"You don’t," Dean starts to say, but the words clog up in his throat before he can get the rest of them out. He stops, and suddenly he can feel every breath going into his lungs, every twitch of muscle as his fingers curl listlessly at his sides. If he listens hard enough, maybe he can even feel the blood rushing to his head and his heart pound against his eardrums. And if he bothers, maybe he can even hear every instinct rattling through his bones and screaming no.
Cas stands there before him, ratty sweatshirt—where did he even get that, what happened to the trench coat—zipped up and his hands buried in the pockets and Dean’s never seen Cas look so small, curled in on himself and trying so badly to mask how hurt he is. This is the expression that accompanied the devastation of Heaven, the decimation of angels, tearing apart the cosmos and Purgatory—this is the expression of Dean telling him to leave. This is his response to Dean rejecting him.
And yet, Cas stands there before him and waits for him to finish.
Of course Dean doesn’t want him to go, not really. He wants Cas to stay, wants to drag him around the bunker, tell him all about to Batcave. He wants to show him the library Sam lives in, the wealth of knowledge and history and everything. He wants to lead Cas down the hall, tell him where the gun range is, say dinner’s at 7, don’t be late and laugh and maybe even rant about just how cool this whole place is and hey Cas, doesn’t it feel like home?
He wants to point down the hall, to that door just down the hall and to the left with its memory foam and space and warmth and tell Cas that this, this right here, this is his. This is his room and his home and his family.
Instead, Sam had opened his mouth and Ezekiel’s voice had come out, telling him he can’t stay, Cas has to go, Cas can’t be here. Instead he’d been given an ultimatum: his best friend or his brother’s life and Dean wanted to bite into his knuckles hard enough to draw blood and scream as he chewed right on through the tendons.
Cas—his friend, family, angel, home—digs his fingernails into the lint lining his pocket and waits for Dean to rear back with that pensive gaze of his, reminiscent of a barn decorated in wards and sigils from years ago.
"You don’t have to," Dean blurts out, the twitch of his hand a mockery of an apology. "You don’t have to go, y’know."
The muscles in Cas’ face shift, not quite a frown, but less quasi-betrayed and more hardened. At first Dean figures he might be attempting to go for that whole ‘stay strong’ approach to his current circumstances, but then he blinks and he might as well be staring at himself. It makes him sick.
His stomach churns and he’s about to say something, try to remedy the situation when Cas opens his mouth and beats him to it.
"Dean," he says, voice quiet and equally stern. There’s a pause, a slight break in his forced facade of indifference and he manages to whisper, "Please don’t."
Dean forces out a nod more out of reflex than anything, gaze abruptly studying the scuff on the toe of his boot and the haphazard laces of Cas’ battered shoes. His tongue darts out compulsively against his lips, gaze flickering from one blue eye to the other and he grits his teeth in a weak attempt to keep his composure.
"I’m sorry, Cas. I’m sorry, I—" Dean’s voice is muffled, choked off when he suddenly has an armful of fallen angel pressing his chin into his shoulder and apologizing to him. Dean’s head is ducked, bent at an awkward angle and he can feel the other man’s jaw shift against his temple as he speaks, murmuring to him words neither of them can hear.
He buries his face, nose inhaling worn cotton and a muted heady scent of earth. Cas smells like cheap soap and old linen, a half-eaten burrito and warmth; toothpaste and mint and home.
"I’m sorry," he grits out, tone wavering and fingers all but clawing into the back of the jacket that feels nothing like the coat he once fished out of a reservoir and clung to for months. Nothing like the coat he once washed blood stains out of, or the one with the sleeves he gripped and tugged and promised to never let go of.
It just feels like Cas, and it feels like Cas backing off, like Cas letting go.
Dean’s clinging, grasping at straws and desperate for something to say that isn’t an apology or useless drivel. The way he figures it, he needs to say something, needs to give Cas a real reason as to why, but he can’t without reaching into the tears in whatever it is ‘this’ is and ripping them all apart. But another part of him figures that he has nothing to say that hasn’t already been said and he’s never been good with words to begin with. They get all caught up in his throat, amassing against a lump and forcing back the bile trying to claw its way up up up as he all but disowns his best friend.
But he needs something, knows Cas does too and why why is this so god damn difficult.
The slap of a hand against his back says enough and the moment—if there even was a moment—is over and he’s back to Dean Winchester, nonverbal communication and the cocky grins and air of rebellion he relied on once upon a time.
Cas pulls away, placing them both at an arm’s length and smooths down the rumpled material of Dean’s shirt, clearing it of any trace of his existence save for the barely-there remnants of borrowed aftershave in the dip of Dean’s collarbone.
Dean tries to smile and feels like he’s about to hurl.
A palm pressed against his shoulder, then to the side of his neck and Cas’ mouth jerks into a mimicry of the grins neither can properly form.
"It’s all right, Dean."
Cas leaves, and Dean stands there and watches him go.