Summary: How do you fall asleep in Purgatory?
Benny’s turn at watch and Dean’s supposed to be sleeping, but he can’t sleep. He twitches and shifts, his eyes open and dart and stare up into the treetops, and Cas watches from a few feet away, concerned. Dean’s the only one of them who needs to sleep. Cas likes to, and he hasn’t been able to for a long time, not when he was alone and had to watch out every moment to keep from being impaled on a leviathan’s fangs. Benny doesn’t sleep so much as stares into space and disconnects from everything.
But Dean needs it, and for whatever reason sleep’s not coming to him. A cold, helpless feeling settles into Cas’s heart as he watches. Sleep is a simple, voluntary action for him. For humans, it can be harder, especially when they see the kind of things in their dreams that Cas knows Dean does. He’s peeked before.
He tries to remember what has calmed Dean to sleep before. He starts in Dean’s childhood, hears the strains of “Hey Jude” in a distant melody. It would be too intrusive to sing that, it would remind Dean too much of things lost too long ago. But maybe. Maybe something similar.
He starts to hum, a soft, tuneless thing on a low note that barely ever changes, and the strange thing is that the process calms him, too — he finds his muscles relaxing, finds his breaths slowing to the rhythm of the not-quite-a-song, and the dangers and pains of Purgatory fall away into the background. It’s all accompaniment to the soft tones that are carried on each exhalation. His chest rumbles with it, and he feels centered, in tune with his breathing. Alive, but calm. The noise carries through his skull, vibrates in his ears, and he can’t hear the faraway howls and screams the way he used to. He’s the center of his own universe, his breath and his own voice a singular focus. It’s a new experience.
He stops, takes a breath, and notices for the first time that Dean’s pushed himself closer. He’s lying on his side, facing Cas, face turned upward and attentive even though his eyes are closed.
“I’m sorry,” Cas says, “am I bothering you?”
Dean’s eyelashes flutter briefly. He shakes his head. “Go on,” he says. “S’nice.”
Cas turns onto his side, faces Dean, and continues to hum. He doesn’t know what song this is he’s singing, if it’s a song at all, but it’s nice, and it adjusts itself to the hitch and flow of Dean’s breathing, pauses and continues as Dean’s chest halts in its rise and fall. Cas couldn’t verbalize the connection if he tried, but he knows it’s there. He’s humming Dean to sleep. Somehow.
He has an urge to move his hand, to press it to Dean’s forehead, and when his fingers move despite himself he pauses, unsure. The song falters, and Dean’s eyes open. “Cas?”
Cas takes a breath. He’s let Dean down by stopping, by hesitating, and he doesn’t want to do that again. So, deliberately, holding Dean’s gaze, he starts to hum again, and a moment later he takes another leap of faith and lifts his hand to Dean’s hairline, pausing there and then stroking backward to the base of his scalp.
He’s scared Dean will tense up, say “what the hell,” but he doesn’t. He closes his eyes.
Another stroke, another few notes, and Dean’s whole body is calming now, relaxing into the touch and the sound. His face, too… his lips hang slightly open, and Cas stares at them, draws himself closer to Dean so they brush at feet and knees and shoulders. Keeps singing, keeps stroking, his arm bent over Dean’s body — at first suspended, then relaxing so his elbow rests on Dean’s back just beneath his shoulder. A low hum, his hand sliding back against Dean’s sweat-damp hair, Dean’s exhalations buffeting soft air against Cas’s face. All in a rhythm, all together. Every inch just a little closer.
He hums the next note a bare millimeter from Dean’s mouth, and Dean’s lips tilt up to catch it.
Languid, soft, warm — lips on lips, as natural as breathing. Cas has no problem continuing to hum. This is part of the rhythm, this kiss, part of this slow ritual of relaxation they’re sharing. It’s not passionate, it’s not new, though it’s the first one they’ve ever shared. It’s just another way for them to be close. It works.
Cas takes a breath, hums more, and presses his lips to Dean’s a little more firmly. Dean responds, lips closing around Castiel’s lower lip, sliding there. A little more pressure, a little more wetness. But still quiet and relaxed. Now instead of stroke, breathe, hum, the rhythm is stroke, breathe, hum, kiss. If it’s burning up Cas’s heart with the possibilities, that’s just because he isn’t falling asleep. Dean is. And that’s what’s important.
The kisses stop, just as they started — naturally — and Cas’s voice breaks off the humming a moment later. Dean’s on the cusp of sleep now, his breaths even and slow, and when Cas pauses in his stroking of Dean’s hair, Dean doesn’t respond. Cas drops his hand to the ground, closes his own eyes, and lets himself drift off. Wrapped around Dean, with the memory of a melody hanging in the air, he doesn’t even need to worry about what happens when he goes. He’s never felt so safe in his life.
Morning. Dim light rising over purgatory, light that doesn’t come from a sun, and Dean’s awake. Awake and alone, lying in the dirt, and when he opens his eyes he thinks he sees a tattered trenchcoat flapping at the edge of the clearing as Castiel stands watch. He doesn’t remember Cas getting up. He was that asleep. That far gone.
So sometime last night Cas’s arm lifted from his back, his humming subsided, and he let Dean sleep on his own. And Dean kept sleeping. That seems impossible. Even more impossible than the fact that Dean let Cas hold him like that to begin with.
Dean lies there, though he should get up, and remembers. The weight of Cas’s body, like a blanket, keeping out cold winds. His mind calming to the rhythm of slow strokes through his hair. And the sound of that melody-that-wasn’t, only a low note hummed over and over again, vibrating through his skin.
He remembers breathing slower. He remembers craving more, wanting to be closer, to feel Castiel’s breath as it seeped from his nose on the low note. And as he tilts his face up, he remembers the moment of connection, when the song was pressed directly into his lips, infusing him with music, sending him adrift.
Dean’s not sure if it was a kiss. If it counts. If Cas even knows what he did.
He is sure that lying here alone again is suddenly twice as lonely.
He sits up, yawns, rolls his neck forward to crack it. Benny’s sitting against a nearby tree, and at the noise, he tilts his head and says, in his usual lazy drawl, “You slept like the dead, brother.”
“Yeah,” Dean mutters. His eyes are still on Cas. “Funny, that.”
Benny follows his gaze, coughs. “So did he, as a matter of fact,” he says, and goes back to whittling the wooden stake he’s been working on.
“Mm-hm. Like two bugs in a rug, you two.” Benny seems amused, but Dean’s heartbeat has accelerated. Last time Cas slept, he was drained of mojo, nearly human, and hours later Lucifer had exploded him. If Cas is sleeping again, what does that mean for their safety in this awkward trio they’ve formed?
Dean gets up. “I’ll be right back,” he tells Benny, and jogs toward the edge of the clearing where Castiel waits. He needs to find out how strong Cas is now. How far he’s fallen. Pragmatic stuff, practicalities. The things that matter in purgatory.
Every thought drains away as he nears Cas, and when Dean can make out the details of his profile — the bristle of his beard, his pensive eyes — he can hear nothing but the dull thud of his own heart. Cas. Man, he is still a sight for sore eyes.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says, without turning.
“Hey.” Dean sidles up next to him. It seems the right place to be. “Heard you got some sleep.”
“I did.” Castiel’s eyes dart to and fro, watching the forest for movement. “As did you.”
“Guess I should thank you for that.” Dean lifts his hand, touches Cas’s arm. Not for any particular reason. He just wants to.
“I was glad to be able to help.” No expression, no smile, just the words.
OK, awkward. “So.” Dean slips his hands into his pockets, wavers from side to side. “What was that song?” He doubts it’s a song at all. It was just one note, over and over.
Castiel tilts his head. “You didn’t recognize it?”
Oh, maybe not. “Um, no.”
“It was supposed to be ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
Now Cas is looking at him, eyes round, face sullen. Dean’s heart skids to a jolting stop in his chest. “Seriously?”
Cas looks away again, and he might just be pouting.
Dean cracks up, laughing hard enough to double over. Who knew? Turns out Cas is completely tone-deaf. “Oh, God, Cas,” he manages between peals of laughter, “I missed your sorry ass, you know that? Seriously, that was supposed to be Stairway to Heaven?” His stomach hurts, but he can’t stop chuckling. “Do me a favor. Never try and sing again.”
“If you say so,” Castiel says. “I was joking. It wasn’t supposed to be anything.”
It’s hard to tell if he means it, or if he’s covering. But Dean’s chest is suddenly pinching hard with regret. “I didn’t mean that,” he says hastily. “I wouldn’t mind, you know, if I have trouble sleeping again…”
And Castiel’s eyes are on his again. Unmoving, curious. “Are you sure?”
Dean wonders what, exactly, he’s being asked to say yes to. But he nods anyway. “Yeah, of course.”
“I wouldn’t want to overstep,” Castiel says. His eyes dart to Dean’s mouth. And yeah, OK, looks like Cas remembers everything after all.
“Cas,” Dean says, not really sure what might follow. “That was.. well, it was what it was, you know?”
“No, I don’t.” Oh, great. That’s a helpful answer.
Dean shifts from foot to foot. He’s the only nervous one here; Cas is patient, waiting for him to continue. Even the wind has stopped fluttering through the trees. It’s dead silent, like Purgatory is holding its breath waiting for Dean to explain just what the hell he’s talking about. Too bad Dean himself doesn’t have a clue.
“Just saying,” he says lamely, “thanks for helping me get to sleep.” He’s ready to turn, head back to where Benny’s waiting, but he finds himself rooted to the spot. He needs an answer, resolution, something…
(He needs Cas’s body warm against his, Cas’s lips breathing soft song into his own…)
…traitorous thoughts that have got no place in the wilds of Purgatory. They shock him out of his motionlessness, and he turns to go.
“So it would be all right, then,” Castiel says, sudden and loud, “if I did it again?”
Dean doesn’t turn back. “Yeah, didn’t I just say that?” he says, shrugging. Ignoring the footstep he’s just heard behind him, the fact that he can almost feel the air warm just because Cas has moved a step closer. “Sure, dude. Help me get to sleep.”
“To sleep,” Castiel murmurs behind him. Another footstep. “So not now.”
“Now would be… kind of weird,” Dean says. He can’t quite keep his tone even.
Castiel clears his throat. “Of course.”
Silence hangs in the air. Dean tries to figure what just happened, and he can’t. He can’t move any farther away, either.
“I mean, you can hum all you want,” he says. “You don’t need me for that.”
“For that?” What the hell is with the questions in his voice?
“For humming, you know. You can do that by yourself.”
Shit, the air around him is so hot now, because Cas is so close, and he can almost feel the question coming at him like a rush of charged air. “What about the rest?”
Dean’s reflex is to play dumb. “What rest?”
Castiel places a hand on the top of his head.
Dean can’t move or speak. He swallows hard. Cas drags his palm backward, inch by slow inch. It takes forever for him to reach the base of Dean’s hairline.
“I liked doing this, too,” he says. His breath falls right on the nape of Dean’s neck, below the careful curve of his hand.
“That. Um. Right.” Cas exhales again, and a shiver skitters like a frightened animal down the curve of Dean’s spine. He thinks his legs might fall off. “Yeah, that’s maybe not so…” Again. Dean’s not gonna survive another breath on the back of his neck. He’s gotta turn around just to make it stop, and he whirls while Cas is still inhaling. “Cas…”
Holy shit, those lips really were pretty damn close to the back of his neck, because right now his lips are where his neck was and Cas’s mouth is really, really close.
Cas’s hand strokes back upward, against the grain of his hair. The reverse of what he did last night, and it has the opposite effect, too — instead of soothing, it wakes Dean up, makes him hyper-aware of everything. Of the prickles of Cas’s beard just brushing against his own chin. Of the slight pout of Cas’s lower lip. Of their closeness, of the possibilities if Dean were to bend inward. Of half-lidded eyes glimmering with something like hope.
“Uh.” Dean’s mouth opens stupidly. “Cas, this is pretty awkward.”
“It feels good to me,” Castiel says. He moves his hand back again, curling over Dean’s head. It’s almost hypnotic. “I like being able to touch you. For a long time I thought—”
He stops. His hand falls to his side. “Never mind.”
A chill wracks Dean’s body at the loss of contact. “Cas?”
Cas shakes his head and turns away. “You’re right. It’s awkward.”
Dean watches his profile and wonders exactly what Cas thought for a long time. That he’d never be able to touch Dean again? Was it such a big deal, being able to touch him?
But by the river, he didn’t reach out when Dean did, didn’t fight but didn’t lift his hand to hug Dean back. Dean thought it was just Cas’s usual awkwardness, but maybe not. Maybe he was afraid. Maybe he didn’t believe it was Dean. Maybe he’d thought a million times that Dean was right there, had reached out, and closed his hands over air. Maybe Castiel’s still afraid Dean will vanish like a mirage. God knows Dean’s looking at him right now and scared of the same thing.
He reaches out and grabs one of Cas’s hands. Presses his palm against Cas’s palm, curls his fingers around Cas’s fingers. Holds it there.
“Cas,” he says. “I, uh. I do have trouble sleeping. I… I probably could use your help. You know, when I need to rest again.”
He can’t tell, but he thinks probably Cas is smiling when he answers. “You’ll have it. Whenever you need.”
It feels like they cover a lot of ground that day. Feels like, because it’s hard to say just how much ground there is to cover with no maps to guide them, but the day drags on in part because the attacks are few and far between. Dean had expected them to get worse, now that Cas is part of their team. But they haven’t. And Dean wonders if Cas maybe hasn’t told him everything, or maybe if they’ve just stepped into a less populous area of Purgatory. Could be either.
He does know that he’s almost grateful when the attacks do come. Because he’s way better at swinging his weapons and diving for cover, leaping from the shadows and slitting throats, than he is at enduring the long silences that occur when they’re just making their way across the endless forest. The sound of their footsteps fades into a slow beat, crunching leaves and snapping twigs, and a song starts to form in Dean’s head to the beat.
A song sung in a low voice, a note or two hummed over and over, and it calms Dean’s breathing as surely as it speeds up his heart.
He craves that calm more than he should. It’s the first he’s had in a long time, and it calls to him like alcohol does after a hunt, like a good stretch does when he’s been behind the wheel for hours. Something his body needs. And the craving comes up every time he looks at Cas, every time he remembers the feel of his hand closed over Cas’s hand, a silent promise made with a not-quite-handshake that yes, when the time comes, he will feel that closeness again.
He can’t afford to want it so badly. Not with monsters everywhere. Not when peace of any kind is a luxury no one in Purgatory can so much as hope for.
The beat in his head keeps him going, long after fatigue is starting to weigh down his limbs. You can’t afford it. It’s wrong. There’s no peace here. No curling up next to angels and letting their lips drift over yours as they hum sleep into your soul…
He shakes his head, drums himself out of it. Wrong. That’s the only word he needs in his head. Wrong. Wrong.
Something trips him, knocks his internal rhythm off, and he staggers forward a dozen paces before he’s caught in strong arms, blinking, letting himself be righted. “Cas?” he says, bleary, confused.
No, it’s Benny, who laughs softly and holds him by the upper arms, making sure he’s steady. “You need a break, brother.”
Dean scowls. “I’m good.”
“It wasn’t a question.” Benny turns his head, whistles to Castiel, who’s several paces ahead and scouting the terrain for any monsters that might lie in wait. “We’re setting up camp,” he says. “Dean needs some sleepytime.”
“I said, I’m good,” Dean says. “Maybe you’re the one getting tired. I’ll take first watch.”
“You’re taking a nap,” Benny says. “I’m not hitching a ride home on a human who can’t hold his head up. Sit.” He bares his fangs briefly, then turns away.
Dean slumps against a tree, disgruntled. He’s weak now, his muscles openly aching now that he’s been given a moment to stop and the adrenaline is starting to drain away. But as he relaxes, lets his head tip back and his eyes closed, his pulse stays quick and he can only think of how far away Cas was when he last looked. Maybe Cas will take first watch, maybe Dean will fall asleep without him this time. Maybe that’d be better.
Because as much as he craved it, right now he’s terrified of feeling the way he did when Cas held him close. It makes him weak. It makes him open and vulnerable, and startlingly human, prey to emotions and desires he thought he’d forgotten how to feel. Even a human can’t afford to be human here.
Dean resolves to fall asleep sitting up. It’s the only way to keep himself safe.
He might doze, a little, but his tailbone keeps complaining and his back is starting to ache. Plus, he can’t get his neck to behave itself. It aches in one direction, so he tilts it the other, and then that side aches. It’s like trying to sleep on an airplane. Right now, an airplane would be a little less terrifying.
“Dean.” Cas’s voice. A hand on his shoulder. The expected panic doesn’t come with the touch; relaxation washes over him instead, and Dean opens bleary eyes as though compelled.
Cas is crouching in front of him. His eyes are bright with concern. As Dean looks into them, Cas’s hand moves up along his shoulder and slides to his neck. Fingertips over skin, then wrist turns and it’s the back of Cas’s hand along the side of Dean’s neck. Smooth on smooth, and Dean hears a long, shuddering exhalation and barely recognizes it as his own.
“You need to sleep,” Cas says.
Dean half-smiles, and he doesn’t even have the strength to make it an overconfident, cocky grin. It’s just a smile, sleepy and pleased to have a familiar face in front of him. “I’m trying.”
“Lie down.” Cas pulls back, and Dean takes in a breath when cool air touches where Cas’s hand was a minute ago. It’s almost like a withdrawal pang, and he moves forward and obeys without thinking, just wanting Cas’s touch back.
Cas spreads out behind him, and Dean tenses — he’s going to get it again, the thing he’s been thinking about through this interminable day, and now the closeness of it is so imminent he finds himself holding his breath. Any minute the low notes, the hand on his hair, the relaxation seeping into him like a slow flood, and he’ll go under, but how can he? The anticipation is speeding up his pulse, and he’s ever more awake.
“You need to relax, Dean,” Cas murmurs behind him. But that’s all that comes. Dean’s waiting is spiraling down into disappointment.
“I… thought you were gonna help me with that,” Dean says, thinking it sounds desperate and like a come-on, hating himself for saying it.
Cas is silent for a second. Dean turns over, faces him, confused.
He’s licking his lips. And damn if that doesn’t make Dean a little more awake already. He knows his eyes are wide open, that he’s defeating the whole purpose, but when he looks at Cas’s lips, sees them wet from the licking, it’s hard to think of anything else, and his heart is hitting butterfly-wing territory.
“I wasn’t sure when would be appropriate,” Cas says. “Last time I waited until I was sure you weren’t going to be able to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep now.” Dean sounds to his own ears half-hypnotized.
“Yes,” Cas says, “I see that.” And he sounds a little hypnotized himself.
“Guess I should start by closing my eyes, huh?” Dean forces out a snicker of laughter. But he doesn’t want to close his eyes. He doesn’t want to lose the realness of Cas in front of him, and without Cas touching him, he can’t be convinced it will remain.
A flicker of movement at the corner of his eye, and then Cas is touching him, hand loosely holding his. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough, and Dean lets his eyelids sink. Thank God Cas figured it out, because he doesn’t think he could have said it.
The contact lingers. Maybe this will be enough. Maybe Dean will be able to sleep, just holding hands. He remembers falling asleep holding hands with Sam a long time ago, when they were kids. They were little, and frightened, but they found solace in the knowledge that even if they woke up and Dad was gone, they would still have each other. He almost wishes they could still do that as adults. They’d done way too much sneaking out on each other in the past years.
The thought of Sam makes his heart twinge, and he takes in a breath. Cas squeezes his hand, an attempt at reassurance. But it’s not enough. Partly because what he wants from Cas is so different from what he ever wanted with Sam.
His eyes flutter open again. “Cas,” he says. “Can you—”
What the hell was he going to ask? He forgets. Cas inches closer. They’re not quite touching, but Cas’s face is right there. “Can I what?”
Dean heaves a breath. “Can you do what you did last night?”
He should have just said “sing.” He could have. But that’s not all he wants.
Castiel lifts his hand from Dean’s, lays it down again on Dean’s shoulder. The side of his hand weighs down into Dean’s neck, index finger and thumb resting there. He slides his hand forward, just shy of the hollow of Dean’s throat, and then strokes back again.
It’s not exactly what he did the last time. But it’s nice nonetheless. And it sends pleasant chills down Dean’s spine in a way the hair stroking didn’t. His nerves are reacting to this. He’s not falling asleep, but right now he doesn’t want to.
Castiel’s thumb slides under his chin, tilts his face slightly. Dean’s heart batters against his ribs.
“I,” Cas begins. “I did this last night, too…”
Dean nods and parts his lips.
“It’s all right?” Cas’s forehead touches his. They’re breathing into each other, a cycle of warm air.
Dean strains into his hand. He has no words to respond.
Their lips brush, and this time bright fire jumps down into Dean’s gut. He tenses, then arches, body lengthening on the ground as he pushes into the soft haven that is Cas’s lips, not demanding but not the half-asleep, quiet languor of last night, either. This is a real kiss. Dean wants it to be. He wants the prickle of Cas’s stubble against his chin, the soft flicker of Cas’s tongue against his lips. And each moment, each barely-there movement against his mouth, he’s filling up with fire, alive and awake.
When Cas’s mouth comes free, he exhales, a loud rasp. “Dean,” he says, “this is not going to help you sleep.”
“Nope,” Dean says, and dares to slide his hand behind Castiel’s neck, curl it, tug him in for more kisses. Cas makes a noise against his lips, not a hum but a moan, quickly cut off but, for the moment it sounds, bright and resonant, vibrating in Dean’s bones. Energy surges in his tired muscles at the feel of it, and he very nearly powers himself over and on top of Cas, holding back only because his back is still complaining at the stiff sitting-sleep he attempted before. But he’s imagining it now, body heating at the idea of pressing Cas into the ground, letting their legs slot together, rolling his hips down against Cas’s and kissing him until Cas’s stubble has rubbed his chin raw and neither of them can breathe.
Would he have thought to do this if they were still among the world of the living? If Dean hadn’t killed his way through Purgatory, prayed every night, realized through aching nights and bloody days how much he missed having Cas by his side? Dean’s no believer in fate, but he’s wondering now if certain things do happen for a reason. And the unfamiliar, giddy emotion daring to rear its head now, after so long, is joy.
He hums into Castiel’s lips. A few bars from “Stairway to Heaven.” Just because.
And it’s the funniest thing — after Cas chuckles into his mouth, he sighs and falls limp, his fingers relaxing on Dean’s neck. Amazed, Dean keeps humming. He gets through a chorus before Cas dares to break him off. “That’s how that feels,” he says, soft. “I see.”
“Yeah.” Dean smiles.
“It’s pleasant,” Cas says, and his eyes slit closed.
A lurch of warmth buoys Dean’s heart, and he lifts his hand from Cas’s neck to place it on the crown of his head. He starts to hum again, and slides his hand back over Cas’s hair, nudging himself closer so he can rest his arm on Cas’s back. The same as last night, in reverse, and now Cas is starting to breathe evenly, tension and fear draining out of his muscles. And watching it, causing it, Dean starts to relax himself.
He’ll be able to fall asleep like this, Cas tucked into his arms, the night cool and silent around them. He closes his eyes, strokes slower, hums softer. It’ll occur to him tomorrow to ask how much Benny saw, to start thinking about implications and labels for the thing that’s making him and Cas find solace in each other’s arms and lips and song. For now, it just means rest, and rest is all Dean needs, if they’re going to get out of here alive.
“And she’s buying a stairway to heaven,” he whispers, when he’s sure Cas is well and truly asleep.
And maybe they are, too.