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After the War

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Sleep still did not come easy to them, even two years out. Dean accepted that it would be like this for a while, if not for the rest of their lives. Sleep remained elusive to all of them, but Dean could only speak for himself and as to what Cas told him when it came to reasons why.

Things experienced, things feared, things that will, at this point, never leave their mind and jump out when they close their eyes and let their guard down—no matter how good the day was—and remind them that while things are stable now, it wasn’t always. They will relive some of those moments when they least wanted to.

But still. It wasn’t all bad.

They learned, over time, how to handle those nights if either one of them woke up gasping for breath and shaking, reaching for the other. And, over time, the severity of the horrors lessened, but it didn’t make them any more palatable.

That night, it was Dean’s turn to lessen the pain.

Half asleep, he felt the mattress move as Cas turned over and lifted himself up on one elbow to take a sip of water. Cas had been restless for over an hour, but Dean hadn’t moved, waiting to see if it was just discomfort or if it truly was a night terror.

But, as Cas lowered the glass back down on the table, Dean heard a painfully deep, painfully familiar, shaky sigh of defeat.

Dean, laying on his front, didn’t move over at first, unsure if this was one of those times that called for space to breathe or if Cas wanted someone in his space.

Instead, he reached over with his hand, searching for Cas’.

Cas allowed it and took Dean’s hand in both of his, lacing their fingers together in one and resting the other on top of that. He held tight—tighter than usual—and Dean could feel a slight tremor. It was a bad one that night.

“C’mere,” Dean mumbled, trying to wake himself up more as he tugged his hand a little, wanting Cas to turn.

Cas obeyed without a word and turned to his side. Dean did the same and shifted closer, heart sinking as he saw silent tears streaming sideways down onto Cas’s pillow. That hadn’t happened to either of them in a while.

“What was it?” Dean asked, concern building.

At first, he didn’t think Cas would tell him. There had been nights where they had to gently coax it out of each other with the reminder that holding whatever it was inside of them did nothing to alleviate their pain. They had shared horrific, terrifying, excruciating experiences and they weren’t burdening each other with anything. It was another reminder that came from time to time.

“Warehouse,” Cas replied, keeping his eyes on their joined hands resting between them. “The—warehouse with Naomi and the—where there’s just… and I did—”

Dean hummed and shook his head, “You didn’t do anything to me.”

“I almost did.”

“But you didn’t,” Dean reminded Cas, “and why was that?”

Cas paused, rubbing his eye and taking a deep breath. This dream, nightmare, whatever it classified as, had always been the hardest for Cas to overcome and they’d usually spend the night talking it out. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it came on strong, latching onto Cas’s mind and sucking the life and soul out of him. Cas had once confessed to Dean that he had suffered the same kind of terrors ever since it had happened all those years ago—and Dean’s heart had sunk, pulled into the dark water thinking about all the times Cas had to handle all this on his own.

“It wasn’t me doing it—”

“It wasn’t you doing it,” Dean confirmed, pressing his mouth against the back of Cas’ hand, keeping his eyes on him. “And you did stop, you did stop—I’m right here and you don’t have to ever worry about that again. You stopped yourself.”

Cas stared at Dean, looking like he was on the edge of understanding and acknowledging that statement before he closed his eyes again and winced. Dean came to know that look of “the second wave of second doubts”. It often came after they’re told something that’s the truth, but the truth doesn’t stop the rush of other bad memories coming in to back up the first wave of self-doubt, further catapulting them into “I messed up, I did the wrong thing, I hurt you” rhetoric. If they didn’t break the cycle before it got going—

Dean moved forward, even more, to close the gap between them and kissed Cas, light and barely there, just enough to tease Cas back out of his own head and into the moment.

The strain on Cas’s face began to melt as he attempted to chase Dean, seeking something more, but Dean only smiled and pulled back. Cas opened his eyes, a spark of life back in them as he glared at Dean.

“Don’t tease me.”

Dean obeyed and stopped moving, finally allowed Cas to catch up. Dean squeezed Cas’s hand, reassuring him of their safe space as they kissed. They didn’t move much, just needing some kind of additional contact to ground themselves; to ground Cas that night, Dean on other nights; Just staying still, breathing each other in and reminding each other where they were, how they got there, and how it will be going forward always helped steady the mind and heart, often racing against each other.

Sometimes their methods wouldn’t work and they’d have to spend the entire night, and often times the rest of the day, holding onto the other one like clinging to a tree during a raging flood—just hoping to make it out unscathed.

They did, though. They always did.

Each kiss served as a reminder that they loved each other, in spite of everything they’ve been through, everything that’s happened, every time they had almost died—sometimes at the hands of each other. Everything they had done eventually brought them to where they currently laid in bed, light on so they could still see each other when they woke up from these nightmares, eager to be held or to hold and to remind each other just how much love had saved them, and will continue to save them.

“I was thinking,” Dean whispered as they broke away, “We can take the car to Red Cloud tomorrow to that book—”

“We can’t,” Cas cut him off. Any sense of peace that began to show on his face already retreating.

Dean frowned, confused.

“Why? I don’t—”

“We can’t go anywhere.”

Confusion continued to grow as Dean tried to think about another outstanding commitment they made. Cas offered Dean a sad smile, reaching out with his free hand and cupping Dean’s cheek.

“I’m not here, Dean.”

Ice cold dread immediately flooded Dean from head to toe. He’s heard this before.

“No—”

“You’re dreaming.”

“No I’m not—”

“You’re passed out on the floor right now,” Cas explained, sadness lining every inch of his face once more.

“Stop—”

“It’s time to wake up.”

“Wait. Wait!”

Before Dean could utter another word, an inky black overtook Cas, starting with his face, wrapping around his neck, creeping down into the sheets. It spiraled up Cas’ arm with a hiss, lacing over itself, eventually reaching his hand on Dean’s face.

Horrified, Dean bolted upright and backed away as the black continued to encapsulate Cas, completely obscuring his mournful expression, sinking him into the void.

Dean hit the edge of the bed and fell off onto the floor, hitting his head on the corner of the bedside table. He watched as Cas faded from view while his own vision swam back into the black.