“Dean.” Cas stepped into the room, the same broken-glass step that he’d had ever since he’d trashed heaven and had been dropped alongside all the other angels. No one had seen any physical broken wings yet, but something had definitely cracked on impact, and Cas walked about now with the careful step of someone who was afraid to step on their own broken pieces.
Personal boundaries had never been Cas’s forte, so even though this was Dean’s room - the first room that had rightly been his in almost longer than he could remember - the elder Winchester just sighed and put down the old Western he was reading as the night sank into lateness. “What is it, Cas?”
Looking uncharacteristically troubled, and so odd in sweatpants and a T-shirt instead of his usual slacks and trenchcoat, the angel hovered in the doorway like an uncertain magnet, swaying inwards towards whatever pulled it. “I… Dean, I do not know how to ask this.”
Dean rolled his eyes, but just a little bit. Teasing Cas was decidedly less fun when the guy was a mass of ‘damaged and guilty’ after the Fall, and even Sammy had noticed that his brother had gentled around the angel - especially in moments like this, where all traces of the Almighty Angel [previously] of Heaven were gone, replaced by something else that was far more human and far more fragile. “Just spit it out, Cas. Hell, you’ve already warned me, so whatever comes out of your mouth, I’ll handle it,” Dean leaned forward over his knees and even flashed a friendly smile, the kind that loads of people didn’t believe he had unless he was just lying to get someone in bed. He hadn’t done that in awhile either.
Cas nodded uncertainly, but in the end, his trust won out - something that made Dean just a bit uncomfortable...because wasn’t trust what had caused this mess in the first place, with Metatron? Cas was finally talking again, though, straightening his spine as if trying to brace himself against his own words, his own weaknesses, a motion that had become common since he’d fallen and pretty much had his wings clipped. He was still an angel, but like all the others, he was as weak as a kitten. “It’s...it’s the quiet, Dean. I do not expect you to understand, but angels are…” He searched for a word while Dean sat with an eyebrow rising. “...Noisy. Even when I am far away from them, here on Earth, the chatter is there - ‘white noise’, I think you’d call it. It is gone now, though.” Growing suddenly very uneasy, Cas shifted from foot to foot, a nervous sign that he never showed in battle or tight situations, but was giving into now as he talked about Angel Radio. Dean’s eyebrow went down to join the other one, and then both lowered over his eyes in cautious query. “Yes, see - I knew it would not make sense.” Cas caught the expression, and he suddenly looked very defeated and very tired. Exhausted, actually. Suddenly, Dean realized that whenever everyone went to sleep, Cas was still up, and when he woke up, the angel was already waiting. He’d just assumed it was because...well...angels didn’t sleep. But since the Fall, even the most undamaged of the Heavenly Host were apparently doing very human things, and the dark, bruise-like shadows under Cas’s eyes said that he should have been doing more of the sleep thing.
“Cas, slow down,” Dean lifted a hand, willing to be patient if it meant he didn’t get a panicked, sleep-deprived angel on his hands - because he knew that even a crippled one could cause trouble in a cinch. “Just because I make a face at you doesn’t mean I don’t get it, give me some credit here.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just tell me why the problem is.” He made a bit of a face, a frank grimace as he took in more signs of utter exhaustion. “And why you look like you haven’t slept in a week.”
“I do not believe I have. Which, for a fully-powered angel would be natural, but I believe that with my Grace as limited as it is, and...and my injuries from the expulsion from Heaven, I am in need of it. I cannot seem to sleep with the silence, however,” Cas finally admitted in full, still hovering in the door like an uncertain new cat.
“Have you tried-?”
“I’ve tried listening to music, turning on a fan, and any other kinds of ‘white noise’ that most humans use,” Cas answered immediately, then elaborated with his most normal attempt at a human shrug, which just looked fake but cute with his angel stiffness behind it, “Sam told me some things. He said that humans sometimes get ‘insomnia’, and likewise cannot sleep, and explained a few methods to assist with that. But I am so tired that it actually hurts, and…” Suddenly Cas ducked his head again, and Dean found himself both amused and a bit curious about what could make an angel so self-conscious. Cas hadn’t had a posture like that since Dean had tried to take him to a strip-club…
“Can I sleep with you, Dean?”
The hunter balked, eyes widening a startled fraction.
For an angel who was a failure at reading the subtleties of humanity, Cas had gotten alarmingly good in the last ten minutes at reading Dean’s expressions, and now he looked heartbroken, and lifted his hands as he took a little shuffle backwards. “I did not mean it like that, Dean. I am not alluding to sexual intercourse.”
“You sure as Hell aren’t!” Dean agreed, then felt horrid and wished he hadn’t spoken, because Cas’s raised hands looked more like a means of warding off a blow than showing his own harmlessness. Dean bit his tongue and cursed inside his head, but at least Cas kept speaking before he had to find something nice to say or an apology that would calm an angel down.
“I just want to sleep with you in the literal sense,” Cas painfully tried to explain, the fatigue in his expression making his eyes bluer - more vulnerable, “The chatter of all of my brothers and sisters has always been constant and comforting in my ears, even when there was the most strife between us. I believe that that is why fans and music do not work - because those things are impersonal and not alive. I believe that the closest actual equivalent would be…” He took a breath and continued with more soldierly bravery, “...Would be a human heartbeat.”
After snapping at the angel, Dean had guilt wrapped around his chest like barbed wire, and even though he wanted to tell Cas to turn around, walk right out of the room, and shut the door behind him, he knew he wouldn’t before Cas even stopped speaking. Rubbing a hand over his face and feeling a war between his pride, his embarrassment, and his guilt, Dean pushed aside the first two and tried to alleviate the last. Besides, Cas looked beat. Awful, in fact, and Dean looked at the clock to see that it was almost 4 AM, with Cas apparently running on no sleep for days now. “Okay. Fine then. You can…” He gestured vaguely and a bit wildly at the bed and then - with a shudder of rather humiliating fear - at himself. “Just do it, all right, before I change my mind!”
It was almost sad the way the angel’s eyes alit with unadulterated gratitude, and he was immediately shuffling forward. Dean made a note to go with Cas next time he got new clothes, because he still looked like he was wearing sweatpants a few sizes too long on him, so every step looked like tripping waiting to happen. Then Dean was trying to sit still against the headboard and not cringe or shove at the sleep-deprived angel, as Cas took up the unoccupied space against his left side. Dean had long-since stolen enough pillows from other rooms in the bunker to make quite a nice nest when he wanted to, but he sat now as if the pillows behind him were full of nails, more frozen than if he’d been cornered by Vampires.
“Dean?” Cas had almost immediately snuggled down so that his right ear was pressed against Dean’s left pectoral muscle, probably precisely over his heart.
Trying not to either fidget or scream, Dean swallowed twice and then returned in a semi-normal monotone, “Yeah, Cas?” It was actually a pathetic attempt to keep his voice from breaking in very un-Hunter-like panic. Who knew that being laid on by an angel would be more terrifying than facing off against demons?
The smaller man shifted a bit, and Dean noticed out of the corner of his eye that the angel was keeping his hands carefully tucked away - curled in against his chest so that they barely even brushed Dean’s side despite the closeness. Dean should have scooted over more, to give the other man more room, but Cas was making the best of it by carefully placing his legs. Again, the slight bend of his knees barely came into contact with the bed’s original occupant at all. “Thank you, Dean. I appreciate… That is, I understand how this must be uncomfortable for you. I have truly tried to listen to your lessons on human personal space, and am reasonably certain that this is an invasion of that space.”
Dean resisted the urge to emit a manic little chuckle, but his chest still jerked in a bark of something like laughter. He rocked his head back against the headboard with a light thump, wondering if this was all some insane dream he was having. He was waiting for Sammy to walk through the door arm-in-arm with a clown or something. “Yeah, Cas, it kind of is,” he nonetheless agreed, figuring he had no choice but to play along if this were just his subconscious speaking. Cas’s dark head on his chest looked so tentative and careful, however, that something twisted painfully behind Dean’s sternum, and he couldn’t help but add, “Don’t worry about it, though. Your angel mojo’s all messed up, so if you need this, I’ll take your word for it. Besides, it’s not as if you’re getting handsy or anything.”
“Thank you, Dean,” Cas repeated with due reverence, and although the Hunter could only see the top of his head, he saw and felt the nod. “May I ask you a question?” was the next hesitant sentence.
“I thought you wanted to sleep?”
Cas had never really understood playful teasing on a good day, and clearly being dumped out of Heaven on his ass and then falling victim to insomnia hadn’t helped, because Cas’s shoulders twitched in a sharp flinch. “I apologise. Yes, that was the reason for my request. I will try to go to sleep.”
Part of Dean wanted to ask what the question was, but the other half was pathetically relieved that there was silence now, and he could mutely deal with sharing intimate space with a dude - with arguably his best friend besides his brother. Staring at the ceiling and counting to ten in the hopes that it would subdue the urge to spring away like a cat off a hot stove, Dean held perfectly still a moment longer, the reached out carefully with his right hand for his discarded book. There was no way in hell he was going to fall asleep anytime soon with Castiel cuddled up to him, and he’d been getting to a good part in the story anyway. Dean managed to move subtly enough that Cas didn’t take it as a sign of rejection, or else the dude was already drifting off, but the problem was Dean couldn’t use his left hand without unsettling things. So, with a glower at his predicament, Dean fumbled around until he got the book open in one hand, glad it was a paperback but irked that the bookmark fell out and he wouldn’t likely be able to put it back in one-handed. Turning pages took effort, but by propping the book against his leg, Dean managed, returning to the story of cowboys and horses, wild adventures and wilder shootouts, and before long he managed to forget the warm body against his side. He didn’t notice when Cas’s breathing even out, like a sea calming until nothing but gentle waves lapped against the sand. The angel relaxed so slowly that he went from uneasily awake and tense to a pliant lump of damaged angel without attracting any attention either, and even in sleep, he kept his posture contained - although the knuckles of one hand eventually uncurled to rest against Dean’s ribs, and one knee slid into the side of his thigh. Still, Cas wasn’t exactly getting handsy, and Dean’s book really was good.
It was hours later when Dean decided that the story had held his attention enough for the night, and he wasn’t exactly a robot either. He didn’t realize that he’d forgotten his impromptu bedmate until he went to reach for the bookmark only to remember the weight against his left shoulder, and narrowed green eyes immediately snapped over with a look of supremely perturbed shock. Embarrassment flooded over him again, and Dean looked everywhere but at Cas, who was obviously out cold. “Just my friggin’ luck,” Dean muttered to himself, but this time he manned up and decided he needed both damn hands. Slithing one out from between himself and Cas, it turned out, worked fine so long as he was then willing to have his left around around the angel - pulling his limb up between them risked pushing Cas off the bed, and Dean made a note that if this happened again, he’d give the angel more room.
At that point, Dean refused to think about ‘again’, and instead awkwardly maneuvered the book into his newly-freed left hand, holding his place with the book above Cas’s loosely curved shoulder while he finally caught the discarded bookmark from the right. Then it was a simple matter of marking his place, tossing the book to the floor not far off...and realizing that he had his arm around Cas and didn’t know what to do with it.
It was a sign that miracles did happen that Sam was nowhere in sight to watch all this.
Cas still hadn’t stirred - the man really was out like a light, breathing with the slow, deep breaths of the truly exhausted that made a warm patch on Dean’s chest through his shirt - and Dean wanted to sleep, too, even though he was sure that being this mortified precluded the possibility of dozing. Still, he decided stubbornly that this was his bed, and he’d be damned if he was going to let Cas’s presence in it ruin a good night’s sleep. That bullheaded thought firmly in mind, Dean defiantly dropped his arm down over Castiel’s shoulders and wriggled down just far enough to stretch his large frame out against the sheets. As his head finally relaxed against a pillow, Dean closed his eyes and sighed in relief; Castiel’s only response was to fidget slightly, hushing in a deeper breath and rushing it out in a similar, but more fretful sigh, then relaxed with one hand more firmly nudged up against the Hunter’s ribcage. “I hope this is worth it, Cas,” Dean muttered, but the ire was lost in sleepiness as he drifted off, too.
Dean was alerted to the fact that something was wrong by the rising and falling beneath his palm; at some point, his hand had slid down so that his hand was spread across Cas’s lower ribs. Now, those ribs were jerking faster as Cas’s breathing hitched and picked up speed in small increments, until the elder Winchester was awake and staring down at Cas’s head in rumpled bemusement. Since he hadn’t been able to get up and turn it off, the reading lamp was still on off to the side of the room, and it made it easy to see the angel’s form, which had curled in on itself just a little bit more since last time. More perplexed than annoyed at being awoken, Dean slowly removed his hand and propped himself up on one elbow enough to get a better look, and watched as one of Cas’s hands grasped and opened at nothing in the small space between their bodies. One socked foot gave a little kick, but mostly the angel was rigidly still, keeping all motion to a minimum as if his muscles had standing orders not to make nuisances of themselves. Still, the angel was curled up tightly now, bent back peaking over the edge of the bed, one shoulder flush to Dean’s side, and one leg now overlapping Dean’s knee.
It didn’t look like the reaction to a good night’s sleep.
“Hey, Cas,” Dean called, voice soft except for the sleep-roughened edges that were like the sandpaper scratch of a cat’s tongue. He reached to shake the angel’s upper shoulder a little. “Hey, Cas- Woah!”
At the shaking of his shoulder, the angel had awoken with a full-body jerk, head popping up with bleary eyes making rapid blinks. Coiled now, he looked frantically around the room, mouth opening in a little, panicked mew of sound like a sentence trying and failing to come into existence. Instinctively, Dean locked his hand down on Cas’s shoulder, expression and tone firming up as he kept talking, “Calm down, Cas - nothing’s got you. Nothing but me. You’re in the bunker.” He stopped talking as he realized something, and it made him frown suddenly and blink. “Dude, were you dreaming?”
“I was going to ask you about what humans call dreaming, before I fell asleep,” Cas’s voice rasped out, coherent but with the slightly raised pitch that Dean immediately read to mean the trailing edges of alarm. He realized that Cas’s pupils were blown wide not from the dark, but from adrenalin, which he was coming down from slowly. He was still looking around the room for things he’d eventually realize weren’t there - Dean had more than enough experience with that, so he let the process occur naturally. “I...I occasionally see things while asleep, as if I were still waking. I believe those are human dreams, but if so, I should not be having them.” Finally, he looked at Dean, and he looked so scared. “Dean, I do not like dreams. How do you humans stand them? Do you learn a way to turn them off?”
“Nightmares, Cas. You’re talking about nightmares. Most humans have dreams, and they’re fluffy and nice. You and me, though - and Sammy, and some other unlucky bastards - get top-shelf nightmares. Those are the not-fun things.”
“I do not understand.” And he truly didn’t seem to: he looked as confused as he had when Dean had first tried to explain porn, only this was less hilarious. “Why is it that some people get these nightmares and some get merely dreams?”
Dean shrugged. Oddly enough, even though Cas was still invading his personal space (his posture hadn’t changed except to twist his head around to now look imploring up in Dean’s direction), it wasn’t as uncomfortable now, and the Hunter replied with grim sincerity, “If you’ve had a life like crap, your sleeping self reflects that. It’s just the nature of the beast. I bet you were reliving old, bad memories, weren’t you?”
Unable to hide a reaction to save his life, Cas’s eyes widened and then narrowed. They were still underscored by dark smudges of exhaustion, but that only made the blue stand out. “How did you know this?” he asked suspiciously.
“It’s normal, Cas - well, for a human, anyway,” Dean admitted, looking Cas over with a more worried frown, as if he might find some injury like he used to when Sammy was little and had come back with a frown but had hidden bruises from a school-yard fight. “What other human shit have you been doing?”
“Well,” Cas looked down, uncomfortable with the conversation, but not so much so that he’d considered removing himself from it, “Sleeping, obviously, when I can. And I believe my partaking of your food is more necessity than politeness, by this point, although my Grace appears to consume everything so there is no waste to worry about in any human fashion.”
Mentally, Dean cringed back from the topic of ‘food waste’ - this was already awkward enough without talking about that. Still, that was a lot of non-angel stuff happening to a hitherto angelic guy. “Well, eating isn’t bad, and sleeping is annoying only when you wake up to bad dreams,” Dean explained as best he could, starting to recall why conversations like this were best left to Sam - Sam was the sympathetic, compassionate one. Dean just hit things and suggested alcohol, neither of which sounded helpful right now. “You just learn to live with it.”
Cas looked crushed. And still too exhausted to do anything about it. Again like a magnet, he lowered himself down until his ear found Dean’s chest again, and the Hunter shifted a bit, embarrassed at the kind of contact he usually only got from lovers - or maybe once or twice when Sammy was really little and really sleepy. Dean tried to hark back to those memories to see if they offered any insight into how to deal with angels inside personal bubbles. “Sometimes the...nightmares...come back when I return to sleep, on the few occasions I have managed sleep at all. I apologize if I wake you again,” the angel murmured in miserable apology, once again returning to his original position, a posture that took up only the required amount of space and didn’t touch. Only then did Dean realize that Cas was doing that on purpose, and really had listened all those times when Dean told him to respect his personal space, and was trying not to be physically intrusive this time - probably because he had it in his head that he was asking Dean a very big favor. It made Dean exhale gustily, more guilty feelings chewing away at his chest, and he was speaking before he had time to think better of it.
“You can lie a little closer, Cas. I won’t get mad or anything, and sometimes…” He as going to regret this. “Sometimes physical contact helps with nightmares. I’ve had nightmares enough to know.” The Hunter lifted a hand to rub at his eyes as he talked, as if he could physically scrub out the humiliating softness he was showing, so he missed the look of relief and elation on Cas’s face as he turned to him again. Dean just felt the ear be replaced by a chin on his chest for a second, and then Cas was hurriedly scooching closer, one arm probably losing blood circulation between them and the other coming up onto his chest in a movement that wasn’t quite hugging so much as nonchalant draping. Cas had bent both knees, but Dean preferred to have more range of motion than he was getting, so he bent his nearer leg up and then stretched it out more on top of Cas’s nudging limbs instead of tangled between them. The Hunter grunted, pleased enough that he’d be able to get up and move if he needed to. He returned his other arm to Cas’s shoulders and gave them an awkward pat, feeling awkward as hell but also pleased on a deeper level - a level he wouldn’t admit to. Cas’s happy sigh made it clear that he not only understood but deeply appreciated the gesture, regardless of stiffness.
“Thank you, Dean,” the angel said with his usual, sincere formality, his ear once again flush to Dean’s chest. It tingled where his warm breath came out. “You are being very helpful, and appear very good at this.”
“At what?” Dean asked, feeling sleep pulling him back down, too. It was still just barely past 6 AM. “Helping angels sleep?”
“With nightmares,” Cas corrected. He sounded slightly amused, however, and much more relaxed. “On the rare occasions that I have succeeded in sleeping, the images have usually continued until they have run their course - it was very nice to be awakened this time while…” He grew subdued, and his head tucked down lower; Dean twitched as he felt a shiver run under his hand. “...While the worst of the memories were still in infancy.”
After a long moment of silence, Dean asked in a low but patient tone, “What were the dreams about?”
“Fights. Battles. I have been observer and perpetrator to the deaths of my brothers and sisters more than once.” Cas’s grim voice paused a moment, before he finished in a merciless and exhausted tone and seemed to sag a bit. “It is only just that I review these occurrences, for it is light penance indeed for the sins I have committed.”
“Hey!” Dean gave his shoulder a shake, and was rewarded by a confused face turning to look at him. Putting his best glare on, Dean’s green eyes met puzzled blue ones, and the Hunter insisted without room for argument, “You don’t get to decide your own penance - those are the rules. If everyone decided their own punishments, everything would go to hell anyway.” He tossed his head back against the pillows and looked up at the ceiling, calling the argument over.
Cas broke his stubborn quiet. “Dean...that doesn’t even make sense.”
“Yes, it does. Go back to sleep, Cas. The point is, if someone is going to say that you deserve to be punished, it shouldn’t be you.”
There was another, longer silence, and if Dean couldn’t feel the distracting sensation of Cas picking absently at the hem of his shirt - clearly lost in thought and mulling things over - he would have thought the angel had fallen asleep again. “I still don’t think you’re speaking logically,” Cas said, but went on before Dean could either argue or admit that, yeah, he’d just been spouting stuff because he hated Cas loading so much guilt on himself, “But I’ll believe you, Dean Winchester, on one condition.”
“What?” Warily, Dean lifted his head again, so that he could meet Cas in the eye when the angel once again looked at him. Despite looking exhausted and drawn - stiff in a way that spoke of injuries only angelic beings could understand, after being thrown to Earth by an unkind hand - Cas’s expression was one of resoluteness, a familiar and formidable look.
“That you also, in the future, abstain from choosing your own penance for sins you have committed,” stated Castiel flatly, and then, while the Hunter’s face was suffused with surprise, the angel laid his head down again. As if Dean’s heartbeat were a rope that would forever tow him safely in from a combative, dangerous sea, Cas zeroed in on the steady, dependable thumping, and almost immediately went to sleep.
Dean stayed up a good while longer, pondering how an angel could be so idiotic and annoying at times, and so naive, and yet so wise when he least expected it.