Dean was usually pretty good about bedtime. Sammy had reached the stage of throwing tantrums whenever he was told to go to sleep and his new favourite sentence was “No nap!”, but his older brother tended to go to bed without fuss or argument, tired enough that the thought of sleep was more than welcome.
Not tonight, though.
As soon as his mother switched off the light and left the room Dean scrambled out from under the neatly tucked covers. He backed away from the bed, staring at it like it was the enemy.
The mattress was too soft, the pillow too fluffy, the covers too warm. If he lay in bed he would fall asleep.
Dean didn't want to fall asleep.
He didn't want to dream. Not now that he knew for sure that the monsters he had nightmares about were real. The dreams were always so vivid, but he could face them because he never had reason to believe those monsters were really out there in the dark or that all those people were really being ripped to shreds.
What was he supposed to do now? He didn't want to watch people – families, kids, little old grannies, babies like Sam – die from teeth and claws and violent poltergeists. He didn't want to see huge puddles of blood and dead eyes. He didn't want to know that people were crying for their loved ones and would never know what had happened to them.
He decided he was going to stay awake. Tonight, tomorrow night and every night after that. He didn't care how tired he got.
Because maybe...maybe if he didn't sleep, those people wouldn't die. And he wanted so badly to save them.
Decision made, Dean curled up in the corner of his bedroom, sitting as far away from his bed as he could. It was cold but he refused to get a blanket, so he wrapped his arms around his knees and resigned himself to shivering. When his eyes began to droop he pinched his arms hard, letting the pain startle him awake again.
It was boring, and lonely, and every time a shadow moved it made him jump. But he was determined to be brave like the Dean in his dreams. That Dean could babysit Sammy all by himself. That Dean knew how to shoot a shot gun. That Dean helped sew up his Daddy's cuts when they were bleeding everywhere. That Dean dropped matches into open graves to burn bones while his Daddy held off the ghosts. That Dean didn't hide behind his Daddy when they found dead bodies. That Dean acted as bait for monsters so his Daddy could hunt them. That Dean was a hero, and Dean wanted to be just like him.
So he refused to be scared, and he refused to be sleepy.
He didn't know how long he had been sitting there, but it was still dark outside his window when the silence was broken by the sound of flapping wings. When a figure appeared in his room he almost screamed but trapped the sound in his throat just in time, realising it was his angel.
"You scared me!" Dean accused, speaking in a loud whisper so his parents wouldn't hear.
Cas dropped his voice accordingly. "That was not my intention."
"What are you doing here?" Dean asked. He had gone for more than a year without seeing his angel, and now he was seeing him for the second time that day. He wouldn't mind, but Cas only seemed to turn up when there was trouble. "Is - is it that bad man? Is he coming?"
"No. You are safe tonight."
Dean relaxed a little. "So why, then?"
Cas crouched down next to him so they were at eye level with each other. He looked directly at Dean without blinking and it was kind of weird but kind of nice at the same time because lots of adults treated kids like they were invisible or looked down on them because they were little, but Cas saw him, really saw him, and that made Dean feel special.
"You are not sleeping," Cas said.
Cas frowned a little. "As I understand it, humans require regular sleep periods in order to function at peak efficiency. Insufficient rest can cause cognitive, physical and emotional impairment."
Dean blinked blearily at him. "You use big words."
Cas seemed puzzled for a moment but tried again. "Lack of sleep is not good for you."
Dean yawned. "Good for...for other people, though. Keeps them safe."
"How do you mean?"
"People die when I dream. Monsters kill them. And I dream when I sleep, so I can't sleep."
Cas tilted his head. "You would deprive yourself of the sleep you need for the sake of strangers."
"They shouldn't die. They should be alive and safe and happy. I wanna help them."
Dean couldn't quite understand the look his angel was giving him, but Cas didn't seem upset with him so he didn't worry.
"That is...an admirable ambition, Dean. However people are not dying because you have dreams. You have those dreams because people are dying - or, rather, because they died in an alternate timeline. It is just that similar events unfold here."
"So...so I didn't make all those people die?"
"No, Dean. Remember I told you? I have been using your dreams to prevent further loss of life. So, in a way, you have been helping people."
Dean scrunched up his nose. "By sleeping?"
"So you're saying I should go back to bed?"
"Oh," Dean said softly. He thought about the monsters and the dead people – the real monsters and dead people – that he would see if he closed his eyes. He swallowed, but stood up anyway and reluctantly climbed into bed. He couldn't bring himself to lie down, though, and ended up sitting stiffly with his hands fisted in the covers.
"I have no personal experience, but that appears to be a difficult position to sleep in. I believe lying horizontally would be more effective."
Dean didn't move.
"Dean? Are you...frightened?"
Dean shook his head, but he could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
"The dreams are distressing for you. I apologise, Dean, I should have realised sooner. I confess that I am accustomed to the adult version of you, but I should not have forgotten that at the moment you are very young even by human standards."
"I'm not a baby," Dean was quick to protest. "And I'm not scared."
"Being afraid is nothing to be ashamed of, Dean. Even grow men are scared sometimes. What is important is how you respond to fear; whether you control it, or allow it to control you."
"People...people need me to sleep, so you can save them. And if I'm a scaredy-cat then they might die."
"It is unlikely that you will turn into a feline, unless a witch is feeling particularly creative."
Dean giggled. "A scaredy-cat, silly. That's a name for someone who's too scared to do something. I don't want to be one of those. So... So I guess I should be brave and go to sleep." He wriggled down until his head was on the pillow, took a deep breath and tried to relax.
But then he thought about monsters and dead bodies and he couldn't close his eyes.
"I could stop the dreams if that is what you want," Cas offered. "I know they are unpleasant, and no child should have to bear witness to such horrors, especially not a second time."
Dean was tempted. He hated the nightmares. "But then you won't be able to save the people."
"It would make my task much more difficult, that is true. But for the sake of your wellbeing..."
Dean sighed. "No. That's okay. Could you just...stay with me for a little while?"
Cas came over to stand by the bed. "As you wish."
Secure in the knowledge that his angel was keeping watch, Dean finally let his eyes close.
Sleep overtook him quickly.
When Dean woke up crying two hours later, Cas was still there. Dean flung himself into his angel's arms, sobbing a description of what he had seen into the white shirt. He tried to give as many details as he could so the angel would know where to go and what to look for, even though remembering hurt.
"You have shown great courage tonight, Dean," Cas said quietly. "Because of you, I will be able to go and destroy the vengeful spirit you have seen before it can kill anyone else. Thank you."
Dean hiccoughed and nodded, waiting for his angel to put him down so he could vanish again.
But Cas hesitated. "Dean... I do not have to leave immediately. The ghost will harm no one else tonight. If you want I could... I could stay."
In answer, Dean tightened his hold on the angel's coat.
"Okay, Dean." Cas sat on the bed with his back against the headrest, allowing Dean to shift into a more comfortable position on his lap. Dean curled up against his chest, pulling the big coat around the both of them, and sighed in contentment when Cas wrapped his arms around him.
This time when he fell asleep, he dreamed of warmth, light, blue eyes and soft feathers.
Sometimes Dean felt like he was two different people leading two different lives. Sort of like Batman and Bruce Wayne, except he didn't dress up in a costume at night or live in a fancy mansion.
Most of the time he was Dean Winchester. Son and big brother. Average student at Lawrence Primary School. Car mechanic in training. Typical boy who enjoyed playing footy in the backyard with his dad, building forts out of chairs and bedding with his little brother, turning his mom's pots and pans into a drum kit, watching movies at the drive-in and eating home-made pie. All in all, he seemed to be a normal kid with none of the issues and oddities his kinder teacher had been so worried about. His parents were relieved.
But other times, he was a different Dean Winchester. He was the boy who gradually stopped being frightened by his nightmares and started to pay close attention so he could learn from them. He was the boy who hid a circle of salt under the rugs in every room of the house and checked that every door and window in the house was locked before he went to bed. He was the boy who looked deep into people's eyes to make sure they were not the wrong colour. He was the boy unfazed by small cuts and bruises because he had lived through much worse. He was the boy whose best friend was a monster-fighting angel.
His Dad thought Dean was going to grow up to take over the family business, working as a mechanic fixing cars. He told his teachers that he wanted to become a firefighter when he was big enough. But he knew what he was supposed to be, what he would be. And the only person he could tell was Cas.
“I’m going to be a hunter!” he announced one night. He had woken from a dream and, just like always since the first time, Cas was there to comfort him. But this night, seeing the carnage a vampire nest had left in its wake had not scared Dean – it made him angry. He wanted to go out there and hunt them down himself for what they had done to that poor family.
Cas looked at him for a long moment. Dean was getting better at reading his expressions; this one seemed to be a combination of sadness and pride. “All roads lead to the same destination,” Cas said at last. “I am sorry, Dean. When the other you altered the past to save your mother, I think he hoped to change your fate as well.”
“He – I – didn’t want to be a hunter?”
“He never felt that he had a choice. But through his actions he did give you one. You don’t have to do this, Dean.”
“I wanna hunt.”
“It is a difficult life, Dean,” Cas warned. “Dangerous. You will suffer many hardships if you follow this road.”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t mind. Someone’s gotta, right? It’ll be worth it to help all those people.”
Cas stopped frowning, which Dean had learned was his version of a smile. “A response worthy of a Winchester. It is for reasons such as these that you were considered Heaven’s Righteous Man, Dean.”
Dean’s angel still tended to say very strange things, and Dean only understood him about half the time. “Huh?”
“You are a remarkable individual,” Cas said. “Few could make the choice that you have tonight.”
Cas gave a slight nod.
Dean bounced a little in his bed, getting excited. “So are you gonna teach me how to be a hunter? When do we start? Can we start now?”
“I do not believe I would not be the best teacher for you,” Cas said. “I am an angel, after all, not a human. My hunting methods are different.”
“I can fly across the country in a matter of seconds and search a town in an instant,” Cas reminded him.
For a long time Dean had wondered why he could always hear wings flapping when Cas came and went but never saw so much as a feather no matter how hard he stared at the back of the angel’s trench coat. Cas finally explained that his wings were invisible to humans so that people who saw him wouldn’t know he was an angel. Dean was kind of grumpy that he never got to see them because he bet they looked awesome, but Cas had flown him to lots of places superfast and that was pretty cool.
“I can smite demons and burn ghosts with my Grace,” Cas continued. “Also, I tap into your dreams to find hunts. From what I observed of your hunting practices in the alternate reality, human hunters must do long hours of research and driving, they must be experienced with hand-to-hand combat against far stronger opponents, and they must also be highly skilled in the operation of a large variety of weapons.”
“You can’t teach me that stuff?”
“I am afraid not.”
Dean’s shoulders slumped with disappointment. His dream Daddy had taught his dream self all about hunting, but the dreams didn’t show him everything and they didn’t help him practice in real life. He knew his real Daddy had been a marine, but he never let Dean anywhere near his guns and there was no way he would teach him how to use them.
“However, it may be possible for me to find you another teacher...”
Dean’s face lit up immediately. “Really? You’d do that? Who is it gonna be? When can I meet them? Can you go get them now?”
“I shall do my best to arrange a meeting, but it may take some time.”
Dean settled back in his bed and folded his hands together, doing his best to look patient. “I can wait.”
“A few weeks at least.”
Dean wrinkled his nose but nodded. “Okay, Cas.”
“Very well. Now, lie down and go back to sleep. It is only a few hours until morning and you require rest.”
Dean was sure he was too excited to sleep, but he wriggled back under the covers obediently. Cas tucked him in and smoothed his hair back. The gentle touch sent peace washing through him and Dean sighed, his eyes fluttering shut.
Dean mumbled something incoherent, already slipping off into dreamland with a smile lingering on his lips.