Dean was making small talk with Dave, the local vet, over the guy’s ‘sometimes I hate this job’ cup of hot chocolate when a car pulled up into the oasis of artificial light that the Last Chance was sitting in. It was a sedan, dark-colored and dark-windowed and covered with dust, and the engine sounded like someone had been asking too much of it lately. It didn’t shut off, either, and the car had parked itself somewhat sloppily at an angle in front of the door like the driver was expecting needing to take off again in a hurry. Dean swore and moved out from behind the counter, shaking his head at the also-alarmed vet. “Just…stay behind me, Dave. If shit starts to go down, get down behind the counter – or duck into the basement if you have to – and use my cell to call 9-1-1.”
“Trust me, the call will go through. It’s kind of a sat-phone, it was a present from a friend.” Actually it had been a present by way of a friend’s friend, but Dean wasn’t going to explain that to Dave. Or the circumstances which had made those friends of his friend decide he needed communication capabilities on par with what they used at work.
The Castiel incident had shaken up Steve’s team quite a bit, apparently. Mainly because they saw it as pure luck that Steve had been there to back Dean up and call for help from the one guy they had on hand who thought angels were more of an annoyance than a threat.
Of course, that guy was named Thor, and he just happened to be a Norse god. He also happened to be buddies with Crowley, the current King of Hell and former boyfriend of Thor’s sister, and the two of them had eaten an entire pie and told stories that were a whole lot wilder than the ones Thor had been telling by himself earlier that evening. And then Bruce and Cecil had shown up and things had gotten sort of surreal after that because Crowley was apparently a fan and Thor thought Night Vale was a real place. Or had been a real place once. Or maybe Thor had just been fucking with everyone to break the rest of the tension, because Dean had seen Bruce giving the guy an I-see-what-you-did-there eyebrow a couple of times. It didn’t really matter, though. It had started off as a really bad night and turned into a really weird but good one. Especially since Steve, being the semi-immortal leader of a team that contained a Norse god, hadn’t batted an eyelash at Castiel or Crowley or finding out that Dean was pretty much immortal too.
He’d been awfully happy about that last one, in fact. And, honestly, for the first time so had Dean.
Things had been quiet in the month or so since then, but Dean hadn’t expected it to stay that way for too much longer. It was like he could feel wheels turning, things happening, and he was just waiting for the ripples from whatever it was to start reaching him. Apparently tonight was the night – or rather this morning was the morning, since it was a few hours past midnight – because things had started off pretty normal and now there was a mysterious getaway car parked in front of the Last Chance and not being vulnerable to bullets if someone came out firing was going to be really hard to explain to Dave.
The driver’s side door of the still-running car opened and a wild-eyed, dark-haired man pulled himself out and stared at Dean, then left the car and staggered to the diner’s door, shoving it open with a hand that had really obviously been used to punch somebody. “Dean, problem!”
“I can see that, yeah.” Dean had met him at the door, but when he tried to lead the older man to a seat he was shaken off. “Tony, what…”
“I can’t…I can’t stay, I have to get back to the mansion.” Tony swallowed. “Dean, we were…we were set up. By our own people, if you can call them that. They tried to take Steve. I stopped them!” he insisted quickly, before Dean could react to that. “I stopped them, and then I just…I didn’t have a choice, couldn’t get a plane or anything, we had to drive. He’s healing, but…Dean, what we talked about, before?” Dean paled, and Tony shook his head – a little too hard – and grasped his arm. “No, it’s just…Dean, all he wanted was you. So I brought him. Is that…”
Dean was out the door before the older man could finish his sentence. He pulled open the car’s dented passenger door…and one blue eye blinked up at him from a bruised, blood-streaked face. “You look like shit,” Dean observed, heart skipping a beat in his chest.
“Oh…believe me, I feel…way worse than that,” Steve rasped. He was still wearing what Dean assumed was his uniform, the condition of which gave mute evidence of just how badly things must have gone. “A wall…fell on me.”
“I figured it was something like that.” Dean’s mind snapped into getting shit done mode, a place he really hadn’t had to go since he’d started running the diner. “Can you walk?” Steve shook his head, and Dean straightened and gestured urgently to Dave, who was talking to Tony. The vet immediately sprinted out to join him. “I’m gonna need your help, he’s hurt pretty bad and we need to get him inside.”
“Mr. Stark said he had at least one broken leg,” Dave confirmed, pushing Dean out of the way. He greeted the blue eye that blinked at him with a lopsided professional grin. “I’m not exactly the kind of doctor you need, Captain, but we’ll have to make due for the time being. Now let’s ease your legs out first. Dean, you keep him from sliding sideways…”
They managed to get Steve out of the car and half-carry him into the diner, and Tony pushed in close and grabbed Steve’s shoulder, squeezing but not very hard. “Bruce is on his way, Steve,” he said. “And Dr. Dave here has promised me he knows the difference between horses and people. I’m off again, but I’ll come back for you.”
“Promise you’ll…be as careful as you can?”
“You’re asking me to lie to you?”
“No, I guess not.” Steve smiled. “Thanks.”
“You can thank me when I come back in all my glory,” Tony told him, trying and almost succeeding in producing a cocky smirk. He smacked Dean on the arm. “I’ll be back as soon as I can…but I don’t know when that will be, because I don’t know what’s waiting for me. Between you and Bruce, though…”
“We’ll be fine,” Dean assured him. “Did you lose your phone?”
Tony swallowed. “You could say that, yeah.”
Dean snatched his off the counter and shoved it into the older man’s hand. “Bruce will have his,” he said when Tony started to protest. “And if you called him from the gas station, he’ll be halfway here already.”
Tony’s battered hand clenched around the phone. “I’ll be back,” he insisted, and then he was out the door and the car was grinding back onto the highway in a cloud of off-colored exhaust.
Steve’s head dropped like he just couldn’t hold it up anymore. “You’d better be.”
Dave frowned at Dean over the bent head. “He can’t stay out here. Your bed?”
“It’s down in the basement. The stairs…”
“We don’t have a choice,” Dave interrupted. “He can’t stay up here, he needs to lay flat, to stretch out – and he shouldn’t be in front of the windows anyway, Mr. Stark said to keep him out of sight.”
“Tony’s…a worry-wart,” Steve told him. “Can’t say I…wouldn’t like to lay down, though.” He blinked at Dean. “You don’t mind?”
Dean found a smile, packed all of the warmth he could into it. “Of course I don’t mind. You’re gonna hate the stairs, though, so let’s get it over with. One step at a time…”
Later, Dean was never sure which one of them the stairs had been harder on – Steve, or him. And getting Steve’s uniform off of him ran a close second, since it was lined with some sort of body armor material and had to be taken off the same way it had gone on instead of being ripped or cut. As much as he didn’t want to, though, the minute Dave didn’t need his help anymore Dean pelted back upstairs to watch for Bruce – or anyone else who might show up at the diner. Dave joined him shortly thereafter, shrugging at Dean’s raised eyebrow and settling back onto the stool he’d vacated earlier. “He’s asleep, and until a real doctor gets here I’ve pretty much done all I can do.” He was giving Dean an odd, somewhat stunned look, but then he shook his head, picking up his now-cold chocolate and taking a sip. “I’m just…well, my mind’s kind of blown right now. I never would have guessed…but I can guess why you didn’t say anything, and you have my word I won’t.” He glanced up. “Thanks, though.”
“For your service, Dean.” He waved aimlessly at the door. “Not like I didn’t know who they both were the minute I saw them. I don’t know what you used to do, before you came here,” he held up a hand, “and I’m not asking. But whatever it was…I mean it, thanks.”
Dean took a deep breath, nodding, and confiscated his cup. “Let me get you a refill – on the house, it’s my fault it got cold.”
Dave grinned. “Extra whipped cream, if you don’t mind – I mean it, nights like this I don’t know why I became a vet. It’s not the animals I can’t stand, it’s the damned stupid owners…”
Bruce showed up some twenty minutes later, with Cecil. Dave, not surprisingly, also seemed to know who Bruce was, although he seemed nervous around the scientist for some reason. Bruce ignored it, asked a few questions and thanked him for his help, and then disappeared into the basement. Dave took his leave shortly thereafter, and as soon as he was gone Dean found himself being pulled into a hard hug by Cecil. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” the older man wanted to know.
“Yeah.” Being hugged by Cecil was sort of like being hugged by a particularly friendly octopus, although Dean wasn’t sure why. It didn’t feel weird, though, it felt…safe. He’d had hugs like this from Bobby a few times. “I’m…it was just…I wouldn’t have expected him to…”
“Ask for you?” Cecil pulled back and looked him in the eye. “Dean, why wouldn’t he? He loves you, of course he’d want to be with you. And you two are just perfect for each other.”
Dean blinked. Cecil had pushed his bangs back and was looking him in the eye…with three brown eyes, not two. The third eye was in the center of his forehead, but otherwise looked perfectly normal. Dean said the first thing that came into his mind. “You only need glasses on two of them?”
Cecil smiled, the corners of all three eyes crinkling. “I usually just keep the third one closed and let my hair cover it.” He let go of Dean’s shoulders and sat down at the counter. “Tony probably didn’t have time to tell you what happened – he was scared to death they were going to catch him out on the road without his suit and Steve in no condition to fight off anything bigger than a housefly. ‘They’ being a quasi-government organization called SHIELD, who all of them used to work for once upon a time until they realized the organization had been turning evil. Well, more evil.”
Dean sat down across from him. “The same people who thought Steve should be their ‘eternal soldier’?”
“Also the ones who turned Steve’s former best friend into a cyborg assassin, gave Clint’s partner to him as a bed toy, resurrected and then brainwashed their handler, made Bruce an international fugitive, destroyed the love of Tony’s life with experimental drugs…and were responsible for my Carlos’s death.”
Dean’s mouth had dropped open in horror. “Thor?”
“He’s not vulnerable to them unless he screws up and dishonors himself, and he’s off-planet a lot, but his girlfriend works for one of their satellite labs. Luckily they need her research, so they’re still leaving her and that lab alone. For now. And she probably knows less about the situation than you do, honestly – she’s like one of those Disney movie scientists, from what I understand, she pretty much only notices what’s right in front of her. Anyway, this is the organization that set up Tony and Steve yesterday. Called them out to handle something supposedly minor at a time when the two of them were the only ones available. They went, realized it was a setup about five minutes too late, and part of a building fell on them. Tony ended up having to fight off the SHIELD agents who supposedly showed up to ‘help’ – they were actually there to kidnap Steve. They’d come prepared and they pretty much destroyed Tony’s suit, but he still managed to put them out of commission and then he grabbed Steve, stole one of the agents’ cars, and started hauling ass back to Malibu for reinforcements and another suit.”
Cecil blinked at him. “You haven’t…no, I guess you wouldn’t have. Tony the Tech Guy, aka Tony Stark the billionaire genius philanthropist…aka Iron Man?”
“I knew the first one, and I’ve heard of the second one but I didn’t know Steve’s Tony was him. The third one…I saw that on the front of a tabloid once, but I thought it was a robot or something.”
“Close enough.” Cecil waved it away. “You’ll get to see the suit when he comes back, until then all you need to know is that Tony found a mechanical way to turn himself into a superhero and it puts him on a level somewhere between Steve and Thor. Without it, though…well, he’s at a disadvantage, at least physically. So he was hauling ass back to his workshop when Steve, who’d been in and out, started asking for you.”
“And Tony remembered that Bruce was out here and brought him.”
Cecil shook his head. “Tony had never forgotten that Bruce was out here, Dean; it was just out of his way, he was making a beeline for Malibu where all of his resources are at. But he made that detour when Steve asked for you…because Steve never asks anybody for anything, and if what he wanted was you then that’s what Tony was going to give him.” Suddenly he blinked, all three eyes at once, and turned halfway around to look…well, at what Dean wasn’t sure, then turned back around and shrugged. “Looks like he managed to get hold of Clint, and Clint is on his way here.” He smiled somewhat apologetically. “I think this just became their fallback spot. I’d say we could relocate to the power station to keep the diner out of it, but…”
“We can’t relocate anywhere.” Bruce had come up out of the basement, looking upset, and Cecil immediately went to him. He accepted the hug with a sigh and let himself be led around the counter to a stool of his own; Dean got up, but the scientist caught his arm before he could go anywhere. “No, if one of us wants something we’ll get it ourselves, Dean – this isn’t work, it’s family.” Dean goggled at him, dropping back onto the stool, and Bruce actually smiled. “Welcome to it, yeah. Once Tony accepts someone, that’s pretty much it.” The smile fell away. “Seriously, though, we can’t move Steve. He heals fast, but not that fast. A concrete block wall fell on him, my guess is they set it up to do as much damage as possible to he and Tony both – he pushed Tony out of the way, if he hadn’t neither of them would have been able to fight back when the agents showed up,” he explained. “He actually did a lot more healing than you’d probably guess on the ride out here, but the shitty government-issue car Tony stole was apparently a pretty rough ride and that didn’t do him any favors. Just laying flat and still is already helping a lot.”
Bruce shook his head. “Don’t work on him because of his enhanced metabolism. He can’t get drunk, either – which has made for some interesting drinking games at the mansion, but screws him over big time when he’s hurt.”
Dean didn’t realize his face had given away his reaction to that until Cecil let go of Bruce and moved to hug him again. “I know,” he said quietly. “I know this is not the best way for you to find all of this out, or the way you’d have wanted what’s between the two of you to move to the next level. But sweetheart, as much as I hate to say it…if something like this hadn’t happened, he’d have never, ever let on how deep his feelings for you actually are unless you’d said something first.”
“That’s true, he wouldn’t have.” Bruce leaned forward to pat Dean’s knee. “That’s not because he doesn’t trust you, Dean; it’s because, when it comes to this kind of thing, he still doesn’t trust his own judgment.”
Dean nodded slowly, remembering what Bruce and Tony had told him about Steve’s ‘former best friend’…and thinking of his own fucked-up ‘relationship’ with Castiel. “Yeah, I can understand that. Sometimes I don’t trust mine, either.”
They sat around in the diner and watched the sun come up, Bruce going downstairs every so often to check on Steve and Dean doing his regular round of closing chores while he waited for the armored truck to show up to take the Thursday deposit. Cecil insisted on hiding Bruce’s bike in the utility shed behind the diner before that happened. “If they see two bikes, they’re going to wonder where the other rider is at,” he explained with a shrug. “They might even think it was some kind of hostage situation and call the cops – or worse, they might recognize Bruce and call someone else.”
“If they recognize Cecil, they’re just going to want autographs,” Bruce teased, making his lover blush. The scientist snickered and kissed his cheek before disappearing down into the basement for the duration, the words, “My boyfriend is Internet-famous!” drifting back up the stairs in his wake before the steel door finished closing.
Cecil sighed and rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. Sort of sappily, which made Dean smile too. The two older men just seemed to fit together, it was cute. He wondered idly if he and Steve would be like that someday. “Of course you will,” Cecil said, startling him. He wasn’t looking at Dean, though; he was looking off into some middle distance outside again, this time in the direction of the highway. “The truck is coming, but something seems off to me. I think we need to be really careful not to give them the idea that anything is out of the ordinary.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Where’s Clint?”
“He won’t get here until late tonight.” Cecil turned back around and took another sip of his soda. “If I think it’s necessary, I’ll leave while the truck is here. I can go back to the power station and grab some necessities for Bruce and I, and he can let me in when I get back – you’ll be asleep by then.” He raised an eyebrow of his own when Dean started to object to that. “Of course you will be, Dean. You have to be with-it tonight to run the diner, and that’s not going to happen if you’re sleep-deprived.”
When the armored truck pulled in some fifteen minutes later, the driver and guard were two men Dean had never seen before. He allowed his puzzlement – and worry – to show. “Hey. Where’s Joe? He’s okay, right?”
“Out sick,” the guy told him. “The flu or something was what they told me. He should be back next week.” Following protocol, he put down his tablet and laid his company ID next to it, then used his scanner on the plastic hospital-type bracelet locked around his wrist; his identification and current route assignment at once popped up on the tablet’s screen.
Dean checked the screen against the ID and signed off on it on the tablet, then got the deposit bag out of the safe and handed it over with the deposit slip. The driver carefully verified the contents of the bag, then had Dean sign the slip before tucking it into the bag and putting on the tiny lock which would secure the zipper until the bag arrived at the bank. Cecil, meanwhile, had finished his soda and pushed the empty glass away, standing up. “Well, that’s it for me,” he said, stretching. “Any chance you’ll have a banana cream pie next week sometime, Dean?”
Dean smiled at him. “My Monday regulars don’t like banana, but if you come back on Wednesday I’ll thaw one out for you.”
“See you on Wednesday, then.” Cecil sauntered out of the diner and got on his bike, putting on his helmet and then speeding off towards home with a little cloud of dust following him.
The armored truck driver didn’t appear to have paid much attention to this byplay, but Dean noticed that the guard in the armored truck watched Cecil leave instead of watching what was going on in the diner itself. Not good. “You guys need coffee or anything?” Dean asked the driver. He always asked Joe that question, too. “I’ve got about half a pot left, it’s yours if you want it – I’ll just have to pour it out, otherwise.”
“No, we’re good – thanks, though. We’ll see you on the next pickup if Joe’s not back to work by then.”
“Sure thing, man.” Dean walked him to the door, locked it and flipped the Closed sign once he was out, and then started pulling down the heavy roller shades that kept the diner from turning into an EZ-Bake oven during the day. And then he went back behind the counter and finished closing up the way he usually did, because spooks that good were bound to have thermal imaging or infrared or something, ‘watching’ him to see if he did anything unusual once he was supposedly alone in the diner. Dean knew he’d been right about that when he didn’t hear the armored truck leave until he’d finished his second bowl of cereal and started washing up his and Cecil’s dishes in the sink. He puttered around for a little bit longer, just in case they came back, and then headed down into the basement the way he normally would have.
Bruce took in what Dean had to say about the replacement armored car guys with a frown, but he shook his head when Dean expressed some worry about Cecil being out by himself in the middle of nowhere as he went out to the power station and back. “He’d see them coming long before they ever saw him,” he said, and smiled just slightly. “Not just because of the extra eye, either.”
“Yeah, about that…”
The scientist held up a hand. “It’s a long story. And I get…angry when I think about how it happened, which would not be a good thing right now.” He peeled himself up out of the chair he’d been sitting in and patted Dean on the shoulder. “I’m gonna go upstairs and wait for Cecil to get back while you get some sleep. If Steve wakes up – which I really doubt he will – come up and get me.”
“Shouldn’t I watch…”
“No, you need to sleep,” Bruce insisted. “Because I need you to be awake and alert tonight when Cecil and I are asleep, we’re all going to take turns being the first line of defense in case trouble shows up here looking to reproduce – us during the day, you and Clint at night. And Clint actually knows how to be a short-order cook, so you can pass him off to your regulars as someone you’re training to fill in when you go on vacation.”
Bruce laughed. “Since your boyfriend currently lives in a fully-staffed mansion with its own private beach in Malibu? Visiting him would definitely count as a vacation – we’ll all go, you’ll have fun.” He started up the stairs. “I mean it, go to sleep!”
“Yes Mother!” Dean called up after him, smiling when more laughter floated back down in reply before the steel upper door closed. He considered for a minute, then got his spare set of sheets and the blanket it almost never got cold enough to use and made himself a relatively nice fake sleeping bag on the floor in front of the chair; next to the bed would have seemed to be the logical spot, but from that close he couldn’t easily see Steve. Not to mention, being off to the side meant someone coming down the stairs wouldn’t see him right at first. Normally when Dean was in the basement he locked the door from the inside so that wouldn’t be an issue, but locking it now wasn’t an option because Bruce might need to get in and Dean probably wouldn’t hear if he knocked.
He took his shower and put on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, but instead of going right to the sleeping spot he’d made he went to the bed and sat down on the side of it, just looking at Steve. Who did already look a lot better, blood all cleaned off and bruises already noticeably faded – the swollen-shut eye was even almost back to normal. Dean couldn’t help but remember the way the one unswollen blue eye had looked up at him earlier that morning, and he shuddered. He knew Cecil was right: If Steve hadn’t been so badly hurt, if the situation hadn’t been so fucked-up and desperate…Steve would never have said a god-damned word unless Dean had said something first. Technically even in this situation he hadn’t said anything, he’d just been hurting and upset and scared and the only thing he’d wanted was Dean. And Tony the Tech Guy – Tony fucking Stark, one of the richest, smartest men in the whole goddamn world – had risked himself to make that happen because he’d known how important Dean was to Steve and at least suspected the feeling was mutual. Dean figured the rest of the team had already told him they were sure Dean felt the same way, but Tony seemed to him like the kind of guy who always had to see for himself. After all, he’d driven all the way out to the Last Chance just to make sure Dean wasn’t a homophobic shithead like Barnes. Who was apparently a ‘cyborg assassin’, which made Dean wonder just how much damage the bastard had done to Steve before and what it was a tiny little scientist guy like Bruce had up his sleeve that made him outclass a cyborg assassin so badly Steve had been forced to pull him off to keep him from killing the guy.
Steve shifted in his sleep, making a pained noise, but when Dean brushed at his hair and shushed him he sighed and relaxed again. Dean looked at the golden strands tangled around his fingers with a certain amount of awed disbelief. America’s Golden Boy, Captain fucking America, much-beloved leader of a team of people just as special as he was. Was in love with him, Dean Winchester, butt monkey of supernatural beings everywhere, only valuable to his own father because baby brother Sammy had needed backup protection just in case. Had fallen in love with Dean, no less…when Dean hadn’t been doing anything but being himself. Hadn’t even been trying or anything. Steve loved Dean just because he was Dean.
And for the first time in years, Dean Winchester let himself cry.