beautiful blue eyes, that they made
love last night and fell asleep together, holding each other.
Cas die in front of him. He saw the burnt wings on the ground. He felt his
lifeless body when he held him and prayed to anyone who was listening to bring
him back. Dean thought he had lost Cas forever, that the man he loved wasn’t
going to come back. But he came back, like he always does.
human now, but he is back, that’s all that matters to Dean. He watches him
again, smiling at the way Cas looks at the coffee machine, as if making coffee
was a serious task. It doesn’t take too long for Castiel to notice Dean’s
eyes on him. Usually, Dean would have looked away and pretend that he wasn’t
staring, but he doesn’t have to pretend anymore, but he wishes he could be able
to hide the tears he is willing to shed.
Castiel asks, worry slipping into his voice and into his face.
shakes his head and smiles, weakly, his upper lip trembling at the memory of
I almost lost him forever, Dean thinks. I saw his dead body. I felt it. I saw his wings on the ground. He was dead.
Castiel repeats. He cups Dean’s face and turns him around slowly, until they
are face to face and he presses their foreheads together. “What’s wrong?”
into the touch and looks into his blue eyes. “Is this real? Are you really
here? Are you alive?”
face softens. His hands pull away from Dean’s face and they grab Dean’s hands.
He moves one of them towards his chest, pressing Dean’s palm against where his
heart is, and Dean feels it beating. Dean inhales sharply as he feels Cas’
heart under his palm, shouting with every beat that he is alive. He closes his
eyes and some tears trace down his face, cooling on their way down to his chin.
Castiel moves Dean’s other hand and places it on his cheek, and Dean caresses his
stubble, feeling his warmth on his skin and the familiar burn of his stubble.
This is real. I’m really here and I’m alive,” Castiel answers.
his eyes and smiles. He kisses him, still feeling Cas’ heart beating under his
palm. Cas’ hands hold him, pressing their bodies together as they kiss, but
Dean doesn’t let go his hand from Castiel’s chest.
As soon as they get out of the car, Dean wonders why the hell they thought this would be a good idea. Maybe he’d known from the beginning that this was crazy but he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. It was the price he had to pay for bragging about having a date to Benny and pretty much everyone in his birthplace. He’d ended up begging Castiel to pretend to be his boyfriend- some people already mistook them for a couple anyways, so he thought it wouldn’t be too hard. Now he feels like he might have been wrong.
“Maybe we should just leave.” He says as he stands beside Castiel. “I’m sorry for dragging you into all this.” Dean stares at the festival lights spread all through the large trees in the backyard and feels his hands shaking a little. “Or I’ll just tell everyone that I-”
“Dean,” Castiel says and looks at him thoughtfully. “I told you it’s alright. It will be fine, trust me.” He holds out his hand to him, nodding at the field with tables and many people. “Let’s go.”
Destiel AU: Dean Winchester leaves Lawrence on a whim to go to visit his childhood best friend, Castiel Novak, at Stanford. He breaks in, intending to make this a surprise visit. but things don’t quite go as planned when Castiel initially mistakes him for an intruder. [read the ficlet on ao3]
didn’t know what possessed him to get in the Impala and drive across the
country. Or maybe he did, but he was too much of a chickenshit to admit it. It
certainly hadn’t been an easy trip. Stanford was thousands of miles away from
Lawrence. Twenty-six hours of drive-time if you followed the speed limit (which
he didn’t). So like it or not, ending up five states away at his best friend’s
doorstep at 1am was not something he could brush off as an accident, and that
It scared him that Cas might look at his
presence and know exactly what Dean was scared to say.
was a good thing he had a lot of practice ignoring his own feelings, because if
he’d really let himself appreciate the gravity of what he was doing, he
probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of the car. He made his way to the
front door, double checking the address on his phone. He could feel his heart
rate speeding up in anxious anticipation. He couldn’t believe it had been
months since they’d seen each other without the aid of computer screens.
Thinking about the last
time he’d seen Cas wasn’t really something he liked to do. He knew he had no
one but himself to blame for that day Cas had driven off, his long suffering
Pimpmobile full to bursting with clothes and furniture for his new apartment.They’d exchanged goodbyes on the sidewalk. Dean
had so many things he wanted to say but he’d swallowed them down so Cas
wouldn’t hear the lump that was stuck in his throat.
“I’ll see you at
Christmas,” Cas had said, trying to smile at him.
wanted to remind him that he could call anytime he wanted, that they would
Facebook message every day, that Dean would be thinking about him…but instead
all he’d done was nod solemnly. Cas grinned at him like he understood and
opened his arms for a hug.
Dean was usually the one
who held back from physical contact but this time he’d surprised himself,
pulling Cas in tight, breathing him in for what promised to be the last time in
a long time. He’d patted Cas’s back, instead of burying his head against Cas’s
shoulder the way he wanted.
After a moment they’d
pulled away and Cas had given Dean that look he reserved for the times when he
knew Dean wanted to say something but wouldn’t. That look that
promised not to judge him, if Dean could only lend himself the same courtesy.
But Dean wasn’t that much of a dick. He might have been in love with his best
friend, and sure, he might not have admitted it to himself until the worst
possible moment, but he certainly wasn’t going to ruin this day for Cas. His
friend had a long day of driving ahead of him today, and yet another one
tomorrow. He didn’t need to spend it thinking about how Dean was a giant cry
baby who didn’t want him to leave. Cas had great opportunities waiting for him
at Stanford, with even greater people, of this Dean was sure.
So after they’d said
their goodbyes, as Cas was getting into his car, Dean had dropped his hand on
Cas’s shoulder. For a moment he searched for the right words that would
encompass everything he wanted to tell him.
That Cas was the best
friend he’d ever had. That Dean was proud of him. That he was loved. There was
nothing that could quite do the job, or at least nothing he could let himself say.
But Cas was looking up at him with those big guileless blue eyes and Dean had
to say something.
“Don’t ever change,” Dean
told him, annoyed by the way his voice grew rough with emotion.
He’d thought about that moment a million times
in the months that followed, going over it again and again and wishing he’d
done it differently. But now was not the time to dwell on the past, now was the
time to remember everything he’d ever read about picking locks.
He doesn’t whisper them when he’s got his forehead pressed against Cas’ after a long kiss he knows, he knows, he needed more than air.
He doesn’t pant them out when his face is buried in his pillow, Cas’ hand between his shoulder blades keeping him there, while the angel slowly draws his hips away only to thrust back in deep and hard, exactly how he knows Dean likes it. How Dean needs it. He does it like he wants to give Dean everything.
When Dean trails kisses, wet, sloppy, meaningful kisses up Cas’ thigh, he doesn’t murmur the words against the soft skin beneath him.
Dean doesn’t even say them when they part ways for a while because he’s got a case to work or Cas has a lead to follow.
But just because Dean never says the words doesn’t mean he never tells Cas how he feels.
Whenever they kiss passionately, after they’ve touched foreheads long enough that Dean has caught his breath, he gives Cas this look and it’s nothing but adoration.
Dean sends Cas pictures of cute animals- no, of the cutest animals- which means he regularly takes the time to riffle through what the internet has to offer, curating a string of photos just for Cas.
When Cas fucks Dean from behind, Dean chants, You’re everything. You’re everything. Cas, please. You’re everything.
There’s a tab for the American Bee Association on Dean’s computer that’s perpetually open. He still hasn’t figured out if it’s even feasible to raise bees in the bunker.
When Dean spends so long kissing his body, every inch he can get his lips on, cheeks flushed prettily and lashes fluttering, that Cas feels like the rain to Dean’s drought, the message is loud and clear.
Dean’s grin is wider than Cas has ever seen in it the first time he makes peanut butter cookies. He grumpily states that chocolate chip is the right way to go but well, whatever. His smile lingers as long as the aroma of the baking does.
When they part ways temporarily, either because Dean needs to work a case, or Cas needs to work a lead, Dean’s hand, wherever it is on Cas, linger and squeezes. Pads of fingertips brush against exposed flesh, before pulling away.
Every time Cas comes back to the bunker after a long time away, Dean makes burgers. He knows Cas loves burgers, especially the burgers Dean cooks. And Cas doesn’t need to eat, but he enjoys eating those burgers, and Dean loves that soft smile Cas shoots at him when Dean places the burger in front of him. Dean tries to make the gesture as casual as possible, but every time he makes a burger for Cas and places it onto the table, Dean is silently saying: welcome home, Cas. I’ve missed you.
So after spending way more of my life than is probably healthy looking at and analyzing every single shot from this episode that could possibly be construed at Destiel-related, even a TINY BIT, I realized that there is one shot people seem to not discuss very much…
Now. I know what you’re saying–”but we’ve TALKED about the hand-holding!” And yes, my friends, hands touching are always worth discussing (and discussing…and discussing…), but what I want to talk about is Dean’s OTHER hand…
Now…I am a theater child. I grew up doing shows. And I know that actors tend to be touchy-feely people, even when they are just friends. It’s what they do. My friends and I had no problem treating one another like armchairs half of the time, sitting in one another’s laps, leaning our heads on each others’ shoulders. So whenever people start pointing at some of these touches as evidence of Destiel, one part of me gets very excited, while the other part says “now hang on, you and your friends totally did this same stuff and it didn’t mean anything other than that you were friends.”
In this shot, Dean doesn’t JUST touch Cas’s hand, or even his back. From what I can see of this shot, he puts his hand on the lower part of Cas’s neck. Now even I, my touchy-feely-theater-person-self, would never have touched the back of a friend’s neck. That is just getting a little bit too intimate for friendship. That is not what friends do, even the most lovey ones.
That is what my boyfriend does.
Note, too, how Dean’s hand lingers on Cas’s neck (or upper back, as he does seem to slide it down slightly after the initial contact). He maintains contact until Cas breaks it to turn around, a gesture of comfort both for Cas and himself, of reminding himself that Cas is here and is really okay.
Folks, this is not the touch of someone who is just a friend, nor is it an unintentional gesture made by actors who are just doing what touchy people do. This is the gesture shared by two characters who are much, much closer than just friends. And it, even more than the hand-clasping, set my heart to fluttering :).