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Death and Taxes

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Prologue

This is a story of a man named Castiel Novak and his wristwatch. He was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words, though his wristwatch said even less. Every weekday for 12 years, he would brush each of his 32 teeth 76 times - 38 times back and forth, and 38 times up and down. Every weekday for 12 years, he would put on a slightly ill-fitting suit and trench coat. He would tie his blue tie in a single Windsor knot instead of the double, thereby saving up to 43 seconds. His wristwatch thought the single knot made his neck look fat, but said nothing. Every weekday for 12 years, he would barely catch the 8:17 bus, though his wristwatch would delight in the feeling of the wind rushing over its face. And every weekday for 12 years, Castiel would review 7.134 tax files as a senior agent for the Internal Revenue Service.

Every morning, a coworker would ask him a difficult multiplication question that he only needed 10 seconds to solve without a calculator. Every lunch would be exactly 45.7 minutes. Every coffee break was timed precisely by his wristwatch to be 4.3 minutes. Beyond that, Castiel lived a life of solitude. He would walk home alone, eat alone, and at exactly 11:13 every night, he would go to bed alone, placing his wristwatch to rest on the nightstand beside him.

That was, of course, before Thursday.

On Thursday, Castiel’s wristwatch changed everything.

Chapter 1

If one had asked Castiel, he would have said that this particular Thursday was exactly like all the Thursdays prior. And he began it the same way he always did…

“Hello?” He stopped brushing his teeth, realizing now that the male voice he was hearing was definitely not his own. When nothing happened, he resumed brushing. He only had 16 brushes to go.

He began it the same way he always did. When others’ minds would …

There was obviously someone talking, but he didn’t know who. “Hello? Is someone there?” He looked at his toothbrush as if that was the cause and shook it against his ear. Hesitantly, he resumed and watched his reflection in the mirror.

When others’ minds would fantasize about their upcoming day, or even try to grip onto the final moments of their dreams, Castiel just counted brushstrokes.

He stopped again, spitting out the toothpaste and putting the brush on the sink. He turned around, thinking that the voice must be coming from behind. “Alright, who just said ‘Castiel just counted brushstrokes’? And how do you know I’m counting brushstrokes?” There was no reply. “Hello?”

Leaving his cramped bathroom, he walked to his closet, donning his outfit for the day - suit, tie, trench coat. As he began to tie his tie, though, the voice returned once more.

It was remarkable how the simple, modest …

As he stopped tying, the voice abruptly stopped. He resumed tying again. He didn’t have much time to lose, even knowing that the voice would probably resume narrating. He already took long enough brushing his teeth with his many pauses. His tie was actually done backwards, but the narration distracted him from that fact.

It was remarkable how the simple, modest elements of his life, so often taken for granted would become the catalyst for an entirely new life.

Trying to ignore the voice, he rushed to get out of his apartment and to work. He was out the door with an apple in his mouth with just seconds off his normal routine. He ran briskly for the bus as usual, but the voice started up again just as he began to cross the crosswalk.

Castiel ran for the bus. His stiff leather shoes made a terrible squeaking sound as they flexed against the asphalt.

He stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, picked his foot up and placed it down. Like the narrator said, his shoe made an unpleasant squeak. It wasn’t noticeable until the voice pointed it out. He wondered if it would bother him for the rest of the day. He was about to do the same motion with his other foot when he heard the sound of his bus departing. Trying to wave to get the bus driver to stop didn’t work. The voice came back.

And though this was an extraordinary day - a day to be remembered for the rest of his life - he just thought it was a Thursday.

***

Being an IRS agent wasn’t fun, but it paid the bills and he was good at it. Unlike his usual days of crunching numbers and looking through multiple forms, today was different. The voice he heard was a constant intrusion and his job gave him no distraction from it. It narrated every single thing he did as he did them. It left him frazzled and he stumbled through his work. Coworkers tried to ask him questions, but he couldn’t concentrate on them. He was asked to multiply 67 times 452, but got it wrong since he couldn’t calculate the numbers with the voice speaking over his thoughts. Thinking solitude in filing was the best course of action, he made his way to the 12th floor.

He was given 10 minutes of quiet bliss until he began to search for files. The voice began to describe his actions - better than he ever could - so he had to stop. He must have stood there for another 10 minutes in order to prevent the voice from speaking.

“Dude, I just totally caught some insurance adjuster claiming his jet ski was a work vehicle. What an idiot.” Gabriel, another IRS agent and who happened to be his best friend despite how different they were, appeared from around the corner and walked up to him with an amused smile on his face. “I’ll tell you, it’s a shame they don’t give out an auditor of the year award. I would totally win it and wave it in front of Michael’s stupid face.” He must have noticed Castiel’s strange demeanour. “Cas, you okay? You’re acting weirder than usual.”

He looked at him but stayed as still as possible, speaking in hushed tones. “Gabe, I’m being followed.”

He looked behind Castiel and then gave him a blank look. “How are you being followed? We’re the only ones here.”

“It’s by a voice. I’m being followed by a man’s voice.”

“Oooooooooooh!” The inflection in his voice went high as Gabriel thought that Castiel was daydreaming about a man.

He rolled his eyes. “No, not like that.”

“Okay … what is he saying?” Gabriel followed his eyes, which were looking upwards.

“He’s narrating.”

“Cas, you’re not even moving. You’re staring at boxes. What is he narrating?”

“No, I had to stop filing to stop him from talking. Watch. Listen.” He picked up a folder and began to file it into the box in front of him.

The sound the paper made against the folder had the same tone as a wave scraping against sand. And when Castiel thought about it, he listened to enough waves every day to constitute what he imagined to be a deep and endless ocean.

He stopped and the narration stopped with him. He looked at his friend. “Did you hear that?”

Gabriel blinked. “You mean you filing?”

“No, the voice.”

He shook his head. They stared at each other for a moment - Gabriel in confusion and Castiel wondering if the voice would start back up.

“The scary part is that sometimes I do imagine a deep and endless ocean,” he commented, just as the image of the sea popped into his mind.

“What ocean? Dude, what the hell are you talking about?”

“The one made by the sound,” he raised a file but put it back down. He thought about repeating his action, but realized that perhaps he truly was the only one that could hear the voice. “Forget it.”

A secretary came by and dropped off a couple of files. “New audits. Have a good day.”

Gabriel took a look at them as Castiel continued to stare at nothing. He wondered what prompted the narration to start and attempted to do nothing in order to prevent it. Sadly, he knew he had work to do. He looked at the file in his hand and quickly placed it in the box. Thankfully, there was no narration to accompany his swift filing.

“Alright, we have a baker and a securities trader.” Gabriel held up both files - one rather thick and the other rather thin - gave him a look of pity, and spoke again. “Maybe you should take the baker. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Gabriel thrust the thin file in his hands and then left. Castiel rushed through the rest of his filing since it seemed if he was fast enough, the narration wouldn’t start, and was out of the building in less than ten minutes. Usually, he would read through the file at his desk, but since the voice seemed the most active at his workplace, he decided to review the file on his way to the bakery. He silently thanked Gabriel that he was given the thinner file of the two and it worked out in his favour that the time it took to take a bus there was the perfect amount of time to read everything in it.

Stepping off the bus, he breathed out a relieved sigh that the narration hadn’t started since the file room. Perhaps it was just some weird pent up stress and all he needed was a new change in scenery. Walking a block, he found himself in front of the bakery. It was situated on the corner of the street with old brick walls and large windows decorated with flowers. The building was attached to other shops and Castiel guessed the second floor had either apartments or office spaces. He looked at his file once more before entering the bakery. He was looking for the owner, Dean Winchester.

The bell above him chimed as soon as he stepped into the quaint but eclectic shop and he was hit with the aroma of freshly baked goodies. He couldn’t quite pinpoint what just came out of the oven - pies or cookies - but he didn’t let that detract him from the task at hand. He looked around the bakery at the unusual decor and the mish mash of customers. There was a group of teenagers in punk attire studying, a couple of hippie looking types having a loud conversation, one man in a suit working on a laptop, and what appeared to be either a homeless man or a hipster - he couldn’t tell. Objectively speaking, it was a nice, cozy bakery.

He walked up to the counter. There were two people working behind it; one red-haired woman currently restocking a section of the glass case with dainty macarons, and a man with a Led Zeppelin shirt on under an apron working on kneading dough by the ovens. He liked that he could watch baked goods be made in such an open space. The woman saw him first.

“Hi, what can I get for you?” She cheerily asked, flashing a bright smile to him.

He looked down at his file quickly before responding, “I’m looking for a Dean Winchester?”

“Well, we’ve got one right here.” She walked over to the man kneading. “Dean, this dude’s looking for you.”

Dean looked up and smiled at her before looking at him. “Thanks, Charlie.”

The man, Dean, wiped his hands on his apron, which, like his face and hair, was dusted with flour. He had a half tattoo sleeve consisting of a geometric and floral pattern on his upper right arm, bright green eyes, and a smile that rivaled the sun’s brightness. All of that meant that he was unbelievably attractive in Castiel’s eyes. He cleared his throat - he was here to work, not ogle the man.

“What can I do for you?” Dean began, and damn if that voice and smile didn’t make his knees a little bit weak.

He cleared his throat again, finding Dean’s voice was making his throat go dry. “My name is Castiel Novak. I’m an agent for the Internal Revenue Services and …” He was about to continue his spiel when Dean started to curse loudly.

“Fuck! Goddamn it!” His once open and smiling expression turned sour, and his loud swearing caught the attention of everyone in the shop.

“Jesus, Dean.” Charlie whipped her head around. “Did you burn yourself again?”

“Charlie. Take a break.” He spoke in a stern tone.

Surprised, she responded, “What?”

“Can you go sit with Sam for like five minutes?”

She shrugged and walked over to a table, but Castiel didn’t follow where she went. Instead, he spoke, “You should have received a letter and phone call …”

“Fuck you, taxman …”

He sighed internally, and remained stone-faced as his training took over. “I understand …”

“Son of a bitch.” He placed his palms on the counter. “I can’t believe this.”

From the reflection in the display case, Castiel spotted a man smartly dressed in a suit rise from his seat and approach the counter.

“Dean, chill out.” The man spoke and then turned to face Castiel. “Can I …”

“Sam, get back to your table and finish your goddamn sandwich.” Dean looked up with fire in his eyes at the man and it made Castiel wonder if he spoke to his customers like this when angry, but the eye roll and scoff from the tall man revealed a sort of familiarity between the two.

“Is there somewhere else we can speak about this?” He asked calmly as Sam returned to his seat, though he could still feel his eyes on the two of them.

Dean crossed his arms and let out a big huff. “No, we’re gonna talk about this right here.”

He sighed, but resumed in a gentle tone, “Okay. It says in the file that you only paid 78% of your taxes for last year.”

“That’s right.” He looked so proud of this fact it made Castiel confused.

“So you did it on purpose?”

“Yep.” He smirked, indignant.

“So you must have been expecting an audit?”

His expression faltered a little but the smugness returned. “I was expecting a fine or scolding or something.”

“A scolding? This isn’t …” He paused, deciding not to provoke the man even more with a sarcastic quip. “You stole from the government, Mr. Winchester.”

“I didn’t steal from them, okay? I just didn’t pay them entirely.” He smirked again but combined it with a casual shrug, dropping his arms to his sides.

He turned around and went back to the table where he was kneading and resumed as Castiel stared. The baker’s nonchalant attitude was frustrating for the IRS agent. All he wanted to do was to perform the audit and move on with his life.

“Mr. Winchester, you can’t just not pay your taxes. Now I have to go over your last four years of returns.”

“Fine.” He stopped kneading and looked back up at Castiel, brandishing a floury finger at him as he approached him once again. “You know what, no, it’s not fine. I’m a big supporter of fixing potholes and public healthcare. I am more than happy to pay for those taxes. I am not a fan of the government using my taxes for national defense, corporate bailouts, and campaign discretionary funds, and I certainly don’t want my money going to the hypocritical orange bastard who goes golfing every goddamn month instead of running the country, so yeah, I didn’t pay those taxes.”

He wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, but a timer chose to go off at that moment, prompting Dean to go check the oven for whatever fresh batch of goodies were finished. It was also in that moment that the narration decided to return.

It was hard for Castiel to come up with a witty remark to Dean’s explanation. He was distracted by the man’s appearance, which was seemingly out of place in the bakery. He imagined him to be a fashion model or an actor gracing magazines and billboards, and yet, seeing him as a baker seemed to titillate Castiel’s imagination more.

“Not now,” he muttered to himself.

His strong arms …

“What?” Dean turned around.

Kneading dough. His long, muscular bow legs …

He cleared his throat. “Nothing.”

Flexing as he reached to lift bags of flour. Castiel wasn’t prone to fantasies, so he tried his best to remain professional, but of course, failed. His attempts at moving the conversation to auditing Dean’s files was being prevented by his traitorous imagination.

“Is there, uh, a place …”

He couldn’t help but imagine Mr. Winchester stroking the side of Castiel’s face with the soft blade of his fingers.

“Um, an office, maybe …”

He couldn’t help but imagine him taking a shower after a long day, and he couldn’t help but imagine Dean naked, stretched out across his bed. He couldn’t help imagining a soft kiss from those plump, pink lips.

As the narration spoke, he was unconsciously following Dean’s movements as he began to plate some muffins. It wasn’t until Dean was calling out to him that he realized where his gaze fell. He blushed immediately and looked up, jolted back to reality. “Yes?”

“You’re staring at my crotch, dude.”

“Uh, no … of course not,” he spoke, frazzled. “I don’t think I was. I don’t think I would do that.”

Dean raised an eyebrow at him and was about to say something when Castiel piped up, “Sorry, I’m just having some issues today. I’ll be back on, uh, Monday.”

Before the baker could respond, he turned on his heel and walked out the bakery’s doors. The door’s bell chiming seemed to mock his humiliating exit. He was flustered and embarrassed at getting caught accidentally checking the man out. On any other day when he wasn’t working and was more discreet about it, it would probably be fine, but the fact that it was a man he was about to audit wasn’t appropriate whatsoever.

“Come on, Castiel. Get it together.”

He suddenly found himself exasperated standing outside the bakery …

He looked up at the sky and yelled, “Shut up!”

Cursing the heavens in futility.

He sighed in defeat and continued on his way to catch another bus back to his workplace. Thankfully, the narration stopped for a couple of hours and he was able to seem normal to his coworkers for the time being, but apparently, his weird demeanour earlier in the day made an impression on Human Resources.

The HR manager was spewing some strange philosophical query at Castiel that he couldn’t be bothered to listen to, though that was in part due to the narration that had suddenly picked up the moment he sat down in the chair.

Why was Castiel talking to this man? This man was an idiot who used cheesy metaphors and explained that trees were trees. Of course trees were trees - he knew that. What he didn’t know was why he couldn’t shake the smell of brownies from his senses, or why Mr. Winchester had made his fingertips quiver and lips go numb, and …

“Castiel?” He was apparently being called, but it was his watch’s sudden beeping that brought him back to the situation at hand.

“Sorry.” He pressed a couple of buttons, hoping it would stop. “My watch isn’t supposed to be beeping.” He looked at his watch again, frustrated. It looked back, also frustrated.

“Castiel?”

“Right, um…”

“Listen, according to your records, you haven’t taken a vacation in a few years now. Let’s say you take tomorrow off?” He phrased it like a question, but he knew that this was something he couldn’t say no to.

“Sure. That’d be a good idea.” He lied.

It was more or less the end of the day, so he walked out of the office and back to his cubicle, where he sat down for a moment to collect his things, and then left. Thankfully, no one else noticed him leaving or tried to stop him from leaving earlier than usual. He really didn’t want to explain the meeting he was not listening to. He walked to his usual bus stop where a bunch of other men and women in suits were waiting. Not even thirty seconds had passed when his watch began to beep uncontrollably. It was another thing to add to his frustrating day. He simply wanted to crawl into bed and not come out.

Castiel assumed his watch was simply on the fritz and never even considered that it might be trying to tell him something.

He took off his watch and pressed multiple buttons in order to get it to stop, but it already turned a few curious heads wanting to see what was happening.

In fact, as he fiddled with the buttons, he wouldn’t notice a certain handsome baker walking by across the road.

At that his head snapped up to see, just as the narration said, Dean walking on the other side of the street towards some unknown destination. He no longer donned the flour stained t-shirt and ripped jeans, but dressed smartly in a leather jacket and pants. Castiel wondered where he was going, and what he was doing downtown, but the jarring beeping brought him back to the issue in his hand. No amount of button pushing would stop it.

Castiel had never once paid attention to his watch, other than to find out the time and the lack of attention drove his watch crazy, so on this particular Thursday evening as he waited for the bus, his watch suddenly stopped.

He blinked at his now silent and powerless watch. He stared it at for a moment, and then it reset, blinking 12:00 incessantly. He asked to the crowd, “Does anyone have the time?”

The man in front of him turned around and said, “Yeah, it’s 5:28.”

“Thanks,” he replied as he set the new time on his watch.

Thus Castiel’s watch thrust him into the mercy of fate’s path. Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result … in his imminent death.