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Flesh and Steel

Chapter Text

 

Kevin tossed his duffle bag onto his bed and tossed some clothing into it, grabbing handfuls from his drawers without looking. When the bag was full he took it to the bathroom and tossed in his toothbrush, toothpaste and razor. He glanced at himself in the mirror and tried to straighten his disheveled hair, but could do nothing about the wild look in his eyes.

He grabbed his bag and rushed out to the kitchen, setting it on the table. He hesitated, his hand hovering over a photo of him and his mom at his graduation that hung on the wall, then removed it and threw it in the bag too. He glanced around the room, but couldn’t think of anything else he would need. Except maybe a gun, which he didn’t have because they terrified him.

Leaving the bag, three long steps took him to stand in front of the kitchen sink. He opened the cabinet doors underneath, feeling his way along the roof of the cabinet until his fingers hit the padded envelope taped there. He pulled it out with a trembling hand, then rushed back to grab his bag and leave the apartment. He didn’t bother locking the door.

His car was parked a few blocks away—damn this stupid city and its lack of parking—so he walked briskly through the foggy night. He stuffed the envelope into the mailbox on his corner—or what used to be his corner; he doubted he’d ever see it again—with a whispered prayer and continued walking without a backward glance. He may have just put a good friend’s life in danger, but he had to hope it would make a difference.

Kevin arrived at his car and tried to unlock the driver’s side door with trembling fingers. He dropped his keys twice. The second time he stood and found a hooded figure standing on the other side of his car, silently watching him over the roof. Kevin froze, his heart jumping into his throat. Something about the posture, the slope of the shoulders looked familiar.

If it was someone he knew, someone he worked with, maybe he could talk his way out of this. Augs were still human after all. “Please,” he said, holding his hands up in a placating gesture, “don’t hurt me. Just listen to me—”

The figure took a step towards the front of the car, never turning its shadowed face from Kevin’s and not even acknowledging that Kevin had spoken. Kevin took a step backwards, in the opposite direction.

“Come on, man, just tell me your name,” Kevin said, trying to seem calm though every instinct told him to run. “We can talk about this, about what Angelus Corp is doing. It’s not right.”

The figure hesitated, but still didn’t speak. When the figure took another two steps, Kevin gave up talking and turned to run down the street. He needed to get somewhere public; then maybe he’d be safe. He couldn’t believe they’d found him so quickly.

Footsteps sounded on the pavement behind him, gaining on him though Kevin was outright sprinting. It was inhuman how fast it could run. Kevin had no doubt in his mind it was an aug—a human augmented with cybernetic implants. No pure human could run that fast.

Kevin increased his pace, his heart racing and his lungs burning. His apartment was located in the middle of an industrial neighborhood, though there was a bar he knew of located one block down and one over. If he could just get there he would maybe have a shot at calling the police. He didn’t know if they’d believe him, but at least if he acted crazy enough they might lock him up and keep him safe for the night.

Turning the corner, Kevin heard the thumping beat of music coming from the bar and saw dim light spilling out of the open door. His legs were getting tired, but he pushed himself to keep going. Just a little bit farther and he’d have at least a chance of safety.

Something tugged on his bag. Suppressing a panicked screech, Kevin straightened his arm and let the bag slip off. He kept running, increasing his pace though his chest and legs felt like they were on fire and made of lead at the same time. But he wasn’t fast enough; couldn’t be fast enough to outrun a human with augmented legs, heart and lungs. A hand closed around his bicep.

The aug tugged on his arm, spinning him around and stopping his momentum, causing him to stumble. Kevin’s arms flew out, grasping for anything to keep himself upright. His fingers closed around the black cotton of the aug’s sweatshirt, pulling it sideways and tugging off the hood. As he fell to the ground, he realized why his attacker had looked so familiar.

“It’s you,” Kevin gasped, scrambling backwards on the concrete.

“Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

“The information you stole.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kevin said, struggling to move away as his attacker took another step forward, looming over him.

“I will find it, and I will kill anyone in my path to get it back.”

“Jesus, man, what the hell is wrong with—” Kevin was cut off as a hand shot out and closed around his throat. He was lifted off the ground and slammed against a brick wall. His vision went dark with stars for a moment before clearing. The last thing he saw before he blacked out were inhuman eyes flashing with a cold, blue light.

Chapter Text

An envelope dropped onto Charlie’s desk, making her jump and tear her headphones off. “Gabe, you are such an ass!”

“Love you too, Charles,” Gabe said as he sashayed away to continue distributing the mail.

Charlie grunted in frustration and rolled her eyes, though Gabe was already halfway down the hallway and couldn’t see or hear her. She turned her attention to the envelope on her desk. It was a plain, padded manilla envelope with no return address. She opened it and a usb drive fell out. There were no markings and no explanation.

“What the hell?” she mused out loud, then stuck the drive into the usb. The drive contained a video file named ‘WATCH IN PRIVATE’ and a couple of text files. Charlie looked around her, making sure she was alone, then put her headphones on and opened the video. Her friend Kevin appeared on the screen, smiling but looking nervous.

“Hey, Charlie,” Kevin said, giving a little wave to the camera. “I hate to be a giant cliche, but if you’re watching this chances are I’m…” he hesitated, visibly swallowing, “well, I’m probably dead. Hopefully not. Hopefully I’m sitting on a beach in Mexico drinking something out of a coconut right now. But probably not.” He smiled sadly and fell silent for a moment. “Listen, I’m really sorry for dragging you into this, but I didn’t know who else to send this to that would know what to do with it, and that I could trust. So you’re it.”

Charlie gulped, looking around again to make sure nobody had walked into the office. It was the lunch hour luckily, so most people were out. The video continued with Kevin explaining what was contained in the text files and telling Charlie to be careful, that if the wrong people found out she had these files they’d come after her too.

When the video ended, Charlie pulled the usb drive out and sat in stunned silence until her coworkers started trickling back into the office. Kevin had said not to tell anyone, but she had to get some help. This was too big to handle on her own. She stood, stuffing the usb drive into her pocket, and made her way to the elevators at the end of the hall.

 


 

Dean sat on his regular barstool, at the end of the bar where he could sit sideways and keep his back to the wall. The position also allowed him to keep one eye on the door. He nursed his beer and half-listened to the news report on the tv. Something about some kid found choked to death in the warehouse district.

“Shame, isn’t it?” the bartender said. He leaned against the bar with one hip, drying glasses as he watched the tv. It was early, and the bar wasn’t a popular one—too many shitty beers on tap, and none of the fancy glowing crap the kids were into these days—so it was empty except for the bartender, Dean and a couple of regulars down at the other end of the bar. It reminded Dean of the kind of place his dad used to take them when they were little. It was comforting and almost home-like in a way.

“Yeah, poor kid,” Dean mumbled, lifting his glass and taking a sip. He was nursing it while waiting for Sam, so it was warm and he grimaced.

“Had his whole future ahead of him.” The bartender set the glass down and picked up another to dry. “Managed to get hired at Angelus Corp and move up to the head of Research and Development even without getting any augs himself.”

“Impressive,” Dean said, not really interested. He didn’t know the kid, didn’t need to know his life story, although he had to admit not many people could stay competitive in the workforce these days without augs. Hence the reason he worked for himself. He wasn’t gonna sell out and get himself turned into half machine just to improve the bottom line of some massive company that didn’t really give a shit about him. That was one of his and Sammy’s biggest sources of argument—Sam had gotten cybernetic implants in his brain to help him find information and make connections quicker. It was like he had a wifi signal in his brain. It was fuckin’ weird. And he was always nagging at Dean to get himself augmented.

“Yeah, I heard he was working on some top secret project. It’s all very cloak and dagger.”

“Huh,” Dean grunted noncommittally. He glanced at the doorway, relieved to see Sam’s giant frame push through. A shorter redhead followed him.

“Hey, Dean,” Sam said, walking up to the bar.

“Sam,” Dean said, sipping his beer and watching him over the rim. “Who’s this?”

“This is Charlie, she uh, remember a while back when you were tracking down the guy that embezzled all that money then disappeared?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s the one who helped us out,” Sam said, lowering his voice and glancing at the bartender who’d moved to help the locals at the other end of the bar, “found his trail and hacked into all his financial info.”

“Oh, right,” Dean said, holding his hand out to shake. “Nice to meet you in person, Charlie.”

“Likewise, though I wish the circumstances were better,” Charlie said with a smile that looked like it was trying to be a grimace.

“Can we um, grab a booth?” Sam asked, glancing around the bar. “More privacy.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, frowning. “What’s going on?”

Sam gestured with his head towards a booth in the corner and walked away. Charlie followed. Dean downed the rest of his beer and caught the eye of the bartender, holding up his glass with one hand and three fingers with the other, then gestured at the booth in the corner. The bartender nodded and Dean turned to follow Sam.

He slid into the booth across from Sam and Charlie. Charlie had her hands in her lap, fingers laced tightly together. Sam had his eyes on the door of the bar, as if he expected someone to come in any minute.

“Alright,” Dean said, looking from Sam to Charlie, “what the hell is going on?”

Charlie looked to Sam.

“Well, Charlie’s come across some information,” Sam said, keeping his voice low. He fell silent when the bartender walked over with a tray of beers and set them on the table.

“Thanks, man,” Dean said before the bartender walked away. “Okay, so what kind of information? What’s all the paranoia about?”

“It’s information that could—probably has—gotten people killed,” Charlie whispered.

“You remember Angelus Corp, where I worked before I got the job offer at Stanford?” Sam said, lifting his glass and taking a sip.

“Yeah,” Dean said, sipping his beer. “The place that gave you your discounted implants.”

“Yeah, well they’ve apparently got some top secret program.” Sam was whispering now, leaning over the table to be closer to Dean. “They’ve developed cybernetics that are covered with a layer of synthetic skin that’s impossible to differentiate from real skin by sight or feel, even taste.”

“Well, that’s terrifying. But not surprising.”

“They’ve been testing on employees unethically,” Charlie said, playing with the condensation on her beer glass. “There are, well, the information I have says that they are somehow using these employees as secret assassins, taking out competition and threats.”

“Jesus, why?” Dean asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Sam asked, sipping his beer. “They want to control the market.”

“There may be more,” Charlie said. “The information I received contains an encrypted file. I haven’t had a chance to decode it yet, but whatever it is, my friend risked his life to get it out of the company.”

“This have anything to do with the kid they found? The one who worked for Angelus?”

“What kid?” Charlie said, her eyes gone wide.

“I didn’t catch his name, but it’s all over the news. Young Asian kid, head of Research and Development. Found him dead on the street.”

“Oh no,” Charlie said. Her eyes dropped and she covered her face with her hands, her shoulders shaking.

“Was that him? Your friend?” Sam asked quietly, placing a hand on Charlie’s shoulder.

Charlie nodded without looking up.

“Shit,” Dean said, scrubbing a hand across his face. “I’m sorry.”

“Dean, we gotta find out what happened, who killed him.”

“Yeah,” Dean said, not saying out loud that whoever killed this kid was probably after that information, which meant they were after Charlie. And that put Sam and him in danger too. He took a deep breath. “Charlie, how’d your friend get this info to you?”

Charlie slowly lowered her hands. Her eyes were wet and red rimmed. “A package. In the mail.”

“To your house?”

Charlie shook her head. “Office.”

“Okay, you can’t go back there. Or to your house.”

“But—”

“But nothing. Do you want to end up like your friend?”

“No,” Charlie said with a sob. She put her head in her hands again.

Dean sighed. “You gotta burn that life, at least until we get this figured out, find out who, or what killed your friend.”

Charlie nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. “What am I supposed to do then?”

“Do you have a friend you can stay with?” Sam asked.

Charlie scoffed. “Yeah, but I don’t want to bring anyone else into this mess.”

“She’s got a point, Sam.” Dean sipped his beer then set his glass down with a sigh. “You got money for a hotel room? Cash?”

“No, but I can get some.”

“No, you can’t use any of your cards or bank accounts,” Dean said, shaking his head at her.

“Well, there is one place I could go,” Charlie said, though her face conveyed her reluctance. “My friend Ash has a place that’s locked down with all kinds of security. He’s a bit paranoid.”

“With good reason, it seems,” Dean said.

“He’s also a genius with computers and coding. He could help me get into this file and make sense of all this.”

 


 

The building Ash lived in looked more like an abandoned warehouse than a home. It was six stories and took up half a block. The windows that weren’t broken were covered with plastic sheeting or wooden boards, and the concrete walls were covered with graffiti up to the second story.

Charlie walked up to a nondescript door and pushed a button to its side. Dean heard the whir of electronics and looked up to see a camera mounted above the door focusing on them. It looked like it had seen better days, and Dean was surprised it actually seemed to work. Something clicked and the door swung slowly outwards.

Charlie glanced at Sam and Dean before pulling the door all the way open and stepping inside. Dean followed after her and Sam. They entered a small room with concrete walls, again covered in graffiti, and no visible doors. Another camera whirred in the corner of the ceiling and a speaker crackled to life. A robotic voice said, “Please state your names and your business.”

“Um,” Charlie said, clearing her throat then projecting her voice towards the speaker mounted in the opposite corner from the camera, “Charlie Bradbury, and Sam and Dean Winchester. We’re here to see Ash.”

There was no response from the speaker. Dean tried not to feel claustrophobic in the small room. After a minute of silence, he was about to tell Charlie this was a waste of time when the wall to their front began to rise into the ceiling, opening onto a passageway. A double set of industrial elevator doors waited at the opposite end. The three of them walked towards the elevator, and Dean noticed the walls were completely smooth.

“There’s no call button,” he said, turning to look back the way they had come. The wall had been replaced and they were trapped with no visible way out. “What the fuck?”

“I told you he was paranoid,” Charlie said. The doors slid open, revealing an empty elevator.

Dean raised an eyebrow, regarding the elevator warily. He didn’t like the idea of being trapped in this place with no way to get out, and he certainly didn’t like the idea of being trapped inside an elevator with no way out.

“Come on,” Charlie said, stepping into the elevator. Sam followed.

Dean gave the wall behind them one last glance, then followed Charlie and Sam. The elevator brought them to the sixth floor and the doors slid open to reveal another empty room. This room at least had a door at one end, though it looked like it was made of solid steel. Dean stepped out of the elevator, walking towards the door. The door swung open suddenly and a mulleted man dressed in ripped up denim and a flannel with the sleeves torn off stepped out.

“Charlie!” he shouted, “Que paso, mi amiga?”

“Hey, Ash,” Charlie said, giving him a little wave. “Um, these are my friends, Sam and Dean.”

“What’s up?” Ash said, giving them a nod. “So not that it’s not lovely to see you,” he said to Charlie, “but what are you doing here?”

“Well, I think I’m in some trouble,” Charlie said, “and I need your help. And a place to crash.”

“What kind of trouble?” Ash asked, frowning.

“It might be easier if I show you,” Charlie said, digging a thumb drive out of her bag and holding it up in front of her.

“Alright,” Ash said, his eyes on the drive. “You guys better come inside.” He gestured for them to follow him and stepped back inside.

The interior of Ash’s place looked like he had raided an old roadhouse, complete with pool table and wooden bar. Dean wandered over to the bar as Ash jogged over to a partitioned off area. He was eyeing the beer taps when Ash emerged with a laptop.

“They work.” Ash set the laptop on top of the bar and gestured at the taps. “Help yourself, if you’re thirsty. Glasses are behind the bar.”

“Awesome.” Dean moved around the bar and poured himself a glass, ignoring Sam’s judgemental look.

“Alright, show me what you got,” Ash said, and Charlie handed him the thumb drive. Dean sipped his beer as Ash opened the file and clicked around. “Damn, this is some heavy encryption.”

While Charlie and Ash worked on opening the files, Dean sipped his beer and searched through the newsfeed on his phone. He found an article about the murdered kid from Angelus scanned it for details.

“Jesus,” Dean mumbled, scrolling through the article.

“What is it?” Sam asked, leaning over the bar to peer at Dean’s phone.

“That kid,” Dean said, keeping his voice low to avoid upsetting Charlie, “he was choked with so much force his trachea was crushed.”

Sam took a deep breath and exhaled. “Guess that confirms an aug was involved.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“Hey guys,” Charlie interrupted. “We cracked the file.”

“That was fast,” Dean said, turning his attention to where Charlie and Ash sat in front of the laptop.

“Well, I don’t want to brag, but I am the best at this sort of thing,” Ash said, throwing a wink at Dean before turning back to the laptop. “Looks like a file on someone with a whole package of augmentations—legs, arms, eyes, brain. Wonder if the guy’s got anything real left in his body. There’s schematics here for shit I ain’t never seen done before.”

“Does it have a name attached to it?” Dean asked.

Ash hit a few keys, then looked up from the screen. “Jimmy Novak.”

 

 

Chapter Text

A pounding at his door jerked Dean out of a very pleasant dream involving twins. After leaving Charlie safely ensconced in Ash’s high-tech hideaway, he and Sam had returned to their respective apartments. He sat up and threw his covers off, pulling on the jeans and t-shirt he’d discarded on the floor and grabbing the gun he kept under his pillow. The pounding became more frantic.

“Hold your goddamn horses,” Dean grumbled under his breath as he buttoned his jeans. He wanted to know who was there before he let whoever it was know he was home. He crept up to the door and peaked through the peephole. He was greeted by a head of bright red hair and Charlie’s tear-stained face. “Charlie,” he said, quickly undoing the locks and pulling the door open.

“He found me, Dean,” Charlie said in a rushed whisper. He ushered her inside, poking his head out to make sure there was nobody in the hallway.

“How the hell did he find you? Did he follow you here? How’d you get away?” Dean threw the questions at her in quick succession as he locked the door. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, sniffling. “But I didn’t know where else to go. He got through Ash’s security; just busted through the doors. I was able to hide, but he got Ash.”

“Shit.”

“I stayed hidden until I was sure he was gone. I don’t think he followed me, but I took a few different buses and the subway to get here, tried to stay with crowds just in case.”

“That was smart,” Dean said, tucking his gun into the back of his pants and pulling his t-shirt over it. He lead Charlie to the couch with a steadying hand on her elbow. “You can stay here tonight. You can take my bed, I’ll sleep on the couch. Just wait here while I go uh, tidy my room a bit.”

“Dean, you don’t have to do that, I can sleep on the couch,” Charlie said, grabbing his hand before he could walk away.

“I want to be close to the door,” Dean said. Charlie nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

In his room, he quickly straightened his blankets and grabbed a pillow and an extra blanket out of the closet for himself. He didn’t have another set of sheets, so he hoped Charlie didn’t mind that he didn’t change them. He’d just washed them the day before anyway. He grabbed his phone off the bedside table and sent Sam a quick text to let him know what happened.

When he returned to the living room, Charlie was still perched on the couch in the same position he’d left her. She was staring at the door.

“See, if you slept out here you’d get no rest at all,” Dean said, smiling at her.

“I probably won’t sleep anyway, but you have a point,” Charlie said, shrugging.

“Come on, bedroom’s this way,” Dean said, throwing the blanket and pillow onto the couch and gesturing for Charlie to follow him. He lead her to his room, pointed out the bathroom, then closed his door behind him after saying goodnight.

His phone dinged, indicating a new text. Sam was on his way over. Dean wanted to object, but it was probably smarter for them to stick close for the time being. Safety in numbers and all that. And Sam could handle himself in a fight, so he’d be a good asset to have here just in case.

Dean shuffled into the kitchen and grabbed a clean glass and his bottle of whiskey, pouring himself a measure. His heart was still pounding from being woken up so suddenly. He grabbed the pack of cigarettes he’d left on the kitchen counter and patted his pocket to make sure his lighter was still there, then made his way over to what he liked to call his balcony. Really it was just a small window with the screen removed. He pushed the glass open and lit his cigarette, watching the street below.

Dean’s apartment building was in the middle of downtown, located above a dive bar that boasted nightly shows by nude dancers. The bar’s neon sign flashed on the wall next to Dean’s window, bathing him with its red light. He watched the street below, busy with cars honking and people laughing despite being after midnight. This city never slept.

Before he finished his cigarette, Dean thought he heard movement in the hallway. The good thing about living in an older building and having squeaky floorboards was that nobody could sneak up to his door. He pulled his gun out of the back of his pants and held it at the ready as he tiptoed across the room, avoiding the places that creaked. He positioned himself to stand behind where the door would swing open.

Whoever was in the hallway came closer to Dean’s door. A shadow passed through the hallway light that spilled in through the crack at the bottom of the door, then stopped. Whoever it was stood in front of Dean’s door, not moving. Dean cocked his gun as quietly as he could and took steadying breaths as he waited for them to make a move.

The sound of metal on metal ground into the silence. The bastard was picking his lock. It had to be the guy who’d killed Charlie’s friend and was after her now. Dean wanted to sneak a look through the peephole, but he didn’t dare risk stepping on a creaking board and giving himself away. He probably wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway if the guy was bent over the lock.

The deadbolt slid to the unlocked position, and then the bastard moved on to the door handle. Dean held his breath as that lock clicked open, and the door handle began to turn. The door swung open slowly, and Dean jumped out, sticking his gun in the intruder’s face.

“What the fuck are you—” Dean stopped, lowering his gun. “Sam?”

“Yeah, it’s just me, Dean,” Sam said, holding his hands up. “Jesus. Jumpy much?”

“Son of a bitch, Sam you can’t just sneak in like that! There’s a fucking killer after Charlie, and we have no idea if he knows where we are but I’m sure as hell not gonna let him catch me off guard.” He uncocked his gun, slipping it into his pants and closing the door. “Why the hell didn’t you use your key instead of picking the locks?”

“I did use my key, Dean.” Sam held his keys up, raising his eyebrows. “See?”

Dean frowned. “Didn’t sound like keys.”

“I was trying to be quiet in case Charlie was sleeping on the couch,” Sam said, shrugging.

Dean turned back to the door with a grunt. He reached to turn the deadbolt when the door suddenly flew inwards, knocking him on his ass. His gun flew out of his pants and slid across the floor and into the kitchen. Dean struggled to get his breath back and tried to scramble back to his feet.

A man entered the room, dressed all in black with a hood pulled up over his head. Sam rushed forward and threw a punch, but missed. The man dodged easily, then returned a punch to Sam’s temple, knocking him out instantly. Sam dropped to the ground as Dean finally got up to his feet.

The man turned to Dean, stalking forward. There was something familiar about the predatory way he moved. Dean crouched, readying his fists. When the man swung, Dean ducked, then hit him with a punch to his solar plexus. It was a hit that would’ve dropped any normal man, but it seemed to have no effect.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean mumbled as the man stepped forward and wrapped fingers around Dean’s neck. His back hit the wall and Dean’s breath left him with a whoosh. He struggled to fill his lungs as his vision began to blur. Dean kicked at the man’s legs but at such close range he couldn’t get any leverage to make the kicks do any damage. His hands scrabbled at the man’s head. If he could dig a thumb into one of his eyes, it might hurt the guy enough that he’d let go.

Dean grabbed a handful of the black hood and pulled, trying to remove it so he could find an eye to gouge. The hood slipped back just as the man’s eyes flashed a bright blue and the fingers tightened around his throat. Dean’s vision was going black around the edges now, but once the blue light died down he realized he knew those eyes.

“Cas?” Dean managed to gasp.

Cas blinked, a confused tilt to his head but no recognition in his eyes.

“You’re alive,” Dean wheezed. The hold on Dean’s throat began to loosen and he gulped, sucking in air. Cold blue eyes regarded him steadily. “Cas, it’s me, Dean. Winchester. Don’t you remember?”

Cas’ eyes narrowed, his brows drawn together. His fingers twitched against Dean’s throat, but then he let go and stepped back, allowing Dean to slide to the floor.

“Cas?” Dean said, looking up at him as he rubbed a hand over his throat. There was confusion in his eyes, and fear, but no hint that he knew the man on the floor in front of him. Dean pushed himself up, leaning against the wall for support until he got his legs under him.

Cas took another step back, his blue eyes wild, as if his entire world had just been upended. Dean knew the feeling. He opened his mouth to speak calming words, but Cas turned and covered the distance to the open window with three steps. He didn’t look back before hurling himself through it.

“Cas!” Dean shouted, running to the window. He leaned out, looking down to the street though the last thing he wanted to see was Cas bloody and broken. Not again.

What he saw was even worse. Cas was gone.

Chapter Text

“Who the hell was that, Dean?” Sam said, slouching into the couch and holding a bag of frozen peas to his temple.

Dean stopped pacing to stand in front of the window Cas had jumped out of earlier. “That was Cas.”

“Wait, Cas as in Castiel? Your army buddy whose funeral I took you to?”

Dean sighed and closed the window. He moved to sit next to Sam and let his head fall back. “Yes, that Cas.”

“He’s alive?”

“Apparently,” Dean said, scrubbing a hand over his face, “and he’s also apparently the guy after Charlie.”

“Well, how’d you get him to leave without hurting Charlie?”

“I don’t know, he just kinda freaked out and jumped out the damn window,” Dean said, sitting forward and resting his arms on his knees. He glanced at Charlie where she sat in the armchair, shivering under a blanket. “We need to get you out of here. I don’t know if he’ll come back.”

Charlie nodded.

“Wait, Dean—”

“Sammy, just get Charlie somewhere safe. Get another hotel room for the night, a burner phone. Don’t tell me where you’re going.”

Sam nodded, his face grim. “You really think he might come back?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to take the chance that you and Charlie could get hurt.”

“What about you?” Sam asked, adjusting the frozen peas against his head.

“I’ll be fine,” Dean said, huffing a laugh.

“How do you know that? The guy’s augmented, Dean, any advantage you might have had from knowing him, knowing how he fights, it’s gone thanks to his augmentations.”

“Sam, he’s not gonna attack me. As soon as I said his name he let me go. Cas wouldn’t do any of this unless he were being manipulated. I’d trust—” Dean hesitated, “I would have trusted him with my life. I’ll be fine.”

“Fine,” Sam said, glaring at Dean but thankfully not pushing. “I’m gonna call you once I get a phone—you better answer or I’m coming right back.”

“Understood, now get out of here,” Dean said, handing Sam his gun. Sam took it with a frown, and ushered Charlie out the door.

 


 

For the second time in twenty four hours, Dean woke to the sound of pounding on his door. At least it was light out this time, judging by the glow peeking around the edges of his black out curtains. He dragged himself out of bed, grabbing his gun along the way, and pulled on his jeans. He hadn’t bothered removing his shirt when he’d climbed back into bed after everyone had left. After Cas had left.

Dean tried not to think of the way Cas had featured prominently in his dreams as he walked towards the door, but his heart lurched when he looked through the peephole and Cas’ blue eyes looked back at him. He stood in the hallway outside Dean’s apartment with his hands dangling at his sides, looking for all the world like an awkward, lost puppy.

Dean moved his hand to the doorknob. With his other hand he cocked his gun and held it up. In one smooth movement, he pulled the door open and reached for Cas, grabbing a handful of his shirt and dragging him inside. He twisted Cas around and slammed him up against the wall, holding him there by the neck and pressing the gun against the back of his head. He kicked the door shut with his foot.

“Why are you here, Cas?”

Cas raised his hands, sliding them up the wall. “If you’ll let me up, I’ll explain.” His voice was muffled from his face being pressed against the wall.

Against his better judgement, Dean took a few steps back, allowing Cas to turn around. He kept his gun trained on him though.

“Are you Dean Winchester?”

The sound of his name rolling off Cas’ tongue in that gravelly baritone voice sent a thrill through Dean. God, it was good to see him. Every atom in Dean’s body was drawn to Cas, wanting to step forward and pull Cas in close, hold him. He’d dreamed of Cas coming back to him in hundreds, even thousands of different ways over the years but never did he think he’d ever actually have him back. Especially after not recognizing Dean and leaving by way of the third story window the night before. “Yeah,” he said, his voice thick.

“Look,” Cas said, slowly lowering his hands. “I know there’s something wrong with me. I lose blocks of time, wake up sore or feeling like I only got an hour of sleep, not remembering anything past getting ready to leave work. And then this morning I wake up and find this on my fridge.” Cas reached into his pocket and brought out a piece of paper. He held it up and Dean could see ‘Dean Winchester’ scrawled across it in Cas’ familiar chicken scratch. “So if you know me, can you tell me how? Please?”

“Uh, yeah,” Dean said, his shoulders relaxing. He kept a wary eye on Cas, but lowered his gun, uncocking it and tucking it into the back of his pants. “Sure, Cas.”

“Why do you keep calling me Cas?”

“That’s your name—or your nickname.”

“That’s not my name.”

“Castiel Krushnic is the name I know you by. Unless you’re Cas’ long lost, unknown identical twin.”

“My name is Jimmy Novak.” Cas frowned. “But I feel like I should know that name.” He watched Dean, steady blue eyes seeming to stare right into his soul. This was definitely Cas, just by another name. “And I feel like I should know you.”

“Yeah, well, we were—” Dean hesitated, wondering how to explain to an apparently amnesiac Cas the depth of their relationship: friends, squadmates, practically family, almost lovers. “We were... friends.”

“Friends?” Cas said, squinting at him.

“Yeah,” Dean said, staring into blue eyes he never thought he’d see again.

“How do I know you? When were we friends?” Cas searched Dean’s eyes with the same intensity he had the first time they’d met on Dean’s first day with their platoon.

“We served together, in the war,” Dean said, willing Cas to remember.

“I can’t remember much from the war,” Cas said, squinting at him as his head listed to the side. “Why can’t I remember?”

Dean took a breath. “You might want to sit down,” he said, gesturing towards the couch.

Cas nodded, walking around the couch and taking a seat in one of the armchairs to its side. Dean sat on the opposite arm of the couch, feeling almost guilty for wanting to keep space between them and easy access to his gun..

“So what do you remember from the war?”

Cas frowned, his gaze roaming over the ashtray and empty beer bottles cluttering the coffee table and Dean wished he’d cleaned up. “I, uh—I remember being on a mission and things going wrong. There was an explosion, flames everywhere. Someone dragged me out. I passed out and woke up in a hospital.”

“That someone was me, Cas. I dragged you out. And you were practically blown to pieces.”

“That’s not possible,” Cas said, shaking his head. “I just hit my head and fell into a coma. I don’t even have any scars.”

“Cas—” Dean started, then fell silent. He didn’t like these memories invading his head again, but he had to get Cas to remember what had really happened. “You were directly in the blast zone. Both your arms were torn off.” Dean hesitated, swallowing down a sudden wave of nausea. “Your torso was torn to shreds, your legs peppered with shrapnel. Your face…” Dean paused, taking a deep breath and steeling himself. “No one could have survived that. Not without amputations and some serious scars and rehab time. Cas, you were dead. I went to your funeral.”

“I don’t understand,” Cas said. “They told me I had a head injury. They said my entire platoon died. Except for me.”

“Did you wake up in a normal army hospital?”

Cas’ brow furrowed as he searched his memories. “No. No, it was a private hospital. They said someone had covered the transfer costs because I was a veteran.”

“And you woke up with a body good as new?”

Cas hesitated. “My body was fine. I felt better than I ever had before.”

Dean took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He told Cas about the intel Charlie had, about how Angelus Corp was developing new technology and using it on employees—on Cas—without their knowledge or consent, about how they were using Cas to kill anyone who got in the way of their progress. Cas listened with a deepening scowl on his face.

“No,” Cas growled when Dean fell silent. “This isn’t possible, that kind of technology doesn’t exist yet. I—” Cas hesitated, his face paling. “They can’t force people to kill, they can’t wipe memories.”

“They can, Cas,” Dean said with a sigh. “And you barging in here trying to kill us all last night is your proof.”

“What?” Cas’ disbelief showed in his furrowed brow and the way his gaze shot to Dean’s face.

“Why did you think I pulled a gun on you when you showed up on my doorstep, huh? You burst in here last night and knocked my brother out and had my neck in a death grip until I said your name, then you jumped out the fucking window.”

Cas’ gaze fell to the floor in front of him. His shoulders rose and fell with his heavy breaths. His face became even more pale, his eyes unfocused. “I think I’m gonna—Dean, I—”

Dean stood, coming to Cas’ side and placing a hand on his shoulder as he took the glass of whiskey from his hand. “Cas, are you okay?”

“I don’t—I might be sick.”

“Okay,” Dean said, rubbing a hand up and down Cas’ back. “Okay, come on buddy, can you stand?”

Dean helped Cas to stand and led him down the hallway to the bathroom, then closed the door behind Cas. He walked away to the sound of retching.

Chapter Text

Cas emerged from the bathroom ten minutes later, looking only slightly less pale than he had going in. “I’m sorry, Dean,” he said, sinking into the armchair. His body hunched in on itself, making him seem smaller than he was. If Dean didn’t know better, he’d never guess Cas was a lethal killer. “I don’t know why I came here. I don’t remember you, but I’m sorry. I feel—” Cas broke off, frowning at his feet. “I feel like I know you and I don’t want to hurt you.”

“But?”

“But… what?”

“But… you gotta? Sounded like there was a ‘but’ coming,” Dean said, sipping his drink.

“No, there’s no ‘but’,” Cas said, frowning at Dean. “I don’t want to hurt you, period.”

“Okay, well what about the girl you followed here last night?”

“I don’t remember any girl,” Cas said, his frown deepening. “I don’t remember coming here at all. But I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Boy, they really did a number on you,” Dean said. “Your brain implant must give them control over your memories.”

“I’m not augmented.”

“Uh, yeah, you are,” Dean said, raising an eyebrow. “You jumped out that window over there,” he said, pointing. “Three stories up, you jumped and were out of sight before I could get across the room. No human could have done that. And the only way you could’ve walked at all after the war is if you got a nice new shiny pair of metal legs.”

“If I were augmented, I would know,” Cas said.

“Look, Cas,” Dean said, sinking into the couch next to him, “I know this is hard—”

“You know this is hard? You know ? What the fuck do you know about being told you’re a fucking machine that kills people.”

Dean fell silent, snapping his mouth shut.

“I’m sorry, Dean.” Cas sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, then stood. “I think I should go.”

“Hey, wait, are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I’ve already imposed on you enough,” Cas said, walking towards the door. He stopped before he reached it, but didn’t turn around. “I’m so sorry, Dean, for everything.”

Dean jumped to his feet, not wanting Cas to go and not wanting to look too closely at the reasons behind that want. “Wait, Cas, don’t go yet.”

Cas hesitated, his hand on the doorknob. “Why?”

“Uh, well,” Dean stammered, “we don’t know what set you off. What if you—”

“That’s exactly why I need to leave, Dean.” Cas dropped his hand, turning around. His eyes were sad. “I don’t remember much from the war, and I don’t remember you at all, but something inside me is saying if I hurt you I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Dean blinked, stunned at Cas’ confession. “Cas,” he said, taking a step forward, “what if you’re in danger? What if you leave and I never see you again?”

Cas frowned at him. “Why would I be in danger? And why would you want to see me again after I tried to kill you and your brother?”

Dean huffed a laugh remembering the turmoil and grief he’d endured after losing Cas the first time. Watching Cas bleeding out, seeing the grim look in the medic’s eyes when he pushed Dean back from Cas’ body, Dean had known—he loved Cas. Had since the moment he first laid eyes on him in bootcamp, but he’d been raised to believe men couldn’t love men so it’d taken Cas dying in front of him to realize what those feelings inside had been.

“Cas,” Dean said, his voice cracking, “whoever did this to you probably isn’t going to be happy that you know about it now. They sent you to kill three people that we know of, and you succeeded at two of those. Do you really think they’re going to just let you go free?”

“I can take care of myself, Dean,” Cas said, his voice cold. “I don’t need your protection. And I don’t want to put you in danger.”

“Yeah, okay, you don’t need my protection, fine. But, Cas—” Dean hesitated over his next words. He needed Cas to stay; wasn’t ready to say goodbye after just finding him again. “Come on, man, just stay a while. I can take care of myself too. Let me help you figure out what’s going on.”

Cas’ eyes locked on Dean’s with the same intense stare Dean remembered from all those years ago, like he was looking right through Dean’s soul. “You really want me to stay.”

It wasn’t a question, but Dean answered it anyway. “Yes, I want you to stay.”

“Why?”

Dean groaned in frustration. “I just explained that. You need to figure out what’s going on—”

“No.”

Dean blinked. “No?”

“There’s more.”

“More to what, Cas?” Dean said, practically shouting now. Cas had always had a way of infuriating Dean.

“Why do you really want me to stay?” Cas took a step closer to Dean, watching him with his birdlike squint.

“I told you—”

“Dean,” Cas interrupted, stopping a foot from Dean.

Dean took in a breath, ready to repeat himself, but something searching in Cas’ eyes stopped him. He let the breath out in a whoosh, deflating and dropping his eyes to the ground. “I thought you were dead, Cas,” he whispered. “I—I’m not—I just don’t want you to go, okay? I’m not ready to lose you again.” He risked a glance up and found Cas staring at him, a smile in his eyes if not on his mouth.

“Okay.”

“Okay? That’s it? I spill my guts and your response is ‘okay’?”

“I told you, Dean, I don’t remember you,” Cas said. “But just because I don’t remember doesn’t mean I don’t feel like there’s something there to remember. Were we—” Cas hesitated, frowning, “how close were we?”

Dean sighed and walked back to the couch, picking up his glass from the table and taking a sip before attempting an answer. “We were squadmates,” Dean said, leaning back against the couch and not meeting Cas’ eyes. “Friends.”

“Friends,” Cas said as he walked back into the room. “Good friends?”

“Yeah,” Dean said with a soft laugh. “Best friends, you could say.”

Cas came to sit next to Dean, his eyes on the floor. Dean watched him from the corner of his eye in his peripheral vision, letting his gaze slide up Cas’ long, thick legs and over the slight, soft curve of his belly. From what Cas’ bulky sweatshirt revealed, he wasn’t quite as lithe as Dean remembered him being, but it didn’t make him any less attractive.

“I wish I could remember.”

They sat in silence for a moment. Dean hated to break the comfortable atmosphere that had begun to emerge, but he needed to make sure Charlie was safe and Cas wouldn’t be used to kill any more innocent people. “Hey, so I think we should call Sam, see if he’s got anything on Angelus and make a plan.”

“Dean,” Cas said, letting loose a sigh, “I really think I should handle this on my own.”

“And what, walk into management and ask who’s manipulating you? Come on, man, you need a plan. You need intel. You need help .”

Cas ran a hand over his face, closing his eyes for a moment.

“Sam and Charlie are good at what they do,” Dean said, pushing forward. “They can find out who’s behind all this, and once we know then we can make a plan and move forward.”

“And what happens if whoever’s behind this finds out you’ve been helping me? What happens when they flip the switch and I end up coming after you?”

“Well, they gotta be using radio waves or wifi or some shit to get commands to you, right? I mean, you’re not like plugging into a mainframe at night are you?”

“Not that I know of,” Cas said, frowning.

“So we get you a device to block wireless transmissions.”

“You think that would work?”

“We won’t know for sure until we try it out, but I think it’s our best option.”

Cas leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees and looked up at Dean with a sigh. “Alright, we can call Sam and Charlie and look into getting one of these devices. But Dean, if at any time I try to harm any of you, you need to be prepared to take lethal action against me. Understand?”

“It’s not gonna come to that, Cas.”

“Dean, I’m not doing this unless you promise me you’ll do whatever it takes to protect yourself from me.”

It was Dean’s turn to sigh in resignation. “Alright, fine.”

“Fine?”

“Yeah, fine,” Dean shouted louder than necessary. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Thank you.”

“Let’s call Sam.” Dean pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed Sam, putting it on speakerphone and setting it on the coffee table between him and Cas.

Sam picked up after a couple of rings. “Hey Dean.”

“Hey Sammy, I’ve got Cas here, you’re on speaker.”

“What? Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sam’s voice sounded strangled.

“He’s himself, well, mostly. Don’t worry, he’s fine. Right Cas?”

“Right,” Cas said, holding Dean’s gaze. “Hello, Sam.”

“Uh, hi.”

“So Sammy, what’d you find out?”

“Well, Charlie and I did some digging through Angelus’ records and found the names of some of the higher ups. Our best guess for who’s behind it is the CEO.”

“Naomi,” Cas muttered.

“You know her?” Dean asked.

“I’m the Head of Security; I report directly to her and she’s the last person I see before leaving work every day.”

“You think it could be her that’s controlling you?”

“I think it’s definitely worth confronting her.”

“Alright, then let’s make a plan,” Dean said, rubbing his hands together and smiling at Cas.

 


 

“I still think you should stay here so I can keep an eye on you.”

“Dean, I understand where you’re coming from but I really need some time by myself to process all of this. I need to go home.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“I’ll go home, get some rest and gear up, then meet you tomorrow night.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here tonight?” Dean asked, hoping Cas would change his mind. “I’ll leave you alone, give you space.”

“I appreciate it, Dean, but I really need to go home.”

“Alright.” Dean suppressed a sigh. “Well, can I give you my number at least? So you can call me if you need anything?”

“Okay,” Cas said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He unlocked it and handed it to Dean, and Dean entered his number and saved it as a new contact.

“I’m serious, Cas, call me any time for any reason, okay?”

“I will. Goodbye, Dean.” Cas gave Dean one last small smile then turned and walked out the door. Dean shut it behind him, fighting the urge to watch Cas until he was out of sight.

Chapter Text

Cas woke to the sound of screams and the taste of ash and smoke on his tongue. He sat up in bed, pushing his damp sheets off, and fumbled to turn the lamp on. He was fine, he was home. He looked around his sterile studio apartment, sheets and curtains and walls varying shades of grey with no embellishment, and counted his breaths until he felt his heart slow down.

It was the same old dream he’d always had, only now Dean had been there. Dean’s face was the last thing he saw before his eyes slipped shut. Cas ran a hand over his face and through his hair, then grabbed his phone off the nightstand. It was 3:02 am. Too early to call Dean, though he had a sudden urge to hear the man’s voice, make sure he was okay. It was ridiculous.

Although if he were to believe Dean, and he found he did, they’d been very close and Dean really had been there when Cas had almost been enveloped in flames. He looked down at his arms, running his fingers over the smooth skin. Dean thought he’d died. He should have died, if there was any truth to his dreams or Dean’s claims. And at the very least his skin should be riddled with scar tissue.

It didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t remember anything before waking up in the hospital. Nothing except the flames.

Cas pushed out of bed and went to the kitchen. He had to know if there was any truth to what Dean had said—that he was a machine, rebuilt after his accident and manipulated into killing. He needed proof. He pulled a knife out of his knife block.

 


 

“Cas?” Dean’s voice carried through the phone speaker, sounding small. Cas latched onto it as his world spun around him.

“Dean,” Cas gasped, “I—I don’t—you were right. Oh god, you were right. I’m a fucking machine. I’m one of them.”

“Hey, Cas—listen to me. You’re not a machine—”

“Yes, I am! There’s fucking metal and wires under my skin.”

“Oh, fuck. Cas, what did you do?”

“I had to know. Had to know for sure.”

“Jesus, are you okay? What the fuck did you do? Where are you?”

“I’m—I’m at home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Lotus Apartments.”

“Okay, what number?”

“What?” Cas frowned, struggling to comprehend what Dean was asking him. He couldn’t stop staring at his arm.

“Cas, what apartment number?” Dean was growling through the phone now.

“Um, 1052.”

“Alright, I’ll be there in fifteen—no, ten minutes. Just hang on, okay Cas? Don’t you fucking leave me again.”

“I’m not in any shape to go anywhere, Dean,” Cas said, but he was speaking to the dial tone. His vision faded in and out as the room continued to spin around him, and he leaned over until he was laying on the floor. The cool tile felt good against his heated skin.

 


 

“Cas.”

Cas groaned at whoever was calling his name, pushing his face into his arm.

“Cas, come on, wake up.”

The asshole was patting his cheek now. Cas batted at the person’s hand, trying to push it away.

“Cas! Wake the fuck up!”

The voice finally cut through the fog in his brain and he realized who it was. He blinked his eyes open to find a blurry figure hovering over him. “Dean?”

“Yeah, hey buddy.” Relief flooded Dean’s voice. “Come on, can you sit up?”

Cas let Dean maneuver him into a seated position, his back leaning against something solid. He blinked, looking around the room, and realized he was on the floor in his kitchen.

“Jesus, Cas,” Dean breathed, rubbing a hand over his mouth as he stared at Cas’ arm. Cas followed his gaze and remembered.

“Oh shit.”

“‘Oh shit’, Cas? What the fuck happened?”

Cas frowned, trying to remember the events leading up to him calling Dean. “I just wanted to know for sure, if I was one of those things.” His lip curled in disgust. He had become everything he’d fought against, everything he never wanted to become.

“Well, looks like you fuckin’ got your answer.” Dean sighed, looking around the kitchen. “You got a first aid kit around here? Looks like the bleeding’s stopped, probably thanks to your nanites, but it can’t be good to just leave the wound open like that.”

“In the bathroom, under the sink.” Cas couldn’t look away from the writhing metal in his arm. When he squeezed his fingers into a fist, the metallic sheen of his artificial muscles pulsed. He felt oddly detached from his own limb, even though he could feel it just like he always had. It didn’t really seem like it belonged.

“You’re gonna need stitches, Cas,” Dean said as he walked back into the kitchen, first aid kit in his hand. He knelt on the floor next to Cas and opened the kit. He pulled out some gauze and wetted it with the bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Cas gasped and pulled his arm away as Dean touched the gauze to the edge of his wound and it fizzed. “Come on, hold still.”

Dean wrapped a hand around Cas’ wrist, gently pulling his arm away from his body. Cas closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the cabinet. Dean continued to dab at the dried blood, cleaning the wound. He worked in silence as Cas watched, ignoring the pain the best he could. When Dean finished and Cas’ arm was mostly clean of dried blood, he wrapped the whole thing up in gauze.

“You’re good at that,” Cas said as Dean secured the gauze with tape.

“Yeah, well we had to be. Medics couldn’t always get to the minor stuff when we were out in the field.”

They fell silent again as Dean packed up the first aid kit. Cas watched his deft fingers arranging the leftover gauze, the scissors, the tape. They were strong and sure, not shaky like his own.

“We gotta get you to a hospital for stitches though. I never learned how to do that,” Dean said, aiming a smile at Cas. Cas couldn’t muster a smile back, but he met Dean’s steady gaze.

“Not tonight,” Cas said. “It can wait till tomorrow.”

Dean scoffed. “You lost a lot of blood, Cas. Your kitchen looks like the site of a goddamn massacre. You gotta get that stitched up and get looked at by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.”

Cas sighed, tucking his arm against his belly. “I’m fine, Dean. I just need to rest. I’m not bleeding anymore, and it already hurts less. For all I know these nanites will have it all good as new by morning.”

Dean frowned at him but didn’t argue further.

“Help me up?” Cas asked, holding his good hand out to Dean. Dean grasped it and helped Cas to stand.

“If you’re not going to the hospital tonight I’m staying here until you do, or until you’re healed. Not gonna take no for an answer either.”

Cas chuckled weakly. “No, I don’t expect you would.” He sighed, shuffling out of the tiny kitchen. “Only got the one bed though.”

“I’ll sleep on the floor.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Dean. It’s big enough for both of us.” Cas sat on the edge of his bed, straightening the blankets and sheets. “Besides, I don’t have any extra blankets or anything.”

Cas fell asleep easily, probably exhausted from tearing his fucking arm apart, but Dean laid on his back staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours listening to Cas’ rhythmic breathing. He turned to look at Cas, letting his head fall to the side on his pillow. Cas laid on his side, his back to Dean. His bare skin glowed a soft electric blue under the artificial neon light spilling through the window. For a moment, he looked inhuman. A creature made of light and steel.

He was beautiful and terrifying.

 


 

Dean woke the next morning in an empty bed, the smell of coffee caressing his nose. “Cas?” he called.

“In here,” Cas called back, his voice carrying from the bathroom.

Dean rose from the bed, stretching his arms overhead. He ran a hand through his hair and yawned.

Cas emerged from the bathroom, his dark hair tousled and deep circles under his eyes. He wore the same clothes he’d been wearing when Dean had gotten there; loose grey sweats that hung low on his hips and a black t-shirt that was just fitted enough to perfectly accentuate the body beneath. Dean hadn’t noticed how good Cas looked in the outfit the night before—he’d been too busy worrying Cas was going to bleed out all over his kitchen floor. It was a miracle his clothes hadn’t been covered in blood.

“Good morning,” Cas said, walking to the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Uh, yes, please.” Dean moved to sit at a stool placed in front of the counter between the kitchen and the living area that housed Cas’ bed, a dresser, a single armchair and a small tv. Cas placed a steaming cup of coffee in front of him.

“You take it black, right?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Dean said, frowning at Cas. “Did you remember that, or are you just guessing?”

“I...I had a dream last night,” Cas said, taking a sip of his coffee and leaning on the opposite side of the counter. “You and I were having breakfast in the mess tent and I refilled your coffee. I joked that I’d doctor it up with a ton of cream and sugar and you said ‘you know I take it black’ and called me an asshole.”

Dean barked a laugh. “That’s a memory, Cas. You did that every time you brought me coffee.”

Cas smiled, taking a sip of his coffee. His smile faded as he lowered his mug. “When I came back though, you were gone. Everyone was gone. If it was a memory, it’s like the second half of it is just gone.”

“At least you’re starting to remember some things,” Dean said, giving Cas a small smile.

Cas smiled back, then lowered his eyes to his coffee mug. “There was something else. Not exactly part of the memory. More a feeling that went along with it.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“I—” Cas hesitated, his eyes still on his coffee mug. A pink blush spread across his cheeks. “It’s probably nothing, it’s just, I had this feeling.” Cas set his coffee down and rubbed at the back of his neck, glancing up at Dean quickly. “Like if we hadn’t been in a room full of people, I wanted to—Were we really just friends?”

Dean felt pinned under Cas’ gaze and his heart started racing. Carefully, he said, “Well, I told you we were practically like family.”

“Yeah, I know,” Cas said, looking away again. Dean’s heart didn’t slow down though. “I mean, did we ever… you know…”

“Um, I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at Cas.” Dean knew exactly what Cas was getting at, but he couldn’t quite believe it was possible that Cas had felt the same. He’d had his suspicions, with how close they’d been and how more than a few times he’d gotten lost in Cas’ eyes and hovered on the edge of something more.

Cas cleared his throat, straightening his shoulders and glancing back up at Dean, holding his gaze. Dean’s heart thudded in his throat.

“Were we lovers?”

Dean’s mouth parted, but no words came out. He could say yes and if Cas never remembered differently, maybe he could have what he’d always wanted back then. But if Cas did remember something to contradict it, Dean wouldn’t blame him if he never forgave the lie. So he took a deep breath and told the truth.

“No.”

Cas looked away, focusing on his coffee again. “Oh, I thought maybe—” He ran a hand over his face. “Uh, sorry, nevermind, it doesn’t matter. I’ve uh, got to get ready for work. And you should probably check in with Sam.”

Dean just sat, watching dumbly as Cas set his coffee cup by the sink and moved to his dresser, pulling out the clothes he’d need.

“I’ll check in with you by phone,” Cas said, his back turned to Dean. He shut the drawer he’d pulled his clothes out of and turned towards the bathroom. “Feel free to stay and finish your coffee. I need a shower.”

Dean dropped his head to the counter when the bathroom door clicked shut. He listened to the water turn on, mentally berating himself for fucking things up again. He’d never had the courage to tell Cas how he felt before, and he’d spent years after he thought Cas was dead regretting that. And now that he’d had a chance to come clean, to tell Cas he’d always wished they could be lovers, he’d kept quiet again. He sighed and emptied his coffee mug into the sink, rinsing it out and setting it on the counter. Then he gathered his things and slipped out the door.