Cas sleeps with the light on.
Not only that, but he leaves his laptop on, too - usually playing some scattered mixture of videos and shows, the voices overlapping and interweaving, completely unintelligible. He leaves the screen open, light and shadows slatting across his face as he sleeps, changing his dreams.
He always dreams.
His humanity weighs on him like a wet blanket, dampening the sounds, the sights, the senses that used to be filled with a thousand wavelengths of understanding. Cas used to live on a hundred planes of existence; now, he dwells in one. It is too quiet. There’s a silence that hangs from his ceiling in spider’s web drabs, a silence that waits for night time’s cover to reach for him, to ring in his ears, to call out his worst memories. Once it has him, it won’t let him go.
So he sleeps with the light on, and with the sound of twenty voices in his ears, though he no longer has the power to separate and understand each one; no longer has the power to see the shades of individual colour in the yellowy glare of his dusty bedroom bulb. No longer has power, of any kind.
Dean knows he does this. Cas knows that Dean knows he does this. Every now and then, Dean gets a look on his face as though he wants to say something about it - and Cas will change the subject, quickly. He needs the noise. He needs it. Cas hates saying no to Dean, but if Dean asks him to try to sleep without the noise, he’ll have to say no.
After long hunts is often the best time for Cas to sleep; his body aches, and it’s more habit than need that opens up the laptop and starts his usual mix. It’s worse by far when they’ve been idle for a time - no werewolves, no vampires, no witches on which to use the wound-up tension in his body. These are the nights when he suffers.
And it’s on one of these nights that Dean finally talks to him about it.
Like all nights, Cas undresses quickly in the bathroom, shucking his daytime clothes and pulling on his pyjamas. His movements feel functional and small, and the pale, even tiles on the walls make him think of prisons, and of Heaven - not that there ended up being much difference between the two. He brushes his teeth with perfunctory care, staring himself in the eye as he does so. He can’t see anything much there that he recognises, but he looks all the same.
He gets a little speck of toothpaste on the mirror when he brushes too hard, and swipes it off, feeling a strange kind of embarrassment.
In his bedroom, he slides under the covers, pushing one of his bare feet under the calf of his other leg to warm it. He’ll swap them presently, like he always does. For a few moments, he sits quietly, propped up by pillows.
He breathes in, and out. Wispy, he feels the first tendril of silence brush over his shoulder, and blinks hard to rid himself of it. It feels as though his whole mind flinches; if he stays in the quiet too long, he knows, more and more of the webs will wrap around him, whisper to him, say you let them down and you said it wrong and you can’t be trusted and why did you have to and, and, and…
And it makes him hiss through his teeth and flinch and even, when it gets bad, say no and shut up and shhhhh, like a sleeptalker, except he’s perfectly awake - it’s only that, like a dream, the thoughts he has are big enough to consume him. They’re real enough to feel, again, and again, and again.
Cas flips open his laptop. Tonight, he’ll add in some more layers of voices. He needs them. His mind feels even noisier than usual.
When they’re playing, he sets the laptop down beside him, and leans back into his pillows. He sleeps as upright as he can; lying down to sleep is something that he can’t help connecting with the first few awful days of being human, before he figured out he needed to use the laptop to fill up his room. All he remembers of those nights is dreams, and limbs knotted into sheets like sea-rope - made wet with his salt-sweat heat and fear.
He closes his eyes. The ring of the silence is still in his ears, but he can’t hear it easily over the sound of various pop stars being interviewed all at once, along with several weather reports and a documentary on space and a television show about - crime, Cas thinks, or maybe it was the solving of the crimes, though the difference isn’t always clear to him like it was, before he fell.
He falls asleep - or rather, sidles into grey semi-consciousness, which is the best he can achieve. He dreams of airplanes crashing; Dean reaches out and holds his hand, knows it’s too late to save them. Cas wrenches his hand away, because Naomi is watching, she’ll kill them both -
“Just going to close this…” Dean says, and his voice is thicker and more weighty than the dream, rough and real enough to tug Cas’ eyes open.
There’s the sound of a laptop snapping shut, a delicate little pat, and the voices go quiet.
“No,” Cas says, sitting fully upright, groggy with sleep. “No, don’t -”
“It’s okay,” Dean says, softly, like he’s talking to a child. He’s a vague figure to Cas’ sleepy gaze, blinded by the light. “Go back to sleep…”
“M’can’t,” Cas says, blinking to wake himself up. “Need the laptop back -”
“Come on, man, you sleep with this thing open every night,” Dean says. “Ain’t it time to try without?”
Cas scrubs a hand over his face, and Dean comes into focus. He’s wearing his own pyjamas, and an expression that’s a little distant, in the way it usually is when Dean’s trying to take care of Cas - as though he’s never quite sure what face to make.
“It doesn’t work,” Cas says. “Just let me have it back.” He sounds like a petulant little child, and he feels like one, too, when he looks up at Dean from his seated position on the bed; Dean has his hands on his hips, matronly. As though also sensing the strangeness of their poses, Dean relaxes, and then sits down hesitantly on the edge of the bed.
“What is it with the laptop, anyway?” Dean says, one knee resting on the mattress so that he can easily face Cas at the head of the bed. “You know it’s not good for you to sleep like this, right? Lights on, and all? You need lights off, you need quiet, or your brain doesn’t shut down right, or somethin’.“
Cas says nothing; he picks at a loose thread on his covers. In a way, he feels like Dean’s mirror. Pick, pick, pick. If he keeps picking, it will all unravel.
“I mean,” Dean says, “I’m not an expert but the proof is right in front of us, right? It’s been two months since… you know…”
“I fell,” Cas snaps. Dean is taken aback by his abrupt tone; it takes him a moment to regroup.
“Well - yeah,” he says. “And you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since -”
“How do you know,” Cas says defensively, not making it a question - he doesn’t want the answer. The silence, the ringing silence, is all around him; only Dean being here stops it sinking into his bones, sitting on his chest, clawing the darkest memories out of his mind. And yet the more Dean picks, the louder it gets.
“You look tired, man,” Dean says simply. “Bags under your eyes, and you don’t have an appetite, you look pale…”
“Why do you care?” Cas says, and he’s surprised by how it comes out - not defensive, not angry, just tired, just confused by the fact that Dean is bothering to pay attention, has the energy to pay attention. Tired, he thinks. Maybe Dean had a point.
Dean, for his part, shuts his mouth quickly at the question, his eyes hardening. He shrugs.
Cas thinks that perhaps the notes of tiredness, rather than anger, may only have been audible to himself. Dean looks as though he’s getting ready to leave, rebuffed.
“Wait - I’m -” Cas says, not quite able to apologise and admit Dean’s right, because that will mean surrendering the laptop - but still wanting him to stay. “I’ll try to sleep better. I just need the laptop.”
“You don’t, man, I’m telling you, the noise -”
“It’s better than the noise in my head,” Cas says, and Dean goes quiet. He settles back into position, no longer on the cusp of leaving.
The room feels suddenly different - bigger, somehow, as though aware that it is becoming the scene of not just a conversation, but a conversation.
“What noise is in your head?” Dean says. Cas swallows.
“Nothing,” he says, unconvincingly. Internally, he cringes. It seems he was only good at lying to Dean when Dean’s life was on the line.
“Yeah,” Dean says sceptically, “okay. What do you even mean, noises? Are you hearing voices? Or sounds? Is it like… a spell? Have you been cursed?”
Cas opens his mouth, looking into Dean’s eyes as though hoping he’ll understand without words - when of course that is impossible, and more impossible now than it ever was before. The days when he could press understanding to Dean’s temple with his fingertips are gone.
“I mean,” Cas says, “I mean - I hear - I see things - things that have already happened. Things that - that I did - I did wrong…”
“Like memories?” Dean shifts uncomfortably. Cas nods, and Dean sighs out a heavy breath. “Man, I don’t have much worth hearing about that. Bottle of fire-starter’ll knock you right out, but I think it’s worse than the goddamn laptop.”
Cas lifts his shoulders. Dean shuffles a little further up the bed, his expression more open than before - closer to their conversation, the concern in his eyes nearer the surface. It makes Cas ache to see it.
“What are they of? The memories - which ones are they?”
Cas shakes his head.
“You can do it,” Dean says. He moves further up the bed and puts a hand on Cas’ shoulder. “Come on. You can tell me.”
Cas only shakes his head harder.
Cas can barely speak round the hoarse lump in his throat, the tightness.
“You’ll - you’ll hate me,” he says, and hopes Dean knows how much that matters. Dean, however, only snorts and shakes his head.
“Man,” he says, squeezing Cas’ shoulder tighter. “You forget who you’re talking to?”
Cas narrows his eyes, not understanding, and Dean gives a dry laugh, and drops his hand.
“Cas,” he says. “You pulled my ass out of Hell. You saw me when - when I’d done the worst things I was ever going to do in my life. You saw their blood fresh on my goddamn skin and you still pulled me out and you could stand to see me after, you talked to me, you didn’t act like I was - like you hated me.”
“I didn’t,” Cas murmurs. The memory of Dean’s touch is warm on his shoulder; he can’t feel the chill of the silence webs’ touch through it. “I didn’t hate you. You were put through unimaginable pain. I did not hate you for wanting it to end.”
Dean makes a strange, jerking movement with his shoulders, as though trying to flick something away.
“Yeah, well. But you have no idea what - what a difference it made,” Dean says, and now it’s his voice that sounds tight with feeling. “Knowing what you’d seen of me, and knowing you didn’t - reject me. You could’ve been like, uh, like Uriel, like all the other angels. But you weren’t. Even though you’d seen me… like that… you stuck around. And it made me think, you know, maybe I was still worth a dime.” He smiles lopsidedly. “Or a nickel, at least.” He huffs. “Okay, a penny, then, God.”
Cas smiles, too; it allows him a cover to drop his gaze and try to blink away the sudden wetness in his eyes.
“Anyway. Point is, it’s me, Cas. I’m not gonna hate you for what you’ve done.”
Cas looks at him sceptically. “I have blood on my hands, Dean,” he says. “The blood of my brothers and sisters. The blood of humans. The blood of so many…”
Dean’s hand is back on his shoulder.
“There’s a million people on this Earth who can judge you,” Dean says. “Whatever. Maybe they’re right. But I’ll leave being right or wrong up to them. I’m your friend, Cas. I know you, I know that if you did something bad, you’ll have done it because you wanted to be good. And maybe that’s enough, maybe it’s not, but - but it’s something, right? This - the way that you feel - the way you can’t sleep…” Dean shrugs. “This is how I know that you’re still - you’re good, Cas. Or you try to be. And I… I don’t know, man. I’m rambling.”
“No,” Cas says. “No, I - I understand.”
“Right or wrong,” Dean says, “I’ll always - I’ll always feel the same. So tell me what you did, Cas. Just say it. Let me hear it.”
Cas puts his head in his hands, just for a moment, and then he begins to talk.
He talks of this, and that, in a voice that doesn’t want to tell. The deaths that bother him most - Samandriel, Balthazar - and the moments, the tiny decisions, that he replays in his mind, over and over and over. The disappointments. The hurts. The stupidities. He feels like it’s poison that he’s speaking, black and glossy as a thousand souls as it spills out of his mouth.
“And - I let you down,” he says at last, and almost loses his nerve - but holds on. “You - you know about this. I let you down. I lied to you. I wanted the souls - I swallowed those souls, I - I wanted to be powerful. I wanted to be so powerful that no one would ever be able to destroy me. I needed to be.”
“Why?” Dean says softly. He’s been mostly quiet.
“I don’t - I don’t know,” he says. “Well, I mean - there were the battles to fight. Raphael wanting to resume the Apocalypse. And you…”
“You were raking leaves,” Cas says obscurely. The memory sticks with him, still. The simple slope of Dean’s shoulders. The quietness of the garden. The fragility of it all…
Dean shakes his head, not understanding. Cas lets out a rough sigh.
“It’s the past,” he says. “It doesn’t matter much now.”
He’s done so much talking that his voice scratches - but he does feel different, after doing it. Lighter, somehow - and yet also more grounded, more real, as though his memories had been weighing him down in a place that was just behind the present moment - like he’d been the ball and chain of time itself.
“It matters,” Dean says. He doesn’t understand, but there’s something in his eyes that tells Cas he gets the underlying sentiment, perhaps. The need to protect. “It’s important. But if you went into any of that for me -”
“I went through all of it for you,” Cas says, without thinking - it’s obvious, it’s painfully clear, though Dean still looks surprised by it. “I’ve told you before. I fought through Hell, and I fell from Heaven, and I did it for you.”
Dean only looks at him for a long, long moment, and then looks away. Cas finds that now, finally, after weeks of a head too full of pain to see anything clearly, he can see Dean - can really see him. His soft brown hair and shaven cheeks and full lips, the curve of his eyes with their crow’s feet, the scent of him - of his body, just discernible, and attractive. His neck, his throat, vulnerable places; Cas doesn’t know what to think about them - he can only look at them, and be filled with a sense of slight awe. The trust, he thinks. The trust in him, in me. It matters.
And - I love him, he thinks. Not for the first time, but for the first time as a human, and it means something different. It means a heart-thud in his chest, and a flush on his cheeks, and a hard swallow. It means the words are on his tongue, begging to be said, tempting.
Dean wouldn’t want to hear it, Cas thinks. He would be embarrassed.
“I need to sleep,” Dean says, and before he can stop himself, Cas is saying,
“I gotta get some rest,” Dean insists, though his gaze drops for a fraction of a second towards the empty half of Cas’ bed. Cas frowns. It can’t be - can it?
“Stay,” Cas says, cautiously.
“What - sleep here?” Dean says, as though it were all Cas’ idea - which it could be, Cas supposes; he’s only got a half-glance to show for Dean having any desire to stay, too.
Cas lifts a shoulder, and nods. “If you want. You don’t have to.”
Dean throws a look towards Cas’ laptop. Cas knows what he’s thinking - that maybe the only way to get Cas to stop using it is to sleep in the same room as him. But that isn’t right. Cas doesn’t want him to stay as though he were a replacement, a neat substitution - a reapplied band-aid over his hurt. Cas wants him to stay, and just to be Dean.
“I won’t listen to it,” Cas promises. His heart jumps in his chest with nerves at the promise, but he tells it to be quiet. The silence is less threatening, now that he’s spoken his fears aloud, anyway. “Either way. I won’t listen. There’s no pressure.”
Dean rolls his eyes, and sighs. “Whatever,” he says. “I mean, I guess if you think you’ll sleep better this way, I’ll stay.”
Cas can feel a smile rising to his face - unstoppable, natural, on a wave of sudden energy - a rolling-in of long-missed, gentle happiness.
“That’s kind,” is all he says. Dean shrugs.
“You better not snore,” he replies.
They settle down, Cas sliding his laptop under the bed. Dean flicks off the light using the switch on his side of the bed, and darkness falls. For a second, Cas feels a twinge of the old panic roll over him -
And then Dean huffs, and says,
“Your mattress is better than mine. You’ve been holding out on me.”
Cas turns to face him in the dark.
“We can switch, if you like,” he says. “Move my mattress to your room.”
“Then you get the worse one,” Dean says. “You gonna martyr yourself over a mattress?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t be coming with the mattress,” Cas says. Dean snorts.
“So, what, I can get the good mattress, but I have to have you as well?”
“It’s only fair,” Cas says, smiling to hear the smile in Dean’s voice. The happiness in him isn’t washing away; it’s settling.
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Maybe.” He sounds tired, but not sleepy. Cas wonders which way he’s facing - how far away he is. It’s difficult to tell, with only their voices.
There’s several beats of silence, but it doesn’t ring; it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t call back bad memories; not tonight. Cas can feel them, still there - if he focuses on them too long, they sharpen, they grow teeth -
He puts out his hand, and finds Dean’s shoulder.
Dean shifts. He’s facing Cas.
“What?” he says, and his voice is gentle in ways that he never lets it be, in the light.
“I just wanted to know you were there,” Cas says. Dean’s hand is probably aiming for his shoulder, but it lands on his face - and Dean doesn’t move it. Instead, he just says,
Cas can feel the tug in his body, the warm thrill of I love him, the craving of a greater intimacy. He sighs, and Dean’s thumb strokes his cheek. Cas turns his head, and presses his lips to it, lightly.
Dean goes still.
“Cas,” Dean says, “Cas -”
And then they’re reaching for each other in the dark - fumbling, hands on cheeks and jawlines, thumbs on mouths to guide them, the covers rustling as they search and come together -
The kiss is desperate, angled strangely until Dean shifts, bodies still too far apart til Cas moves closer - and then suddenly, suddenly, it’s perfect - it’s lips and lips, it’s taste, it’s body lined with body; it’s closeness, and heat, and comfort. It’s the I need this and the you can have this, from both of them, at the same time; it’s the singing of Cas’ skin under Dean’s hands, the scent of Dean that fills Cas’ senses up to brim, the smile Cas can’t help wearing as they pull apart - and only for a second, for less perhaps, before it begins again.
“I love you,” Dean says against Cas’ mouth, because it’s dark. “I need you to know. I love you so much.”
Cas chases the words with a kiss, letting the taste of Dean become the taste of I love you, allowing himself a connection that didn’t hurt - that was good, that was right.
“Dean,” Cas replies. He’s wrapped in Dean’s arms, and the feeling inside him is too big to put into words. “Dean, I love you. I love you. I love you too.” I love him becomes I love you. The unspoken becomes the spoken, the heard. The quiet, crushed-up parts of himself shake loose, spread their wings.
My wings, Cas thinks. He holds Dean closer.