The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn (1/?)
Takes place after the events of 12x12 “Stuck in the Middle With You”.
Castiel has been in love with Dean ever since he first laid a hand on him in Hell all those years ago. But finally, painfully, he realises Dean will never return his feelings and forces himself to move on. Dean misses the presence and attention of his angel, and comes to some realisations of his own.
Castiel has known it all along, if he’s honest and admits it to himself. That Dean doesn’t harbour the same feelings for him that he does for the hunter. He still isn’t exactly proficient in the complexities of human communication, but this time he had been as plain as he was able to be, and still Dean had failed to respond to him. If telling his friend that he loved him in what they all thought were his last moments didn’t make Dean confess it back, then nothing ever would. For a fleeting moment, Castiel had tried to convince himself that it was because Sam and Mary were there, but that line of thought trailed off as he realised that if Dean was unable to admit his feelings in front of his family then it was unlikely they were particularly strong anyway.
Dean’s love for him is a platonic one, the kind you have for your brother or a parent. It isn’t the romantic, all-consuming love that Castiel suffered from and now the angel has his proof. He has spent years hoping, wondering, even sometimes convincing himself that he saw something reflected in Dean’s glittering green eyes, but now he has his answer - and as painful as it is, at least it’s something tangible.
Something final that he can cling onto, suffer through, and move past. But god, the suffering Cas is feeling now is staggering, incomparable; he feels like his heart is being torn from his chest, like his soul - if he had one - is shattering one piece at a time. He loves Dean more than he can admit, even to himself, and how he’s going to be able to be around him after that rejected confession is something Cas hasn’t got an answer for just yet.
And why the hell would Dean love the fallen angel? What is there to love about Castiel? He has lied to Dean, betrayed him, done unspeakable things in the name of God and heaven…Dean probably sees him now as damaged, jaded, something to take pity on. Wait…Is that why Dean keeps him around? He pities him?
That thought brings a fresh wave of agony, and Castiel leans forward to vomit again into the toilet bowl, collapsing back against the cool tiles when his stomach just can’t expel any more. He’s still coughing up black slime, his skin is still raw and burning, and his insides feel like someone is going at them with sandpaper. He had been OK for a while, on the journey home. Had felt almost normal. He had excused himself the moment they had got back to the bunker, first to his own bedroom then the bathroom when he realised how ill he truly felt, and has now been locked in solitude, alternating between vomiting and trying not to hyperventilate, for over an hour. His skin is wet with sweat, his clothing soaked, and he can’t stop shaking. He remembers when he last felt remotely ill, when his stolen grace was fading inside him, but this is another level entirely. He’s violently sick again, and trades sitting back against the wall for lying down on the bathroom floor, his overheated cheek against the cool tiles, and tries to hold in a fresh wave of tears. If Dean saw him now…
He hears a door slam from deep in the bunker, raised voices, but can’t find the energy to even sit up let alone go and see what’s happening. Sam and Dean are probably arguing, and Mary is probably trying to placate them. Castiel is more than familiar with their family dynamics now; his family dynamics he supposes, after the events of today. He truly does see himself as a part of their family - the words ‘Castiel Winchester’ run through his mind and he huffs out an almost delirious giggle at the thought - but the worry dragging gently at him is that Dean only said what he did because Castiel was dying. He tries to reason with himself, pain, discomfort and distress clouding his logic, and only comes to conclusions that cause him further pain and upset. He should really think about this stuff later, when he’s feeling better, when he’s had a chance to talk to Dean…
Fuck. He has to talk to Dean. He doesn’t have to mention what he said, when he feverishly confessed his love, but he’ll have to talk to the hunter at some point, he can’t just ignore him for the rest of his life. He could leave, he supposes, sitting up suddenly to spit more black bile out into the toilet and collapsing again with his head spinning - but isn’t that a cowardly thing to do? To leave, to run away? He doesn’t fucking know, all he knows is that he’s hurting, in every way possible, and he want it to just stop. A knock at the door draws him back to reality just enough for him to turn his head and focus as the bathroom door swings open.
“Cas? You OK? Oh God, Cas!”
Sam’s expression immediately drops to one of intense concern, and he kneels down beside the fallen angel, sliding his hands under Castiel’s shoulders and helping him to sit up. Cas slumps back against Sam, the back of his head hitting the bone of Sam’s shoulder with an unpleasant crack, and he tries to catch his breath.
“‘M fine, Sam. Just…taking longer than I thought…to get back to normal…”
“Cas, are you sure?” Sam’s voice is laced with worry. “Is there anything I can do?”
“No…” Cas knew he should feel embarrassed, lying collapsed in Sam’s arms the way he currently is, but he can’t find it in him to care. “Just need to wait it out…”
“Let me get you some water,” Sam manoeuvres Cas until he’s leaning against the wall; the angel lets his eyes fall shut and listens to the sound of a tap running, then Sam is pressing a perspiring glass of water into his feverish hands. “Try and drink it slowly.”
Castiel complies, feeling a little better with each sip. He supposes he’s dehydrated from all the vomiting - another pesky human affliction he will never be able to get used to. He wants to ask Sam how Dean is, but at the same time doesn’t want to open the door to any potentially awkward discussions, not in his current state. However, in true Castiel style, his brain doesn’t always have control over his mouth.
“Dean?” Sam seems surprised, but then the narrowing of his eyes makes Cas think he knows exactly what the angel means. “Dean’s fine. He was really worried about you; we all were. Are. You look dreadful, man.”
“You try getting stabbed with the Lance of Michael and see how you feel,” Cas gripes, dragging himself into a better sitting position and trying to wipe sweat from his brow with his even sweatier palm. “In fact no, don’t. I wouldn’t wish this affliction on any of you.”
“Not even Dean?” Sam teases lightly, sitting down against the opposite wall to keep Cas company for a while. “I’m sure he’s deserves it once or twice.”
“No…” Cas’ voice grows soft with contemplation. He isn’t in any mood to joke. “Especially not Dean.”
To his horror, his eyes fill with tears and he can’t react fast enough to wipe them away, and they spill unchecked down his cheeks. He scrubs at them savagely, eyes burning with embarrassment now as well as pain, and hopes Sam won’t say anything. That, of course, doesn’t go his way either.
Sam is silent for a while, alternating between watching the angel and playing with nonexistent fluff on his jeans. His next words cement the truth that Castiel already knew; any tiny glimmer of hope he still held onto is completely and irrevocably destroyed.
“I’m so sorry, Cas. We all thought he felt the same, we really did. I’ve thought for years that the two of you…you know, would end up together. I thought-”
“Don’t, Sam.” Cas’ voice breaks and another flood of tears stream down his cheeks. He drops his head, chin almost on his chest, and gives in to the grief. “Please. Don’t. I can't…I just can’t.”
He doesn’t care any more if Sam is watching him, if he’s in the room, or what he thinks of him. He doesn’t have the energy to fight any more, and the sobs that have been threatening him since they returned to the bunker now burst out of him and he’s powerless to control them. The glass of water splinters on the ground beside him and he drops his head into his hands; the tears start and they won’t stop. The angel cries for what feels like forever, barely feeling Sam’s arm come around his shoulders, barely hearing the empty words of comfort whispered into his ear; everything he thought his future would eventually be had been smashed to pieces in front of him, and Sam has confirmed it all. Dean doesn’t love him; he never has.
Minutes tick towards hours, and Castiel just can’t stop crying.