zeldathemes
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Cass / 28 / Australia

Aspiring screenwriter, ex photo lab operator, consumer of french toast and arch-nemesis of my past self. Serial GISHWHES participant. Admin at The Fandom (de)Bunker.

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"Cas, this isn’t you" — why Dean is hopeful in 8.17 (and you should be, too)

Since Goodbye Stranger aired, I’ve read a million and one pieces of amazing meta about the scene between Dean and Cas in the crypt. I have been on a meta binge. I doubt there is a single crypt scene related essay I haven’t devoured in the past two days.

Mostly, it seems, everyone is focused on one line.

"We’re family. We need you—I need you.

Holy hell have people written a lot about that. I’m not surprised, either. It was a damn good line.

What does surprise me, though, is that I haven’t seen anything written about what came immediately before it.

Another line, repeated twice, that has caused me to rewatch the scene more times than I care to admit.

"This isn’t you."

Let’s start a little earlier.

Dean scrambles to his feet after being thrown across the room, and Castiel is right in front of him. He throws a punch—his only punch in the entire scene—and Castiel snaps his arm.

The tablet hits the ground. The stone around it shatters, and Dean tells Castiel to take it.

"But you’ll need to kill me first."

For a few seconds, Castiel doesn’t move, and Dean goads him.

"Come on you coward. Do it! Do it!”

At first, this seems like nothing new; just your standard Dean Winchester bravado. It’s obvious that the memory of Castiel beating him down years ago in that alleyway is still fresh in his mind.

Back then, he’d been in the same position. On the ground, bloody and bruised, and when he’d told Castiel to “do it, just do it!” it had been enough. Castiel had stopped. But now, Castiel hits him again. Hard.

And Dean still doesn’t fight back. Doesn’t try to stand or escape, even though Castiel’s grip on his arm looks pretty loose. On my first watch, I wondered why. He might have a pretty intense death wish a lot of the time, but he doesn’t just give up mid fight.

But then the angle changes, and now we know that this is what Dean sees;

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Castiel, dead eyed and vacant. Castiel who always, always looks at Dean with emotion. In all the years that they have known one another, Castiel has never looked at Dean like this. Ever.

Because that’s the thing about Cas, isn’t it? He’s the angel with too much heart. The one with a weakness, the one who cares about humanity.

It’s been said over and over (and written about extensively in meta much more articulate than mine)—where other angels are stoic, Castiel feels.

He might not communicate emotion like a regular person, not by a long shot, but there’s always something in his eyes. Ninety percent of their communication is silent, and there is always something there. Fondness, annoyance, humor, confusion, sympathy. Even in the alleyway, the moment that mirrors this one the most, there was at least anger and disappointment.

Now though, there is nothing, and that is what keeps Dean on the ground.

Because for Castiel to be doing this, for the Castiel he knows to be hurting him, to be well on the way to killing him, he knows damn well that there’d be some trace of why written in to his expression. Not this slack-jawed automaton who is caving in his cheekbones without a flicker of emotion on his face.

"Cas," he says, "this isn’t you. This isn’t you."

If you can, it’s probably a good idea to watch the scene again at this point, and really listen to Dean’s voice.

The first time he says it, it’s as if he’s telling himself as much as trying to get through to Castiel. It’s a moment of realization, verbalized before he’s even really thought it through. You can see his face as the cogs start turning, as he recognizes the truth in his own words, and he has to repeat himself.

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The second time (and oh man, this is the part that made me write this meta in the first place) his voice wavers, and sure, he sounds scared and worried and pained, but more than any of that he sounds relieved.

Even as he’s bleeding and broken, he sounds so, so relieved—as if up until this point he was still afraid that maybe it was Castiel, that it was like the deal with Crowley all over again.

But now he knows, irrefutably, that this isn’t Castiel.And it’s in knowing this, that the real Cas, his Cas, would never be able to do this to him without hesitation, without emotion, that he finds hope.

Dean Winchester. Hopeful.

(I know, I know, it gave me chills too.)

And he’s hopeful because he understands now. Too much heart might have been considered Castiel’s problem in Heaven, but here, it’s a blessing. It’s the one weak spot in the armor that Heaven has encased him in, and Dean, the man he rebelled for, the man he looks at with feelings more varied and intense than anyone else, knows exactly how to break through.

"We’re family. We need you—I need you.”