“Xenomorphs. Fucking Xenomorphs.” Dean grimaced as he stumbled clumsily into the Roadhouse, wrestling the tattered remnants of his leather jacket off before the acidic dribble could burn his skin. “I can’t fucking believe that we just took down a pack of Xenomorphs.”
Sam chuckled, breathless and panicky from the adrenaline that was still driving him from the hunt.
It had been over six months since the Winchesters had seen any sort of action, and he was feeling giddy about finally being able to toy around with a good ‘ol shotgun after so long. Most of the time, shotguns were as useless as magical knives, but on the odd occasion when mutant aliens with a thing for drooling on you came into play, it was the obsolete weapons that did the trick.
“Extinct, my ass. Odds are there’s a queen nearby. Unless someone flew them in.” Sam hissed, wincing as he took off his form-fitting jacket and plaid shirt, and gingerly dabbed at the gash just beneath his ribs. The layers of skin were visible, the yellowish tissues exposed along with the drying blood. Beneath it, he caught a glimpse of the metal that comprised forty-five percent of his body. The wound hurt like a bitch, but it wasn’t fatal.
Dean stripped off his remaining clothes. As he leaves them in a bundle beside a bar stool, the lights switch on. The Roadhouse was just as neat as they had left it a few hours earlier.
“Who would be stupid enough to let those things even go near a ship?”
“Asshole scientists desperate to answer the eternal question of where we came from,” said Sam, flatly.
“What the fuck do Xenos have to do with that?”
“Hell if I know.” Sam pulled out a bottle of whiskey from the shelf behind the bar, and threw it over at Dean. “There’s been a lot of theories since Sucro bought Weyland. They think Xenomorphs are the result of an experiment gone awry. Either that or they were made that way on purpose. You know, global wipeout.”
Sam inserted an access code into the weathered pad that had been hidden behind the bottle of whiskey, and stood by while the blue wave of the scope did a biometric scan of his eyes. To their left, in the seemingly plain wall, a compartment door opened.
“Right. Until Sucro declared them extinct and the argument was dropped,” said Dean. He took a swig from the bottle before placing it gently on the counter. “Now we have another species for the list. Awesome.”
Dean walked through the door before it closed behind him, leaving Sam behind in the main receiving area of the bar.
The first room of his sector was tiny, and only contained a bed, a night table and a desk. White walls and gray floors were yellowing with age, but it gave the area a homey feel. The whole place was fully secured with automated alarms, and scanners for the detection of any alien intruders.
Dean made for the shower.
His skin itched and burned, red spots flourishing where the thick gunk had splattered in the heat of the fight. What had started out as a recon turned into a full-on bloodbath. Once they had gotten Bobby’s call, they had rushed into an abandoned Weyland lab to face what they thought would be a small group of Sleepers. Dean was certain that no one knew true fear until they’ve come face-to-face with one of those ugly sons of bitches, in the dark, in a lab still littered with surgical equipment.
It had been a long day, and all he wanted to do was catch a burger and get some sleep. But that won’t happen, and he knows it for a fact.
Ash had finally slipped through Dick Roman’s firewall and wired the codes and programming they needed to reset most of the Robocops that patrolled the Wastelands into Sam’s super-computer. After three weeks of waiting, the transfer had been completed, and Dean was anxious to see what they could use against the corporate tyrant. They had gone through the folders ten minutes before leaving on the hunt, and during those minutes, Dean had spotted an application that had gotten his attention.
Washing his hair and wincing at the infernally hot water, Dean played it all in his head.
They arrived from a hunt and went into their separate sectors. Dean had the left chamber, the one beside the kitchen, while Sam had the right one, right next to their personal library. They shower at the same time to save energy, and after that, Dean had no idea what Sam got up to. Personally, he usually made himself a sandwich and grabbed a beer before turning in.
It was monotone. Hunting had never been a glamorous lifestyle, but Dean missed the days when he could rev up his baby, making her purr as he drove by to the nearest bar to get drunk and take someone home for the night. Hell, he missed being able to walk down the damn street without getting jumped by not-so-little green men. As rogues, they took to living outside of the Domes, where twice a day one had to leap behind a crumbled wall to avoid getting shot by guerrillas. It was tedious, and he hated it, because it hadn’t always been like that. Not just the constant deaths and the toxic air, but the absences of a loving touch.
With Sam busy, Dean knew that it would be his only chance for a little alone-time. As he stepped out of the shower, he reached for his boxers and towel-dried his hair. Teeth were brushed, wounds were tended to, and he was ready to call it a night.
Beneath his pillow was a switch, one no one but him knew about, and he flipped it while reaching for the notepad and pen beside his bed. There were far more sophisticated ways to go about note-taking, with aloe screens and synthetic memory recordings, but Dean was more inclined to going with the vintage way. A well placed virus could wipe out years’ worth of data in a single second—but try doing that with a piece of paper. Throw it away, burn it, but the truth was that the words still existed in the physical world, and not some system composed of phantom numbers.
Dean was tech savvy, simply because he was required to be. The entire world, stripped of its humanity, was now nothing but a hive-mind under the control of a power-hungry asshole. That’s not to say that all technology was a soul-stealing trap; it had its uses. Morally-gray uses, but who kept count when there was only thirty percent of the previous human population living on Earth?
Taking a short flight of stairs, Dean entered his laboratory with a sense of trepidation. He had no idea what was in those files, or why Ash insisted he went through them alone. Surely, there were no such things as secrets between Dean and Sam; it was common knowledge.
The circular lab was dark for the exception of the glow from three LCD screens, all of them beeping and whirring as he made his way to the leather office chair, where he plopped down unceremoniously, heaving a tired sigh. He tapped his fingers against the desk in an impatient rhythm, and a holographic window the size of his hand beeped into existence.
“Good evening, Dean,” said a disembodied female voice.
Dean blinked, staring intensely at the greenish-blue screen. He’s had the same voice interface for the past three years, and that wasn’t it. “Dammit, Sam.” Deft fingers tap the screen, navigating through system controls for a recent restore setting. If Sam had messed with his programing, it only meant that the younger Winchester knew what it was that Dean had been doing on a nearly nightly basis. The thought was nearly enough to make his blood boil.
“Please choose a restart date,” the same voice droned.
Searching through his notepad, Dean decided to play it safe. “September 10, 2897. Leave the message logs intact,” he said, sighing with relief that he had finished a full backup just three days before.
The laboratory went quiet, the mechanical hum of the machines stopping when the room was plunged into darkness, for the exception of a speck of blue that pulsed in the bottom left corner of the main monitor. Dean bit the cap of his pen, fingers drumming against his thigh as he waited for the system to come back online. There was a light pop, and Dean placed the pen down with a small smile. “You there?”
“Hello, Dean.” The fluorescent lights flickered on, the distinct vibration of the generators starting up almost calming a sound. The small screen popped up again, this time displaying an instant message from Sam. Dean replied with an annoyed ‘stop dicking around with my shit, bitch,’ and shut down the application to avoid further interruptions.
“Hey, Cas. Sorry about Sam shoving his fingers where he’s got no business shoving them.” Dean leaned back in his chair, smiling confidently at the blue screen. There was no face to the masculine voice, but there was a hint of humanity beneath the program that made up for it. It wasn’t the real thing, but Dean had made it as close as was entirely possible for an AI system.
“He’s worried about you, and insisted that it isn’t healthy for you to remain locked up with a voice interface. I am not a proper substitute for a human companion and, I’m afraid, I have to agree with him.”
He wasn’t supposed to remember that, a full restore should have wiped that conversation from the drive. It wasn’t in Dean to feel upset, and instead he grinned brilliantly at the connotations of the situation. Cas didn’t need a program to remember. “What else did Sammy say?”
There was a moment of silence before, “Not much else.” Dean knew it’s a lie. “Do you require my assistance?”
Dean stared at the tinted glass behind the desk. He thinks of what rests just behind the thin glass, and sighs. “Unless blowjobs are in your repertoire.” No answer, not that he was expecting one. “I need Dad’s journal. Bonus if it’s alphabetized.”
An even smaller window blipped into existence in front of the one Dean had been typing on. The letters were a bright yellow.
“Any particular species you’d like information on?”
“See what you can find on Xenomorphs. I don’t remember Dad ever mentioning them.” Dean scrolled down to the bottom of the page, frowned when the log jumps from Wringers to Zeettas. “Sam, Bobby and I just took down a nest in an abandoned Weyland lab.”
Dean stopped scrolling almost instantly, eyes flashing up to the acrylic window. He eyed it suspiciously. That was two irrational responses in the span of two minutes. “Okay, spill it. No rational explanations as to how that’s impossible? Something’s bugging you.”
“What can possibly ‘bug’ an Artificial Intelligence system?”
“The same thing that’s making you take that tone,” said Dean, sounding far more amused than was necessary. Trust Cas, of all AIs, to actually sound annoyed. “Come on, man. You know you can tell me anything, right? You crushing on a fembot? Did you like a button Sam pushed?”
If words could kill, that single mention of his name would have been enough to dump him six feet under. “Don’t take it so personal, it’s a joke.”
“What is the location of the laboratory?”
Smooth subject change. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Dean sighed and sat back, bringing up his bare feet to keep them warm. “Sector 19, on the old Roosevelt road.”
Dean watched as the rest of the monitors beeped on, a flurry of fluorescent blue characters running across their screens in code. Had he been patient enough, he could have sat down and cracked them all with a little pondering and a cold beer, but that was more Sam’s forte than his. When the flow began to abate, a map materialized in the screen before him. A miracle, considering that all satellites in orbit had been obliterated when the war had gotten out of control. “That one right there,” said Dean, leaning forward to tap his index finger on the image of an abandoned structure.
The letters and numbers started again, and this time Dean recognized some of the symbols. Cas was hacking into the building’s database, downloading all the information with the ease of a hot knife through butter. He never ceased to amaze Dean.
Dean blinked. “Oh? What exactly does ‘oh’ mean?”
“This is the Biochemical Research and Development Center. The facility was shut down after a security breach thirty years ago.”
“Who was stupid enough to get in?”
“Not in. Out. They kept a dozen alien specimens in lockdown for future experimentation. Someone hacked into the system, overrode the security codes and released them. Richard Roman ordered for all experiments to be neutralized, and all those still in progress to cease immediately. All funds were retracted shortly after, forcing them to abandon it.”
Dean remained quiet, turning the information over with a frown. He shivered at the memory of half-developed embryos floating in yellow liquid inside tubes the size of his car. “Why would Sucro shut down something so, I don’t know, important? Aren’t they all for the scientific approach and whatever the fuck else? They’ve wrangled worse; kept the contamination levels on the biosphere’s stream a secret for God knows how long.” Worrying his lip, Dean tipped his head back and yawned.
“The laboratory was unnecessary at that point.”
“Because SucroCorp had created me.”
Dean’s hand clenched on his lap, nails leaving white marks on his skin. “Right. CASTIEL: The all-powerful harbinger. Why waste money when you already have the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.” It didn’t sound like a question, just bitter acknowledgement. There were some things Dean would rather not remember, and Cas having once been some freak robotic hybrid was one of them. “Still doesn’t explain the Xenomorphs.”
Cas didn’t reply for a long moment, but when he did, he sounded subdued. “They could have been brought there for a cleansing. Exterminating all humans outside the biospheres would reduce the chances of a second uprising.”
“So, basically, you’re saying that Ash went all that trouble for nothing?” Dean stopped his train of thought, suddenly remembering what he had come in here for. “Shit. Cas, send an audio record of this conversation to Sam, and copy the file Ash sent us earlier. Robocops are probably the least of our worries right now, but any information I can get my hands on regarding Sucro, I’ll take it.”
While the computers ran, Dean rubbed his hands together to keep them warm. He was hungry, but he and Sam had already wiped the Roadhouse clean of most of its food. A supply run was in order, otherwise Ellen would raise hell for it and take it out of their sorry asses.
Dean mulled the information over, wondering if this would be the final nail in the coffin for another rebellion. SucroCorp, after having bought Weyland Industries, had gone underground to continue their less-than-moral and way-illegal experiments. The merging of the two technological titans had promised a Better Tomorrow, as the propaganda had said, but instead it had driven the world to a cataclysmic end.
The rich had fled into their precious domed cities, with crisp air generated by machines and indoor gardens. Each biosphere was an unimaginable utopia, fully equipped with artificial necessities all human beings required in order to live. Governments, shopping malls, classy restaurants– Dean genuinely hoped they all choked on their garlic-basted linguini.
Meanwhile, in the dusty barren slums they affectionately called the ‘Wastelands’, dinner was five-year-old pork-in-a-can with a side of worms. Sure there were the local bars and watering holes, much like the Roadhouse, but those rarely brought in any business that demanded more than the usual watered-down booze. Current currency had been ‘whatever’s in your pocket’.
Life in the Wastelands were rough for the older generations, and therefore was uninhabitable for the newer humans. No kid younger than fifteen would last a minute in the poisoned air. Poor lungs were likely to shrivel up, the bloodstream would stop, rendering the heart useless, like dumping a human into space without a suit. It was Hell, pillars of smog and the constant smell of sulfur included.
“File transfer complete.”
Dean slid his fingertips effortlessly across the holographic screen, digging deeper into the digital files for that one folder Ash had specifically labeled for his eyes only. “There’s a file missing,” said Dean, eyebrows pinching as he scrutinized the screen. “There was a folder here, with your name on it. I don’t see it.”
“Perhaps it was misplaced during the transference.”
The hum of the generators and the chill of the air were bizarrely noticeable for things that would normally fade into the background like white noise. Dean was suddenly aware of miniscule changes around him, including the erratic beeping of the monitors. There was an uncomfortable twist in the pit of his stomach. “I pride myself in having the only AI who can actually lie.” It was an easy thing to spot, when Cas was normally comprised of awkward pauses in his speech and a gentle pulse around Dean. Dean was well in-tuned with every little shift. “Where are they, Cas?”
The lights surged, the generators jump-starting almost immediately. Cas was nervous, and his mojo’d up systems were affecting the entire Roadhouse.
“The data contained within the file is property of SucroCorp.”
“You really pulling this shit on me?” Dean’s eyebrows shot up, perplexed by the excuse. “There’s gotta be something better you can come up with.”
There was a moment of silence before Cas tried again. “The data contained within the file is classified—”
“—by personal request.”
“Who the hell from?”
Dean’s nod is slow and deliberate, lips pursed in obvious disbelief. “Right. Right, yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. Clearly your, uh, instruction manual? Bet it’s really important to you.”
“I did not come with an instruction manual, Dean Winchester.” He sounded pissed, causing Dean to smirk. “May I enquire as to what you find so amusing?”
“I don’t know, man. Sounds to me like you’re embarrassed.”
“I do not possess the ability to experience embarrassment.”
“Yup, that’s definitely your ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ tone,” said Dean. He yawned, eyes stinging from tiredness. “I’m sure every former-android has one.” Getting to his feet, Dean stretched, popping his joints and rolling his head to work out the kinks in his neck. “Whatever, then. When you decide to stop being a sissy, let me know. I’m heading to bed.”
The room grew increasingly quiet as Dean shut down the monitors shortly after backing-up the system settings. By the time he flicked the lights off and was reaching for the door, he was convinced that Cas had gone into standby for the remainder of the night. But then, “I haven’t reviewed my personal logs in over five years.”
Dean shut the door and leaned against it, staring tiredly at the glass window. “What’s that mean, ‘personal logs’?”
“My vessel contained a series of sensors directly connected to my intel-core. Whenever irrational spikes of energy were detected, an infrared lens would activate and record the sequence of events, for further analysis after the situation had come to pass. As a prototype, it was designed to facilitate Weyland’s and SucroCorp’s programming for the new generation droids. Their goal was to make them seem as human as possible, to blend in. They wanted to give them the understanding of feelings, to be able to sympathize with their human counterparts despite being unable to feel themselves. My reaction in certain situations allowed them to program rational responses.”
Dean continued to stare at the glass, as if expecting Cas to materialize for the conversation. “By ‘irrational spikes of energy’ you mean feelings.”
“Among other things.”
The laugh was forced, shaky around the edges as he ran a hand over his face. “It’s a diary.”
“Digital archives,” Cas corrected, and Dean found it in him to laugh.
“Okay. Okay, digital archives,” said Dean, raising his hands in apology. He moved back towards the chair and made himself comfortable, back slouched and fingers entwined as he stared thoughtfully at the dark glass. “If that’s all they are, why can’t I get a sneak peek? Can’t be anything that compromising, can it?”
The chair beneath Dean warmed, heat seeping through the thin layers of his clothes. Cas was considering it, and judging by the slow change of atmosphere, he was leaning towards giving Dean some answers. The lights came on automatically, dimming enough for Dean to see a new screen blip into sight.
“There are memories you’d rather not speak of,” Cas said, and Dean could almost feel the vibration of his voice in his seat.
“No need to show me anything you don’t want to, Cas. Guess I’m just curious, with Ash having seen them and you being so edgy about ‘em.”
“I was unaware of the data Ash had recovered. I could not stop him once it was decoded.”
Dean was about to call him out on it, because Cas was one hell of an intelligence system that could shut down SucroCorp with just a burst of the electrons his thoughts consisted of. But then the screen beeped and grew in size, a grainy black-and-white picture moving jerkily until its speed increased enough to become a video.
The image was of a dark room big enough to fit Congress in, with sporadic placements of blue lights that twinkled in and out of sight. There was a constant beeping and the quiet mumbling of people. Dean squinted as he leaned forward, trying to understand what he was seeing. Holographic maps, translucent screens with numbers and equations, SucroCorp’s and Weyland’s emblem embedded deep into the embossed walls.
A man walked up to the camera, his grin secretive but arrogant—professional, Dean dared to think. After a moment, Dean recognized him to be Dick Roman, the corporate giant, with a pristine suit and teeth like a shark. The man’s lips moved, saying something, and the camera jerked, as if nodding an affirmative.
“Roman took extreme measures to hide this project from the government. All audio and footage that could have threatened it were omitted or destroyed.”
“What am I seeing?” The view switched just as Dean had asked the question, moving to the end of the room. The frames were darker, the lighting was limited, but what Dean saw was enough to make his breath hitch.
On an elevated platform sat a man in a gray uniform, back straight and hands placed on his knees. Tousled dark hair went in all directions, unlike the rest of his body, which remained stoic and unmoving. Dean didn’t need to see his eyes to know that they were blue.
“This was the day I was… born.”
The handsome face was emotionless as Cas—CASTIEL—raised his hand and tentatively moved his fingers. Dean saw the men in the room applaud, some of them even patting Roman on the back.
That was the day SucroCorp launched Project Seraph. Cas was the prototype that was supposed to get them more sponsors, the ultimate weapon created to look harmless. And boy, had it worked.
Dean remembered the day he came face to face with the android with eyes like stars. The East End was caving in on itself, with old buildings crumbling to the ground in a storm of concrete and fire. The streets had been overrun with lesser creatures when the Winchesters were called in to get the situation under control, and never in a million years did Dean expect to find what he did.
Simply strolling out of the plume was a man in a pale uniform. At first Dean had thought he was a civilian, but when Sam held him back, told him to look a little harder, Dean opened fire. No creature in the Wastelands could afford to look that impeccable, and he was wearing the Weyland emblem on his sleeve.
Dean shut his eyes at the memory of the old Cas closing a hand around his neck, strong enough to crush it, but he exhales slowly when he remembered that Cas had let go. For absolutely no reason, the android had released him.
The screen went blank.
“I thought you didn’t feel stuff all the time,” said Dean, running a hand across his mouth. He figured that blinking into existence would trigger some kind of emotional response, so he isn’t all that surprised to see Cas store away the memory of it. It’s a stupid thing to say, now that he thought about it.
“I didn’t. The footage is a system default.”
Well that explained that. “Way to stall.”
The screen started up again, and Dean struggled to understand what he was seeing. It wasn’t dark like in the last clip, quite the contrary. The sun’s glare made him squint, but there were static and random blotches of color in the screen.
Damaged, Dean suddenly thought; the lens was damaged. He didn’t need further footage to understand what was going on, because he was there.
“Self-destruct sequence initiating in three, two, one…” CASTIEL drones on the video file, but nothing happened when he reached zero. The android blinked, and Dean’s face came into view.
“I remember this,” Dean muttered.
“Easy there, cowboy. No need to take out half the camp,” his younger self said, face blood stained and caked with grime as he looked down at the defective android.
An unmanned drone had gone off several miles south, and SucroCorp had been willing to sacrifice their prototype if it meant taking out public enemies number one and two. Dean and Sam had been on the hit list for five years, ever since they led the first uprising against Roman and his tyranny. Sucro’s men had pulled out, leaving the android without a leg, and malfunctioning software.
“Sam and I dragged your sorry ass back to base camp,” he said, running his fingers along the surface of the screen. He remembered puffing out his chest when Sam gave him stressed looks, and he assured his brother that it was all going according to plan, despite being scared shitless at the idea of bringing a weapon of mass destruction into their small group.
“With my database ruined, it took me months until I stumbled upon the word I needed to describe the feeling this moment incited. I believe it was Bobby who muttered the word ‘gratitude’.” The beeping in the room was steady as Cas went quiet for a few seconds.
“For ten years I knew nothing but the interior of my room block. Fourteen hours a day, I would be given a chest containing different methods of educational entertainment. The other eight would be spent in standby. Complete isolation. It was… inhumane. But then again, I am not human.”
Dean pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed as he watched the scene unfold. Never did the lens stray from the back of his head.
The next one made Dean snort. “What was this one? Fear for your life?”
Cas sounded amused as he spoke. “As frightening as Sam may be when he wants to, I hardly fear him. I believe ‘compassion’ would be a more proper term.”
A small dog runs across the screen, and the sight crackled with static as a low frequency hum caused both Dean and Sam yell out a ‘stop!’. Cas had been powering up to shoot the mutt, who had only come scouring for food.
“I swear to god, Dean. If it shoots the dog, I’m pulling the plug on it.” That’s Sam, loud and violent as he stormed towards the lens and punched it, only to turn around and cradle the hand to his chest. His body was flesh and bone at that point, and punching an android, regardless of the human-like model, got him a few broken knuckles.
It. Sam had never seen Cas as more than what he was. He was a weapon, an emotionless robot with faulty wiring his older brother decided to take under his wing. Until that very day, with Dean sitting in his lab and walking down memory lane with his AI, Sam had only seen Cas as something dangerous and harmful. Most of that was Dean’s fault.
But then, Dean watched as the lens shifted, signaling that Cas had gotten up from his place on the crate, where Dean had been adjusting the last of the fiber optic nerves on his new leg. The piece of chicken that was left to go cold on a table was picked up and taken out to the street, where the dog had approached him and ate from his hand.
Cas collapsed, and Dean sees the gravel kicked up, the dog running off with his meal, and he and Sam running towards the lens to pick him back up.
“I believe there was a slight malfunction,” said Cas, wobbling his way back to the crate, held up by the Winchesters.
“Yeah, no shit,” Dean muttered, and grabbed his toolbox and retook his chair. Sam snorted, but patted Cas’ shoulder.
With new limbs came good deeds, and maybe Sam had seen it after all. Bones the Dog had seen it too, when he decided to stick around.
The following clip was brief and confusing, but Dean caught the gist it. It included the lens coming into focus, maybe Cas opening his eyes, and spotting Dean hanging over him with a huge grin.
Dean himself didn’t remember it, the moment being too brief and overall general to point out any major or life changing occurrences. The clip faded out naturally, and Dean could feel his face burning. Just the sight of his face made Cas’ system spike enough to activate the recorder.
“You were a very confusing specimen,” said Cas, and there’s a hint of humor that made Dean sink into the chair.
Dean’s flustered amusement faded when the next archive plays out, leaving behind a sour taste on his tongue.
He’s standing outside their tent, and he’s arguing with Sam. Fighting would have described it better, because he was getting up in Sam’s face before Sam shoved him hard. The clip had no audio, maybe because Cas was watching from inside.
Sam walked away, hands on his hips and face turned skyward before rounding back to Dean and gesturing towards the tent. You can’t keep treating him like a human, Dean. The clip didn’t need audio, because there was no way for Dean to forget that night.
Offhandedly, Dean had remarked on how much Cas had grown on him. It had all been laughs and eye-rolls until Dean officially used the name ‘Cas’ for Sam to hear, and the brotherly banter stooped into a warzone. Sam claimed to have turned a blind eye to Dean’s little fascination with the android, but now he was taking it too far. Dean was getting attached, and Sam couldn’t stress enough just how wrong it all was.
It was just an acquaintanceship, Dean countered. The guy had nowhere to go, no purpose now that he was malfunctioning, maybe a Robocop on steroids would do the camp some good. Sam raged, saying that it was so much more than that, that he had seen it in Dean’s eyes, in the way he looked at the stupid machine and tended to his circuitry.
Dean scratched his knee when the clip ended, but the reminiscing was far from over. The fight continued for weeks. Hunts and infiltrations, all of them tense and awkward as they barked at each other. Sam would always disappear into their tent, and Dean would always pay Cas a visit to check up on him.
“I was angry,” said Cas, startling Dean from his reverie. “I don’t understand why, but I was.”
Dean nods his head. “Irrational anger is part of the value deal.”
Absently tapping the holographic screen, the view changed, and what Dean saw sent his heart racing. This one did have audio, and the urgent puffs of breath and wanton cries for more, lit fierce arousal in Dean’s stomach.
He could only see himself on the screen, eyes closed and face contorted with pleasure, head tipped back and his bottom lip caught between his own teeth. Oh, he remembered that all right. That was far from being their first time together, Dean having hesitated for months about giving Cas full control. For all that Cas had changed, he was still an android, and a single misplaced shove could have crushed Dean within an inch of his life. Six months, it took him exactly six months on the road for him to trust Cas enough to do this.
The view shifts, and he sees himself laugh when his head comes in contact with the pillow, and he can count his own freckles when Cas leaned in to kiss him.
Dean’s chest ached with longing, because he held Cas that night, tightly, and Cas had whispered just how much Dean meant to him: the emotionless robot built for destruction. Dean remembered Cas’ touch, tender and shy, too afraid to hurt him to put any pressure at all. Soft lips had ghosted along Dean’s ribs, closed softly over his nipple, before sliding up his neck and cheek, catching on his stubble before locking mouths.
It had been such a slow burn, and Dean thought he’d go mad from the gradual fucking, from Cas stuffing him full.
“God, Cas, more… give me more, I can take it, come on,” he rambled, but Cas just shushed him.
The clip ended abruptly when the lights surged, the tiny screen fading to black and leaving Dean in the darkened room. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees as he dug his fingertips into the corner of his eyes. It hurt, it hurt more than any kind of physical injury he’d suffered in a very long time. A lot of things have changed in five years, but the absence of Cas had always been something that cut deep.
“I don’t think I have to tell you what I was feeling at that moment,” said Cas, sounding quiet over the thrum of the generators.
Long moments spanned between them then, heavy in its near-silence. All Dean could do was think and allow himself to remember the things he’d kept buried for years. Sam never mentioned Cas, neither did Bobby; only Ash, and maybe it was just because he had deemed the data far too important to not bring up. Dean wondered if Ash got that far into the archives, or if he zipped up the file after the second log.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Dean mumbled, cradling his head within his hands.
Two years. Dean had gotten two years of happiness, when it had been just the three of them on the road. Sam still been wary of Cas, but in the end they had formed an alliance, where Cas taught Sam how to speak Tyrean, and Sam taught Cas how to properly express himself among humans.
Driving through the back roads of the Wastelands in Dean’s outdated car, saving people, hunting things—the odd trio. It had been the happiest Dean had been in a very long time. The bickering, getting smashed on watered-down alcohol, fixing Cas’ wiring whenever he had a meltdown, dry humping Cas in the backseat of the car, Cas accidentally destroying the upholstery and Dean not speaking to him for over a month… It had been good. Hell, it had been great.
But then Roman found out that his creation was still up and running, and making merry with the puny maggots he was bent on annihilating.
A few properly placed calls, a fake distress signal, and some good ol’ Winchester martyrdom and they walked straight into the trap. It had gotten bloody and ugly pretty fast.
Dean had made it out with a few broken ribs and a bruised lung, a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder. Sam wasn’t as lucky. Four months in intensive care gave Dean his brother back half-bionic, with nearly fifty percent of his body made of metal, with his organs created in an underground facility.
They never gave Cas back to him. There was nothing really left of him to give. All Dean found were the remains of the android's tattered trench coat, a few bolts here and there, a motherboard, and fiber optic nerves drenched in Castiel’s synthetic blood.
During those four months, Dean had welcomed the distraction of trying to piece Cas back together. He worked until his eyes blurred and fingers bled, ignored the fact that even if he did have the brains to pull it off, he just didn’t have the resources to bring him back. A month into the operation, Dean smashed it all to bits, yelled himself hoarse from the rage and the grief, and cried for the first time since his parents had died.
But among the salvaged pieces Dean had brought, there had been a piece of alien material he had never laid eyes on. It was nearly unsubstantial, and it made him wonder just what the hell SucroCorp had been up to. A little ball of light, about the size of the nail on his pinky finger, and it was attached to a blue chip just a little bit bigger. For weeks he wondered just what it was, but even five years later, Dean didn’t have a solid answer. A life force, maybe, the very essence of what Castiel was beneath the shell of indestructible alloy.
The supernatural was nothing but old folk legend to Dean, but maybe, just maybe, Cas was something other, cultivated for Dick Roman’s sick desire for world domination.
“Dean,” said Cas, and the room around him becomes warmer. “You ought to get some rest.”
Dean had synthesized an Artificial Intelligence system out of the wreckage, using the light as a base component. It took him a good ten months, but once he finally loaded the lab’s system, he nearly wept at the sound of the familiar voice. Miracles were scarce in the brave new world, where faith was a child’s bedtime story Dean never had the leisure to experience. Someone was looking out for him, it seemed.
“What the hell were you thinking, Cas?” Dean growls, slamming his fist against the armrest. “Did you just stop to think for a fucking second that Sam and I had it under control?”
“I never doubted it.”
“Due to rapid calculations, theoretically, neither of you would have cleared the detonation zone in time.”
“Oh, so it’s perfectly fine for you to barge in and play hero?”
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself—”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s real freaking cute. Just how do you expect me to live without you, huh? Every damn morning I have to get my ass up and think ‘if only I had known it was a trap’. My brother isn’t all human and you’re just a fucking AI. Go ahead and tell me how I’m supposed to live with that.”
“You love your brother all the same.”
“That’s not the point,” he said, getting up from his chair and pacing the room. “Sammy’s right here. I can shove him, glue his hand to a beer bottle, punch him when he douches up my baby, but you… I can’t—I wish I could…”
“I know, Dean. I know.”
Dean leaned against the main monitor in front of his chair, pressing his forehead to the cool glass, his breath fogging it up. Hidden behind the glass was the trenchcoat, and whatever he had been able to salvage. All safe and waiting for the day another miracle would come. “I need you, buddy. Not just your wiseass remarks or your know-it-all attitude.” He did need more, more than Dean liked to admit.
The air in the room was still as recycled and artificial as ever, but if he tried really hard, Dean could almost swear that he felt Cas’ arms around him, warming him up against the staleness of reality.
“You have to let it go,” said Cas, and Dean snorts.
“Broken record, Cas. You’re it for me, man, and I don’t give a shit how stupid that sounds.” Licking his lips, Dean nodded against the glass. He and Bobby had been looking for alternatives, hitting the archives and sacking abandoned Sucro laboratories for anything that could help. Four years of fruitless research, but if there’s one thing the Winchesters are, it’s headstrong. “I’m gonna get you up and running one day. I swear it.”
“I believe you,” and fuck, the words sounded so adoring Dean felt his knees shake under the assurance. “And until that day, I’ll be right here.”
“That’s good, Cas. That’s…” Swallowing around the knot in his throat, Dean rapped his knuckles against the glass; his own version of a reassuring pat on the back. “That’s really good.”
Dean lingered, trying to regain his composure and face the world again, because those moments of vulnerability were ones he only saved for Cas’ presence. Every other month, late at night, Dean would escape to his lab to talk about things that didn’t involve hunting aliens or stopping Dick Roman. It was just him and Cas, talking about the way it used to be.
“It’s getting late,” said Cas, beginning to shut down what little monitors were still on.
“’Night, Cas.” No one will ever know, other than the two of them, of the kiss he pressed to the dark glass.
The rest of the laboratory shut down as Dean made his way back into his bedroom, closing the doors behind him and idly scratching at his stomach. He was tired, more so than usual, and he knew he’d have nightmares of bombs and Cas dying a thousand times in his arms. They were always inevitable.
Stopping by the edge of his bed, Dean deliberated whether or not to stress the generators a tiny bit more. He guessed he deserved a treat after saving what was left of the world time and time again, so no one had the right to judge him for wanting some company. Flipping open the keypad on the night table, he saw that there’s just enough fuel to buy him a few minutes. Normally he wouldn’t waste energy on stuff that could make him grow out lady parts, but tonight he was feeling nostalgic, and he could always just run off tomorrow and gather some fuel.
It’s a long moment before the lights surged, and Dean didn’t need the reply to be voiced. There was movement out of the corner of his eye, and granted, there stood Cas in faded jeans and one of Dean’s old shirts. Of course, it wasn’t really him, just a holographic interface Cas had amazingly modeled himself using expired data and video logs. Like a moving, three-dimensional self-portrait.
Cas smiled, and the image is nothing short of perfection as the corner of his eyes crinkle with mischief. “You’re wasting energy, Dean. I don’t think Sam would approve of this.”
Dean smirked, even when he felt his heart twist and race. “Screw it,” he said, and slid beneath the covers to lie on his side. His stomach fluttered as he watched Cas do the same. “I’ll keep you for a little while.”
“Just until you fall asleep,” Cas conceded, bringing up his hand to rest it inches away from where Dean’s own laid between them. Dean moved his fingers just a bit, and frowned when they went right through, sending sparks of data and light floating between their faces. Not that he was expecting otherwise, but he could have done with the miracle.
Eyes as blue as the old sky watched him intently, and what was once creepy, was now a comfort Dean avidly missed. Having Cas there but unable to touch him was the worst kind of torture, but the sweetest kind of hope.
“One day, Cas. We’ll settle down and open up a charming B&B in Dome Seven,” Dean said, yawning as his eyelids began to droop. The bed felt warm underneath him, the pillow soft and the sheets comfortable as he gave Cas one more smile. “I’ll even let you bring a cat.”
Cas huffed out a quiet laugh. “Goodnight, Dean.”