Dean snapped awake, suddenly free of the sweet, sweet embrace of memory foam. His eyes rolled about the room wildly, adjusting to the dark before he could get his bearings. He was safe, wrapped up in his blankets in the bunker, but he found his hand creeping up slowly beneath his pillow, each finger slowly encircling the smooth handle of Ruby's knife. Something had awoken him -- a voice, if he recalled correctly -- and he wasn't about to let whoever or whatever it was get the drop on him.
Dean's ears strained out into the dark, listening for the intruder. His head snapped over at the sound of a timid knock on his door, followed by a muffled, gruff voice. "Dean."
Oh. It's just Cas… Dean looked over at his alarm clock, the red analog numbers flashing out into the darkness: 2:41 AM.
What could Cas be wanting at nearly three in the morning? Dean gave a low groan. "Coming…" The timid knocking ceased, and Dean rubbed his eyes and tugged on a pair of pants before answering the door, not wanting to greet his buddy Cas in his underwear.
Dean cracked his door open, squinting out at Cas in the lowlight of the bunker's hallways at night. "Cas?" he grunted. "What's up? It's like…fuckin' three AM. You should be asleep."
Ever since Cas had become human, finding a regular sleeping schedule had been difficult for him. It wasn't uncommon for either Dean or Sam to shuffle out to the kitchen for water or a snack deep in the middle of the night to just find Cas sitting at the table, looking at his hands, eyebrows knitted with thought.
Over and over, at Dean's and Sam's urging for Cas to get a good night's sleep, Cas had angsted to them that he thought it was a waste of time. That he was used to millions of years straight of having a boundless source of energy. That laying down and not moving for eight hours a night seemed like a complete waste of his life. Inevitably, of course, Castiel would crash, either sitting down at the table or the couch, and sometimes, blessedly, actually in his room and in his bed. His schedule now seemed to be that he'd force himself awake for a day or two, and then crash like that for seventeen or so hours, before repeating the cycle.
This was part of why Dean was surprised. Cas had eaten quite rapturously at dinner that night, so Dean figured he would have no trouble falling asleep with a nice, full, warm tummy. Of all the things that Castiel struggled with now that he was human, food was thankfully not one of them. He was timid with new tastes, as was to be expected, but he had no trouble at all with eating when he found things he liked. It was likely the only part of being human that he enjoyed.
But now Castiel stood before Dean, looking a touch pale. His usual ram-rod straight posture was a little more hunched than normal, his eyes were crinkled up at the edges with discomfort, and his mouth was pulled into a slight grimace. "Dean, something is wrong with me."
…Uh. You're damn right there is. In any other situation, Dean would have laughed at the absurdity of Castiel waking him this deep in the night to quite bluntly talk about his issues, but he saved it. He could see that Cas was in pain.
Dean blinked, moving to one side to allow Cas to step into his room. Castiel shuffled over to the bed, sitting down on the edge gingerly. "Uh…What do you mean 'something is wrong with you'?" Dean asked, one eyebrow quirked nearly to his hairline with confusion.
"I… I have experienced pain before." Castiel began. "This is not that. It's different."
"Okay…" Dean said, stepping over to stiffly sit down next to his friend. "Can you, uh…Tell me where it hurts?" Christ. He felt like he was a pediatrician or something trying to tease out a diagnosis from a five-year-old. He kept that thought to himself.
Castiel paused to think before lifting a hand and placing it on his middle, right where his belly was the softest. "Here is the worst- but it is…Radiating up through my chest and into my throat. It stops at my tongue." he murmured, his voice tight with restraint.
Dean looked up through his eyelashes as he nodded along. "Well- you did eat a fuckin' horse's ration at dinner tonight." he commented.
Castiel just gave him a blank stare.
Christ. "Okay- Remember a couple years ago, when Famine was out and about making everyone in town crave their deepest desires?" Dean prompted.
"I don't see what that has to do with-"
"Gimme a minute. And you ate cheeseburgers into the hundreds?"
"Yes. I remember."
"You can't do shit like that anymore."
"Yes, I understand that. My body can no longer process that much-"
"Okay. Cas- A human's stomach could fit in a hand." To illustrate, Dean took Cas's wrist, laying his palm ceiling-up, flat out on his knee. "It's really easy to overeat if you're not careful."
"…Is that why I feel this way?" Castiel murmured softly. "When I was an angel- that would have been nothing…I thought I could-"
Dean caught Cas before he began to spiral again. "Hey- Look here, buddy, listen to me," he urged, nodding encouragingly when Cas looked up from his slouch, his eyes open, deer-like. Lost.
Dean bit his lip, looking away quickly. Nowadays, Castiel was like the sun to him. He could barely look him in the eye for a moment before it was too bright to handle.
"I'm not the best to talk to about this, but I could ask Sammy to give you the portion control speech in the morning. Does that sound good?" Dean offered gently, his face open and sympathetic. He could barely imagine experiencing a stomachache for the first time at, what, four hundred million years old?
"Yes, Dean. Thank you." Dean could tell by Castiel's face that he still had more on his mind. He lifted a hand and gave his shoulder a gentle pat.
"C'mon, spit it out. I know you've got more thoughts in that funny little head a yours." Dean quipped.
Castiel furrowed his eyebrows. "I can talk to Sam about preventing this in the future tomorrow, but my stomach is uncomfortable right now…" he tried to explain.
Oh. Dean realized all at once that Castiel didn't have a hankering for an explanation of why his stomach hurt. He had come to Dean for help. Dean bit his lip and quashed the warm fuzzy feeling blossoming in his chest back into the little box where he kept all his squishy, tender emotions. When had the latch on that old thing come loose?
"Oh. Oh- uh. Okay, you want some like. Pepto Bismol or something?" Dean asked, standing.
Castiel gave Dean another blank look, not following. His eyes narrowed skeptically.
"Cool it, it's medicine. For upset stomachs. Come on, there's a bottle in the kitchen." Dean said, already departing from his room.
Dean smiled as he heard Cas shuffling along behind him, standing quietly as he rifled through the kitchen cabinets for the bubblegum pink bottle. He leaned on the counter patiently as Castiel inspected it.
"This…This is candy." Castiel concluded.
Dean smiled. "Not everything in colorful packaging is candy. Remember our talk about Fabuloso?"
Castiel nodded solemnly. "But this isn't like that, right? This isn't poison?"
Dean shook his head, taking the bottle and flipping it around to show Cas the ingredients. "Just medicine. I bet you could drink the whole thing and be fine, honestly. Humans use this stuff all the time. We give it to kids, give it to dogs."
"I see…" Castiel didn't sound completely convinced, but he let Dean pour him a capful of the pink sludge. He gave it a cautious sniff and wrinkled his nose. "The bottle said it would taste like bubblegum," he huffed accusingly. "This smells like chalk."
With that, Castiel threw back the little capful of medicine like a shot, just like Ellen and Jo had taught him. Dean grinned fondly, taking the cap back to wash it in the sink as Castiel wrinkled his nose. "That is unpleasant." he grunted, licking his lips to get the taste out of his mouth. He mumbled his thanks when Dean brought him a glass of water, leaning against the counter as he slowly sipped at it.
"My stomach is still upset…" Cas murmured as he set the glass down.
Dean chuckled. "'s not magic, Cas. It takes like, I don't know. An hour to set in?" He grinned fondly when Castiel rolled his head back on his shoulders in frustration. His grin died on his lips at Castiel's next statement, however.
"I hate being human." Castiel hissed in frustration. It took Dean aback; he was used to his unflappable angel friend, Castiel. Who stood perfectly straight and always wore a suit and tie. Who flitted around of his own accord on invisible wings and played everything real close to the vest.
Now, his human friend, Cas, stood in his kitchen in a ratty old t-shirt and pajama pants, barefoot, his face twisted with brand new sensations of discomfort. Cas opened his eyes, staring past the ceiling beseechingly.
"That's the rub, ain't it?" Dean commented after a few moments of stunned silence. "None of us asked for this. We're all just out here trying to make the best of it."
"…How do you do it?" Castiel whispered. "My- My entire life I've had an express purpose. I've had someone to tell me what to do, where to go. How do you deal with this freedom?"
Dean looked over in surprise. "I could ask you the same question." he murmured. "How could you deal with always having someone over your shoulder telling you what to do?"
Castiel let his head fall forward, looking down at the floor, his chin tucked to his collarbone in defeat. He gave his head a little shake.
"Y'know," Dean continued. "Not for nothin', but I think you've been doing a damn good job at this 'free will' thing." He ignored momentarily how Castiel looked up at him in surprise. "Who else could say that they practically invented freedom for their whole species? I think you've got plenty to be proud of, Cas."
"I'm not an angel anymore, Dean."
"I think you're still the best angel out there. And you're far and away the best one I know."
Dean watched Cas's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed and closed his eyes, hanging on to Dean's words tightly. "Dean…I-" he paused to swallow again. "That is very kind."
A silence settled over them then, standing alone in the bunker's kitchen, lit only by the orange light above the stove. Dean was the first to break the quiet. "Ya think you wanna head back to bed? If you're still hurting in an hour you can come back here and get another dose."
"Yes, Dean. Thank you." Castiel whispered, staying still for another few heartbeats before pushing off the counter, shuffling off down the hall on quiet feet.
Dean stayed where he was, watching Castiel go. As his friend disappeared into the shadow of the hallway, he let his head fall forward, his fingers fidgeting with the bottle of medicine.