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Vox Nihili

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It’s the worst at night when he isn’t out hunting, when the bunker is too quiet, when Sam and Jack are asleep and Cas is doing whatever Cas does instead of sleeping—sitting quietly, meditating, reading, watching netflix on a laptop in his room. It’s at its worst when Dean tries to sleep, instead of drowning Michael out with the headphones on and turning the volume up loud, or punching the bag in the training room, or target practice, protective ear-muffs and dulled-down bangs of his gun, bullet striking paper target perfectly.

Sometimes Dean almost forgets. The archangel trapped in a corner of his brain becomes barely a murmur, like a memory trying to rise to the surface. But often he’s too loud, the crash of ocean waves on a beach that can’t be shut out no matter what, only adjusted to until it normalizes as background white noise.

But Michael doesn’t work like that. He’s irregular, erratic. Relentless rage. He alternates between banging on the door, throwing things at it, screaming, or softly telling Dean all the weak points he knows and how he’ll use them, one by one, once he gets out again, to destroy, to make sure Dean has nothing left in him but compliance.

Sam’s worried about him, keeps making with the positive upbeat optimistic talk, we’ll figure this out, we won’t give up, you’re doing great Dean, I know how strong you are, and sits for hours paging through books in the bunker library, looking for answers.

Jack for some reason keeps bringing Dean food. The kid bakes chocolate chip cookies and they aren’t bad, a few burned crisp at the edges, and Jack acts like Dean might break at any second and he’s being too polite. It’s driving Dean nuts. Cas...

Cas tries to get Dean to talk, after it seemed like he was avoiding him, avoiding being alone in the same room, after Cas has seemed a little closed away in himself for reasons Dean can’t figure out.

The angel finds Dean in his room, playing a classic blues record on the old phonograph that they moved around from room to room as needed.

“Dean, how are you doing?” Cas asks and Dean gets up off the bed where he was stretched out and lifts the needle from the record.

“Fine,” Dean says. “Managing. You know. Not bad considering.” He waves a hand.

Taking a step closer, Cas tilts his head. “How are you really,” he says, and Dean can’t tear himself away from that gaze, and just like he did when they met in that barn, years ago, Dean feels exposed somehow, stripped to clarity with nowhere to hide.

It’s unnerving. As is the frown on Cas’s face, the concern in his eyes and other things Dean isn’t going to think about right now. He can think of another way to drown out Michael for a few hours, on levels a random hot chick in a bar can’t accomplish (he knows, because he tried a few days ago), the things he wants, the things he can’t have. But now isn’t right, he won’t have it this way, for this reason, he won’t use Cas for that. They’ve been through too much together and it’s far more than a physical want hovering between them, waiting for the doors and locks to fall away between them.

“It’s rough at night. Too quiet,” Dean says.

Cas opens his mouth as if he wants to offer something else but then closes it.

After a moment he says, nodding towards the phonograph, “Music helps you drown him out, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, it does.”

“Good.” Cas nods. “I’ll leave you to it, then, and I’ll...I’ll be in the library researching with Sam if you need...anything,” Cas adds awkwardly.

“Ok. Thanks.”

“It’s your birthday,” Cas pauses at the door, presenting this as mere fact.

“Uh...yeah? I guess?”

They don’t make a thing about birthdays around there, any of them, Sam and Dean haven’t since before when Sam left for Stanford. Bad things always seem to happen on birthdays. Cas doesn’t even have one, as an actual date, although there would’ve been a moment before Cas existed and then there was a Cas. Was he just a spot of light at first? How did that even work for angels? Dean had wondered about that but never asked.

I’ll un-make your angel and then I’ll take Sam and Jack and Mary apart, piece by piece, and make you watch me do it

Dean drops the needle back on the record and turns the volume way up. The conversation is over.

A few hours later Sam finds him in the garage where Dean is tinkering with Baby’s engine, fixing a few minor hiccups. He blasts Metallica loud on the thirty-year-old boom box.

“Hey, Dean,” Sam yells over the music.

Wiping grease off his hands with a rag, Dean turns away from the engine. “What?”

“You need to follow me. There’s something me and Cas and Jack want to show you. It’s not about Michael, it’s just—it’s something else.”

As Dean hits stop on the tape deck, the silence that falls is loud as a drumbeat.

“Just...come with me, Dean. Please.”

Christ on a cracker, he hates when Sam is like that, voice too gentle. Dean fights down the urge to tell him to stop fussing.

He trails Sam through the bunker, then realizes they’re headed for the Dean Cave, which he’d stopped using when all the hunters from Michael’s burned-out world moved in, so Dean watched TV in his room instead. Nobody else touched the Dean Cave or repurposed it as far as Dean knew. The door was kept shut.

Before everything went sideways, Dean had added a used couch, its black vinyl cracked but serviceable. Cas and Jack are seated there.

As Dean walks in Jack stands up, holding a lopsided chocolate cake. There’s chocolate smears on his white shirt. “Cas and I made it and Sam brought us the ingredients,” Jack explains, looking immensely proud of his creation despite its oddly lumpy shape, like he’d been going for a Jabba-the-Hutt Star Wars themed cake and missed.

Still, it smells good, made from scratch using actual cocoa powder good, not a mix, scent of chocolate filling the room.

Chocolate—an antidote for Dementors. It can’t stop the one Dean’s got stuck in his head right now though.

“What are you doing?” Dean demands, as Jack puts the cake on the pool table and Sam takes paper plates and knives and forks and napkins out of a bag.

“It’s your birthday today,” Cas re-states, only now he’s smiling.

“You...didn’t,” Dean says.

“Oh, we did,” says Sam, with an amused smirk at Dean’s confusion.

“Also...while we eat cake, Dean, we thought you might want to watch movies,” Cas says. “I’ve chosen a selection I believe you’d like, based on what you’ve been showing me. I hope they’re all right and you aren’t tired of them if you’ve seen them before.”

“We thought we’d all watch with you,” Jack adds.

“As long as you want, Dean. Until dawn if necessary.” Sam starts cutting the cake, turning it into an even bigger mess. “Until you fall asleep or you want to go do something else instead.”

“And we’ll make the volume loud,” Cas says.

He reaches out, squeezes Dean’s wrist, lets go, and Dean still feels the warm imprint of his fingers afterwards.

“Happy birthday, Dean.” Sam holds a slice of cake out to Dean on a small paper plate.

Michael’s just a mutter in the back of his mind, a small brook not crashing waves.