When Cas came back, Dean didn’t experience the mania he had felt the last time Cas returned from the Empty. He was relieved, of course, but he didn’t know what to do.
For the first day or two, he couldn’t look Cas in the eye. He was never alone with him. He skirted around him like Cas was the sun and Dean simply an orbiting planet, staying far enough away so as not to burn.
Cas, for his part, provided Dean the space. He was his usual stoic and steadfast self, but Dean noticed a difference in him anyway. It took him a while to realize that it was Cas’ inherent sadness, that it was gone. He no longer hurt. He was comfortable and content.
And Dean was jealous. He held tension so fearfully that he woke each morning with pain in his clenched jaw. Don’t look at Cas, don’t be alone with Cas, don’t get too close to Cas, don’t talk to Cas, Cas, Cas.
After a few days, Dean tried to be normal. He started with touch. He knew how to touch Cas, because they had always known touch, had always used touch to communicate with one another. Still, he had to relearn.
He started easy, with encouraging pats to Cas’ shoulders, a brush of his hand against his elbow, letting his fingers linger for longer than necessary when they handed things between each other. It got easier.
The first time they were alone together, it was morning and Cas was brewing a pot of coffee. They spoke in low tones, across the kitchen from one another, about nothing in particular. But Dean said something that made Cas smile, so Dean crossed the kitchen and wrapped his arms around him and held him until they heard Sam coming down the hall.
Days turned into weeks, and things began to feel normal. As Dean relaxed into his friendship with Cas, he realized what a relief it was to know the certainty of their relationship’s strength. He never doubted himself anymore, never worried that he might push Cas away or hurt him, because Cas’ love was so solid and sure, ever-present and easy. Sometimes, he looked at Cas and the thought would cross his mind, he loves me, and it didn’t terrify him. The tension eased.
Weeks turned into months, and Dean settled in. He sat across from Cas in the kitchen each morning, mostly in silence. He sat across from him in the library, researching cases, mostly in silence. He went on supply runs, Cas in the passenger seat, listening to music. Dean’s affection poured easily from him, in hugs and caresses and gentle words. Cas accepted all with ease.
Months turned into a year. They were watching a movie together one night after Sam had gone to bed. Dean had his arm comfortably slung over the back of the couch, his fingertips within reach of Cas’ shoulder. Cas sat slightly leaned forward, a small smile on his face, engrossed with the plot.
Dean looked at him for a long time. He paused the movie.
Cas turned with a surprised look on his face, like he forgot Dean was sitting on the other side of the couch.
“Uh,” Dean said. “D’you wanna come over here?”
Dean laughed lightly, then pressed play, turning back toward the TV. “Never mind.”
When the movie ended, they talked about it. Cas enjoyed it and had a lot of things to say. Dean listened.
After the third time Dean yawned, he said, “I gotta hit the sack, Cas.”
“Alright. Goodnight, Dean.”
He stood from the couch and passed by Cas on his way out of the room, and when his hand accidentally brushed against Cas’ leg, he didn’t stop himself from reaching for him and hauling him up from the couch, leading him down the hall by the hand.
“Do you ever sleep, Cas?”
Dean pulled him down to his bed anyway. “Well, just lay next to me, would you?” He curled onto his side, away from Cas, and fell asleep.
The next time they watched a movie, Dean tipped to the side halfway through and rested his head in Cas’ lap. He fell asleep before it was over, with Cas’ hand a reassuring touch against his shoulder.
Dean knew exactly what day it was that Castiel told him he loved him. He didn’t know if Cas knew, and he wasn’t about to bring it up. But he knew that it was three weeks after the anniversary, and they were on an early-morning supply run, and Dean saw in his peripheral vision the way that Cas was gently tapping his fingers against his thigh to the beat of the music. When Dean looked over for a glimpse of his friend, he found that easy, open smile he had grown so accustomed to over the past year. He looked ahead at the road.
“I love you.”
Cas huffed a laugh. “I love you, too, Dean.”
The road stretched ahead of them; Cas tapped along to the music.
Dean parked far away from the store, away from all the other cars. He was faster getting out of the car than Cas, so he was able to meet him on the passenger side. He smiled at him, and Cas smiled back, and when Dean cupped the back of his head and pulled him forward for a kiss, it was easy.