Dean recognized Bobby and Sam. He recognized pictures of his father, and remembered some of the jobs Bobby and Sam asked him about. He remembered going to hell.
He did not remember Cas.
That sent up some red flags.
Sam had been asking Dean a question and Dean had interrupted after hearing the foreign name to ask, “Who’s Cas?”
Sam paused, brows furrowed with concern as he stared at Dean. “You…don’t remember Cas? Castiel?”
Dean sighed, sounding weary, and with good reason; Sam and Bobby had been hounding him nonstop the last fifteen minutes, trying to figure out where he was exactly. After fifteen minutes, they found something that he couldn’t remember. “No,” he responded tiredly. “I don’t remember him. Who’s Castiel?”
Neither of Dean’s fellow hunters answered his question, instead looking at each other solemnly before leaving the room.
Dean not remembering Cas? That was the first indication that something was terribly wrong.
Sam wasn’t very good at calling angels—or at least, it always felt awkward to him. He usually left that to Dean. But he needed Cas right then, and Dean needed him, too.
Sam went outside, looked around. “Cas? Are you there? Dean’s back.”
As soon as he said the words, Cas appeared before him. The angel did a good job hiding his panic and desperation, but Sam could see hints of it on his face. Sam’s heart broke for the angel. How was he supposed to tell him that the person he cared about most didn’t know who he was?
“Where is he?” the angel asked.
The angel was gone before Sam could finish his sentence. Probably for the better, anyway; he wasn’t sure himself how he was going to finish it. Let Cas find out himself. As for Sam, he would be staying outside. It wasn’t his place to witness the scene.
Minutes later, Cas appeared again, looking bewildered. “He…”
“His memories. He remembers everything from before his first trip to hell.”
The implication went unspoken. Cas came along after Dean went to hell.
Sam nods. “Cas, I’m—”
Cas was gone again before Sam could say anything more. Sam cursed under his breath, heading back inside. Bobby pulled him aside, glancing in the direction of the room Dean was in. “Did he tell you?”
Sam nodded. “Yeah. Dean lost his memories from after his first trip to hell. How’d he take Cas showing up?”
“Bad.” Bobby looked back in Dean’s direction. “I thought he was going to crap his pants when Cas just appeared.”
Sam nodded. “I’m going to go talk to him.” He headed into the other room, and Dean smiled when he saw Sam.
“Hey,” Dean greeted. “Was that guy Castiel?”
“Yes.” Sam sat on the edge of the bed. “He’s a friend.” He’d leave it at that. It wasn’t his place to tell Dean he had a lover he didn’t know about.
“Well, then, I hope I didn’t upset him too bad. Guy should learn how to knock, though.” Dean laughed. “So, what is he?”
“He’s an angel, Dean.”
Dean’s eyes went wide. “No shit?”
Sam chuckled. “No shit.”
“So while I was gone, you started chumming up with angels. Didn’t even know there were angels.”
“Well, there are.” Dean really didn’t remember any of it? Gabe? Lucifer? Michael? “You should get some rest. I’ll have Cas come by later so you two can talk things out.” He managed a smile. “And I’ll make sure he knocks this time.”
Cas returned the next day, and as promised, he knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Dean called.
Cas entered, managing a tight smile. “Dean.”
Dean smiled back. “Hey. Cas, right? I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”
Cas stared at Dean. This was…difficult. More difficult than he’d thought it would be. He didn’t know what he’d expected out of a reunion with Dean, but it hadn’t been Dean looking at him in terror with no knowledge of who he was. Truth be told, he hadn’t expected anything. He hadn’t even known if he’d get a reunion with Dean, which was why they said their goodbyes ahead of time. He’d thrown himself into the civil war in heaven, trying to forget, to distract himself from the painfully persistent thoughts of the man trapped in Lucifer’s cage.
Cas returned that night, watching Dean sleep as he used to when he still wasn’t sure what his feelings were. He loved his father and brothers, but in all his long years, he’d never experienced romantic love before he reached into hell and pulled up a beautiful broken man who changed everything he thought he knew.
He sat on the side of the bed, watched Dean for a good, long while. He was tempted to restore the man’s memory right then, but something gave him pause. The man seemed to be in a deep sleep—relaxed, which was something he wasn’t often. Cas brushed his fingers across the stubble on Dean’s jaw, and he disappeared as soon as Dean started to stir.
“What?” Sam asked angrily.
“I don’t plan on restoring Dean’s memories.”
Sam laughed bitterly. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s your choice to make.”
“Dean has no memories of being possessed by Michael, or the apocalypse, or his time in the cage. Things are better this way.”
“He also has no memories of you! Don’t you care about that at all?”
“Don’t presume to know what I care about. It’s because I care that I’m choosing this.”
“What about what he would choose? Do you really think he’d choose to forget?”
“No. But Dean doesn’t always choose what is best for him.”
Sam couldn’t argue with that.
“Your brother deserves some peace,” Cas continued. “Even if it means forgetting about me.”
Sam couldn’t argue with that, either. Damn it. “Okay. But if he gets them back on their own, they stay. And if you think at any time that there’s even a chance that he might be ready to have them back…”
Cas nodded. "Of course."
Dean’s fingers absentmindedly ran over his upper arm. It itched from time to time, but it wasn’t the only thing that itched.
There was the distinct feeling of emptiness. There was something Sam, Cas, and Bobby were all keeping from him. It was only a matter of time before everything surfaced.
Because he remembered a light. He remembered the brightest light he’d ever seen, and a strong hand gripping his arm firmly and pulling him up.