Sophomore year starts off slow and predictable. Classes are tough, the homework is tougher, but it makes Dean happy. He loves engineering. He loves school. He loves Cas.
Yeah. He does. It all falls together in one moment halfway through September. He and Cas are sitting on a park bench, drinking shitty drip coffee and signing about something woefully unimportant. Cas makes this little expression where his nose scrunches up, halfway between laughing at Dean and glaring at him, and Dean gets it. He finally gets it. This thing he’s been feeling, it’s not just a crush.
“Oh my god,” Dean says, when Cas looks down at his coffee, “I’m in love with you.”
Cas takes a sip, sets down his cup to sign, You said something?
Dean’s hand stutters, fumbles. Nothing, sorry.
And Cas gives him another look, eyebrows pulling together, and fuck, all Dean can think about is how much he loves this. Loves Cas.
Sitting on that bench, Dean realizes: this is it for him. This is it.
So much has passed between them in the last year. Dean thinks of all the ways he knows Cas, backwards and forwards and inside-out. And Dean doesn’t believe in destiny or fate or any of that mumbo-jumbo, but here with Cas, he begins to wonder...
He puts it in the back of his mind and keeps on moving. Tries to focus on school, on friends, on anything else but this. But it keeps on coming up.
One of the best things about ASL is that it’s silent, which means he and Cas can talk at any hour without disturbing others. Late one night in their room, they’re deep in conversation about what the future holds. Cas is signing softly, his motions gentle and unhurried, something about teaching English to deaf kids. When he asks Dean about his own dreams, Dean sits up, thinks for a long minute.
He reaches for the whiteboard, empty on the nightstand between them. Carefully, he writes, I want to be a fireman.
He knows the signs, could easily shape them. But those words are too valuable for his hands to carry. He barely trusts himself with them.
Cas reads, blinks, and looks up at Dean. He signs, I didn’t know.
I’ve never told anyone that before, Dean signs. He chews his lip, wipes out the words with the pad of his thumb. Keeps his eyes low.
Cas knows about his mom. The truth came out while they were in South Dakota; Dean hadn’t wanted to talk about it but he had wanted Cas to know. So Cas knows what this dream means to Dean.
Dean lets himself look up, through the dim light, to Cas. Cas reaches out slowly, surely, and cups Dean’s face in his hand. Dean doesn’t know what this means, but Cas doesn’t sign any explanation, his other hand still.
“It’s not a big deal,” Dean says, even though it is. And what Cas is saying – without really saying – that’s a big deal too. Dean feels a warm, heavy pressure on his chest.
He thinks he’s in danger, here. There’s no going back, no pushing it aside. He thinks he should be concerned, or upset, but what they have just feels right. This, here, this is what Dean needs. This is who Dean needs.
And then there are the lighter, easier moments, to remind him how much he loves Cas. Like the time Dean tries to explain music. It’s such a big part of his life, of his personality, and one of the hardest things about being with Cas is that he can’t share that. Cas doesn’t know it, doesn’t mind it, but he’s missing out, and Dean doesn’t like that. He tries to describe, through signing, what it’s like. What it means. He talks about Hey Jude, and his mom. He talks about Houses of the Holy, and growing up in the car with Sam. Dad changed cassettes every week, but Zep remained a fixture in the car. He talks about Dust in the Wind, and how much he thinks Cas would love it.
Music is how Dean makes connections, so not being able to share that with Cas is hard for him.
Except one day, Dean comes back to the room after a long, tough exam, and when he opens the door it’s to the guitar riff of Who Do You Love? by George Thorogood. Cas is cross-legged on the bed, rifling through Dean’s cassette collection, when he looks up, eyes blue and lively. Dean is three seconds away from pushing Cas down and kissing him all over, but he doesn’t.
He doesn’t act on any of it. He wants to, yeah, but it’s not… practical. He doesn’t know how Cas feels. And he’s content just to be friends. He’s content just to be around Cas.
Being more, it would- it would change things. If it didn’t work out, if they ended things, it would end their friendship too. What they have right now is so good; he doesn’t want it to fall apart. He doesn’t think he could bear that.
So he ruffles Cas’s hair, signs you’re awesome, and then, when Cas isn’t looking, he says, “I love you.”
It becomes a habit. Dean starts saying it every day, every time Cas looks away. He’s not the kind of guy who says that a lot, not even to Sam or Bobby. But he gets used to saying it to Cas. He makes it casual.
“I love you,” he says, when Cas makes him coffee at three in the morning.
“I love you,” he says, in the line for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon.
“I love you,” he says, walking Cas to class every morning.
One weekend they pick up a rake from the gardening club and go to the quad together. They trade off raking leaves into a pile, the oranges and browns of early November, and when they have a substantial pile, they hold hands and jump in.
They should be too mature for this. It shouldn’t be this much fun. They have homework to do. But Dean is laughing and kicking leaves, and when Cas resurfaces he has three little orange leaves stuck in his hair.
“I love you,” Dean says through a wide smile, reaching up to pick the leaves out. He flicks them off his fingers one at a time, and when he looks back up, Cas is staring at him wide and unblinking.
“Uh, Cas?” Dean asks.
What did you just say? Cas signs.
And Dean’s brain catches up with him. His muscles tense, his stomach drops, his knees go weak. This isn’t- he didn’t really- Cas is just staring at him, and-
They’re staring at each other and Cas isn’t signing anything and Dean is turning red as the leaves under their feet. Cas licks his lips, and fuck, Dean loves him, he can’t do this anymore.
I should return the rake, Dean signs, sloppily, and he grabs it and runs.
Well, he tries not to run. He speedwalks in a dignified manner.
He hears the crunch of leaves behind him, but he just goes faster, because he can’t deal with this. He said it, he said it when Cas was reading his lips. He fucked up big time.
Fuck. Dean clenches his fingers around the rake and speeds up.
And then he hears, from behind him, an unfamiliar voice call his name.
“Dean!” It’s loud and desperate, rough too. Then, again, louder, “Dean!”
And then he figures out who’s calling after him.
Dean drops the rake.
He turns, stares openmouthed across the quad at Cas. Cas is still standing amidst the leaves, in that ugly brown scarf and matching mittens, jaw set and eyes wild.
“Cas?” he asks.
And he hears again, “Dean.”
And Cas is marching towards him, and then he’s shoving Dean backwards, fisting his hands in Dean’s coat, signing angrily, you idiot, you complete fucking idiot, over and over and over again.
“Cas-” he says, but Cas cuts him off.
“Dean,” Cas says, and he signs, I love you.
He doesn’t sign the shorthand version. It’s something genuine.
Dean’s mind is still scattered, but he gets it together for long enough to kiss Cas.
Or maybe Cas kisses him. He’s not really sure, but now they’re kissing, and Cas still has leaves in his hair. Dean’s hands are still shaking, but now they’re winding around Cas’s waist, lifting him onto his tiptoes.
“Dean,” Cas says, like a fucking broken record. Except Dean doesn’t care because Cas is saying his name. And fuck, his voice is sexy as hell, which Dean stores for later reflection, but right now he’s a little distracted.
I didn’t mean to- Dean starts to sign, but Cas covers his hands with his own. The ASL version of being interrupted, Dean supposes.
I don’t care, Cas signs. I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out for months.
And Dean gets it. Cas knew, all along, was just waiting for Dean to get his head screwed on properly. Because he’s spent his whole life second-guessing things, and this is no different. Because he’s an idiot. Because he knows this is what he wants but he’s too afraid to reach for it.
I don’t know- Dean signs, and again, Cas cuts him off.
I do, Cas signs. I do. Okay?
Dean looks at Cas’s eyes instead of his words. And carefully, he signs against Cas’s hands, okay.
So Cas kisses him again, and then signs, Don’t walk away from me like that. I don’t like it. Calling after you is hard.
And Dean signs okay to that too. It’s all okay right now. Even better than okay, maybe.
You have leaves in your hair, Dean signs. He’s going to pick them out, but then Cas is kissing him again, and everything is as warm and orange as fall trees.