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Lightning Does Strike Twice

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"Hey, Dean. Is this a bad time?"

I could only stare at him. It had been years, but here he was. How? How was he standing here like nothing happened between us? Like nothing happened to him.

Cas looked past me then down at his feet. "I shouldn't have come here. I'm sorry. I- I'll just go-"

I grabbed his wrist to stop him. "No, don't go anywhere. Please, just-" I turned when I heard the floorboards creak behind me.

"Dean, is everything okay? Who's- Is that... Castiel?"

"Lisa-"

"I thought he was dead. You told me he died."

Cas tried to pull his wrist from my hand. I turned back to him, begging him to wait. "Dean, I shouldn't be here. I've already made a mess of your life again. I'm just going to go home."

"No. Please, just stay long enough for us to talk. After that... If you want to leave, you can. I won't try to stop you."

Lisa tapped her foot on the tile. "Dean, could we talk?"

"I'll meet you in the bedroom, Lis. Give me one minute." She sighed, but she nodded and walked down the hall to our room.

I pulled Cas into a hug, surprising him enough for him to let out a squeak. He wrapped his arms around me quick enough, though. "I missed you so much, Cas," I told him, mumbling into his shoulder. His sweater smelled like  cologne, but a layer of chemicals hid just under it, like he tried to cover up the smell of a hospital with the fragrance. "I never thought I'd see you again. Why are you here? How are you here?"

Cas backed away from me. "That's a long story."

"Then you can tell me in the morning. We have a guest room down that hall. Stay here, then you can tell me what happened tomorrow."

"I don't think your girlfriend would like that."

"Lisa will be fine. Please stay here." I took his hands, and he hesitated.

Then, he sighed with a shy smile. "Alright. One night."

"Let me show you to your room, then." When he settled in, I started to leave, only being stopped by Cas at the door.

"Thank you, Dean. I hope I haven't just ruined things for you and Lisa."

"You haven't ruined anything." There was so much I wanted to tell him, but I couldn't bring myself to be honest with him. "Goodnight, Cas," was all I said.

I had a smile toying at my lips, but the look on Lisa's face wiped it away the moment I saw her. She was waiting for me, standing with her arms crossed at the end of the bed. She scowled at me, obviously pissed off. "What the fuck, Dean?"

"Lis-"

"No, don't even try that. You told me he was dead. You told me he committed suicide, but he was just at our front door. So, did you lie to me so I would feel sorry for you? Did you just want to make me feel like a bitch? What was it, Dean? Why lie about something like this?"

"I didn't, Lisa." I tried to take her hands, but she pulled them away.

"You didn't lie that your boyfriend was dead? The same boyfriend who I just saw?"

I sat down and waited for Lisa to do the same. She didn't. She continued to stand, looking down at me with her arms still folded over her chest. I sighed at how stubborn she was being, but I kept talking. "Cas did commit suicide. At least, I thought he did. He tried but was saved by a really terrible man who..." I trailed off, hoping that would be enough of an explanation.

"Keep going. I want to know what you've been hiding."

I looked down at my hands and the scars wrapping around my left wrist. "Cas was being controlled. He was brainwashed, in a way. That man was the same one who killed my mother, and he was destroying Cas's mind. Cas couldn't remember anything, and he told me to move on. I just wanted to do that. Lisa, I just wanted to move on from everything. That's why I never told you."

"That's such bullshit." I looked up to find Lisa practically fuming. "How do you expect me to believe that? What, your ex faked his own death before going nuts, and you've never mentioned this before?"

"You know I was kidnapped, Lis. We both know that it was all over the news. You talked to Mom when I was gone, and she told you that man who had me was the man who killed my mother. Cas was the one who actually took me. He was following orders, and he did some bad stuff. But he broke from Azazel's control and got us both home. Cas has been in the hospital for three years, and I didn't think he'd be getting out. The boy I loved was gone, so I didn't feel like it was necessary to correct you when you said Cas was dead." I reached out to her, this time being able to hold her hand in mine. "Do you believe me?"

She didn't answer my question but asked one of her own. "What are those scars from, really? You've only ever given me dodgy answers."

"They were from the vines I was imprisoned with when I was kidnapped. I had them all over my body, but I only kept the ones on my wrist because I needed to remember that everything really happened. When I woke up screaming, I ran my fingers over the scars so I remembered where I was and that I was safe."

"That chain?"

I pulled it from under my shirt. "It was a Christmas present from Cas. I gave him his necklace back when he was in the hospital, hoping it would help him remember me. It's the day we started dating."

Lisa sat down with a huff. "I thought it was the day he died, and it was some kind of memorial to him. That's why I never said anything about it. You've really been wearing your anniversary with your ex around your neck for three years?" Her eyes sparkled dangerously in the dull lamplight. Her voice had risen to a point where she was practically yelling at me.

I nodded. "I just-"

"No, save your excuses for some other time. I don't want to talk about this anymore tonight." Another sigh. "Why don't you sleep in the guest room?"

"Cas is taking the guest room tonight."

Lisa scoffed. "You invited him- Whatever. You can sleep on the couch then. I don't give a damn anymore. We'll finish this later."

But I didn't want to save it for later. I didn't want that anger to boil in my girlfriend until we couldn't get back to the way we were. "Lisa, please."

"Just go, Dean." She crossed to her side of the bed and pulled the blankets over her body as she turned her back to me. "I really don't want to talk to you right now."

"Okay. Goodnight."

She didn't answer, but what did I expect?

■■■

When I woke up, the whole house was silent. My back hurt from sleeping on the couch, and it felt nice to stand and stretch; but the eerie quiet put me on edge, so I couldn't help but be put off by the succession of pops down my spine. I walked into the bedroom, hoping to find Lisa, yet only seeing the empty, made bed. She had an early class today for psychology; I thought I could catch her before she left. It was almost nine, which explained why she was already gone. With a sigh, I went in the other direction to talk to Cas before I had to leave at noon for my own class.

The door was shut, but I could hear him talking. It sounded like he was telling Gabe about what happened last night, but I may have misheard a few things. I knocked lightly on the door.

"Cas, are you up?" That was a stupid question, I yelled to myself. He probably knows I can hear him.

"Yeah, just give me a second." He muttered a few more things into his phone before opening the door with an awkward smile. "Good morning." He shifted his weight between his feet before settling on his right leg and the right words. "Is everything okay with Lisa? I, uh, couldn't help but hear you guys last night."

"We'll be fine, don't worry." I gestured for him to follow me. "I'm going to make us breakfast. You can tell me your story while I cook, okay?"

It took him a little while to get comfortable talking about what happened, even though he came specifically to tell me that. He didn't stop for a long time once he did get comfortable, though.

"So, it took almost a week to fix the physical damage from that night," he didn't go any further. I knew what he meant, but it felt like he was afraid to talk about Azazel or what happened. "What the doctors couldn't fix as easily was my brain trauma. There was too much physically wrong when I woke up, and it took the best healers and doctors months to reverse everything he did to me. But they could only fix the physical problems, not the, uh, the inside of my mind." I listened to Cas talk for about twenty minutes before I realized why he sounded off. He kept repeating himself and getting lost, like he was forgetting words and rewriting sentences as he went. I guess he wasn't one hundred percent back to normal. "I spent six weeks in the hospital while they tried to get my memory back."

"Did it work?"

"Not at first." Cas wouldn't look away from his hands. "It took a few months before my first memory came back, and that happened accidentally. They said it was because of a... a reaction to-"

"A stimulus?" I offered.

He looked embarrassed. "Yeah. A stimulus."

I steered him away from his obvious discomfort as quickly as I could. "What did you remember?" I asked as I slid his plate towards him and sat in the seat next to his.

When his eyes lifted to me, I froze. If there was one thing that hadn't changed, it was his eyes. Deep blue that I could lose myself in, laugh lines that looked like they hadn't been used in years, long dark lashes that curled in the way Lisa always fought to maintain. "You."

My voice caught in my throat. "Me?" His first memory was me?

Cas nodded, holding my gaze. "I couldn't remember much, but there was, uh, just a flash of something there. You were sitting by these purple flowers, laughing about something I said. And I remembered how much I loved you. Every emotion from that moment..."

"You remembered them too?"

"I could feel them. It was like I was reliving that day. And I'd never been happier, at least that I could remember." He smiled at me, like it was normal for him to joke about his condition. "After all those months of vague memories that were gone as quick as they came, I finally had something tangible to hold onto. I had this tether to who I was before everything. And, and it was you, Dean."

"You were better after that?"

Cas looked down, scratching behind his ear. "Not exactly. They changed my treatment probably a dozen times. I had two surgeries. No, three. An aneurism. More mornings than I can count where I couldn't remember anything. I was depressed for... a long time."

"My God, Cas." I didn't know what to say beyond that.

"There were some days that were really, really hard. Some days where I wanted to give up and stop fighting. But every time I felt like calling it quits, I saw you. You were what I was fighting for, because I could still feel how much I loved you. I wanted that back, even though I told you to forget about me. Even though I watched you walk away, I had to hope that I could get you back. I love you, Dean. And I don't know if that even matters now that you're with Lisa."

This was what I wanted. For years, I just wanted Cas back. I wanted him to stand in front of me, memories intact, saying that he still loved me and wanted to be together again. But Cas was right; I have Lisa now. And I love her. Does that mean I don't love Cas anymore? No, I still do. But should I? Should I only love Lisa and have no feelings for Cas? I need to tell him something. I've been staring at him for too long.

I opened my mouth to say something, anything. Nothing came out, though. Before I could work out a proper sentence, I kissed him. Either one of us could've made that first move, but I didn't register anything before our lips met for the first time in three years. I didn't care who did what after that. It was just how soft his lips were and the way his fingers trailed softly over my hand that I brought to his cheek like he thought I would break or that I wasn't real. All I could think about was how soft his hair was when my hands found their way into his drak bedhead and the noise he made when I deepened the kiss and how his cologne had faded, yet he still smelled like chemicals.

"I still love you," I told him once we eventually separated. Those weren't the words I thought I would tell him, but they were right. I did love him.

"You need to know the rest."

I covered his hand with mine. "I'm sure it can wait until we eat." I was getting hungry, and I wasn't thinking about the words before they tumbled out of my mouth.

"No, this is important." He closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. "The doctors helped, they fixed me for the most part, but they were very clear that this was all experimental and that I- that my-"

"Your amnesia can come back," I guessed.

"I just needed to tell you how I feel before I didn't have the chance again." He bit his lip, letting it roll between his teeth in the most distracting way. "I didn't want to forget you without telling you how sorry I am for how things ended between us."

"Don't say that." I put my hands to his cheeks. "Don't say that like you're giving up now. You're not dying. Isn't that what you came here to tell me? That you have a chance to live now?"

Cas slowly moved my hands from his face. "I wanted you back, but you have a new life here. You have a girlfriend. I don't know why I expected you to pause your life for me when I told you to keep living." He touched his lips. "And you have a girlfriend, but we just kissed. I really need to go home. I just wanted to tell you that I was okay. And thank you."

"For what?"

Cas kinda shrugged. "For giving me hope." He didn't let me respond before he left me alone in my apartment. By the time the door closed behind him, the tears that had pooled in my eyes started down my face. What am I going to do?

Chapter Text

I thanked God that I only had one class to go to after Cas left. And don't get me wrong, I love biology, but I'd never been happier when the professor let us leave the lab. I really needed to talk to Lisa. About, well... everything.

I expected her to avoid me, or at the very least ignore me, but she was waiting for me on the sofa when I opened the door. Or perhaps she wasn't waiting for me. It looked like she was trying to watch TV but had forgotten to turn it on. Her eyes were hollow as they barely drifted to me, her hand touching the remote as if to pause her imaginary show before it settled back on her leg.

"I think I want to hear your explanation again." Lisa looked back to the dark screen. "I'm ready to hear it now."

So I told her everything. First, just the vague outline of everything; then, every little detail she needed to hear. Her questions stayed emotionless, like an interviewer who didn't want to get invested in someone before they were hired. Lisa remained calm and empirical until she tucked her legs under her and sighed, "Why didn't you just tell me this? This wouldn't have changed if I knew Castiel was alive."

"I think I was trying to convince myself that he was gone again. Not the same kind of gone, but still gone." I pressed my fingers to my temples to alleviate my growing headache. "It was easier to finish mourning him than to lose him all over again."

"Okay, that makes sense." She didn't want to ask her next question, but she did anyways. "Why was he here last night?"

"He needed to tell me something important." I knew that wasn't a good enough answer for her. She needed something that wasn't a hidden, half-truth. She deserved that, at least. "His memories are back."

"He wants you back, doesn't he?"

I let out a small huff, somewhere between a humorless laugh and a sigh. "It's complicated."

"I'm sure it's not. Either he came here to be with you or he didn't."

"He did, but he knows I'm with you. It's just-"

Lisa winced like she already anticipated what I was about to say. But she couldn't have because I surprised myself.

"We kissed this morning." She didn't respond like I thought she would. She only looked ahead silently. "I'm sorry, Lisa."

"You're not sorry that you kissed him," she finally said.

I didn't mention that I wasn't sure who made the first move. It really didn't matter, though. Not anymore. "You're right. But I'm sorry I hurt you."

"But you're not sorry that you kissed him." Lisa finally faced me, tears glistening in her eyes in a way that broke my heart. "That's what matters, Dean. I just don't understand why you're still here. You have Castiel back. Isn't that what you've wanted since you lost him? I don't get why you're not with him right now when we both know that's what you want."

I wiped away the tears falling on her cheeks, surprised that she let me. "I love you, Lisa."

"But you're in love with him. You always will be. I don't want to fight for you when I know I've already lost."

My chest ached every time she said something like that. Lisa was so full of life and energy, but she'd given up. I hated that I was the one who did that to her. I wanted her to be happy. I wanted her to have the life she wanted. And I really wanted to tell her the truth. "I don't know if I want to be with him, Lis."

She scoffed at that. "Yes, you do."

"I mean, I do. But I want to be with you too. And even if I wanted to be with Cas, I don't know if I can. This great place he's in, it might not last. His amnesia can come back, and I can lose him all over again. I don't know if I can do that a third time. That's not to say I'm staying with you because you're the safer choice. I want to be with you because you make me laugh during finals when you tell me stories to get my mind off of calculus. I want to be with you because you make the best French toast I've ever had and don't complain when I'm exhausted from school and make us grilled cheese for the third time that week. I want to be with you because I love laying in bed with you pulled close to me and all that matters is the way you breathe and hold onto me in your sleep. I'm just confused because I was happy, and here comes Cas to make me question everything I shouldn't be questioning. But when it comes down to it, Cas is just too big of a risk." It felt like I'd made up my mind. Then again-

"But you'll take that risk because that's who you are; you'll do anything for the people you love. And you know Cas is who you love more."

That sounded like she was breaking up with me. It felt like Lisa had made up her mind, even if I hadn't. "Are you not going to give me a choice in this? Are you just going to make me leave?"

Lisa shook her head. "No, you can stay if you want, I'd really love it if you'd stay, but need to do what you feel is right. I know you're going to choose him."

"Why?" I had to know how she could be so sure when I was so confused.

"Because it's been three years, and you still wear that necklace, and the only way you could move on was if you acted like he was dead."

Like always, she was right. Maybe she wasn't completely right, though. Just because I took a while to move on didn't mean I want to go back to Cas. Because I'd moved on. Right?

Without thinking, I brought Lisa into a hug. "I need to think about this," I said into her shoulder. "I need to really think this through before I make a decision that will screw up any of our lives."

"I know you do, but you should make your decision quick or we'll both be gone. Cas and I can't wait for you forever."

Lisa was always right, wasn't she?

Chapter Text

That night, Lisa and I went to bed together. She slipped under the covers, turned her back to me, and didn't say another word. I knew I didn't deserve anything more than this, but I couldn't escape the sting from that silent treatment.

She was angry and hurt and confused; she had a reason too. It wasn't fair that Cas came back into my life. We were happy, but now this part of my past was back. And I'd tried so, so hard to bury my past back in Glen Rock. I'd tried to forget about the good and the bad and only focus on this present life I had in Northam. Now I couldn't do that anymore.

I laid in bed, knowing I'd have to make a huge decision. I didn't know how I was going to, though.

How can I possibly choose between Lisa and Cas? How can I break one of their hearts and happily be with the other? I had three years with Lisa, and not even one with Cas. But if I'm being honest with myself, the love I felt, and still feel, for Cas is so much stronger than the love I feel for Lisa. Well, more intense. Does that mean our relationship would have burned out if we had the chance to see it through? Is it better that my feelings for Lisa grew more slowly? Besides, I don't even know Cas anymore. He could be completely different now, even though he has his memories back. A lot has changed for both of us. And his amnesia could come back, so being with him would be a huge risk. On the other hand, being with Lisa isn't a guarantee either. What if she decides I'm not right for her after everything? What if I choose her, but she doesn't choose me? What if I choose Cas, but he realizes he only loves the memory of me? What if I don't choose? Would I lose them both? Could I lose them both even if I do choose?

I touched Lisa's shoulder but quickly pulled my hand back. I needed to make up my mind first. It wasn't fair to act like we always have if I was considering ending this.

Am I even considering that, though? I don't want to break up with her. I want to be with Lisa. Cas can't change how I feel about her, just like she can't change how I feel about him.

I watched Lisa for a moment, smiling at her slow, even breaths that seemed too calm after everything that happened in the last twenty-four hours. I envied that she slipped easily into sleep, as if this decision that weighed heavily on my mind was nothing to her. And maybe it was.

What if Lisa didn't care one way or the other? It's not like she needs me. She's not Cas: none of her happiness relies on me, I only added to it. Either of us could walk away right now, and Lisa would be fine. She would still be living her life. She didn't depend on me at all, not like Cas did. He needed me in a way I couldn't begin to understand. So, wouldn't it be better to be with Cas if Lisa could live without me and doesn't care anymore. Maybe I've got it all wrong. What if she's just given up on me- on us- already? She's waiting for me to break up with her, she basically said so herself. She knows that I'm going to pick Cas but I don't. This is all so black and white to her: the right choice and the wrong choice. To her, she's the wrong choice, and she assumes I feel the same way. I don't think either are the wrong choice. I don't think I can say one is the right one, though. One can't be a better option for me when it'll leave the other heartbroken.

"I don't know what to do, Lis," I told her. "I love you both, yet I'm hurting you both by doing this. Just by second guessing and considering one of you, I'm hurting the other. Should I not be with either of you? Will that make everything better? If I can't decide, I don't deserve either of you." I rubbed at my face, dragging my palms slowly across my cheeks. "That's the worse idea, huh? If I won't choose to hurt one of you, I can't exactly hurt all three of us." I let my hands fall to my chest, one settling on my necklace I couldn't bring myself to stop wearing. "I just want to talk this all out with you. It's hard, though. This isn't the type of thing I should have to talk to you about. You shouldn't have to help me decide whether I want to be with you. But I need to talk to you and tell you what I'm thinking. I just don't know how."

Then I realized there was one person I could go to who would be removed enough from all of this to give me some advice. With a plan for the next afternoon and some hope for what would come next, I fell asleep.

■■■

Breakfast was awkward and tense. It felt like the beginning of our relationship all over again when we weren't sure how the other felt and were still questioning how we left things in high school. It felt worse than that, actually. It felt like the worst week after the worst break up with the person you spent every moment with. We were caught between having nothing to say and having too much to say, so we just passed each other in a heavy silence as we tried to make this normal. Lisa practically ran out the door when her food was gone. I finally could breathe again after that, which only made me feel more guilty.

And after the longest day of my life, I left campus for the portal office.

■■■

No one answered for a long time, so I was sure I had the wrong address, even though I'd been here a dozen times. Eventually, the door opened, and I was greeted with a hug.

"I missed you too, Jo," I laughed.

"You scared me so much when you didn't answer Tuesday." She punched me in the chest. "I thought something happened to you, you dick. I was trying to tell you something important, but you just ignored me for two days."

"Cas came to my apartment."

Jo froze. "Come inside. Zayn isn't home yet, so we can talk." She led me to the couch and crossed her legs under her. "What happened? He showed up at Mom and Dad's house pretty late asking for you. Zayn and I were over there when he knocked on the door, and I almost didn't believe it was him. We told him that you didn't live there anymore, and sent him to your apartment. I tried to call you, but you didn't answer me."

"I'm sorry. I was having a day already, so I let you go to voicemail, which was rude. But I talked to Cas, and he's back." I told my sister everything that happened, from the moment Cas knocked on the door to that morning when Lisa left. "I don't know what to do, Jo."

"You want my opinion?"

"Yes, please help me figure this out."

She bit her lip, then looked away from me. "I don't think you'll like what I'd tell you."

"Listen, if what you have to say will help me, I don't care how I'll feel. I just need to know whether or not I'm doing the right thing."

"Who are you worried about right now?"

I paused. Was this what I want going to like? "What do you mean?"

Jo sighed. "You just said you don't care about how you'll feel. That's not good. Yes, you're thinking about Lisa and Cas, but this doesn't only affect their lives. Whatever you choose to do will impact your future, and you need to make sure that's the future you want. Dean, you need to think about yourself in all of this. What is going to make you happy? Who is going to make you happy?"

"It's not that easy. If it was, I wouldn't be here, skipping my research time."

"Fine. When you think about life after graduation, is there someone you see yourself with? That family you want with the house and your job and the dog and the two point four kids. Can you see a future with one but not the other? Is there one person you think about more or one person you have more good memories with? Have you found more pros than cons for one? Do you think one will be worse without you in their lives?"

I didn't have to think about that last one, so I decided to answer it. "Cas."

"Why?"

"Well, he's not exactly in the best place mentally. I'm worried that me rejecting him could really hurt him. And I've put him through so much already."

"So you want to be with him for his safety?"

"No. Yes, but no." I pinched the bridge of my nose. "You know how I feel about Cas. And Lisa. That's why I came to ask your opinion."

She shook her head. "I think you already know what you're going to do. I think you just came here to justify it."

I didn't know how she was sure when I felt so clueless. "What am I doing, then?"

"I don't have to tell you that. You made up your mind before you knocked on my door. So why don't you go before it's too late?"

I nodded, already dialing Cas's phone number as I left Jo's house.

■■■

I hadn't been this nervous in my own apartment in a long time. The easiest way was to tell Lisa exactly how I felt and hope she agreed with my decision. I found her listening to music in our room, so I laid next to her.

She pulled out her earbuds. "Where have you been?" She wasn't angry, which was good.

"I went to talk to Jo about everything that's been happening."

Lisa didn't look away from the ceiling. "You're breaking up with me." It wasn't even a question.

"No."

She turned to me, her brows furrowed in confusion. "What?"

"I called Cas and told him that I'm dating you and that I love you. I told him that I was sorry but what we had was in the past and I have a new life with you. I love where we are and what we have. I can't lose it, even if Cas is back. We had our chance; now I'm with you." I stopped, realizing that I rambled on a bit. "I hope that's okay with you."

"I just can't believe it. I thought for sure you would go back to Castiel."

I took off my necklace, my ring already hanging from the chain with the pendant, and set it in my nightstand drawer. "I couldn't. Not when I love you so much."

Then Lisa kissed me, and everything felt right again.

Chapter Text

"Happy Valentine's Day," Lisa breathed out against my shoulder when I woke up. With the woman I loved in my arms on a day dedicated to love and happiness, you'd think I'd feel better. But the truth was that I never felt like celebrating this time of year. I knew Cas wasn't dead and that this wasn't the anniversary of his suicide, but I couldn't help how lost I felt. And this year was even worse. No, Cas wasn't dead, but I walked away from him for the third time since we'd known each other. Which wasn't long at all. I just felt guilty. Then I felt even worse when I thought about Lisa and how I should've been thinking about her.

"Do you want to go out tonight?" I asked her, trying to draw my mind away from the past. "I have to stop in the lab for a few minutes after my four thirty class, but I'm all yours after that."

Lisa hummed, her face pressed into my chest as she traced patterns on my ribcage. "I was thinking we could cook tonight. Maybe something fancy and ambitious that we'll screw up so bad we order pizza."

"Do you just want pizza?"

"I want to spend time with you and laugh at how bad we are at cooking, even though were pretty decent. I want to salvage salads from our disaster of a dinner because that was the only thing we didn't burn. I want to ignore the mess in the kitchen until tomorrow and get a pizza that has too much cheese from that place downtown that has a name but everyone calls that place downtown. I want to kiss you on the couch until the pizza comes, then we'll pick up where we left off once it's gone." Lisa's eyes lifted to mine, and she gave me a smile that walked the edge of sweet and seductive. "I just want you all to myself tonight."

The room dimmed, like a mood light being turned down slowly. The late morning sun faded into an evening sunset. I laughed, resting my cheek on Lisa's head. "Stop."

"Fine, fine," she conceded. The light returned to normal. "But tonight, I want to show you something I learned."

"I can't wait." I kissed her, and she smiled into my lips. Using her powers made her happy, and I loved to see Lisa happy. Light manipulation was a little strange to live with sometimes, but seeing Lisa's face when she turns out the lamp on the nightstand when I'm the one using it or when she learns new tricks makes it all worth it. She didn't understand how I could completely give up using my own powers, but it was too hard. I couldn't see fire without feeling myself being burned alive, the smoke burning my lungs and the flames blistering layers deep into my skin. Creating any type of flame made me sick, and I was tired of vomiting when I felt the heat from my powers running up my arms. My air and water control reminded me too much of Cas, and my strength didn't feel real after it was stripped away by Azazel. Maybe it was just a confidence thing, but I never felt strong after I couldn't save Cas from that monster, no matter how many pounds I could bench press. And I used my strength more than I realized, I knew that, but it wasn't as much of a conscious effort as my elemental control.

There may be a day when I could put everything behind me and use my powers like I used to, but now wasn't that time.

"So," Lisa started, bringing me back to the conversation we were having rather than the memories I tortured myself with, "what do you want tonight? I'll have to stop somewhere before I come home tonight."

"You know what? Surprise me."

■■■

From Lisa:
I'm prepping the oven now can't wait to make whatever the hell this is

From Lisa:
*cant wait to order pizza when this is a disaster

To Lisa:
Have some faith in us

From Lisa:
You think this will turn out edible??

To Lisa:
Oh absolutely not

Someone cleared their throat behind me, and I swiveled my chair to face Ash. He was looking down at me, holding a microscope slide. "I know it's Valentine's, dude, but can we get this over with. You're not the only one sho wants to get home tonight."

"You have plans?" I pocketed my phone to go back to my microscope. All I had to do tonight was check the counts of red and white blood cells from our two test subjects. We were lucky enough to have a professor with connections that gave us access to a facility that specialized in unstable paratas. There were only a dozen or so, but there were enough that we could study. One of their patients had just been moved to a new medication, so blood tests were sent from that patient and another who we were using as a control. Monday, we would be getting all kinds of test results to see if anything had changed in the six weeks she had been taking the new drug. But for now, we only had their blood tests. "Are you hiding a new partner from me?"

Ash sat at the microscope next to me, taking notes on the brain cells we received that morning from a paratas who was in remission. Apparently, the facility had been taking samples during their recovery period and had just been given permission to share them with us. Ash was having a field day all afternoon and was finally wrapping it up. "I just want to go home, okay, and I can't leave until you do because Professor will have my head if I don't lock up again."

We fell into silence for a long time until Ash finally shook his head and said, "I don't know what to make of any of this. I've gone through notes and test results and files and brain scans and these slides that have been taken over years, but this doesn't make sense. This patient isn't like the others. It's like their brain was ripped apart and had to grow back together on a cellular level. It's almost as if their neurons were pulled apart so they couldn't fire but grew back over time. I mean, some of this lines up with the other patients, but it's mostly just plain weird."

Their brain was ripped apart. Remission. Years. "Male patient?" I asked.

"Yes. How did you know?"

I didn't look away from the microscope, not even worrying about this slide of blood when my own was running cold. "Lucky guess. Was there memory loss with the patient's recovery? Maybe caused by severe trauma?"

"Dean, what's going on?"

I sighed, leaning back in my chair. "Why did you start this research with me? Like why specifically this subject when there are so many other things being studied in this building?"

"I had a friend back in middle school who had always had trouble with her powers. Since she first got them, she had no control over them. Every adult in her life told her she would get the hang of it soon, but she started getting paranoid and depressed and would lose what little control she had over her invisibility. It got so bad that she lashed out at a group of us when we were talking about getting her help and we didn't know she could hear us because she was invisible. She stabbed one of the boys in the back and paralyzed him from the waist down, broke my arm and shattered my knee, gave one girl a bad concussion, and almost killed the other boy by stabbing him with the same knife but in the shoulder. He almost bled to death, the girl missed about a week and a half of school, I've never been able to play soccer again, and the other boy is still in a wheelchair. I just remember her screaming and flickering in and out of sight before she ran out of the emergency door in the cafeteria. We found out that night that she killed herself, and I heard the word unstable for the first time."

"My God," I whispered.

"I want to find a cure so no one ever has to go through what we did. I owe it to Emily."

I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. "I get that."

"Why did you start this? It was your idea, so there has to be a story."

I picked up the PET scans laying between me and Ash. There was so little activity in his brain. Being unstable usually generates more activity, not less; I could understand why Ash was so confused. I handed him back the images. "He's my reason. I'm doing this to find a cure for people like him and so no one has to watch someone they love become unstable ever again. I needed to know why, of all people, it was him. I needed to know why he became unstable when I was the one with an unstable father. I needed to know how to help him if the doctors couldn't, and I needed to give him hope. If he couldn't remember who I was or what we had together, then I could at least be someone who have him hope."

"Taking on the impossible for one man." Ash shook his head as he collected his files. "You really loved him, didn't you?"

I sighed. "Yeah, I do."

Chapter Text

"God, the whole house smells like it's burning," I coughed. "It's almost the worst thing I've ever smelled."

Lisa looked genuinely uncomfortable, but she didn't comment on what I said. I guess she was used to my nihilism around this time of year. That kind of humor was the only thing getting me through the days sometimes.

"If I open another window, I'm not going to be able to feel my toes. It's already too cold in here." Lisa took that as an opportunity to move closer under my blanket.

"I don't have a problem with it." I pulled her into a kiss, feeling her smile into my mouth. "I'm actually pretty comfortable."

She rolled her eyes. "You would be." We lapsed back into an almost silence, the only sound coming from the movie we were supposed to be watching. After a while, Lisa sighed. "Are you though?"

"Uh... What?"

"Are you comfortable?"

I laughed, not sure where she was going with this. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, it's Feburary so it's pretty cold but I don't really-"

"That's not what I meant. I just- With us. Are you comfortable with us?"

"Of course. Why are you asking?"

Lisa moved away from me, pulling on the blanket in a way that probably helped gather her confidence. The fabric slid off my foot, but I didn't move to fix it. "Does all of this not feel forced to you? Like we're just doing what we think we've always done. But it's all wrong. It's like we can't remember who we were before Castiel came back."

"Are you not happy, Lisa?"

"I don't know." That's not what I wanted her to say. "I just- I don't know. I've been trying to forget that he came here and that you almost went back to him, but I can't. I can't get that out of my mind because I just feel like I'm your second choice. Like you're just settling for me, and the only reason you were with me in the first place was because you couldn't have him."

"Lisa, I'm with you because I love you and want to spend my life with you. I want everything to go back to the way it was too."

She made a gesture with her hand that I couldn't begin to understand. "But things can't just go back, Dean. There's nothing we can do to be those people again, and this is starting to feel like the better option." She tucked her hair behind her ear. "You're not the same since Castiel came back. You want to be with him so much. Anyone can see it. Don't you think this will be easier if you go back to him? Rather than pretend with me, you should just be happy with Castiel."

What? "Are you breaking up with me?"

I expected her to say no. I wanted her to say no so much. "Yes," she finally said with a heavy sigh. It was like she was holding her breath up until that point and could feel the air in her lungs again. She sounded lighter. "It's going to be best for all of us. I would love to be with you and get married and have kids like you want someday, but you won't be happy. Not like you would be with him. And I can't sit by when I know you're settling for me because you're scared of losing him again." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "I just want you to be happy, Dean, so go find him and tell him the truth before you do lose him. Don't miss anything else with him because you don't want to hurt me."

"Are you not going to let me have a say in this?"

"That's not usually how break ups work," she laughed. "Please don't make this harder than it has to be. You know this is the right thing to do. You'll be happy with Castiel, and I'll move on. I just want you to go to him before it's too late."

"Don't you think this is strange? You trying to get me back together with my ex?" I smiled, trying to keep the mood light. "Is this how break ups usually go?"

"Who else will take care of you? You're a hot mess."

There was too much quiet after that; it was almost tangible. "We'll still be friends, right?"

"Of course, Dean. You're hard to get rid of."

I tried to smile, but it wasn't working. "I don't want you to be right. I want to tell you that you're wrong and that you're who I should be with. I want to tell you that I'll be happier with you, but I don't know if that's true. And I just wish it was because that would be so much easier. A life with you would be so nice."

Lisa folded her legs under her. She didn't look away while I was talking, not how most people would in her situation. "But you deserve more than that. More than just a nice life."

"So do you. And I don't think I can give you that life you deserve." I gave her a sad smile, reaching out to take her hand. "It's too bad you're right."

"I always am."

"I'm really sorry, Lisa. I wish this could've worked out differently."

Lisa leaned in to kiss my cheek. "Don't be sorry. Just go and be happy so this isn't for nothing. Go get Castiel back."

And somehow, I brought myself to actually leave the apartment I'd spent years in. I left the woman I loved and was hurting by being with. I left a cooling pizza and a movie in progress. A few weeks ago, hell a few days ago, I wouldn't have been able to walk away from it all. I wouldn't have been able to take the risk. But now those inhibitions were gone. Lisa was pushing me to make what she thought was the right decision. She wanted me to be happy and thought that would happen with Cas. I still felt guilty about leaving Lisa, but this was her choice, which is probably why she broke up with me. God, that woman was amazing.

I grabbed a few things from our room and just left like I was going to work. It was such a simple action, yet it felt huge. This was going to be a turning point in my life, the moment I look back on in the future when thinking about life changing events. It felt like it should've been more difficult, but this huge point took barely a thought. One second, I was with Lisa watching a movie, the next I was on my way to the portal office.

All I could do was hope and pray Cas would take me back after all this time.

Chapter Text

It was too late to talk to Cas, but I didn't want to stay with Lisa. Things would be okay between us, and it wasn't even awkward right now. That didn't mean I wanted to spend the night at what I was already considering my old apartment. So I gathered a few things, making sure to take my necklace and ring, and took a portal to my parents' house.

Mom and Dad had always been a stay at home kind of couple, so I was very surprised to find Dad's car missing from the driveway. Before I could knock on the door, a pretty girl wearing one of Sam's shirts opened it. As usual, her ESP surprised me.

She smiled up at me, one of those grins my brother fell in love with. I racked my brain for the signs I hadn't used in a long time. Almost a salute, followed by Eileen's name sign for my family- the sign for hit using an e- which was a joke from how she met Sam, then pulling my finger down my lips and pointing to her. Hey, Eileen. I missed you.

She laughed at me, which meant I signed something wrong. "No, I'm not lonely, Dean. Your brother makes sure of that." Those type of comments always made me uncomfortable, but it was Eileen. She shared too much about my little brother just because it made me flustered. "I missed you too," she told me as she signed along. Ah, miss is on the chin, not the lips.

"I'm so glad you understand me." I glanced into the house where it looked like a movie was paused in the otherwise dark family room. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"It's Valentine's Day, Dean. You know that, right? Shouldn't you be with Lisa?"

I made a face somewhere between a wince and a frown. She reached out to touch my shoulder, and I knew she was using her psychometric power to see what had happened. At first, the idea that my brother's girlfriend could simply touch someone or something and see everything in their past made me uncomfortable; now, I expected Eileen to do it every time we saw each other. It was easier than me signing everything or her reading my lips.

Once she was caught up, which only took a second or two, she frowned. "Damn, you don't have good luck with Valentine's Day, do you?"

Thanks for bringing that up. I rubbed the back of my neck. "I guess not."

She turned around, obviously waiting for something to happen. Sure enough, Sam came down the hallway. He squinted at me, confused.

Before I could say anything, Eileen signed to Sam too fast for me to follow. Apparently, he understood because he signed back, almost as quickly. "What's going on, Dean?" Sam asked, signing along as he spoke. That was something he picked up when he and Eileen started dating. That way, if he was too far away, she could always understand him, even if she couldn't read his lips. He did it all the time now.

"I'm going to see Cas in the morning, so I was just going to crash here until tomorrow."

"And you couldn't stay at your apartment because...?"

Eileen glared at him, signing again. This time, I caught two words: broke and Lisa's name sign.

"Oh shit. Sorry Dean." He gestured for me to come inside. "There's some leftovers from dinner if you want anything. Eileen and I are watching a movie of you want to hang out with us."

"Do I want to watch what's probably a sappy romance with my little brother and his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, right after my own girlfriend dumped me? I think I'll pass." I started toward the stairs to my room. "I'm just going to head to sleep. But if I come down, I don't want to see anything going on between you two." That was definitely not a serious warning because my brother knew better than to fool around with his girlfriend on the couch in the room that didn't have a door. If he was going to do anything, which as his protective older brother I hoped he wasn't, he was smarter than that. But then again, I really didn't want to see anything happening if I went downstairs.

Sam gave me a thumbs up before turning invisible. "You won't see anything." He paused. "Shit. I just winked, but you can't see me." He came back into view looking very disappointed.

"I'm just going to go upstairs, okay?"

I smiled to myself when I heard Sam apologizing to Eileen, which laughed at. "Sam, I really don't care." He must have been apologizing about talking while he was invisible, something he's tried to stop doing so Eileen could still know what he was saying if she needed to read his lips. "I don't want you to stop using your powers because of me. Besides, you tell me everything you said anyways. Like I actually want to know the dumb things you say sometimes."

"I'm sorry I love you and want to include you in my conversations."

I decided to go to my old room before Eileen realized I was still on the steps. It was just so nice to see my brother happy. Part of me was jealous of what he had with Eileen, but I was mostly glad that he found someone so perfect for him. And it made me want that again even more.

▪▪▪

When I came downstairs, Mom and Dad were eating breakfast at the island. It looked like Sam wasn't awake yet. Dad pointed over his shoulder to the family room. "They were both asleep when we got home."

I went to the doorway to look over the back of the couch, and sure enough, there were Sam and Eileen. She was tucked into his chest, looking tiny compared to my brother.

"I'm surprised Eileen's mom was okay with her staying here." After Eileen's parents died in an accident, she was adopted by a woman who raised her like she was her own daughter. I think that's one of the reasons she and Sam get along so well, but I've never mentioned it. Eileen's mom was very protective over her, and I couldn't see her letting Eileen spending the night with any boy, especially her boyfriend.

Mom shook her head. "None of us wanted to wake her because she would insist on driving home. We called and told Lillian that she would be okay here and that we'd check on her every once in a while. She wasn't okay with it at first, but we convinced her." She patted the seat beside her, which I took. "So, what's going on with you? You said something about Cas last night. Did he come to see you?"

I told them everything that had happened over the past couple weeks, which, arguably, I should've told them about before now. They didn't complain about that, though; they just listened.

Once I finished, Mom frowned. "What are you doing here, then? Go find that boy and get him back, you dummy. Sitting around here with us isn't going to change anything."

I wanted to say something, anything, to buy myself some more time, but Dad nodded. "Your mother's right, Dean. You can't lose him again."

"Okay," I complied. "I'll see you guys tonight. And thanks for letting me stay until I get a new apartment."

"Just go, son. You can tell us thanks all you want when you've got Cas back."

▪▪▪

I knew I was doing the right thing, but standing on the Novaks' porch felt weird. Not wrong, just weird. So much had changed since I'd last been here: the dark brown accents had been repainted red, the flower pots by the doors were gone, and a new car was parked in their driveway. The twins are sixteen now, aren't they? I sure have missed a lot.

I knocked on the door, taking a deep breath to psych myself up. It wasn't Cas who opened the door like I expected. "Hey, Anna." She's grown up so much. Her hair is shorter than when I last saw her, almost up to her shoulders now. And she's wearing makeup- lip gloss and mascara. She's twelve now. I wish I would've been here to help her with starting middle school. I wish I would've just been here for them all.

"Dean? What are you doing here?"

She sounded really hostile. Was she mad at me? Of course she was. I was mad at myself. "Uh, I came to see Cas. Is he here?"

"He doesn't leave much. There's not really anywhere to go where he feels safe." She folded her arms over her chest. "What do you want? You made yourself pretty clear that you didn't want anything to do with Cas."

"I didn't say that, Anna. I just didn't think I could be with him, but I was wrong." She didn't look convinced or any less pissed off. "Could I just talk to him?"

"Whatever. Follow me." She took me through the house to the backyard, but no one was there. "Just wait here. I'll see if he wants to talk to you." She looked me up and down with a sneer. "I wouldn't."

I grabbed her wrist before she could walk away. "Listen, I'm sorry I wasn't here after everything. Cas didn't want me around, and it was just too hard to see him like that."

"And it wasn't hard for us?" Anna snapped. She took her wrist back, getting closer to me as she raised her voice. "It's been three years, Dean. You haven't visited or called or checked up on any of us. This has been the worst time of our whole lives, and you were gone. Michael's wedding was almost cancelled because his own brother couldn't remember him. Mom and Dad have been fighting so much because they're so stressed out. They're both overworking themselves so they can pay for Cas's hospital bills. We had a funeral for him that you never came to before he came back to us. Alfie got his powers last year, and we were in the hospital because Cas almost died. You said you loved him, but the second it got hard, you quit on him. You quit on us! And now you want to come back into his life like none of that happened? You don't deserve him. You can't just walk away from him, then come back when he remembers everything again."

"I wanted to stay, Anna," I told her gently. "I was going to stay with him until he got better, but he told me no. He told me that he didn't want me wasting my life on him. He broke up with me and told me not to come back. What was I supposed to do?"

"You were supposed to fight for him! You weren't supposed to leave us when we were so scared. You weren't supposed to go on with your life like nothing happened."

"Anna." We both looked back at the door. Cas was standing in a pair of sweatpants and an old shirt like he just woke up. "That's enough, come here." He didn't even look at me.

Anna looked like she wanted to tell at me some more, but she huffed and followed Cas inside. Then I was alone in their backyard. I sat down on the steps, looking around until someone came back.

The steps and the deck I was sitting on was the same new shade of red as the rest of the accents. The playset that Alfie played on during Anna's party was gone, replaced with a firepit and a group of chairs. I guess he was too old for his slide and swings now. Despite the cooler temperatures, there were still multiple different types of flowering plants lining the fence. I didn't know why that surprised me when Cas and Naomi had complete control over any kind of plant. Cas grew vines out of concrete; some chilly weather was nothing for him.

"I'm sorry about her." I faced Cas as he walked toward me. When I tried to stand, he shook his head. "Don't bother. I'd rather sit to talk."

I settled back down, and Cas joined me. "You don't have to apologize for Anna. She's right," I mumbled. I could feel him staring at me, but I kept my eyes on the grass by my feet.

"Dean, she's not. She knows that I was the one who broke up with you. She knows I didn't want you to see me like that when I didn't remember you. She knows everything, more than I do."

My eyes flicked to him, but I didn't let them stay there. I'd end up staring if I did. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"I have some pretty big holes in my memory. There's only a few flashes that I can remember after I left Glen Rock. What he did to me during those months... I don't think I'll ever know what happened. Not really. I mean, I've been told," he started fidgeting with his hands, rubbing circles into his palm with his thumb, "but they can only tell me so much. They only know from what you've told them." He paused until I looked back to him. "But I got off pretty lucky."

Was he serious? "Cas, you have amnesia and almost died multiple times. How are you lucky?"

"I can't remember anything. If I can't remember what happened or what I did, I can't be haunted by those memories. I can't stay awake seeing what I did or have nightmares that keep me from sleeping. Sure, I still feel guilty for everything, but not as much as I would if I could remember. Unlike you." He grabbed my wrist, the one with the scars lining my skin, and pushed up my sleeve. "I saw these a few weeks ago, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about them. Why didn't you have Ellen heal you? Why are you still living with this?"

"It was my choice, Cas." I rolled my sleeve back down to cover the scars. "You're right: I still have all of those memories, and I had to figure out how to live with them. This was how I did it." I sighed. "Could we talk about something else? I really didn't come here to fight about the past."

"Then what did you come here for?"

"I wanted-" Something caught my eye, and I stopped. "Are those fire lilies?"

Cas gave me a hesitant smile. "You recognize them."

"Of course I do." They were lining the firepit. I didn't know how I missed them before. "That was our flower."

"The first time they let me come home, I went and found the seeds for them and planted them in a pot in my room. It took them a long time to grow, and I almost killed them a dozen times, but I finally planted them out here. Mom helps me keep them alive in this weather, and Anna brings in bees to pollinate them."

I made a face that Cas didn't see. He was too busy looking at his flowers. "Why do you need their help? Are your powers okay?"

It was his turn to look at me funny. "You don't know?" My expression must have answered that for him because he pulled up the edge of his sweatpants. He still had a power blocking ankle bracelet. "I still had to face a trial for killing him. The judge agreed that I was acting on self defense and that I wasn't exactly stable, but I still have to pay for what I did."

"How long?" He didn't respond. "Cas, how long do you have to wear that thing?"

"I'm never allowed to use me powers again." My chest felt like I was just hit by a truck. He couldn't be serious. "We couldn't take any chances. If I became unstable again, I can't hurt anyone this time."

"I'm so sorry."

He shrugged. "I deserve it. Plus, I feel a lot better knowing everyone is safe around me." He shifted awkwardly. "But you still haven't said why you're here."

"I was wrong."

He raised an eyebrow. "About?"

"You. Us." I rubbed my hand over my face. "I-"

"I thought you wanted to be with Lisa," Cas interrupted.

"She broke up with me."

He nodded slowly, already jumping to conclusions. "So now you're here. I guess you decided you were wrong after that, huh?"

I grabbed his nervous hands. "Stop. She broke up with me because I wasn't happy. She knew I still loved you but felt obligated to stay with her so I wouldn't hurt her. I was just afraid to get close to you again because I can't lose you for a third time. I'm terrified that you could forget everything again. I don't know what I'm going to do if I make a new life with you, just to have it taken away again."

"So... what? Did you come here just to tell me that we couldn't be together? If so, I got that loud and clear when you called to tell me you were picking Lisa. I don't need the reminder."

"No. I came here to tell you that I'm terrified but I'm willing to give this another shot if you are. I'm willing to take this chance to be with you because I never stopped loving you."

Cas looked away, biting his lip. He stayed quiet for a long time, and I thought he was going to tell me it was too late. I was preparing for the rejection when he stood up, holding out his hand. "Come with me."

Chapter Text

"The gardens," I whispered, mostly to myself when Cas pulled into the parking lot. I had to admit, I was a little hesitant to get in the passenger seat after everything, but I trusted Cas. And besides, my curiosity overruled my concerns.

His eyes searched over the front of the building quickly, darting between doors and windows and blocks of stone like he was trying to memorize everything about it. "They helped." He left it at that, even though I didn't really know what he meant.

Cas fished keys out of his pocket, even though he just put them there when he got out of the car. It was like he didn't know that he'd need them to open the doors. "My bosses closed the gardens for the long weekend so they could take a trip for, uh, Valentine's."

He unlocked the door, and I followed him inside the open entrance that was lit by the glass ceiling. "Your bosses?"

"I started working here after about six months in the hospital. Home felt... wrong. Empty. I was missing so much, but I couldn't remember what I was missing." Cas motioned for me to follow him to the east wing of the gardens. "I didn't know who I was or what my life was like or what I liked to do for fun. It was just day after day of... nothing. I was so empty. But then, I remembered this place." He touched a leafy plant that I couldn't distinguish from the hundreds of other leafy plants in the room we were passing through. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed like it perked up in a way. But that couldn't be possible: Cas had no powers. "It wasn't even a memory. It was the flash of a camera burned into my eyelids just before it faded. It was there enough, then it was gone. I was so confused, and all I could tell my parents about the feeling was flowers. They didn't understand, they thought it was something about my powers, so I left the next morning to find whatever that building was. I was told I was gone for hours, but I just remember sitting in one of the rooms full of flowers. They found me crying with these long vines curled around me like they were caressing or consoling me." He stopped again, this time to let some type of plant, probably the vines he was just talking about, wrap gently over his hand. "My family was scared. They were afraid. I wasn't- I wasn't supposed to go back, but I had to. I felt safe here. So I kept leaving the house. Or running away, I guess. And, uh, they agreed after a week of this. Ralph and Maria started teaching me how to take care of the plants without my powers." We'd made it all the way to the end of the wing, so Cas hesitated for a second. "Do you, uh- Do you want to sit and talk?"

I nodded, letting him lead me to one of the benches in the center of the room. "How are you doing all this without your powers? I mean, the plants seem to think you still have them."

"I'm not exactly debilis, Dean. My powers are still there. I just can't use them. The plants know that, and I still have a connection with them." He met my eyes, and a shiver ran down my back. Only I couldn't tell if it was a good thing or a bad thing. "The doctors couldn't take that from me too."

It hurt so much to hear him like that. He was so broken and hopeless. He was blaming the doctors, yet they were the ones who saved him. Azazel was the one he should have been blaming. I didn't want to open those old wounds yet, so I let his last comment hang in the air for a minute before I said anything else. "And working here helped your memory?"

He looked at me for a long time, probably too long but I didn't mind. His eyes wandered over my face like they did outside of the gardens. I wondered if he was trying to keep this picture of me in his mind in case his memories started slipping away again. After a long sigh, Cas stared at his feet like he couldn't see me when he talked. "I was right here. It had only been a few weeks since I started working, though I wasn't doing much, and I was leaving for the night. But I stopped in front of those flowers," he pointed at some purple ones not too far from us, "and I couldn't stop staring at them. Then I just had this memory of us come back." Cas met my eyes, holding my gaze almost unnervingly. His expression was almost wild. "It was so strong, Dean. I passed out, but when I came to, I could still remember the way you laughed and the way the flowers smelled. And it was like all those months that got me nowhere never happened. Before, I'd given up. It didn't feel like I would ever be back to normal, and life felt pointless. But that day made me start fighting again. I wanted to be able to remember you because that one memory was so full of love and hope, and I wanted to feel that again. So I started fighting so I could remember how much I loved you and so I could tell you that I still do. I wanted to tell you that I remember the way you would kiss me and smile into my mouth and how your eyes are the most beautiful green when you wake up and that you are right handed and that your middle name is Ross. I wanted to fight to be the person I remembered again."

He trailed off a bit, letting his eyes fall back to the ground. There was something he wasn't telling me. "But you're not," I ventured.

Cas shook his head. "I can't go back to being him, no matter how hard I try, but I know who he was. I can remember him again. That's all I really cared about. You changed too. I can see it in every part of you. You're not the boy I remember." A light blush spread over his cheeks. "I don't even think I can call you a boy anymore."

"It's been three years, Cas. Of course I've changed. It was inevitable."

"Do you think those people could ever be together?"

I decided to answer honestly. "I'm not sure."

Cas nodded, his face looking like he'd given up again. I touched his shoulder as gently as I could. "But we won't know unless we try."

"Are you saying-"

"Yes."

His tired eyes searched my face, looking for something he must have found after just a few seconds. "Can I kiss you?" he asked quietly. He almost whispered, like he was afraid someone would hear.

I lifted my hand to his cheek, already bringing his lips to mine as a breathed out, "Absolutely." And there was nothing else that mattered right then and there. I just cared that I had Cas back in my life and back into my arms. The last three years had blurred into a type of monotony that Cas shattered so easily. I had to wonder if this is how my life should've always been. Had I not moved to Northam. Had I stayed with Cas during his recovery. Had I not let him go all those years ago on Valentine's. It was hard to find any fault in a life with Cas. I couldn't believe I ever let him go. All I knew was that I wasn't ever letting him go again.

Cas pulled away for a second, just to mumble, "Will you stay with me? I know you have school but-"

I cut him off with a short kiss. "I don't have class until Monday afternoon." And just like that, I felt everything change. It didn't matter, though; my old life was in the past now. This present, the future I could see again, was all I cared about. So I kissed Cas again because I had him back and we had three years of catching up to do.

Chapter Text

We left the gardens with an idea of where we were going with our relationship. It was something we wanted to fight for, no matter what problems we would be facing by doing so. But standing in Cas's bedroom after all these years made me rethink everything. It felt too real, too soon. How did I think I was ready for this? How did we think this could work? There was so much standing in our way. I couldn't-

"Dean?" Cas asked quietly. I hadn't moved from the doorway. Taking a breath, I went to sit next to him on his bed. "Is everything okay?"

"Just thinking." It wasn't a lie. I just couldn't tell him I was having second thoughts. Not until I saw where this was going.

"Are you hungry? It's almost one, and we haven't eaten." I nodded. "Okay, I'll be right back."

In the time it took Cas to make a few sandwiches, I panic texted my sister. I summed up everything that had happened since we last talked. It didn't take long for her to answer.

From Jo:
I swear if you mess this up again because you're overthinking everything I'm going to kill you. You obviously want this again so stop worrying and just be happy for once in your damn life. Dont make me come to Northam to smack some sense in you

Cas came in with two plates before I could text her back. "What are you smiling about?"

"Oh, just Jo." I shook my head. "She's being dumb." Cas handed me a plate then settled beside me. "Thanks," I mumbled.

"So you've heard all about me. What's happened since graduation?"

"Nothing interesting." He gave me a pointed look until I laughed and started talking. And I told him everything. From school to my family to Lisa. The only time he stopped me was when I brought up my research.

"You're studying stability in paratas? Why?"

I blushed, hesitant to tell the truth. That's what I told him, though. "I wanted to find a cure for you. And, uh, my team is researching a hospital with a few unstable patients. Your hospital."

"So-"

"You're one of our subjects."

Cas backed away from me, quickly putting as much distance between us as possible. "You've been studying me all this time? Am I just some lab rat for you to experiment on? Is that what this is? Just some new variable for you to test on me? That's just cruel. Are you just going to go home to Lisa and tell her-"

"Stop!" He pursed his lips in annoyance but stopped talking. Moving closer to him, I reached out to touch his cheek. "We just got all of your information yesterday. All the names and most of the personal information is censored before we get anything. If I didn't know you, I would have never known it was you." I took his hands. "This isn't for an experiment. I just want to be with you again. I love you, Cas. I would never betray you for my research, even though you're the reason I started studying biology. That research means nothing compared to you. I just wanted to tell you because I haven't given up on you, and with your test results and recovery notes, we'll be so much closer to a cure. But if you don't want to be a part of this, I can send you information back tomorrow."

"No. Sorry, I was just scared. It's been so long and- Keep going with the research. Find a cure in case this recovery is temporary."

"It won't be." I had no evidence to support that, but it felt right. There was so much uncertainty in that moment, but there were two things I was sure of. Cas wasn't going to lose his memories again, and we were terrified to take this any further. That had to change before we could be together again. We couldn't be afraid anymore. "I don't know how this will work with us. Between college and your appointments and just life in general, I don't know how we can do this. But, Cas," I told him as I took his hands, "I love you, and I'm willing to do whatever you need. I want to be with you, however I can."

"Could we just- take this day by day? Let the future happen? I don't know what to do either, and I just want us to be happy. So could we just focus on right now?"

"What do you want to do, then? Right now?"

He broke out into a shy smile, like he was embarrassed to ask for something. It didn't matter what that request was; I'd do anything for Cas. "Could we just talk? I want to hear about your life and get to know you again and fall in love with you all over again."

I was prepared to go to the ends of the earth for him, but all he wanted was to talk. Strange. Something so simple seemed like the most intimate thing we could do right then and there. I'd never been so happy to talk in my entire life.

▪▪▪

That night, as I lay with Cas's head on my chest, I finally felt at peace. Stress that had piled up over the years just melted away, stress I didn't realize I was carrying around until it was gone. And it was all Cas. I was so worried about him before, but I didn't have to worry now. I had him in my arms again, and I wasn't letting him go. I made myself a promise that I'd always be there for him. I couldn't walk away anymore, even if it felt like the right thing to do. Who knew what would happen to us if we lost each other again?

It was like Cas could feel me thinking about him. "Dean?" he asked quietly, his rough voice deeper as he began to slip into sleep. "Are you awake?"

"Yeah, just thinking."

He let out a barely audible sigh. "I want to live with you like we did in high school. I don't want to sleep alone anymore or wake up not knowing if you're okay. I just want to live a normal life with you."

"Well, I have to move anyways. Why don't we look for a place together? We'll start building our new lives there, and we can be as normal as you want."

Cas's arm tightened around my stomach. "Are we really doing this? Are we going to be together?"

"You had your chance to get rid of me. You're stuck with me now."

"Good."

▪▪▪

"It looks like you've been here forever."

I looked around the apartment- my new apartment I bought with Cas- and laughed a little. "It's been almost two months, Cas. You act like I should still have boxes everywhere. Speaking of... Is this the last one?" I kicked aside the box I set down on my last trip from my car to the living room so I could set down the one in my arms. Things I don't really need, the top read. There was also SUMMER in Anna's handwriting on one, books I can't leave on another, and one that just said no. I tried to ask about that one, but Cas shot me down every time I brought it up.

Cas put down his box labeled Don't Even Unpack and nodded. With a wide sweep of his arm, he said, "Here's my whole life. At least, the important parts."

"Three of these boxes are books."

"Like I said."

I laughed. "Where are we going to put all of them, Castiel? We don't have enough shelf space."

He shrugged. "Should we start unpacking? There isn't a lot to do, so we should get it done quick."

I stepped closer to him, pulling him in by the waist. "Or," I said quietly, leaning in, "we could not unpack until tomorrow and do something else. I haven't seen you in a month, and I missed you." Cas had to talk to his doctor about moving to Northam with me, which brought on a whole new round of testing and procedures. Between all of his appointments and hospital stays and my final exams, we hadn't seen much of each other. But that was about to change, and I got to see the man I love every day.

I kissed Cas, but he pulled away with a smile, just enough to talk. "You know I have an appointment with Dr. Tracy tomorrow. I'd like to move in sometime this week."

I started kissing up his neck, which he scoffed at but happily let me continue. Between kisses, I told him, "We'll unpack the day after that then. Come on, Castiel. I missed you."

"I missed you too," he finally admitted, wrapping his arms around my neck. "And dealing with all these boxes sounds much less fun than kissing you."

I pulled him against me, taking in the feeling of his body on mine. After so long of not even imagining that this would be possible and two months of a painfully distant relationship, I was so excited to have Cas right here. He was all mine, and we had no plans until dinner. "You know, I don't think you've seen our bedroom yet."

"I haven't, but I'd love it if you'd show me."

I smiled into his mouth as I kissed him again before pulling on his wrist. Leading Cas down the hall to our room felt so normal, like every day was like this. But I couldn't even think about any of that right now. Every semi intelligent thought just dissolved when Cas pressed his body against mine, kissing me forcefully.

"I missed you so much," he breathed out heavily when we parted. "I was so scared that- I didn't want them to keep us apart." There was genuine fear in his eyes: he was still afraid his doctors could keep him from moving to Northam. Tomorrow was his initial appointment to check that the move wasn't too much on his still healing mind. All it would take was one word from Dr. Tracy for Cas to have to move back with his family. "I can't lose you, Dean."

"I'm not going anywhere," I assured him. I sat on the edge of our bed, pulling Cas in by the hips. "And neither are you. This is where we belong."

▪▪▪

Sleep came easily that night. After such a long day, Cas and I both practically collapsed into bed after dinner.


It was almost three in the morning when I woke up from my dreamless sleep. There was a moment of confusion as I stared in the silent darkness, wondering why I was awake so early. Then I heard it again.

Cas was talking in his sleep, but it got louder and louder the longer it went on. He was mumbling my name, telling someone no again and again, saying bits of what was going on in his head. He was reliving that night with Azazel.

I wanted to shake him awake, but he started screaming and jerked himself out of sleep before I could.

"Cas?"

He looked around like he couldn't figure out where he was. He started breathing heavily, so I pulled him into my arms.

"Cas, it's okay. Hey, hey, you're okay." I smoothed down his hair when he buried his face in my chest.

His arms tightened around me. "Dean," he hiccuped. "It felt so- so real. I-" Cas broke down into sobs, and I just didn't know what to do. "I thought I lost you. It felt real, and I- I thought you were gone. And I just-"

"Shh. I'm right here. Castiel, I'm not going anywhere." I kept murmuring what I hoped were soothing remarks until he stopped crying and shaking. I kissed the top of his head. "Whatever you were dreaming wasn't real, but it's over now. I'm right here. I'll always be right here for you. Nothing will change that; no one can stop me from being here for you."

"I'm sorry." Cas tried to back away from me, but I pulled him into my chest again. I felt him relax against me after a moment like he'd been fighting against letting me support him. But he seemed too tired to fight anymore, so I held him close while he talked. "I didn't mean to wake you up. You should go back to sleep. I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing, Cas. You didn't do anything wrong." He moved his head, and his forehead brushed against the skin showing from beneath my shirt. I didn't realize how hot he was or how much he was sweating. "Are you feeling okay?" My mind immediately jumped to his appointment that was in just a few hours. Was this because of his brain trauma? Could he be sent back to California? I realized that I was freaking out, so I calmed down before I said anything else. "Do you feel sick?"

He slipped out of my arms. This time I let him. "Just tired. I just want to go back to sleep."

"Okay. Come here." I laid back down, holding out my arms. He didn't protest, just tucked himself into me, making himself as small as possible. I wondered what he was thinking, but I didn't push him that night. I just wanted him to get more sleep before his appointment. "I love you, Castiel. You know that, right?"

"Yes," he replied, already drifting out of consciousness. "Love you too."

And even though Cas had no trouble getting back to sleep, I couldn't. It took hours for me to let myself get close again, though I never actually fell asleep. Every time I tried, I felt Cas shift in my arms or heard him make a sound, and I was wide awake again. By morning, I felt like shit, but knowing Cas was okay made it a bit better. I promised myself that I'd sleep through the night when I knew Cas would get to stay with me. Until then, I could get through a shift at work while Cas was in Maryland for the day.

Everything will be better tonight. I just have to hold on until then.

Chapter Text

After a week of Cas living with me, I should've been fine. Taking him to his next appointment shouldn't have been a big deal. This was just a routine check up. The doctors weren't going to take him from me. Nothing bad was going to happen. I kept telling myself that as I got ready and went with Cas to Maryland. I was still telling myself that while I walked in the hospital.

I think the worst part was that Cas was so calm. He moved through the halls of the hospital like a ghost, his movements mechanical and branded into his muscle memory from years of repetition. And he was so, so quiet. I tried to start up a dozen conversations, yet none lasted longer than a few exchanges. From the moment I woke up with Cas staring blankly at the ceiling to when his name was called to see Dr. Tracy, he didn't say more than a few dozen words.

Waiting in the tiny room just outside the stability center of the hospital, I took Cas's hand. He jumped at the touch but relaxed with a sigh.

"You know you can talk to me, right?" Cas kept staring at the checkered tiles that created a border around the walls like they were the most fascinating things. He nodded. "Because it just feels like there's something wrong, but I have no idea what that is. If something happened, you can tell me. I'm just worried."

His eyes drifted shut, and he said quietly, "Nothing's wrong. I just-"

"Castiel Novak." We both turned to the door where a nurse was standing. He smiled at Cas, who he probably knew after all these years. "The doc is ready for you." We both stood to follow the man to wherever Dr. Tracy was, but he stopped me at the doorway. "Sorry. Family only."

I nodded but watched dumbly as the nurse put a hand to Cas's shoulder and guided him out of sight. Cas didn't even look back at me. I expected some type of apologetic look, at least. Maybe even a goodbye. Instead, all I got was a pitying smile from a father waiting with his daughter on the other side of the room.

"Tracy is pretty strict about that rule," he told me as I sat back down. "Don't take it personally."

The little girl who looked about Alfie's age, maybe a year or two younger, crossed her legs in the chair. I couldn't help but notice the power blocking bracelet on her ankle like Cas had. "Is Castiel okay? I haven't seen him in a while."

I smiled at her. "Yeah, he's doing much better. Do you know him?"

She looked at me like I was dumb. "Of course, I do. Everyone knows Castiel."

"Kate, don't be rude," her father scolded. Turning to me, he explained, "Castiel is kind of famous here. His recovery was all anyone talked about when we came to MHC."

"He was really nice to me when my powers started going crazy. And even though he had his own problems, he always made sure I was doing okay." She picked at her shoelaces. "Even if he never remembered my name, he always talked to me to make me feel better. He told me that these," she stuck out he foot, showing me her power blocking bracelet, "were our friendship bracelets, which made me feel better at the time. They just suck now," she mumbled.

"How do you know Castiel?" the man asked.

"I'm his boyfriend."

He looked slightly uncomfortable after that, but he continued to talk to me. I was so amazed by how many people could be so unsettled by my sexuality. After a few minutes of awkward conversation, Kate was called into the halls of the stability center.

"Bye Castiel's boyfriend," Kate told me as she left. And I couldn't fight back my smile. Kids are great.

I sat alone for a long time in that waiting room, so my mind started to wander quickly. And of course, the first thing mid drifted to was Kate then to having kids of my own. It was always a topic my family asked me about, but mostly Jo. When Lisa and I were starting to get serious, she was the one who started asking about marriage, which led to the conversation about having kids. Lisa told Jo point blank one day that she didn't want to have any, and that definitely put some kind of strain on our relationship. Because I wanted to be a dad. I didn't care if they were my biological children or if I adopted, but I'd always wanted to be a father. I wanted to be a parent that Mom and Dad would be proud of. And maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I wouldn't end up like John, which was always a fear of mine growing up.

That was a conversation I wanted to have with Cas, but I didn't know how to bring it up. We'd only been together for a few months, so I wasn't sure if it was too soon. We hadn't talked much about the distant future. Lately, Cas was too focused on the day by day stuff to think long term. With all of his medical issues right now, I didn't even know if he would want to talk about marriage or kids. It just felt like we had bigger things to worry about.

I looked around at the room I was in, folding my hands in my lap and letting out a frustrated huff.

If this was what our lives were going to be like- constant doctor monitoring and hospital visits- how could we focus on a baby?

And the second the thought passed through my head, I felt guilty. It's not like any of this was Cas's choice. I was sure that if he had his way, we wouldn't be spending our weekends at the hospital and he would be focusing on giving other people medication, not himself. It was just so hard to focus on the positives sometimes. I was afraid Cas could relapse, and I'd lose him for good this time. I was trying to enjoy the moments I had with him instead of worrying. I really was. But times like this made it difficult. I mean, even Cas was worried.

Leaning my head against the wall, I told myself to snap out of it. Cas is fine. Thinking like this isn't going to help him, though. I'm just going to get stressed out, which is going to make everything worse. I need to think on the bright side. Until Cas tells me otherwise, he's healthy and happy. I get to see him every day. I love him, and he loves me. Nothing will change that.

I got an idea after another couple minutes of doing nothing. There was a brief text exchange with Ash, then the door was opening again. I waited for Cas to talk with one of the women at the front desk before I went to him, just in case he wanted some space for a few more minutes. I really didn't want to suffocate him.

That's also why I waited until he started talking before I said anything. We were settling into my car when he spoke up. I fastened my seatbelt, then turned to him, hoping he was going to talk. "Everything's okay, Dean."

I let out a breath I must have been holding. "Thank God. Why didn't you say anything before?"

Cas looked out the window at the parking lot. "I just really hate this place. I didn't realize I was being so quiet until a minute ago. Sorry."

"No, don't apologize." I started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, heading away from the hospital and toward Texton's portal office. "So, everything's okay?"

"Yeah. Dr. Tracy says my mind is doing good. He didn't see any problems, so he's going to keep my meds where they are. The bracelet is still doing its job, but he said I'll have to replace it soon. Uh, as long as nothing happens that we should be worried about, he only wants to see me every month again."

I smiled at him, but quickly turned back to the road when I saw he was still looking out the window. "Well, it sounds like we should celebrate then."

Cas looked at me, which I could only see out of the corner of my eyes. "Celebrate? What do you have in mind?"

I didn't say anything for a few seconds, just humming in response. Then, I told him simply, "Oh, you'll see."

Chapter Text

I made Cas close his eyes before we went inside the apartment, partially because I had no idea what it would look like. I led him inside with my hand pressed against his back, shutting the door behind us.

"Can I open my eyes now? I'm getting kinda nervous."

I laughed, moving his hands from his face so he could see the kitchen and living room. Candles lit up both rooms, and the air smelled like roses and Mediterranean food. The latter was explained by the take out sitting in the living room, but I wasn't sure where the flower scent was coming from. I was hoping it was the candles and Ash didn't lead rose petals to the bedroom or something ridiculous like that. I took Cas's hand when he was still staring in slight shock and took him to the living room where Cas's favorite falafel and gyros were waiting. A quick glance down the hall confirmed that Ash didn't take my request a little too far.

"How did you-" Cas shook his head, trailing off. "You know what? I don't want to know how. Just- Thank you." He pulled me into a kiss before huffing out a quiet laugh. "You don't understand how much I've been craving Ali's."

I put my hands on his waist and pulled him against me, smiling down at him. Not that I had to look very far down. I still wasn't used to how tall he'd gotten over the years. "You've talked about gyros four times this week. I got the hint after Monday."

Cas's cheeks turned a light pink as he ducked his head. "Sorry."

"Hey." When he wouldn't look at me, I tilted his chin so he had to. "You don't have to apologize to me. Ever. Especially if you're trying to apologize for talking about something you like. If it makes you happy, talk about it as much as you want because I love seeing you happy."

"But I feel like I'm being annoying."

"Well, you're not," I told him simply. I kissed him on the cheek and let him go so he could sit on the sofa. "Give me just a minute."

He gave me an odd look but didn't protest while I went into the kitchen. I came back with two wine glasses, which made Cas's confusion turn to nervousness.

"Wine?" Cas asked hesitantly, though he took one of the glasses from me.

"I thought we should celebrate." But there was that look again. "You can have alcohol right? With your treatments, I mean."

Cas stared down into the reflective red surface. "Uh... yeah. It's just that I've never really had any before, at least not that I can remember."

"You don't have to drink it if you don't want to, Cas."

He shook his head. "No, it's fine. I, uh," he laughed, "I just didn't realize I could drink. Legally, I mean. I don't really feel twenty-one. That probably sounds stupid."

"You were in the hospital for three years with memory loss, so I don't blame you for feeling like you're not twenty-one. I mean, I have no excuse but I can't even tell you what the date is most of the time." I ran my thumb over the rim of my glass, leaning back into the sofa. "Last week, I told Sam that I was nineteen. So I get that." Cas laughed a little, which I couldn't help but smile at. I held out my glass for him to tap against his.

"Are we toasting to something?" he asked, but went along with me.

"Absolutely. To you and your health."

Cas grinned. "To you and your research. And to us."

I just watched him adoringly for a moment. "To us," I repeated.

▪▪▪

After finishing our dinner and talking for who knows how long, we ended up laying on the sofa and continuing our quiet conversation. Cas was curled into my side, his head resting on my shoulder where my arm curved around his back and one of his legs thrown over mine. He was draging his foot across my calf in our moment of silence as our conversation took a natural break.

I pressed my lips to his temple. "How would you feel about dessert?"

He hummed happily in response. "I'd love you forever if you said you have rocky road ice cream."

"Lucky me then."

I made an effort to get up, but Cas's arm tightened around my stomach. "That sounds great, but this is even better."

"I'll be just a minute," I promised.

He sighed a little too dramatically. "Fine."

"One minute," I told him again, kissing his cheek when I got up, "then I'm all yours."

"Would it be wrong," he started when I walked into the kitchen, "if we didn't do anything tomorrow? I just want a peaceful day with you."

That sounded nice. Maybe we could watch some movies and pop some popcorn. Maybe Cas could cook something like he'd been wanting to since we moved in together. Well, Cas was complaining about not having anything to cook with, so that wouldn't work. We were definitely going to have to go shopping to get some food and whatever else he needed. Maybe we'll just get a pizza or Applebee's or something. "Shit," I mumbled. I licked the ice cream off my hand then sighed. "We promised your family that we'd have dinner with them tomorrow."

Cas let out a noise that was muffled by what sounded like the sofa cushion. "Why?"

"It was your idea."

"You shouldn't let me make decisions, Dean. I thought you'd know this by now." I decided not to even start on that comment. "What can I do to get out of this?"

"Nothing." I pushed one of the bowls aside and started on the other. "It's your family, Cas. Don't you want to see them?"

"Trust me, over the past three years, I've seen them too much. You don't understand how much I like being with just you instead of my entire crazy family." He got quiet for a second. "I like this so much better."

And I don't know why, but I took a chance and brought up the topic I'd been thinking about since Cas walked back into my life. "But is this enough for you?"

"What do you mean?"

The last scoop of ice cream. Two spoons. I couldn't bring myself to face Cas just yet, so I stared at the bowls until I gathered enough courage to talk again. "Just us. Is that enough or do you want more? Do you want to move to a house one day with a big yard like you grew up with? Do you want a garden in the backyard and enough room for a dog like you used to talk about? Do you want kids someday? Or is this enough for you?"

I didn't notice until I was done that Cas had come into the kitchen too. "Right now, being with you is enough." He walked to me, but I didn't turn to face him. I didn't know if I could, so I just let him stand at my side. "But that's obviously not enough for you." His voice was strained, like it hurt to say that. And I realized how it probably sounded to him. You're not enough.

"It's just that I want a family."

"And we can't be a family on our own?"

I finally faced him. Oh God, he looked like he was going to cry. I brushed my fingers across his cheek. "Of course we can. I want to be a dad, though. Don't you?"

He shrugged. "I don't know." Cas's eyes closed, and he took in a shallow breath. "I just- Who would want me as a father? I mean, I can barely take care of myself. I'm such a mess. I can't take care of a kid with all of my issues. And what would I tell them about my powers when they'd ask? They would be so embarrassed to have an unstable paratas who can't use their powers as a father."

I pulled him into a hug. "You'd be such a great dad, no matter what problems you've gone through. And that kid would have to understand the situation and what happened to us back in high school. They'd love us so much, they wouldn't care that you can't use your powers and I don't use mine."

"You've still never told me why you don't use yours anymore."

I ran my hand over his hair. "Oh, that's a conversation for another time."

Cas nodded into my shoulder. "Okay, as long as we can save the other conversation for later too. Can we just be happy with what we have for now?"

"I am happy, Cas." But I was definitely going to hold him to that. I wanted to know how he saw our future together. I suppose I could wait. "I'm so, so happy to be with you again. And right now, you're all I need."

Cas pulled away but only far enough to see my face. His arms were still wrapped around my waist like he didn't want to let go of me. "But how long will you be okay with that? How long before you want more? What if I'm not ready?"

"Then I'll wait until you are ready." I pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I told you a long time ago that I'd wait for you, no matter how long. Nothing's changed."

"I want a future with you, that I know for certain."

"That's good," I laughed, "because I'm not letting you go again." With my hands on either side of his face, I met him in a kiss. I felt Cas grasping at the back of my shirt as he deepened the kiss as if he still wasn't sure I was real. And I had to admit, I was having trouble keeping track of reality in that moment too. It felt too much like a dream. But Cas was actually there in our kitchen, kissing me like it might be our last.

I couldn't say how long we were standing there, but I had to pull away to catch my breath for just a moment. "What happened to wanting ice cream?"

"This is so much better." Cas kissed me quickly, then took my hand as he led me to our bedroom. In the rush of everything, I unconsciously put out the candles filling the rooms. I didn't know about that until morning, but I was glad my powers made sure our apartment didn't burn down. That was the first time I used them for more than just extra warmth in so long. I didn't know how I did that without realizing. I did notice, though, that Ash put a few candles in our room too. Not as much as the living room but still.

"They're everywhere," I laughed.

"It's so over the top. Who even owns this many candles?"

"We do now." Pulling him against me again, I kissed him gently. Cas's arms looped around my neck, then he took over the kiss, turning it from something soft and gentle to one that was a bit rushed and forceful. "Are you okay?" I asked once I got my bearings. Cas had pushed me back onto the bed and ended up in my lap, though it all happened so fast. I honestly couldn't remember how it all happened.

"I'm great. I just really want this."

It took me longer than it should've to figure out what he was saying. "Oh, are you sure? We've never- Does this have to do with what I was saying earlier? Because I don't want to push you into anything you don't want to do."

Cas cut me off by kissing me. "You're not," he said quietly. "This is what I want." There was some hesitancy in his eyes. Maybe he wanted to make sure that's what I wanted too. So I nodded, which made Cas kiss me again, though it didn't go very far. It was kind of hard for him to kiss me when he was smiling and laughing as he tried to unbutton my shirt.

Finally, I did it myself. Before my flannel hit the floor, Cas's fingers were trailing over my chest and down my stomach. "You're so beautiful."

Suddenly, I was seventeen again. I felt like I was back in gym class seeing Cas for the first time and being struck by how perfect he was, even though I was trying to tell myself those feelings were nothing but faint interest. I was back at that coffee shop the second day of school when he was sitting across from me with his fuzzy bed head and those glasses I loved so much and I knew he was something special. I was back to our first date, our first kiss, when I started falling so fast for this boy who practically stumbled into my life by accident. I was just staring at Cas, trying to swallow the lump in my throat, trying to say anything. I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me and how he's changed my life and that I didn't know who I'd be without him. But all that came out was a small, "I love you so much."

And it was my turn to kiss him, except I wanted it to last. I wanted that moment to go on forever.

But right as I was moving to take off Cas's shirt, a bolt of lightning lit up the room, followed by a deafening clap of thunder. Cas practically jumped off my lap, then turned to me with the most panicked expression.

"It's alright, Cas. It was supposed to rain," I promised. "There's nothing to worry about." I was acting like I wasn't unsettled by storms for the longest time and acted the same way.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so jumpy." Before I could reassure him that it was okay, his lips were on mine. Until the next lightning strike, that is. After that, Cas carefully moved off of me and crossed the room. I followed after him, but I didn't know he was crying until he turned and hugged me.

"You can talk to me, Cas. You can tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing." He let out a shaky breath. "I'm being stupid. And you shouldn't have to deal with me. You should be able to kiss someone without them freaking out over thunder. I'm sorry."

"I'm not dealing with you, Cas. I want you to understand that. I love you, and I understand that this is going to be hard for you. I understand that you're still healing and will need time to get back to normal with some things. I understand that you might not ever get there with others. But you can take every second you need, and I will be right here beside you because that's where I want to be." I hugged him tighter. "This is exactly where I want to be, okay? And you never have to apologize. You've done nothing wrong."

Cas pulled away from me, wiping his eyes quickly. "Can we just go to bed?"

"Yeah, of course."

I thought once we did, he would distance himself from me and try to handle everything on his own, but he didn't. Cas laid with me under our blankets, almost how we were laying earlier, and stayed close to me until I fell asleep.

But right before I did, I heard Cas mumble, "I love you." The sentiment sounded too sad coming from his lips in that moment. I never wanted to hear him like that again.

I wanted to tell him so many things, but I was already losing consciousness. All I could manage was, "I love you too, Castiel."

Chapter Text

A month or so after Cas moved in with me, I found him staring intently at his laptop when I came home from work. I shrugged off my coat and dropped my things on the table before I joined Cas on the sofa. His hair was messy and he was still in his pajamas. "What's going on? You look very focused."

He closed his laptop, slid it onto the coffee table, and held out one of his arms. I wasn't exactly sure what he was wanting, but I took it as an invitation to lay on his lap. "I was," he replied, combing his fingers through my hair, "until you interrupted me." His tone was light, though; he wasn't mad that I pulled him away from whatever he was doing. "Why are you home so early?"

"I'm not. I always get home at seven when I work." I knew I hadn't been working much for the past month with exams and life with Cas settling down, but I thought my schedule had been pretty routine lately. I thought Cas knew when I got home by now.

"It's seven already?" He squinted out the window. Cas told me that when he was in the hospital, he had one of the specialized healers improve his eyesight. His contacts were giving him terrible headaches, and he said his glasses were destroyed in the fire that night. It was just easier to fix his eyes than to get new glasses, though it was a bit more expensive. That was his only regret, he told me: making his parents spend more money on him. But every once in a while, I'd catch him squinting like he couldn't see again. Cas claimed it was just a habit. "I must have lost track of time."

"Must have been important."

"I was looking for a job," he said casually. "But now I'm hungry. What are you thinking for dinner? Over the weekend, I got some-"

I stopped him. "Wait. Back up. You're getting a job?" I sat up so I could face him. "Since when?"

Suddenly Cas looked extremely bashful. "Well, I've thought about it for a while. It's just that you're working and paying all the bills. I feel like I need to help somehow, even if it's a part time job."

"Cas, you need to take this slow, remember?" The idea of him taking on too much and having a relapse of his unstability made me uneasy. It terrified me, actually. "Dr. Tracy said-"

"I know what he said. But he also said that I should make this transition as comfortable as possible, which means I need constants in my life." He reached for my hands, squeezing them gently. "You are one of those constants, but I need more of them. I need something else to ground me from day to day. I really think working a little will help me."

"Okay. If you're sure about this, I support you. I'll help you however I can."

And just like that, Cas moved on to a new conversation. He acted like working, which could cause all kinds of stressors that can affect him, wasn't any more important than the conversation about dinner that followed. I, on the other hand, could couldn't let it go.

While we were laying in bed that night, I ran my fingers down his back. "Are you still up?"

"Yeah. Why?"

I continued to draw shapes on his back. "What kind of job are you wanting? Do you want to go back to school?"

He hummed against my chest. "Well, I can't exactly go into the medical field like I wanted. People wouldn't want to go to a doctor who has been unstable and could forget all of their training at any moment. Even I wouldn't trust myself."

How can he say that? Sure, people are judging and can be unforgiving, but he can't give up. Not after everything he's been through. "Cas-"

"No, it's fine. I've accepted it by now." He let out a sigh that sounded more content than upset. "Time to move on to a new dream."

"Would you want to study something else? I'm sure you could get in anywhere you wanted. They'll understand why you only have half your credits for senior year if you include that in your application." I was already thinking about how he could present himself to an admission team that would land him a spot in college. I got a little ahead of myself, though.

"Dean, I made up those classes while I was in the hospital."

Huh. I don't know why I didn't think about that. Why didn't I know about that? Cas has his diploma. "Oh."

"I don't think I'll go back to school, though. I could start writing for a magazine or newspaper without a degree." He snuggled into my chest. "I already have a portfolio, so I'm pretty much set to start applying. I just have to find somewhere to work."

I knew there were plenty of things to comment on, but I could only focus on one. "I didn't know you write." How many things do I not know about Cas?

"Yeah. In the beginning, it was a sort of therapy I started a few years ago. The doctors told me to write down every memory I had in as much detail as possible, even if it was just a flicker of a memory." He let out a puff of air. It was almost a laugh, but not quite. Whatever it was made me smile. "You were the first thing I wrote about, actually. But it helped me hold onto those memories, and it just made me feel better, so I started writing about other things when I was stressed out or frustrated. When I couldn't remember my own life, I started writing about other people's. I've actually had a few things published."

"Really?"

"I was a sort of oddity back in Claydon," he explained, "so everyone loved to read what was going on in my life."

I was struck by just how much of Cas's life was a mystery to me. It wasn't that he was hiding things from me; there was simply too much for him to tell me everything. There was so much that I felt like I should know but didn't. Did he still like the bands he put on my mixtape back in high school? Was his favorite color green or was there something in the hospital that ruined it for him? Could he still recite musicals line by line? Was his favorite superhero still Captain America? Had he watched the recent Marvel movies? Should I even bring up the latest Avengers movies? I don't think I want to watch Cas respond to Bucky in Infinity War. There was just so much I didn't know. I didn't know how I was supposed to learn all of this, either. Time, I suppose. It would just take time to get to know him like I used to. It was worth the wait, though.

"If that's what you love now, we'll find somewhere for you to write." I pulled him close to me. "As long as I get to read some of your pieces."

"Deal." He snorted a little. "I guess you can read whatever you want when they're published."

"I don't get a special preview of them?"

"You wish."

Chapter Text

I thought it was just a nightmare, just my mind playing tricks on me again when I was the most vulnerable. But that burning smell was still filling the apartment when I woke up. For a second, I thought I was having one of those weird dreams inside of dreams and that I'd walk into the living room to find Cas burning alive. I was almost more worried when I realized I was awake and that terrible smell was coming from the kitchen.

My first thought was Oh shit, the house is burning down, and my senior thesis is going to be gone. Then I remembered that I had barely started on my thesis, but I still had a dozen copies saved in different places. And I finally started to wonder what was burning. My hand instinctively went to cover the scars on my wrist. Times like this made it a little harder to distinguish between what was real and what was a twisted memory of that night.

"Cas? Babe, you okay?" He was bent over the sink, hands gripping the sides until his knuckles turned white. When I found the source of the smell, what probably started as a pancake, I rushed to turn off the stove.

Cas was shaking by the time I dumped the burned disk in the trash. "I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. Are you okay?"

He nodded, but he seemed to change his mind halfway through. "I wanted to make you breakfast before you went to class, but I couldn't remember how you like your eggs. I started making pancakes and eggs, and I forgot if you liked fried eggs or scrambled eggs." He looked down at his hands, then turned to me. "I didn't mean to burn the pancakes."

"It's just food," I assured him. "I'm more worried about you than some pancake batter."

"I'm fine." He paused. "Fried eggs, right?"

I smiled. "Yeah, that's right."

"Do you still have time to eat?"

"I don't have organic chemistry until nine. Can I help you?"

I expected Cas to say no, but he just pointed to the carton of eggs. "You can make eggs, right?"

"I'm not that bad of a cook." And that was pretty much all for our conversation. I make us each a few eggs while Cas finished the pancakes. While we didn't talk, my mind wandered to the worst case scenario. Cas had been fine for months. Four months of the doctors in Maryland telling us Cas would be fine. What if he was having a relapse? What if he was losing his memory again? Sure, it was just a little detail, but he would start losing the little things first. Should I ask Cas if we should worry? Should he see Dr. Tracy? I had to be worrying for nothing. Cas was fine. I glanced at him as he silently flipped a pancake and slid it onto a plate. He was fine. It was just one mistake.

▪▪▪

Where is he?

I checked my phone again, for the third or fourth time since I sat down at the table. Cas was supposed to meet me here almost fifteen minutes ago. I didn't want to be overly worried, but after what happened this morning...

"Hey, you on your way?" I twisted my glass of water in a circle on the table.

Cas hummed for a second, and I heard the sound of cars driving in the background. "Yep. I'm turning on third street right now. I should be getting there in a minute or two."

I pulled out a few bucks and left them on the table. Might as well make it worth the waitress's time since Cas and I weren't going to be having lunch. "Cas, that's on the other side of town."

"Oh. I must have gotten turned around. I'll- uh..."

"Just stay where you are." I got into my car and backed out of the parking spot a little too quickly. "I'm coming to pick you up right now."

"Dean, I'm okay."

"Please, Cas. Just wait there for a few minutes." And it only took me about five minutes to find him thanks to how fast I was driving. He was waiting on the sidewalk, hugging his arms to his chest.

He climbed into the car. "I could've walked to the restaurant. You didn't have to come get me."

"We're not going to lunch, Cas. I'm taking you to see Dr. Tracy."

"I don't need to go to the hospital," he snapped.

I glanced at him, but he was fuming so I looked back to the road. I had to say, Cas was terrifying when he was mad. "You're forgetting things, Cas. We need to make sure you're okay. I- I need to make sure you're okay."

That seemed to ease his anger. His entire demeanor softened. "You have class this afternoon."

"You're more important than a lecture. Besides, Ash can always take notes for me."

"We really don't need to do this."

"I know how stubborn you are. Your doctors know how stubborn you are too, so they told me that I have to bring you in to get checked out. They know that you won't want to admit that something might be wrong." I pulled into the portal office's parking lot. "I know you're scared, but you have to see Dr. Tracy."

He sighed. "I'll call him. Tell him we're coming."

"I'll go get a portal." Cas didn't say anything. I went ahead inside and paid Kaia for a portal to Maryland. I hated portals, but I'd gotten used to driving through them over the past few years. It was a lot better than walking.

When we made it to Texton, Cas looked like he was going to be sick. I asked him if he was alright, and he nodded. It was hard to believe him, though. There was something in his eyes that seemed off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. He just felt like he wasn't present.

Maybe it was how quiet he was.

The same nurse who always took Cas back to see Dr. Tracy was waiting while I checked Cas in. "Castiel, you can come back now. I'm sure Mr. Winchester can finish the paperwork."

I nodded, but I still wasn't happy that I couldn't go back with Cas. "I'll take care of this. Go ahead."

Cas followed the nurse, turning to me as he walked through the door. He was afraid, that was easy to see. I knew he was afraid that he was going to lose his memories again, and I was terrified too. But what else could I do? I did all I could by bringing him here.

"I love you," I mouthed to him. Then he was gone, and I was left with a clipboard full of papers to fill out.

▪▪▪

"Two weeks," was the first thing Cas told me when he met me in the waiting room. "I've got to be back every two weeks until I'm back to normal. And we need to stop to fill a new prescription."

"So you're okay?"

He just shrugged.

"You ready to go then?"

"Yeah."

I knew he wasn't in the mood to talk, so I didn't even try until we got back to the apartment. "Do you want dinner? I know it's kinda early, but we didn't have lunch."

Cas kept looking out the window. "I just want to go to bed. You have a three o' clock class, right? You should get to that. I don't want you missing any more classes because of me."

I knew there was no use arguing. "I'm going to be at the lab after. Will you be okay?"

"Yeah," he mumbled. Cas got out of the car before I could say anything else. He didn't tell me goodbye or acknowledge me in any way before he went inside. I felt like I did something wrong. I didn't know what was going on or if there was more that Cas wasn't telling me. All I knew was that I hadn't seen Cas that scared since senior year, not since his powers started becoming unstable. And it hurt like hell to see him like that again.