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(By request, I’m making this a separate text post.)
I want to offer a positive spin on what the writers are doing with Dean and Cas this season with respects to a potential romantic relationship.
In a love story, every couple needs some kind of separation period. Dean and Cas have always been separated at some point each season, usually because of the happenings in heaven. But this season, it was a deliberate separation on Dean’s part because of what was happening with Zeke aka Gadreel. Key word: deliberate. This season just feels entirely more deliberate than other seasons in terms of endgame destiel.
They both need some personal character development before they develop together. They can’t use each other to grow right now because they’re too busy figuring themselves out. Dean is breaking down that codependent bond with Sam. His whole life, a huge part of Dean’s identity has been Sam. For the first time ever, he’s having to look inward at himself and his own actions rather than distract himself with Sam and Sam’s well-being. (Note that even his relationship with Lisa was prompted by Sam, who made Dean promise that he’d go to Lisa and Ben and be happy.) And Dean needs to do this alone, he really does. In all actuality, if Dean and Cas were together right now, Dean would be replacing Sam with Cas. Notice how in 9.10 he asks Cas how he’s doing, not out of genuine interest in Cas’ well-being, but as a distraction from what’s happening to Sam. He replaces Sam with Cas as the object of his need to take care of everyone. And by being alone right now (metaphorically, not literally, as he does have Sam by his side), he’s being forced to take care of himself for once.
Cas, likewise, is on a personal journey. His time as a human on the show only lasted a few episodes, but it was enough to shake this million, perhaps billion year old being to the very core and irrevocably change him. So now Cas needs to look inward as well and figure out what he really wants. He had his choices stripped from him in 8.23, and in a way he had his choices stripped from him in 9.03 as well, when forced to leave Dean’s side. Now he’s faced with choices, and for the first time, true free will. Cas has never really had a true choice or a real chance to use free will, as he’s always made the choices that he thought would fix heaven or save Dean. In 9.11, he makes his first true choice as an angel to save Sam’s life rather than get enough grace to track Gadreel. This is an important scene. (Honestly, nothing about their story in that episode did anything at all to move the plot forward - it was all purely very important character development and IMO, setting-up for something later in the season or next… we’ll see that needle again, I’m positive.)
The writers are also screaming at us that destiel is deliberate and being built up even in episodes where Cas doesn’t appear. In back-to-back-to-back episodes, we saw supernatural being/human romantic relationships. Cas only appeared in one of those episodes (9.11, which had heavy-freakin-handed destiel hints through the obvious parallels with Cain and Colette).
And let’s be honest, in every great love story, there’s a separation period. I’ll just use Pride & Prejudice as an example because everyone knows it. Elizabeth and Darcy actually spent very little time together on the pages, but their short experiences with each other were enough to change their stubborn opinions (Darcy’s pride, Elizabeth’s prejudice). Like them, Dean and Cas need time apart from one another to sort themselves out and mature a bit before they can come together and form a healthy relationship. Key word being healthy: we want Cas and Dean to have a mature and mutually-nurturing relationship, and as they stand personally right now, neither is in a place to provide that. (I for one would get no satisfaction through an angst-riddled, juvenile relationship between Dean and Cas for the sake of seeing them together on-screen.)
I honestly don’t think the writers are keeping them apart because they’re not ready or don’t know what to do with them or no homo, brah* or something else along those lines. They’re keeping them apart because Dean and Cas need to be apart right now in order to grow, and then realize that they want to be together. Because destiel is free will, not destiny. And they have to make the choice to be together because they want to be together, not because they feel that they need to whether out of codependency or duty.
It is a love story, and a classically-constructed one. And it’s absolutely, positively deliberate.
*I’ve seen criticism that the writers aren’t ready for a open homosexual relationship on the show. But fandom seems to be forgetting that time that Charlie made out with Gilda in “LARP and the Real Girl”. And her crush on Dorothy. And the two men that Cupid brought together in 8.22. These are not long-running homosexual relationships by any means, but they’re still open same-gender relationships on a show which is often criticized by fans and non-fans alike for being aggressively “no homo”.
I agree with everything, and the separation is a trope used really often for canon couples, so that they can figure out stuff about themselves and each other or so that they can complete a personal mission or because something happens to them. For example: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Peeta/Katniss, tons more if you just think about it. Hell, Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi is completely built on that trope, so really it’s nothing new.
Dean has clearly stated that he wants to be with Cas with that "No one wants him here more than I do" and while I agree that this isn’t exactly a declaration of love, it’s still a very explicit way for Dean to say that the separation hurts him (and his reaction all the times Cas kept disappearing on him in s8 was another great hint in this direction). So Dean’s happy ending is tied up with Cas, with Cas’s presence in his life. There’s no way out of that one, and I haven’t seen anything on the show, be it textual or subtextual, to negate that.
Dean/Cas is free will and not destiny. That’s the whole point. The question is: will they still want to be together after the codependency is broken, when Dean has found his true self and Cas has completed his personal journey? By this point, the answer can’t be anything but YES, THEY WILL. Everything screams that we’re heading to a happy ending, but like someone else said in another meta, TV is the exact opposite of instant gratification because it is built on drama and conflict, not on people being super happy all the time without a wish in the world.
And I know that by now we have totally figured this out, and we want the payback, and we’re impatient, and the doubt is still eating at us. But seriously there’s NOTHING on this show to make us think that at the end, when everything’s said and done, when everyone has grown up as they should, Dean Cas won’t figure it out and fix it and be together.
YES, excellent point about TV not being about instant gratification. As much as I love fanfic about cuddles in the bunker, I wouldn’t watch that show. I know fandom gets super frustrated that destiel hasn’t been made overt on-screen, but that’s the way of the medium and how a good story is built.