When Cas walks into the kitchen one day and says, "I love you," Dean thinks he's joking, and maybe that's the problem.
"Man, you haven't tasted them yet," he chuckles, spooning scrambled eggs onto a plate. "Save the declaration of love until after."
Sam glares at him but that's nothing new so he doesn't take any notice, other than pointing his fork at his brother and saying sternly, "Eat your eggs."
Dean chooses not to see Cas's crestfallen face.
When he takes Cas a glass of water that night because he heard him yelling through the walls, Cas takes his wrist and asks him to stay.
So he does, legs stretched out in front of him on top of the blankets, arms folded under his head and eyes fixed on the ceiling, as he weaves tales of humorous Winchester hunting escapades until Cas falls asleep again.
A few days later, when Dean nods off in a stiff-backed chair in the library (face down in a book, no less) he doesn't actually feel Cas drape a blanket over his shoulders, and he doesn't notice when Cas's fingers lightly brush the hair on his forehead, but something makes him smile in his sleep anyway.
When morning comes, Dean knows that it would be logical to assume the blanket was Sam's doing and doesn't mention it.
In Goodwill, when shopping for something that won't make Cas look like a homeless person, the smile on Cas's face as he rummages through a rack of hideous shirts almost makes Dean's stomach squirm—but of course it doesn't, because that would be insane.
Then Cas holds up a (very gender-questionable) black t-shirt with 'ANGEL BY DAY, DEVIL BY NIGHT' written on the front in bright yellow and red lettering and says, very seriously, "What do you think?" and Dean can't remember laughing so hard in a very long time.
It turns out that Cas was joking, but Dean buys the shirt anyway, if only to see Sam's face.
A week later Dean and Sam are grocery shopping and at one point in the dairy aisle Dean says, "No, Cas doesn't like the vanilla one anymore. Get strawberry. And make sure it's all organic and crap, or else we won't hear the end of it. I swear to God, man, I've never known anyone take yoghurt so seriously. Well, apart from you, which says a lot really…" he stops at the look his brother is giving him, sort of amused and yet satisfied, like he's just won an argument or a bet. "What's wrong with your face?"
Sam just shrugs, "Nothing," and pushes the cart towards the milk, but the whole moment settles deep in Dean's stomach and makes him slightly and inexplicably nauseous.
Later that week, Cas stumbles upon and then develops a certain fondness for the Discovery Channel, by which Dean means that Cas sits in front of the television and haughtily corrects the oblivious narrators and presenters, in a way that only someone who was actually there during things like the Crimean War can. Sometimes Dean joins him, because it is nothing if not amusing to hear Cas refer to Florence Nightingale as 'Old Flo'.
It is when Dean is watching a documentary about Antarctica that his whole world tilts a little on its axis.
Because there're these Emperor Penguins, right, and they practically mate for life. But they spend months and months apart every year, because they have separate duties, separate responsibilities, then they crawl across miles and miles of ice and reunite and just stand there and fucking sing to each other chest-to-chest for a while. And it all seems so impossible because of the constant danger, the monsters out to get them, to eat them, the vast distance between them, like whole other worlds, other planes of reality, but something always brings them back together, and—and Dean has forgotten who he's talking about.
And he looks across at Cas now, who is swamped in one of Sam's hooded sweatshirts and curled up in the chair with an ease that Dean has never seen before and helpfully informing him that "actually, Dean, only about fifteen percent of penguin pairs find each other again the second year and just five percent the year after that," and how fucking tragic is that?
The whole thing has Dean reaching for the whiskey.
If Dean's world is wonky after what he's now terming in the deep dark recesses of his brain as the 'penguin crisis', it collapses in on itself like a fucking supernova when, one evening, he realises suddenly and abruptly that he really really wants to fuck Cas into the nearest mattress (or table or chair or any flat surface, really).
They're cooking, you see, and Cas has pasta sauce everywhere, like in his hair and on his clothes and all over his face—but he's grinning and "Dean, I think this batch tastes okay, I didn't forget the tomatoes this time," and it's so damn endearing that Dean physically has to stop himself doing something stupid, like kissing the sauce away from Cas's cheeks.
He goes out straight after dinner, ignoring Sam's far-too-knowing pleas to "calm down and just tell me what's happened before you go and drink and screw yourself into oblivion" but he walks out of the bunker and doesn't look back, because he could feel Cas's eyes on him and that was all a bit too much to be honest.
Look, it's not like Dean's an idiot, okay? He's been very aware for a long time that what he and Cas have is different to what he has, or had, with anyone else. Different to Lisa, even. And that's what is steering the Impala towards the bar right now: that gut-clenching fear of oh God what is this, what's happening, I don't understand. Sexual attraction he could handle just fine. Maybe they'd fuck once or twice, but only as a stress and tension reliever. It would be casual, easy, mean nothing. Yeah, simple attraction would be fine. Only, this is so far away from just UST, or whatever it is they called it on Dr. Sexy that time.
So Dean goes to the bar, and he drinks himself mostly sort of halfway to oblivion and picks up a pretty redhead with boobs that won't quit and the silent promise of a good time—only he gets about as far as the backseat of the Impala (because he's classy like that, but hey, it could have been the club bathroom or something) before he freezes in a way he hasn't done since he lost his virginity at the tender age of sixteen, only this time it's stupid blue eyes and dark hair burned into his eyelids.
The poor girl (Sandy? Susan…? No, Sophie, that's the one) grabs her purse and shoves him away, sliding out from under his semi-naked body.
He attempts a meek sort of "I'm sorry, Soph, I'm just not feelin' it" because he does feel bad about leading her on, but he soon stops feeling guilty when she huffs indignantly and snaps "my name is Lucy, you dickwad!" and definitely accidentally on purpose catches his ankle with her stiletto heel as she storms from the car. So it goes.
When Dean slips back into the bunker with his tail between his legs a while later (he's been sitting outside in his car getting steadily drunker… more drunk? drunkerer?… for the past hour), stumbling slightly because, hey, his own feet are like a trip hazard, it's 3am and he doesn't expect Cas to be sitting up waiting for him. Only, Cas is sitting up waiting for him.
"Heeeeeeeey, Cas," he drawls, and dammit, what is wrong with his jacket, has someone glued it to his wrist because it is not coming off.
Cas rolls his eyes and helps, which is good because Dean's forgotten in which direction his bedroom is, and isn't that ridiculous? Clearly his abstinence from the hard stuff since he went to Purgatory has sent tonight's consumption straight into his bloodstream and affected him more than it used to, and it's possible Cas is muttering this as he steers them both down the hall because that doesn't sound like something Dean would say.
Then they're in his bedroom, and his mattress is busy remembering him under his butt, and Cas is frowning in an 'if I could smite you I would' kinda way.
"Are we going to talk about it?" Cas asks, like he knows exactly what 'it' is, and it's probably good that one of them does.
So Dean says "no," and then he's unconscious before he hears Cas's response.
It all comes to a rather inevitable conclusion on a Wednesday afternoon.
Dean is sitting at the table nursing a beer, and Sam is cataloguing or some equally boring shit opposite him, when he has a sudden flash memory of scrambled eggs and glares and "I love you" and Jesus fucking Christ how had he not seen this sooner?
Then the beer is all over the floor and he can only gape like a goldfish for a moment.
He looks at his brother almost accusingly, because this has to be Sam's fault somehow, but Sam only quirks a shoulder and smiles and nods, and he doesn't say anything but it's quite obvious he gets it, and wow what a jerk (except where he's not and Dean feels another rush of relief that he stopped Sammy from trying to save the world).
Then Dean is on his feet, heading towards Cas's room apparently, and the man in question is sitting cross-legged on his bed and, holy mother of fuck, is he knitting? Oh God, he is. Cas is knitting. And Dean doesn't really know what to do with this (but he bets it was Sam's idea, he's the only girl Dean knows who would knit) but then Cas is frowning again and putting down the green yarn and asking, "Dean?"
So Dean steps forward again. Looks down at him. Says, "You told me you loved me and I thought you were being sarcastic."
Oh. Well. Yes. Dean had expected denial, maybe, but then perhaps he shouldn't judge everyone by his own standards.
"But you weren't," Dean continues, and it's not a question except for where it is.
And, "Care to elaborate, Chatty Cathy?", he snaps, and he doesn't mean to only this is all so—yeah.
Cas is standing now, personal space be damned. "What would you like me to say, Dean?"
"I don't know, Cas!" Dean's lifts his arms before letting them fall helplessly to his sides. "How about—how about explaining why? Because as far as I see it, this … your fall, this is your chance to be human, to make a fresh start, and yet you're here when you could be anywhere, with anyone? And you told me you fucking loved me, man, and it didn't even occur to me to believe you. I mean, shouldn't that prove that I'm fucked up, Cas? You know me, you know I'm not—"
But he doesn't get a chance to explain what he isn't, because suddenly he has an armful of not-quite-angel-anymore and there are lips on his and Jesus he should have stopped talking a long time ago.
Turns out those pasta sauce fantasies he'd had don't even begin to compare to the real thing. Cas kisses like he's desperate for it, and maybe he is. Maybe they both are, by this point. It's all teeth and tongue (God, Cas's tongue) and the bruising press of fingertips on warm skin.
They lose their shirts fairly quickly and Dean's hands skim over the hard lines of Cas's chest, down to the softer planes of his stomach, around to his back, drag up his spine, and it's so different from doing this with a woman but good different because Dean really can't get enough.
He wonders, briefly, if there's such a thing as being Cas-sexual, 'cause he is definitely that if so, but then Cas presses his hips forward and Dean pretty much stops wondering anything.
And wait, how did they get onto the bed? Because they are, and Dean's sure that's a damn knitting needle prodding him between the shoulder blades, but with Cas on top of him he doesn't really care.
It doesn't take them long to shed the rest of their clothes, and then it's all skin-on-skin and everywhere is on fire and he feels light-headed and dizzy.
They're grinding against each other like horny teenagers, but that's okay because there'll be plenty of time for other stuff later. Right now they just—they need.
Dean starts to think he might actually have an aneurysm when Cas's mouth trails across his jaw and across to his ear, all hot breath as he whispers, "I love your terrible eating habits," and that's possibly one of the weirdest things Dean's heard in the throes of passion, but he's also pretty damn sure that Cas could read the phone book and turn him on, so.
It's all sweat-slick skin now, sliding over and over and ohyesrightthere, and "I love that sometimes you have the emotional maturity of a teenager," and what the hell is Cas doing?
"Dude," Dean chuckles, breaking off on a gasp as that damn tongue flicks down his neck, before gritting out, "we gotta work on your dirty talk."
But Cas isn't done. "I love the way you believed you were broken after Hell, and yet stayed strong for Sam."
"I love that you never said yes to Michael."
And now Dean isn't sure if he wants to cry or not, so he flips them over and swallows Cas's groan, hips bucking shamelessly. They kiss for a long time, tongues plundering, learning and tasting.
"I love the way you don't give up on people," Cas mutters, fingers ghosting over, holymotheroffuck, everywhere.
"Cas, please," Dean begs, but he doesn't know what he's begging for, only knows that the pleasure is almost painful, tugging and desperate and visceral, and he can't hear these things.
A pair of legs, Cas's legs, hook around Dean's waist and he's pulling them closer with simultaneous moans until there's hardly an inch of them that isn't touching, rubbing and grinding. There's a mouth on Dean's neck, he realises distantly, and half-hopes there'll be a hickey the size of Texas there in the morning.
"I love the way you didn't—ugh, yes right there, Dean, Dean, oh—the way you didn't give up on me," Cas breathes in a sudden rush, like he can't hold it in any longer, "because I have never and will never give up on you."
And that's it, that's all it takes. That slow-building burning in the pit of Dean's stomach becomes blinding, white-hot and so intense and there are definitely tears on Dean's cheeks, and two more thrusts and that's it, he's coming all over their fused stomachs with a groan so loud there's no way the whole of Lebanon couldn't have heard it.
He thinks he says something, something insane and ridiculous and honest like "Cas, oh God, I love you, too" probably, but he's so exhausted and all his limbs are shaking, and when Cas comes it's almost too much.
A dry sob wracks his body and he collapses beside Cas, kisses him softly, shoves the damn knitting out of the way, and pulls the covers over them. Cleaning up isn't important. They can shower later. Nothing is important anymore, other than this moment right here and the sound of their breathing.
When Cas walks into the kitchen one day later and says, "I love you," Dean knows he isn't joking, and maybe it's never really been a problem, anyway.