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 Castiel has known Dean a long time. Not in comparable terms; he's an angel, in those terms he's known Dean for less time than it took for Gabriel to take a nap after delivering a message. Even in terms of humanity, Dean's had his favourite shirt for longer than they've known each other. But in terms of knowledge, in terms of how long Castiel has truly known anyone, his relationship with Dean has been a long one. He knows Dean Winchester better and has done so for longer than he has known any other being, even those who Castiel has been technically related to for eons. He knows his deepest hopes and fears, his best and worst moments, his greatest and most deplorable aspects.

And so he knows that Dean is affectionate and warm. He knows that Dean is tactile and more likely to say 'I love you' to his brother through a solid clap to the shoulder than through words, more gentle than it looks. He knows that Dean's rare hugs are only rare because he puts too much of himself into them, despite their brevity. He knows that when Dean feels safe, his touches become so much more common as to be dizzying. That, though on a long slog through Purgatory he barely ever touched Castiel or Benny, in the Bunker where he feels safer than he's felt since he was a child, Dean likes to brush his hands over shoulders, and lean up close on the couch, and ruffle people's hair when he's feeling happy. 

That still doesn't quite explain what's been happening since they got back from Pennsylvania. 

It hadn't been a hard hunt, there'd been no moment Dean could have thought he'd nearly lost either of them. It hadn't even been particularly long. If anything, it had barely seemed worth the drive time by the end. A regular haunting they'd thought might have demonic elements. Turned out it was just a local group of “tree hugging The Craft cosplayers”, as Dean called them, cluelessly leaving crystals and pentagrams around to try to offer peace to the restless spirit of their dead friend. Once the group had talked to Sam and Dean, they were able to wrap the case up in record time with the information they'd freely shared.

They'd rolled into the bunker around eleven in the morning, having taken a couple of leisurely days to drive back in what Dean enthusiastically called a road trip. Sam didn't seem to agree with that assessment, but rolled his eyes and flickered half smiles every time Dean stopped at a local attraction. 

It's now a little after four, and Dean has been acting strangely. Not enough that anyone but Castiel seems to have noticed, but just a little to the side of how he might usually act.

As Castiel contemplates, trying to put his finger on what the difference is precisely, Dean strolls back through with a tray of drinks, handing them out before taking his place at the table next to Castiel. As he hands Castiel his coffee, he passes behind him and drops a kiss to his hair. Castiel freezes.

Sam and Kevin don't look up from their reading.

"You know, you probably shouldn't be drinking coffee this late," Dean says, as if he hasn't just upended Castiel's perception of the world. "No one wants a jittery insomniac for a roommate."

Castiel stares down into his cup, wondering how to broach the subject. Wondering whether he should broach the subject. 

Dean's been far too tactile all day. At first it was barely noticeable. They were all touches he gives out regularly anyway, just with greater frequency. A hand to the shoulder here, a nudge in the side there, an arm pressed close to Castiel's as they did the dishes together after lunch. Castiel had been enjoying it far too much to question it. But as the day wore on, the touches didn't slow. When they did a cursory search for hunts in the area, Dean leaned over him while he got some practise using Google, arms propped up on either side of Castiel as he pressed in close and gave advice that rumbled almost directly down Castiel's ear. When Kevin offered to make dinner (an incredibly rare occurrence, and usually one Dean would encourage despite the mediocre food), Dean waved him off and volunteered himself and Castiel, then spent the whole time brushing Castiel's arms as they worked, pressing in behind him for a few moments to check he was preparing the vegetables correctly, physically moving Castiel around the kitchen as he wanted with a gentle hold on his shoulders.

If he could have pushed aside his concern at the uncharacteristic behaviour, Castiel would have happily let it lie. He'd mostly intended on doing so anyway, until Dean kissed his hair. The rest could be explained by an odd mood, or some internal trigger to Dean's protective instincts that only Dean was aware of. But a kiss ? Even so innocuous and casual and plausibly platonic, Dean has never, would never, bestow that particular kind of affection on Castiel. 

Dean may have called him a brother more than once, but Castiel knows full well that Dean would never feel comfortable kissing a man who isn't blood related to him, no matter the context. Dean's always been complicated with his affection, overly aware of how his actions could be interpreted by others and uncomfortable with anything that could attract accusations of softness or homosexuality.

"Cas?" Dean asks, sounding as though it isn't the first time.

Castiel must have been stuck in his thoughts longer than he'd imagined. "Yes, Dean?"

"You okay, buddy? Kinda zoned out on us there," Dean says. Even his voice is softer than normal, easy concern without awkward humour pasted over it.

The others have broken from their tasks and are also looking at him with varying degrees of concern. 

"I am fine," Castiel replies. "I think... I think I'm a little tired from the drive."

"Sure," Dean says. "Why don't you go chill out for a bit. We've got things handled here."

They have. It's only the usual research they perform between hunts, searching for ways to heal the damage the trials did to Sam, to see if there's potentially a way for him to ever finish the trials without it killing him. Looking into angel lore to check for ways to restore Heaven. Important work, but work that will keep. None of them have been particularly motivated for at least a month due to their lack of progress on either front.

Castiel nods and stands from the table, coffee clutched in his left hand as he marks his page and flips the book he was supposedly reading closed. 

Dean catches his hand before he can retreat and presses another kiss to the back of it. "Lemme know if you need anything."

This time the others notice.

"Uh," Sam says, then closes his mouth and blinks rapidly.

Dean notices the three pairs of eyes all staring at him. "What? Have I got something on my face?"

"You kissed him," Kevin points out with a hysterical kind of glee. The mess of his hair and the purple under his eyes lend further absurdity to the unhinged tone in his voice. The boy clearly needs sleep. Were Castiel still an angel, he'd put him under with a touch that would keep him there until he was fully rested, regardless of headaches or nightmares.

Dean's unimpressed expression clearly says that he doesn't understand the problem.

"Is there..." Sam clears his throat and winces against a full cough. "Is there something you want to tell us? About you and Cas?"

"Like what?" Dean asks. He looks up at Castiel as though he might have the answers. When no answers are forthcoming he furrows his brow and attempts to work it out himself. "Is it a PDA thing? 'Cause I gotta say, I knew you were a prude, Sammy, but this is a bit of an overreaction."

Sam shifts. "I mean, I think we all assumed that, well, you would be the one with a problem with the, um... PDA."

Dean scoffs. "Oh, c'mon! I'm a thirty-five year old man. Don't you think it's a little late in the game for me to be worrying about cooties?"

"Right," Sam says doubtfully. "It's just... you've never really done the PDA thing. With Cas."

That just seems to confuse Dean all the more. "What are you talking about?"

"You've never kissed me before," Castiel offers, wincing as he waits for the fallout. Perhaps Dean hadn't noticed what he'd done and now he'd withdraw or become angry.

"Wh-" Dean breaks off with a disturbed, confused laugh. "I-" He stares helplessly at Castiel, unable to finish whatever it is that he's trying to say.

"You've been... uncharacteristically affectionate today," Castiel continues. "I wasn't sure whether to say something or not."

Dean stares a moment more before blinking and looking away, back in the general direction of Sam and Kevin. "Can we have a minute?"

Sam nods, and Kevin mutters a “whatever” under his breath. They both leave the room, books tucked under their arms and drinks in hand. They clearly aren't anticipating coming back for a while.

Castiel debates whether or not to sit down again, hovering uncertainty in place until Dean catches his hand once more and squeezes it.

"I don't know what's going on here, man," Dean confesses. "I kiss you all the goddamn time. I know I'm not like Mr. Public Displays of Affection or anything, but-"

"Dean," Castiel cuts him off. "You don't kiss me. We've never... I think someone may have interfered with your memory."

Dean starts to shake his head. "No. No, we've not been near anything with the power to do that in months! I'm not- Cas, I'm not crazy. I'm not making this up. I don't know what the Hell's going on here, but you and me? That's real. I know it is."

Castiel wishes that he could agree. "You're the only one who seems to think so."

Dean swallows and looks away as his eyes well up. "You're wrong. We... We kiss all the time. We're together, we've been together!"

"Since when?" Castiel asks as gently as he's able with the pain and rage at the unfairness of it all tightening his chest.

"Since..." Dean blinks. Frowns. "Since..."

Castiel can't handle the distress on Dean's face on top of his own. Whatever this is, it's so very cruel. Offering him a glimpse of a Dean that loves him not as a brother but as a person he kisses. A person he's together with. "I'll go and get Sam back."

"Cas!" Dean protests, but Castiel can't listen. 

He tracks Sam down to his bedroom and relays the conversation to him, along with his belief that someone or something is altering Dean's mind. It doesn't take any more than that for Sam to follow him back into the library, despite vacating it a scant five minutes ago.

"Dean?" Sam calls as he enters. 

Castiel trails behind, reluctant to face Dean again until he has his own mind back. A Dean who tells him to watch his personal space, and who won't ever return Castiel's feelings is still less painful than a Dean who returns them falsely and against his will.

"Sam," Dean calls back casually enough.

Sam and Castiel pause, exchanging glances. Sam continues on towards his brother. "Cas told me what's going on. I think we should maybe have a talk. See what else, if anything, has been altered, and try to work out who could be doing this."

"Doing what? What's been 'altered'?" Dean asks, then looks at Castiel and smiles warmly. "Hey, Cas."

If Castiel didn't know better, he'd wonder if he'd imagined the whole conversation. "Your memories. Or your mind, at least."

Dean raises his eyebrows. "I'm not following."

***

After three repetitions of the 'you and Cas aren't together and never have been' talk, it becomes apparent that whatever has affected Dean's mind is still actively affecting it and won't allow his belief that he and Castiel are a couple to be undermined. As soon as the conversation ends, he forgets they've had it at all and goes straight back to acting as though Castiel is his significant other.

They establish that the spell, as they assume it to be, hasn't planted any particular memories. Though Dean insists he and Cas are together and that they've kissed, among other things Castiel tries not to dwell upon, when questioned he can't remember the first time they kissed, or any other specific memories of them together. There don't seem to be any other memories or beliefs out of the ordinary, either. Whatever the spell does, it's limited to his belief in his romantic relationship to Castiel. 

"Why would anyone want Dean to think he's banging Cas?" Kevin asks bluntly, when they explain it to him.

"We don't know," Sam admits. "Could just be to mess with us. Wouldn't be the first time."

Castiel glances back towards the kitchen, where Dean's making him a hot cocoa on his request. They'd wanted him out of the way while they had this conversation to avoid the pointless stress that comes with trying to explain it all to Dean only for him to become extremely upset and then immediately forget the whole conversation. 

Kevin shrugs. "Could be worse, I guess."

"It still could be," Sam points out. "It might seem pretty harmless right now, but spells have a nasty way of getting out of hand."

"I should leave," Castiel suggests. "I could go back to Pennsylvania and try to track down the witch. She may be a part of the group we met."

Sam pulls a face. "Maybe. But I don't think that's a good idea. We don't know what the spell will do to him if you're not here. Love spells can get messy if the focal point of the victim's love rejects them in any way."

Castiel doesn't have an answer for that. 

"I'll go," Sam says. "You stay and keep an eye on him. Try not to leave him alone too much in case his behaviour changes. We don't want to be caught off guard if he goes Glenn Close on you."

The artificial memory of the character Sam's referring to pops into Castiel's awareness and he bats it away in frustration. "How am I supposed to stop him from... from..."

"Feeling you up?" Sam finishes for him. "Well, so far he's not gone further than some family friendly PDA, but you can always try to keep in the same room as Kevin. Unless the spell drives him completely crazy, Dean isn't gonna jump you in front of him."

Castiel's jaw clenches. He can't play act as Dean's partner for however long it takes Sam to find the witch and end the spell, no matter how mild the act. "We should all go back to Pennsylvania. It'll be easier to find the witch with us all working on it."

Sam shakes his head. "How would we explain what we were doing there to Dean? It's fine. I'll get it done. We'll tell Dean I'm tracking down a lead on some information about the trials or something. He'll be back to normal before he even thinks to question it."

Again, there's no argument Castiel can make that isn't based on his own injured feelings. "Alright."

"Great," Sam says, and edges back towards the sleeping quarters. "I'll pack some fresh clothes and leave in the morning."

"Here you go," Dean says, appearing with a mug piled high with cream and marshmallows. 

Castiel takes it without enthusiasm. "Thank you, Dean."

"Where's Sam going in the morning?" Dean asks.

Kevin takes up the explanation, lazily concocting a story about a museum exhibition on Judaism that might have some rare religious texts on angels.

Dean doesn't seem overly impressed, but he shrugs it off as worth a look and turns back to Cas. "You wanna go watch a movie before bed?"

Castiel darts a desperate look at Kevin. "Kevin and I were going to, uh..."

"S'fine," Kevin says treacherously. "You guys have fun. I wanted an early night anyway."

With that he vanishes into his room, leaving him alone with an unnaturally affectionate Dean who is determined to show him a movie about a machine that plays tic-tac-toe despite the fact the whole thing will be spoiled for him by Metatron's implanted knowledge the moment the title appears.

***

The first evening isn't too bad. Dean is... cuddly, for lack of a better word. No, that is the better word. He sits beside Castiel on the couch as the movie plays, arm around Castiel's shoulders and one ankle twined around Castiel's. He doesn't do anything more than that, but it's all more than enough. 

It's warm and it's comfortable and he can feel Dean breathing beside him. It's more than his new human emotions can process and not enough to stop him wanting more. Before now his wants and desires regarding Dean were shapeless, formless. He didn't know enough to know what he wanted. But now he has Dean's arm around him, voice humming low in his ear every now and then as Dean explains some piece of movie trivia or other to him, Dean's smile, bright even in the dark as he laughs at Castiel's observations on the story, he has an image of it. He wants this. Dean's touch, Dean's thoughtless affection, Dean's ease, Dean's attention. He wants Dean to hold him, he wants mindless caresses and unselfconscious smiles, he wants casual kisses on his hair and hands, along with the heated ones he's sometimes imagined before now. 

It was easier when he hadn't known, and he could imagine that the only things he'd get from a romantic relationship with Dean that he didn't already have in his platonic one were sexual. He could tell himself it was nothing he couldn't live without, because as wonderful as he assumes sex can feel, as fun and passionate as heated kissing is, they'd only be an add on to what he already has with Dean. But now that he knows how easy and warm Dean could be with him were they really together he doesn't know how he can survive the want.

The film finishes and Castiel feels dread and anticipation pool in his gut. He may have been unaware of what else a romantic relationship with Dean entails, but he does know that sex is important to Dean. If he truly thinks they're together....

But Dean doesn't do more than press a kiss to Castiel's temple and ask him where he's sleeping tonight. He doesn't protest when Castiel opts to sleep in his own room.

Castiel almost regrets it as he crawls in between his sheets, cool and loose over his mattress. He can still feel the warmth of Dean's arm around him as he drifts into sleep.

He wakes up to a sharp rap on the door, and a call of 'breakfast'. 

For the first time since his first night in the bunker, Castiel dresses before he leaves his room. He needs the distance his 'angel getup' can give him if he's going to withstand the day. 

Dean wolf whistles when he enters the kitchen, tossing him a wink over Kevin's mussed head. "Lookin' good, Cas. Pants on before noon? What's the occasion?"

Castiel smiles faintly back at him and accepts a plate of eggs. 

"Hey, why don't we take the morning off. Celebrate both of you being conscious in the a.m at the same time," Dean suggests. 

Kevin doesn't answer except to squint at Dean over his heaped bowl of brightly coloured cereal.

It's not that Dean's never suggested a morning off before, but Castiel can't help but wonder if Dean would be suggesting this if he wasn't under the influence of a spell. 

"C'mon!" Dean insists. "We can go outside in the actual daytime, sans suits. Catch some rays."

Kevin continues his sluggish chewing. 

"Cas?" Dean asks with a hint of exasperation.

There isn't much else to do and Dean really does seem to want to go out. Not to mention that he's less likely to try anything 'non-family friendly' out in public. Perhaps he'll even stop the touching stuff altogether. "Of course."

***

Castiel regrets everything. 

Dean decided on a picnic. He won't call it a picnic, instead referring to it as 'hanging out' at the park, but there's a blanket beneath them over the grass and a collection of foods and drinks sat between them that Dean crammed into a cooler on their way out. Castiel has enough second hand pop culture knowledge to know that a picnic between two adults in a relationship is a date.

Dean's taken them on a date.

And if it wasn't obvious enough through context, the way Dean relaxes onto the ground with his head in Castiel's lap would probably be enough of a clue. And Castiel isn't sure what to do. He doesn't want to go through telling Dean, again, that their relationship is a figment of his imagination, much less in public, but he has no idea how to manage Dean pressing his face into Castiel's stomach to keep the sun from his eyes. He has no idea how to manage the lazy, crinkly smile Dean aims up at him when he hands Dean his sunglasses, or the contented hum Dean lets out when Castiel angles himself to shade Dean's face from the sun.

"Grab me a beer?" Dean asks when they've been lounging in the sun for a good twenty minutes.

Castiel complies, trying not to jostle Dean too much as he reaches into the cooler. 

Dean props himself up a little to open it and take a sip. He grins contentedly at Castiel around the mouth of the bottle and Castiel's stomach drops. 

"Dean," Castiel asks before he can stop himself. 

"Hmm?" Dean says as he drops back into Castiel's lap.

He knows he shouldn't ask, that asking is just buying into this fantasy and he can't afford to do that. But the weight and nearness of Dean has him feeling edgy and unreal. As if nothing he says right now can possibly matter in the real world. "How do you feel about me?"

Dean rolls his eyes, though he's still got a smile lingering at the edges of his mouth. "You're my first choice of date to hunter prom."

"Dean."

Another eyeroll. "You're such a sap. You know I'm crazy about you."

The words, dropped so casually from Dean's lips, constrict Castiel's heart. He swallows and closes his eyes, ready to bring himself back to reality before it's too late. "For how long?"

That prompts a joyous laugh and Dean shifts his position to get more comfortable. "What, you want an exact date?"

"Yes." 

Castiel waits for the confusion as Dean searches for a memory that isn't there.

"Okay," Dean says with another laugh. "Needy. I'll go with May fourteenth, two-thousand-nine."

Castiel's head swims. "What?"

"I know, I know, there was a lot going on. But the heart wants what it wants, right?" Dean says lightly, a hint of humour colouring his words but not changing them into a joke. "I mean, I always thought you were hot, but until you went to angel boot camp, I thought it was just Jimmy's body I found hot. Then Jimmy turned out to have nothin' on you. Still, thought maybe it was just a bit of a complex, you know? You did pull me from the pit, maybe that was just making me... I dunno, confused or whatever."

The specifics keep coming and Castiel doesn't know what to do with them. The spell never filled in the blanks like this before. It must be progressing, he should call Sam.

"But then you went all dick angel on us," Dean continues, "and I was still into you, so bang went that theory, but it wasn't like I was gonna ever do anything about it because like I said, dick angel."

"Then I rebelled," Castiel adds, lips feeling numb around the words.

"Then you rebelled," Dean agrees. "Been a goner on you ever since."

There isn't anything Castiel can say in return. His head is buzzing with words, but there are too many to make them out, just merging into static as his lungs refuse to fill.

"Cas?" Dean says after a moment, likely noticing Castiel's uneven breathing. "Hey, what's up?" 

"Nothing, I..." The words still won't come and neither will the breath.

Dean sits up. "Didn't make you cry, did I?" He jokes, a worried groove between his eyebrows as he leans forward into Castiel's space and tries to meet his eyes. "I know I'm not the best with this stuff, but I didn't think I did that badly telling it." 

"No," Castiel says as reassuring as he's able. "No, it's not that. I'm fine, really. I just... I need to call Sam."

"Sam?" Dean repeats with confusion. 

"It's nothing for you to worry about," Castiel tells him, climbing to his feet and pulling in as deep breaths as he's able on his way back towards the car. 

Dean stays where he is, though he watches Castiel's retreat with concern.

Castiel waves at him to put him at ease and dials Sam. "It's getting worse."

Sam makes a cut off noise as Castiel interrupts whatever greeting he was about to vocalise. "What happened? Are you okay? Is Dean okay? He hasn't-"

"He's making up memories now," Castiel tells him, impatient to get past Sam's questions. "He just described to me how and when he fell in love with me. He named a date, Sam. He couldn't remember any specifics before. The spell must be progressing."

Sam is quiet for a moment. "Has he remembered anything else? Filled in the blanks we asked about before?"

"I haven't checked," Castiel says. 

"Okay. Well, I'm still a ways off Pennsylvania. Best you can do is keep him calm. Maybe do some more research on love spells with Kevin," Sam says reasonably. "If he's still acting... well, not normal, but rational maybe, then there's probably no need to worry just yet. I'll give the wiccan group a call, see who picks up. Maybe they can answer some questions before I get there."

Castiel looks back over towards the blanket, at Dean sipping on his beer and frowning down at his hands. "I should get back to him."

"Yeah. Let me know if anything starts going bad," Sam says, then hangs up.

Dean looks up when Castiel draws close again. "Everything okay?"

"Yes, everything's fine," Castiel tells him. He steels himself before sitting back down.

Dean picks at some grass. "Are we okay?"

Castiel's eyes dart to Dean's frown, startled by the question. "What?"

"Are we okay? It's not generally a great sign when someone freaks out and runs away after you tell them how you fell for 'em," Dean says, trying to inject that humorous tone once more but failing miserably. 

"We're..." Castiel can't bring himself to say they're fine, to reinforce Dean's idea of this fictitious relationship. 

Dean closes off with a nod. "Are we done?"

"No!" Castiel blurts urgently. Whatever delusion Dean's living through, there is no universe in which Castiel is done with him. 

Dean meets his eyes, hope and despair mingled behind his shut down expression. "Then what? You need space? We're on a break? What do you want from me, Cas?"

"Everything," Castiel says, "nothing. I just want you to-" He can't tell the truth. He can't say he wants Dean to want him for real, without a spell. Dean wouldn't understand, then he'd forget it anyway. It's tempting to tell him about the spell just to erase the last few moments so that Castiel doesn't have to answer at all, but Castiel can't bring himself to manipulate Dean's memory that way.

"To what?" Dean yells in frustration, then looks around at the scattered people around them enjoying the park and forces his voice level. "What can I do? What do you want me to do?"

"Dean..."

Something lights in Dean's eyes, a realisation. There's fear and determination in the clench of his jaw when he speaks again. "I know that I haven't said it. I've said everything but, but I get it if you need to hear it for real. I get it. It's just hard, you know? But if that's what you need to hear then I'll say it. Hell, I'll say it everyday if you want me to. I just..."

Castiel isn't sure what's happening. "Dean, stop. I can't-"

"I love you," Dean says.

"You're under a spell," Castiel says.

Dean frowns.

"You don't love me," Castiel says. "We're not together. We've never kissed. You didn't fall in love with me when I rebelled. It's a spell."

"The hell are you talking about?" Dean asks. 

It doesn't matter if Dean won't remember this conversation in a few moments. It's for the best. If he could, Castiel would erase his own memory of it as well. It's the worst moment of his existence to hear those words from Dean and know he doesn't mean them. "We don't know why, but someone cursed you. When it began, you didn't remember specifics. You believed that we were together but you didn't remember how it happened or when, or our first kiss. But the spell is getting worse. That's why you think that… You think that you have certain feelings for me." Castiel pauses, watches his words sink in. "It's not real, Dean."

Dean doesn't speak for a long moment, and Castiel begins to believe that the spell will erase his memory before he says another word.

"I'm sorry," Castiel tells him. 

Dean's jaw works as a flurry of different emotions pass over his face. He locks his gaze onto Castiel and leans in towards him, catching him off guard. 

"Dean?" Castiel questions.

"You're right, I don't remember our first kiss. Or any of 'em," Dean admits, steel in his face and voice. "Maybe none of that's real. Maybe it never happened."

Castiel closes his eyes in mingled pain and relief. This is the first time that Dean's actually accepted the truth and it hurts to hear it in place of adamant denials and insistence that they really are together. The relief is short lived as Dean's hand on the side of his neck startles his eyes open again. His vision focuses just in time to be filled with Dean as he leans forward and presses their lips together, soft and pleading.

"This is real," Dean murmurs. 

Castiel forces himself to lean away. "It isn't. You're acting this way because-"

"Bullshit!" Dean snaps. "Maybe the rest of it is fake, maybe we aren't together and it's all in my head. But this , this is real. How I feel is real. I remember feeling like this every day for five goddamn years! Like hell is that from some stupid spell!" 

"You-"

"And that, that was our first kiss, Cas. It happened," Dean continues. "And if you don't feel the same way then there's not a shit ton I can do about it, but it happened and it was real!"

Castiel's phone rings. 

"Ignore it," Dean orders.

It's Sam. Castiel picks it up, forcing himself to ignore the betrayed glare on Dean's face. "Sam. Did you get in touch with the wiccans?"

"Yeah," Sam says, sounding uncomfortable. "About that..."

"Well? How do we break the curse?" Castiel snaps impatiently.

"It's not a curse," Sam tells him, sounding like he's about to break some sensitive news. "It's a blessing. Or it was supposed to be. The wiccans wanted to reward Dean for helping their friend pass on."

Castiel's hand tightens menacingly on the phone. "How on earth is this a reward?"

"They said it was obvious when you guys were interviewing them that Dean was holding himself back from what he wanted because he thought he couldn't have it. So..." Sam sighs and there's a sound like Sam's pulled the phone away from his ear and put it down.

"Sam?"

The phone picks up again, moving closer to Sam's breathing. "They made him think he already had it. They figured it'd take away his doubts. I guess they figured you'd reciprocate and everything would work itself out."

"I'm taking a walk," Dean mutters beside him, patience worn thin listening to only the less informative side of the conversation.

"Dean, wait!" Castiel says, grasping hold of his wrist as he stands. "Sam, I need you to explain this to me. The witches thought Dean wanted to be in a relationship with me..."

"So they made him think he already was," Sam confirms. "Yeah."

"How do we... How can we be sure? How do we break it?" Castiel asks. 

Sam heaves another heavy, uncomfortable sigh down the phone, stopping to clear out the cough it brings with it. "They said it'd end on its own when... when you were in a relationship for real."

"Sam..." Castiel prompts, annoyance bleeding into his voice.

"That's what they said! You get together for real, and Dean goes back to normal," Sam tells him.

"What if he doesn't want that?" Castiel asks.

"Then I guess you break up," Sam replies tetchily. "Look, the spell hasn't hurt him. I get it's awkward, but if you could just... I dunno, ask him out or something. You don't have to get married or anything, just make it real for a little while. It's not a big deal. People date and have awkward break ups all the time."

"How do I know when the spell is broken?" Castiel asks.

"I dunno, ask him I guess. If it's broken he should remember it breaking," Sam says. "I gotta go. I'm heading back, I'll be there by tonight."

Sam hangs up and Castiel is left holding the silent phone to his ear and looking up at a hurt and angry Dean. 

"Well? What'd he say? You gonna break the spell?" Dean says accusingly. "You gonna make it all go away so we can pretend that we're just super good buddies?"

"Sit down," Castiel says, then adds belatedly, "please."

Dean sits down begrudgingly.

"I apologise in advance for any awkwardness or discomfort this may cause you," Castiel says.

Dean rolls his eyes. "Are you gonna get to the point?"

"Dean," Castiel starts, then falters. He pulls himself together. This is the only way to get Dean back to normal, and even if Dean's unhappy about it, he'll forgive Castiel for it if it stops him doing and saying things he doesn't truly want to do or say. "Dean, I rebelled because I love you. And because it was the right thing to do, but I only knew that because you told me it was. I would trust your judgement over the very word of God, because I truly believe that your goodness could never steer me wrong. I would follow you into Hell because I cannot fathom ever turning away from you. You are the best, most courageous, most loving man I have ever encountered and from the moment I met you, I knew I never wanted to be apart from you."

Dean's glare has softened into a look of pure overwhelm. "Are you...? Cas, what is this?"

"I'm making it real," Castiel says. "You're right. Even if the spell caused everything else, it didn't cause this."

Dean blinks back tears and looks extremely embarrassed about it. "Yeah, well."

"So let's be together," Castiel concludes. "Truly be together."

"I can do that," Dean says, scrubbing roughly at his face and choking out a laugh. "Man, I get why you freaked out earlier. It's kind of a lot, right? Hearing that kind of stuff. God, never tell Sammy that I-" He cuts off with a long blink and an inhale.

"Dean?"

Dean blinks again and his face fills with horror. "Cas..."

"Are you alr-"

Dean shoots to his feet and stumbles backwards. "I'm sorry, I'm so freaking sorry! God, I..."

"It's alright," Castiel tries to reassure him. He knew Dean didn't really feel the same way, and as painful as it is to hear it, it's worth it to have Dean back in his right mind.

"You shouldn't have got tied up in this," Dean continues. He forces a laugh and visibly erects his bravado around himself. "Freaking witches, man! The world'll do anything to mess with us, won't it?"

"How much do you remember?" Castiel asks, resigned.

Dean's stricken expression tells him all he needs to know.

"I'm sorry, Dean. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable," Castiel says. 

"Dude, no! It's fine, I'm the one who should be sorry. I get a stupid monkey paw wish granted and you end up stuck with me hanging all over you." Dean shakes his head and kicks at the ground. "God, I can't believe I told you- Shit! Look, can we just pretend like I didn't get us hexed into a fake relationship and make you cuddle with me?"

"I actually enjoyed the cuddles," Castiel says on a tentative grin. 

Dean snorts. "Of course you did."

"And what I said..."

"Was to break the curse, I get it," Dean finishes for him, already shrugging back into his usual persona.

"Yes, it was." Castiel watches the moment start to pass as everything gets relegated to weird hunt related stuff they'll never talk about again. "I meant it though. All of it."

Dean falters, trying to wrap Castiel's words into the narrative he's building. 

"I love you," Castiel clarifies.

"You're-"

"In love with you."

Dean exhales and drops back down to the blanket. 

"I understand that your part was the spell, but I felt the need to be honest after today," Castiel says. 

"Cas," Dean says softly.

Castiel takes a beer out of the cooler for something to do more than anything. He couldn't go back to pretending he didn't want those things from Dean, even if the silence in Dean's reaction is just as painful as he'd predicted whenever he'd allowed himself to imagine confessing his feelings in the past.

"So are we doing this, then?" Dean says.

Castiel's hand slips as he opens the beer bottle. 

"You and me? For real?" Dean adds as though the first sentence hadn't already caused the static of uncapturable words to start up in Castiel's head again. 

Castiel watches Dean, desperately wishing he had the words. They came so easily before, when he was telling Dean how much he means to him, when he was telling him he meant it. But now, when Dean's waiting for him to answer, he has nothing to say. Or too much to say. Either way, he's not speaking.

Somehow that doesn't faze Dean as much as Castiel talking did. He reaches over and steals Castiel's beer, taking a sip before putting it down out of the way. He then takes hold of Castiel's hand and starts to play with his fingers. "I, um, I'm not really sure how this goes," Dean admits. "It's been awhile since... Well, I've never really done... this before. Not-not really."

In all of his observation (or creepy stalking as Dean would call it) Castiel has never witnessed Dean become flustered with a romantic interest. It's more endearing that Castiel would have imagined. "Neither have I. At all."

"Right." Dean chuckles quietly and keeps playing with Castiel's fingers. "So do you wanna like, make out or something?"

Castiel smiles. "I would like that very much."

"Cool," Dean says, then awkwardly leans in. Castiel meets him halfway. A little time later, Dean breaks away. "Wow. Okay, we should probably leave the park before we give all these nice families a show."

***

That evening in the bunker, Dean passes Castiel his cocoa and drops a kiss on his hair. "You know, maybe you shouldn't be drinking all that sugar every night. S'not good for you."

Sam snorts. "God, Dean. Let the man drink something!"

"I'm just-"

"Mother henning him," Sam finishes.

"I am not!"

"That would be incestuous," Castiel comments calmly, sipping some of the cream from the top of his drink before the melting weight of it can displace the liquid and make it run down the side.

"I really hope no one does with their mother what I heard Cas do with Dean earlier," Kevin adds.

"You guys are disgusting," Dean tells them all, Sam included despite his protest that he had nothing to do with the incest talk. He takes a seat next to Castiel and pulls a book towards him.

Castiel smiles as Dean takes his hand on top of the table and twines their fingers together. 

Dean waits until the others are preoccupied debating a possible alternate spelling, possible typo, before leaning in close to Castiel. "Love you."

Castiel kisses the back of Dean's hand. "I know."

Dean nudges him and points at him accusingly. "You suck."