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Force of Habit

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“Is this something we’re doing now?” Cas asks. “Being honest about how we feel?”

Dean looks up from his beer to find Cas staring at him, one eyebrow raised in a way that’s decidedly snarky. There’s something in the steadiness of Cas’ gaze, though, in the tilt of his head, that tells Dean it was an actual question and he expects an honest answer.

He had felt good earlier, after giving up the charade and admitting he wasn’t angry. It had felt nice to have things out in the open. He had relaxed, had told himself he could be honest and things would be all right, that he wouldn’t scare Cas off. He had wondered, for a few minutes, why he always felt the need to reign himself in, to bury his care and his concern under a facade. He had asked himself why he still bothered.

Dean sees, now, that he had just talked himself into becoming complacent. As soon as the words are out of Cas’ mouth, Dean’s heart suddenly starts doing double time. Ah, right, he thinks. That’s why. This is why he had changed the subject earlier, when Cas had made it clear he would die for them.

Dean still has limits that Cas seems uniquely excellent at pushing him to. He isn’t doing it on purpose, Dean thinks. It’s one of those human things he never quite got the hang of. Cas has always stood a little too close, stared a little too long. He’s always said things that unsettle Dean in a way he doesn’t quite understand, and this is no exception.

Dean could handle telling Cas he was worried, just like he had no problem putting himself in danger for Cas’ sake when he lowered his hand from the sigil. It’s the reciprocity he’s never quite been able to get used to. It always feels like more than he deserves.

He forces a smile and a chuckle. “Why,” he says, wincing internally at how uncomfortable he sounds, “you got something you wanna share with the class?”

Cas considers him steadily. He’s silent for so long that Dean’s discomfort manages to ratchet up another notch or two.

“I--” Cas starts, and then Sam reappears with another round of beers in hand. Dean and Cas both whip their heads towards him as he enters.

Sam looks back and forth between them. “Sorry, did I miss something?” he asks.

“Nope,” Dean says, grabbing one of the bottles from him. “Bottom’s up.”

--

It’s almost comfortable after that, once Dean is free of the expectation of providing a response to Cas’ question. They sit around the table and go back over all of Cas’ research, looking for gaps, for anything else they can do to help, for any other searches they can run. Sam already has his laptop out, working his magic as they talk through it.

Dean does his best to make up for the past few days. He asks questions to show he’s interested, to show that he cares, that he wants to help Cas figure this thing out. He makes observations and suggestions and looks Cas in the eye while he does it, even if the way Cas is looking back at him unsettles him a little. He offers to get them another round each time their beers run out. He isn’t feeling it yet, so it’s fine. He doesn’t have to worry he’ll do something he’s gonna regret.

He gets up to trace the path of Cas’ thoughts across the pinboards and asks himself why, exactly, he needs to watch himself around Cas. He’s mulling it over when he’s interrupted by an excited “Oh!” from Sam.

Sam seems to have figured something out while Dean was lost in his own thoughts. Dean moves back to sit across from Sam as he types away, absently narrating as he pulls on whatever thread he’s found. Cas leans in, watching Sam with rapt attention.

In that moment, in spite of everything, Dean feels hopeful. He knows those cosmic consequences are going to come back to haunt them, but for just a second, he lets himself imagine that they aren’t. That all they have to do is wrap up this nephilim business and then they’ll be done. They can go back to the daily grind and that will be that.

He thinks maybe if they can do that, if they get can to a point where there’s nothing really big going down, maybe they can focus on the smaller stuff for once. He’s been toying with the idea of clearing out one of the rooms in the bunker and setting it up as some kind of den now that he’s actually got a family to enjoy it with. They could clear out all the dusty old shelves and get some paint on the walls to mask the bare concrete, maybe put up some posters and some family photos. They might not be able to get cable, but they’ve got the internet working well enough, and Dean has been toying with the idea of getting one of those fancy new smart TVs that have Netflix built in. He could invite mom over and they could bond over the fact that neither of them knows a damn thing about how the TV works.

They could make a whole project out of it, maybe work on it together over a long weekend. It’d be fun setting up a cozy little family room together. He can already picture how they’d do the seating arrangements. They’d need a nice comfy couch for right in front of the TV and a couple of chairs for the sides. Maybe they could get one of those awesome reclining chairs, or maybe they could get one of the big overstuffed ones that comes with an ottoman-slash-blanket-storage. It’d be perfect for the winter months when no amount of ancient heating is able to keep the chill out of the bunker.

If they had a nice place to sit, easy access to Netflix, and an abundance of time, Dean thinks maybe Cas would have more of an excuse to stick around. He can picture exactly how it would go -- Cas would claim a seat on the couch and Dean would be able to plop down next to him, press up against him as easily as he had back in the diner, tell him to make room. Maybe he wouldn’t have to keep finding excuses to sit next to Cas. Maybe they could even sit together often enough that he’d get used to it, that it wouldn’t get his heart racing and his palms sweating. Maybe, in that scenario, it’d be simple to toss his arm across the back of the couch and keep it there even when it slipped down across Cas’ shoulders. Maybe--

“Dean?” Sam says, snapping Dean back to the present. He’s looking at Dean expectantly.

“Huh?”

“You were smiling,” Sam says. He raises an eyebrow. “You with us?”

“Yeah,” Dean says. Right, this is why he has to watch himself when Cas is around. He schools his face into a more appropriate expression. “Yeah, sorry. What was the question?”

--

Dean goes to grab himself another beer and comes back to find that Sam has vacated the room. “Traitor,” he mutters under his breath.

Cas looks away from the pinboards and up at Dean. “Hmm?”

“Nothing,” Dean says. He doesn’t go back to his chair, instead opting to half-sit on the end of the table. He stares at Cas’ research like he’s still trying to work the case, but he’s pretty sure Cas has already called his bluff. He takes a drink and can feel Cas’ eyes on him the entire time.

They sit in silence for a few long moments, Dean rolling his bottle between his hands, before Cas gets up to lean against the table, too. He leaves only a few inches between them, but even then, neither of them says anything. They stand next to one another, quietly drinking their beers as the minutes tick by.

It would be comfortable, Dean thinks, if only Cas didn’t keep getting closer and closer. It had been easy, back in the diner, in that context, where he could be kind of obnoxious about it, where he could make it into a joke, into something affectionately antagonistic -- it had been easy, then, to press right up against Cas until he was practically sitting half on top of him. But now, here, where there’s no joke to be made, where there’s nobody watching? It’s different. It’s harder. Much harder.

Cas came over without preamble, without fanfare. He’s standing right next to Dean even though there’s no excuse for it, no explanation. There’s no reason for him to do so other than that he wants to.

Dean looks over at Cas between pulls of his beer, at the space between them growing smaller and smaller. He can feel Cas doing the same, and when they finally happen to glance over at the same time, when their eyes finally meet, Dean finds that Cas is watching him with what looks a lot like hope buried under more than a few layers of exasperated impatience.

“Can I help you?” Dean asks, a little more forcefully than he means to. He feels too warm, suddenly, even in the perpetual chill of the bunker.

Cas raises an eyebrow. “Can you?” he asks, like it’s a challenge.

Dean stares at him for a moment, mouth opening and closing as he tries to come up with a response. Before he can think of something, Cas seems to deflate. His expression falls and he looks away, down at his hands. He says, “I’m sorry. If you’re uncomfortable…”

Out of all the things that have happened over the past few years, Dean isn’t sure why this is the thing that does it. He gets it, suddenly -- the way Cas looks at him, the things he says, the way he always wants to be in Dean’s space. He realizes that maybe the way Cas acts around him isn’t unintentional after all.

Dean downs the last of his beer and sets the bottle aside. He clears his throat. He says, with more certainty than he feels, “You’re waiting for me to make the first move.”

Cas still doesn’t meet Dean’s eyes. “Yes.”

“Why?”

Cas shifts uncomfortably, and in that moment, Dean thinks of the way he reacted after Cas broke their deal. He thinks of the days they spent alternating between avoiding one another and sniping at one another. He thinks of how it wasn’t until Dean admitted that he was worried that they finally dropped the act.

“You’re scared, too,” Dean says.

“I--” Cas starts. He sighs, shaking his head. “The way Ishim felt toward Lily…” Cas says slowly, as though choosing his words carefully. “The way he obsessed over her...It was destructive. It wasn’t what she wanted, but he pursued her anyway. And I don’t…” He sets his bottle down, wiping his hands on his slacks. “I’m not going to make that mistake. It has to be what you want.”

The thing is, it is what Dean wants. It’s been what he’s wanted for a long time now. The problem is that historically, what he’s wanted hasn’t made a whole lot of difference.

He’s scared, just like Cas is. He’s scared of losing him, scared of hurting him, scared of messing things up. They both could have died today. They could both still die tomorrow, but that doesn’t scare him half as much as the idea of reaching across the last inch between them and taking Cas’ hand in his own.

“You’re my best friend,” Dean admits. “I don’t want to ruin that.”

Cas considers him for a long moment. “I don’t see why that has to change,” Cas says.

Dean looks up at Cas, at the slow, steady, familiar way Cas is looking at him, and he thinks, maybe it doesn’t. They’ve both done so many terrible things in each other’s names and in the name of the greater good. He knows neither of them trusts themselves any more; their current situation is evidence enough of that. But there’s a part of him that thinks, if they’re still friends, now, after everything, what else could possibly come between them?

It seems absurd, suddenly, the idea that he should keep running from this if it’s what they both want. He’s starting to think maybe he’s just doing it from force of habit, from so many years spent telling himself he didn’t deserve anything from anyone.

Dean drags a hand over his face. “Guess you’ve been waiting for a while for me to get my shit together, huh?”

“Mmm,” Cas says. When Dean looks over at him, he’s smiling. “A while. What’s a few more seconds?” Cas looks pointedly at the small amount of space still between them. He adds, “Or maybe a few more hours.”

Dean barks a surprised laugh. “You’re kind of an asshole, you know that?”

“Well,” Cas says, smirking, “I learn from the b--”

Dean pulls him in by the lapels of his coat and kisses him.