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Identity Crisis

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Mysterious Masked Vigilante Charges into Lawrence

Someone’s making waves in Lawrence, and unfortunately, “someone” is as specific as anyone can get.

For those of you who haven’t gotten a glimpse at a TV or newspaper in the past few months, the Colt is Lawrence’s very own do-gooder. His real identity is unknown as of now, but his agenda is clear: instead of visiting the elderly or volunteering at soup kitchens, the Colt fills in where the police leave off.

Now, don’t get me wrong--I enjoy The Avengers as much as the next person, but the Colt, whoever he is, is taking his dedication to a whole new level.

With a flimsy attempt at a costume, made up of not much more than dark, non-constrictive clothing and an eye mask that looks like something you’d find in the discount bin at a party store, it’s clear that the Colt is more a young Peter Parker than Tony Stark, and while some consider him to be restless and just looking for trouble, others are more accepting of the Colt’s choice of hobby.

Benny Lafitte, owner of Lafitte’s Bar & Grill on Shrewsbury Street, for example, would offer the Colt a beer if he could. “I think it’s great,” he says. “Brother ain’t hurtin’ anyone; if anything, he’s helpin’, picking up where the cops leave off. Maybe they could even recruit ‘im, if they ever find out who he is,” he adds with a laugh.

To chief of Lawrence Police Jody Mills, however, the Colt’s activity is no laughing matter. “We appreciate this...individual’s attempts to help,” Mills says, “but we’d also like to formally request that if he wants to protect the city, he join the Academy and get his badge, just like everyone else.”

One could potentially accuse Chief Mills of ruining the fun, but she does have a point. Police officers--especially those under Mills’ jurisdiction--undergo intense training, and despite the fact that he may have the best of intentions, the Colt is doing things that would get him arrested if he hadn’t been wearing a mask. In fact, some speculate that the recent uptick in criminal activity is directly tied to the Colt, with criminals wanting to lure him out into the open and put him to the test themselves.

Whatever your opinion on the Colt and his choice of extracurricular activities, one thing is for sure--Lawrence is buzzing in a way it hasn’t been for years, and it’s suddenly become interesting to live here again.

I’ll toast to the Colt for that.

 

After reading over his words for what must have been the fifth time that night, Cas minimizes the document and clicks over to his browser, where Facebook is open. Photos for the article are slowly uploading-- slowly being the key word there, thanks to the shitty wifi in the apartment--and he can’t go to bed until he knows they’re prepped and will be ready to post in the morning.

The article is scheduled to post tomorrow. It’s the first time he’s been allowed to write something other than arthouse movie reviews and recaps of community service events, so he wants to make sure this piece shines. His sister Anna had even let him tag along on one of her calls related to the Colt, giving him the chance to snap some photos that came out surprisingly well despite the time of night and elusive subject.

Cas has been working at Daily Lawrence for almost two years, landing an entry-level gig after his spring internship with the paper. Despite the fact that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Zachariah Adler, hadn’t exactly enjoyed Cas’s work, per se, Charlie Bradbury had gone to bat for him. Ever since his first day as an intern, the Arts & Entertainment editor had taken a shining to him and brought him under her wing. Cas might just owe his slowly blossoming career to Charlie, and while she’s on his mind, he grabs a pad of sticky notes and writes himself a reminder to buy her a box of Pocky as a thank you.

The photos finally finish uploading, and Cas scrolls through, giving them a quick once-over for quality and to make sure that they’d upload successfully when he posts them on the paper’s account tomorrow morning to support his story. He gets to the bottom of the page and is about to log out when he notices that Facebook’s facial recognition has tagged someone in one of the last photos.

He assumes he’d accidentally gotten a shot of Anna or one of the officers looking at the camera, so he doesn’t think much of it as he maneuvers his mouse over to the photo to untag it. Upon closer inspection, though, Cas realizes that no, the only person in the photo is the Colt, and the tagging suggestion makes him wonder if he’s even more exhausted than he thought.

Do you want to tag Dean Winchester?

Cas’s brows furrow together at that. “Do I…” he mutters, squinting at the screen. He studies the photo for a few seconds and can’t stop his jaw from slowly dropping open.

No. Fucking. Way.

Cas leans back away from the screen and digs the heels of his hands into his eyes before scrutinizing the photo again. There’s no way--he’s just tired, he’s nervous, he’s going cross-eyed from editing photos, something that’s not this.

But the longer he stares, the more familiar the Colt’s face looks. The sharp jawline, the messy dark hair that pokes out from underneath his hood, the mischievous glint in the Colt’s green eyes, the way he’s biting his lower lip in concentration--it’s Dean. His Dean. His roommate, his best friend, the one he’s been steadily developing feelings for since the moment he moved in.

Eyes still wide, Cas’s head drops, and he buries his face in his hands. Fuck .


 

The black eyes and swollen jaw and dark bruises and makeshift splints, all accented by a sudden increase in Tylenol, gauze, and antibiotics in their medicine cabinet.

He should’ve known.

Cas stares at his bedroom ceiling, mind still racing two hours after his discovery. Dean is the Colt; the Colt is Dean. The mysterious vigilante wanted by at least five surrounding police precincts, who’s responsible for the last ten-- minimum --bookings at Lawrence P.D., is the same guy who slings coffee for a living and spends his spare time reading comics and listening to classic rock.

Despite how unbelievable it is, Cas can’t help but wonder how he didn’t figure it out sooner.

 

“Fuck, Cas, that’s rad!” Dean hands Cas a beer before dropping down next to him on the couch. “So, what’s it gonna be about?” he asks, knocking his knee gently against Cas’ as he tips his bottle back and takes a long swig.

“The Colt,” Cas says, beaming at his friend, oblivious to the way Dean’s entire body stiffens.

“That asshole who’s pissing off all the cops in town?” he asks warily. He picks absently at the bottle’s label with his thumbnail.

“He’s not an asshole, Dean,” Cas says, rolling his eyes. “He’s a fascinating profile. He clearly sees some kind of hole in Lawrence’s current justice system, and has taken it upon himself to, I don’t know, enhance it, I suppose. Can you imagine getting an interview with him?” Cas shakes his head. “Just to learn even the tiniest bit more about what he’s thinking.”

Dean shifts uncomfortably next to him. “Sure, but...you couldn’t find something else to write about? Dude’s nothing more than a Batman wannabe, not much of a story.”

“What else is there in Lawrence, Dean? The Colt is the biggest thing to happen here since, well, since ever .”

Dean grins before tearing a piece of his bottle’s label off and letting it fall to the floor. “Got me there.”

Cas studies Dean curiously, a faint gleam in his eye. “Are you telling me that I can’t make the Colt a complete story?”

“I dunno, Cas,” Dean says with a grin, “you’re a great writer, but I doubt this dude’s interesting enough to warrant a whole fucking article about him.”

“He’s more interesting than yet another arthouse film with no soundtrack,” Cas grumbles, and Dean laughs. “I don’t know, Dean,” Cas continues. “I have a good feeling about this.”

 

Cas remembers a lot of things about that interaction. He remembers blushing furiously and overanalyzing Dean’s knee resting against his. He remembers spending the night wondering if Dean’s action had... meant something. He remembers that clearly, but he also remembers that he had just brushed the rest of that exchange off as Dean being disinterested in the Colt, thinking that it’s a pointless popcorn story, but as he replays it in his mind and starts to reanalyze Dean’s habits, the more he realizes how much his supposed eye for detail had failed him, and just how much Dean had been hiding in plain sight.

Their apartment isn’t in the most desirable neighborhood, so Cas had been upset, but never particularly surprised, when Dean would come home with scrapes and bruises and attribute them to some kind of mugging. Cas had given him a canister of pepper spray as a birthday present a few months back and urged him to be more careful, but that had been it.

Cas rolls over onto his stomach and presses his face into his pillow. “Stupid, stupid, stupid ,” he mumbles, smacking his open palm on his mattress.

The door to the apartment opens with a dull creak a few moments later, and Cas freezes before unconsciously burrowing deeper under the covers. He tries to talk himself out of it, reassure himself that despite his crazy extracurriculars, this is still Dean , but Cas still can’t help but feel like he’s suddenly living with a stranger.

He glances at the alarm clock and squeezes his eyes shut. 4:32am, and Dean is just now coming home. How often has he been doing this? Cas keeps his eyes closed as he wonders what kind of injuries Dean will be sporting the next morning, whether or not he’ll have to go to the hospital again, like he had for a broken arm he swore happened because he slipped on some ice on the way back from work.

Creaking and shuffling echo through their tiny apartment, and Cas mentally checks off each thing Dean is doing: grabbing a snack out of the cabinet, brushing his teeth, probably tending to a goddamn wound or two, and finally, closing the door to his own bedroom to go to sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary, but now that Cas knows “ordinary” is the least effective descriptor for his best friend, everything is suspect.

He rolls onto his stomach and presses his face into his pillow with a groan. It’s going to be a long night.


 

Cas is awake long before his alarm goes off, and he smacks it stiffly before scrubbing both hands down his face. The faint smell of coffee wafts into his room from down the hall in the kitchen; his stomach drops when he realizes that Dean must have the day off. He usually has the apartment to himself in the mornings because of Dean’s early shifts at the Thinking Cup, so he’d been banking on a few extra hours of being alone with his thoughts about this whole situation.

“Fuck,” he breathes again. His bed has suddenly become the warmest, most comfortable it’s felt in weeks, but Cas forces himself out of it. “Good morning, Dean,” he mutters to himself, trying to sound as normal and casual as possible. “Good morning, Dean. Glad you didn’t get killed last night.” He gives up quickly, shaking his head before heading out of his room and down the hall.

 

Dean looks up and flashes Cas a tired grin as he enters the kitchen. “Morning.”

“Good morning, Dean,” Cas says stiffly, realizing that his practice didn’t do him much good; his own voice sounds awkward in his ears. He makes a beeline for the fridge and grabs a carton of milk. He looks over his shoulder as he starts to fix himself some cereal, trying to take note of Dean’s features without being too obvious.

He doesn’t look too bad. All his teeth are still there, no fat lips or makeshift splints for his fingers, and Cas is almost 100% sure that the dark circles under Dean’s eyes are just from exhaustion, not a fist to the face.

“Sleep good?”

“Sleep well , Dean.”

Cas doesn’t need to be facing Dean to know that he’s rolling his eyes. “Yeah, okay, John Keating.”

He does turn around at that, though. “Who?”

Dean stares at him in disbelief. “John Keating? Dead Poets Society ?” When none of those names ring a bell, Dean shakes his head. “Clear your schedule next weekend, Cas, because I’m giving you a Robin Williams education.”

“Looking forward to it,” Cas says through a mouthful of cereal. He carries his bowl over to their tiny kitchen table, shoving a few comic books out of the way before setting it down. “Do you have the day off?”

“Mhmm.” Dean pushes his chair back and kicks his socked feet up on the table, crossing them at the ankles before beginning to read a new comic book, holding the floppy issue high in front of his face the way most people hold the newspaper. “Hey, isn’t your article coming out today?”

Some wayward Cheerios lodge themselves in Cas’ throat at that, and he coughs hard, trying not to splutter milk everywhere. “Y-yes,” he says shakily, pounding a fist against his chest and coughing once more. “It’s in the print paper, and I’ll be posting it online when I get in today.”

“‘S awesome, man.” Dean gives him a small smile over the top of his comic. “And, uh, hey, I’m…” He trails off, searching for the right word. “I shouldn’t’ve shit on your idea in the first place. It’ll be cool, to learn more about him, y’know? I bet it’ll be huge.”

Cas’ heart clenches and he hopes Dean doesn’t notice the way his cheeks go red. Like you’re not the expert on him already, Dean . “Thank you,” he manages to get out, giving Dean a closed-lipped smile before bringing his bowl to the sink. “I appreciate it.”

“Hope you’re posting that shit on Facebook, too,” Dean calls after him as he heads back up to his room to get changed. “I’ll be the first one to like it.”


 

It doesn’t take long after Cas hits “publish” on his article that reactions start pouring in.

The piece gets shared over 100 times in the first half hour, and the Daily Lawrence ’s Facebook page is blowing up with comments and shares on his photos. Any other day, any other story , Cas would be ecstatic, but right now it’s all he can do to keep his breakfast down.

People are eager to share their thoughts--both good and bad--on the Colt, and even though Cas knows better than to read the comments section, he still finds himself scrolling down to see what’s being said.

Who the fuck does this guy think he is? Get a real job, you schmuck.

Great article! My little brother wants to be the Colt for Halloween this year; he loves that we’ve got our very own Batman here in Lawrence :)

Superheroes are canonically menaces to society, just look at early-era Spider-Man--this dick is no different.

Couldn’t be bothered to put together a better costume, douchebag?

Just a whiny asshole looking for attention; shame on you for reporting on him when there’s real news to cover, DL.

The comments calling his work a waste of time sting, sure, but what really hurts are the insults being hurled at the Colt, at Dean. He closes his eyes and forces himself to leave the page before he gives himself away.

“Hey!” Charlie says a moment later, rolling backwards on her chair into Cas’ cubicle. “Great job on the article, it’s getting a ton of hits. And the photos !” She kicks back in her chair, arms outstretched behind her, and wheels around in a quick circle. “ So fucking good, Cas.”

Cas worries his lower lip between his teeth and keeps his eyes on his computer screen, trying not to give anything away. “Thank you,” he says. “I…’m proud of it.”

Charlie frowns, then leans forward and waves her hand in front of the screen. “Why the long face? You been reading the comments section again?”

“Only a few,” Cas sighs.

“‘A few’ is a few too many,” Charlie tells him. “Your article is rad, dude. Don’t let some trolls who want to bitch about the Colt ruin your day.” When Cas doesn’t respond, she looks at him hesitantly. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” Cas asks.

She squints at him. “I have no idea,” she says slowly. “That’s why I’m asking. When someone’s responsible for the most buzz-worthy story this dinky paper has seen in months , it’s pretty normal for them to be, oh, I don’t know, excited .”

Cas doesn’t know why or how, but suddenly the filter between his brain and his mouth stops working, and he tells Charlie exactly what he’s thinking.

“How can I be expected to act excited when I just found out that my best friend is the Colt?”

Charlie freezes at that, and Cas’ eyes widen. Fuck . He stares at Charlie as she opens and closes her mouth a few times, as if trying to make sense of this latest development, but before she can say anything, a loud, sneering voice crackles through the air.

“Did I just hear you right, Novak?”

Oh, goddamn it .

Cas’ stomach plummets when he turns to see Zachariah, their editor-in-chief, standing at the entrance to his cube.

“I, uh, no--”

That explains why your story was so good; you had an inside scoop!” Zachariah pauses, then snaps his fingers as an idea strikes him. “How about this--next week we run a follow-up expose of who the Colt really is.” He barrels into Cas’ cube and drapes an arm across his shoulders like they’re old pals, bringing his head in close to Cas’ and spreading both hands out wide. “His real job, hobbies, his favorite self-defense move, what he orders at the bar on Saturday nights.” Zachariah chuckles. “The Bugle ’ll have a field day trying to top this.”

He smacks Cas hard on the back before heading back out of his cube. “Stop by my office after lunch, we’ll talk due dates, and maybe a raise, some paid vacation time…” He trails off, flashes Cas his trademark slimy grin before disappearing down the hall.

Cas and Charlie are motionless. After a few seconds, Charlie reaches out and absently smacks Cas’ arm.

“Uh, Cas,” she says.

He looks at her helplessly.

“Let’s get lunch.”


 

“So let me get this straight,” Charlie says as they carry their trays to an empty table. “Dean, your Dean, the Dean you’ve been crushing on for as long as I’ve known you and who you refuse to ask out--”

“He’s always had a boyfriend or girlfriend, Charlie,” Cas says defensively.

“Ah, but he doesn’t right now, does he?”

Cas gapes at her silently, unsure of how to respond, then unwraps his own burrito with a huff. “That’s not the current crisis.”

“Fine, fine. Continue,” she says, waving him on. “Fill me in.”

And Cas does. He tells her everything, from the facial recognition to his stupidity at thinking Dean is just especially accident-prone, to the fact that those comments trashing the Colt are trashing Dean, and that he can’t just give away Dean’s identity for the sake of accolades and a probable promotion.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he really, really wants them.

“Well, that’s definitely a roadblock,” Charlie says before taking a sip of her drink.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Cas mutters. “He could’ve killed himself out there, Charlie! And I just slept right through it, was oblivious every time.”

“Okay, one--this is not your fault. Dean’s a big boy, he can make his own decisions. Two, and this is the one you should really be paying attention to,” she says, taking a bite of her burrito, “do you want to write it?”

Cas sighs, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. “I can’t just throw him to the wolves, Charlie. But I also can’t just refuse to write a story. I don’t have that kind of leverage to be choosy, especially this early in my career.”

Charlie pauses, thinking this over. “Which one can’t you do more?”

Cas sighs and drops his head into his hands. He can feel Charlie’s eyes on him, waiting for a response, when his phone vibrates on the table. They both look at it, and Cas grabs it, unlocks it, and reads his new text message, appropriately enough, from Dean.

Hey--haven’t read the article yet but I’m sure it’s fucking great. Pizza tonight to celebrate? I’ll treat

He’s included eight pizza emojis, and Cas turns the phone around wordlessly so Charlie can read it. When she’s done, she looks up at him and grins.

“Based on your answer to this one question, I think you’ll know what to do.”

Cas hesitates. “And what’s this one question?”

“Would Zachariah buy you pizza?”


 

Dean doesn’t come home that night.

Cas gets an apologetic text from him saying that Sam needs help with something and that he’ll make it up to him with pizza the next night they’re both free, and that he’s proud of him for finally “graduating from reviewing hoity-toity movies that maybe three people total have seen.”

Just a few days ago, Cas would’ve been completely content with this answer, albeit a bit annoyed at the fact that Dean had gotten his hopes up for pizza and failed to deliver. But now that he really doesn’t know where Dean is or who he’s risking his neck trying to protect, his appetite all but disappears.

This isn’t normal. He shouldn’t have to deal with this. No one should.

Cas microwaves himself some leftover pasta and brings it over to the table, where his notepad and pen are lying from where he’d left them at work. While he waits for the pasta to cool, he uncaps the pen with his teeth and drums it against the blank paper, then starts writing.

If you’re a regular at the Thinking Cup, the guy who makes your coffee in the morning is also the one who’s become a “menace” to Lawrence police.

Surprise--the Colt’s got a real name, and it’s Dean Winchester.

True Life: I Live with the Colt

Cas taps his pen against his notepad, then rests the cap on his bottom lip as he considers his words. Each attempted beginning to an expose piece makes him feel more and more uncomfortable, and after a few seconds, he makes a small correction.

True Life: I Live I’m in Love with the Colt

He rereads this sentence four, five, six times, and circles it just as many, and with each and every circle, he’s more and more certain that it’s true.


 

At the end of a particularly stressful workday the next day, Cas returns to his desk from the kitchen to find a neon pink sticky note pressed on his computer screen. Charlie’s handwriting is scrawled across it: you’re doing the right thing . She’s already left for the day, but Cas flashes a small, grateful smile in her cube’s direction anyway. He takes a deep breath and grabs the note, pocketing it before heading to Zachariah’s office.

 

“Novak!” Zachariah says, his voice lined with fake cheer and camaraderie. “Come in, come in. How’s that Colt article coming?”

“I, actually, I’m here to talk to you about that.”

Zachariah twirls his wrist, gesturing for Cas to continue. “What, do you need an extension? Want to work at home a bit, get those creative juices flowing?”

“I can’t do it.”

Zachariah freezes, his once-jovial features turning to stone. “Excuse me?”

Cas opens his mouth and is about to start his sentence with “Dean,” but catches himself at the last second. “The Colt is my best friend,” he says slowly, “and he doesn’t know that I know. I can’t expose him to the media like that, just leave him vulnerable without any warning.”

“Then warn him.”

Cas shakes his head, his confidence slowly, slowly building. “I can’t. It would be a betrayal of his trust. I’m sorry.”

Zachariah purses his lips and leans back in his chair, his fingers tented contemplatively over his mouth. All that confidence Cas had been feeling just seconds earlier is evaporating fast, and he averts his gaze to the floor as his heart rate quickens.

“I would be happy to write something else,” he says quickly. “I know there’s a new film playing at the Brat--”

“I asked you to write this ,” Zachariah interrupts, his voice low, “not another goddamn film review.”

Cas swallows hard in an attempt to quell his anxiety, but he’s not sure how well it’s working, considering he’s on the verge of a panic attack. “I know,” he says slowly, as if he’s talking to himself more than Zachariah, “but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Zachariah is silent for a few seconds, considering Cas, who’s trying to make himself as small as possible in his chair. “If you don’t write this story, Novak,” he says, “then I’ll have no choice but to remove you from this staff.”

Cas barely hears those last five words through the blood pounding in his ears as his throats goes dry. “E-excuse me?”

“I have no space or patience for a writer--especially one of your...subpar caliber--” Cas winces at that, “who refuses to write an article assigned to them. It shows a tremendous lack of respect and unprofessionalism.”

Cas’ head spins as he tries to make sense of the words coming out of Zachariah’s mouth. He could stop all this so easily, he could change his mind and agree to write the story, he could keep his job and get a raise and make some incredible connections, and--

He could also lose Dean.

He’s certain that if Dean’s identity is found out, he’ll be arrested at the very least. Not to mention how easy it’ll be for criminals who have crossed paths with the Colt to find out information on Dean--where he lives, where he works, his family and friends--and exact some revenge of their own.

Cas looks up at Zachariah, who’s watching him intently. His face is carefully blank, but Cas can still see a tiny spark of interest and hope in his eyes. He wants this article as much as Cas wants this job, and for once, it’s clear to Cas how much power he has in this situation. He takes a deep breath, then gives his editor a small smile.

“I quit.”


 

As Cas makes the trek back to the apartment, he’s terrified, upset, and pissed off, but not regretful. The idea of handing Dean over to the cops and his enemies on a silver platter had been out of the question the second it popped into his head, no matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise.

It’s getting late, the sky going progressively darker as he walks, and Cas does his best to peek over or around his box of work belongings to make sure he stays on the right track. He’s craning his neck around the right side of the box when he feels someone grab him from the left. He stumbles sideways into a narrow alley, and before he can so much as cry out, his box drops to the ground and he’s slammed up against a brick wall, staring down a gun.

Shhhh ,” the man with the gun says, and Cas squeezes his eyes shut, his chest heaving as the cold metal of the gun ghosts along his neck. “Not a word, got it?”

“P-please,” Cas breathes, but before he can say anything else, his mugger rears back and pistol-whips him hard across the face twice. Cas whimpers in pain as his knees buckle, and he starts slowly sinking to the ground. He’s stopped by the man’s hand around his throat, pulling him back up straight.

“Did you not hear me?” the man hisses. “Shut the fuck up, and we’ll make this as easy as possible.” He waits for Cas to nod before removing his hand.

The gun stays trained on Cas, but he can see the man glance over at the overturned box, his books and papers and knickknacks scattered all over the ground. He kicks at the box, making sure there’s nothing of value tucked away inside, then returns his full attention to Cas.

“Wallet,” he says, gesturing toward Cas’ pockets with his gun. “Now.”

“Okay,” Cas breathes, trying to tamp down the panic rising in his throat. “Okay, okay, okay.” He digs into his back pocket for his wallet, painfully aware of the gun trained on his forehead. His fingers wrap around the worn leather--a gift from Dean, of fucking course--and he opens it with shaky fingers.

“Gimme that,” the man says, snatching the wallet out of Cas’ hands. Cas looks up as the mugger starts rummaging through his wallet, and what he sees creeping in the shadows almost makes him collapse again.

A hooded, masked figure sneaks up behind the man with the gun in Cas’ face and without warning, slams his fist hard into his temple. The man cries out in surprise and whirls around as his gun goes clattering to the pavement, and Cas stands frozen in place, staring at the scene unfolding before him.

“Now that,” the figure says, dodging a punch from the mugger before delivering one of his own, right in the man’s gut, “was fucking rude.”

The Colt . Dean .

Cas watches helplessly as the Colt takes on the mugger, punching and kicking and dodging. There’s a terrifying moment when he shoves the Colt backward hard, and he stumbles over Cas’ overturned box of personal belongings.

Shit, shit, shit .

Cas cringes at the sound of the Colt’s head smacking hard against the pavement, and wonders if he’s finally met his match when the mugger drags him to his feet and slams him up against the wall, as well, only a few feet from Cas, before wrapping his hand around the Colt’s neck.

“Fucking piece of--” He squints through the darkness at the Colt, and Cas’ stomach drops when he hears a faint grunt of recognition in the mugger’s voice. “Oh, waaaait ,” he says, pressing the Colt harder against the wall and raising him up a few more inches. “I know you! You’re the little asshole everyone’s been talking about on the news.” He studies the Colt slowly as he struggles against the grip, pulling desperately at the fingers around his throat. He lets out a pained gagging noise as he tries to suck in some air, his feet now dangling a couple inches off the ground.

He tilts his head curiously and glances at Cas, who’s staring at the both of them, too shocked to move. “This dickhead’s got thirty bucks on him. Not worth it. But you…” His voice trails off in a playful singsong. “Bringing you in would be worth a pretty penny.”

Cas can’t see the Colt’s eyes, but he imagines them dark with anger as he watches his shoulders heave.

“Yeah,” the mugger says, smirking to himself. “I think I’ll do that. But first, let’s satisfy some curiosity, huh?”

With that, he reaches forward with his free hand and tugs the Colt’s hood down before bringing his hand to the Colt’s mask.

Get up, get up, get up , Cas pleads with himself, but no matter how hard he tries, he can’t bring his legs to move. His eyes scan the alley frantically, trying to locate the gun the Colt had knocked away, but it’s nowhere to be found.

Before the mugger can remove his mask, though, Cas watches, stunned, as the Colt manages to rear one leg back and kick him hard in the gut. The mugger staggers backward, releasing his throat, and the Colt springs into action. With a flurry of punches and kicks, the Colt’s got the mugger pinned on the ground, and Cas is fixated at the way the Colt’s straddling him, glaring down at him with hatred in his eyes.

“Curiosity killed the cat, motherfucker,” the Colt hisses, and Cas doesn’t know if it’s from relief that they’re safe, or the fact that the comeback is cheesy, profane, and classic Dean, but he sags against the wall, grinning up at the sky in relief.

The Colt rears back once more and slams his fist into the mugger’s face, hurling him into unconsciousness. The Colt’s body sags after that and he takes a few seconds to catch his breath. He pulls the sleeve of his jacket up over his hand and digs into the mugger’s pockets until his covered hand reemerges with a cell phone. He punches in a few buttons and Cas can hear the phone ringing until a 911 operator picks up.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Uh, yeah,” the Colt says. “Attempted armed robbery in the alley at the corner of Boylston and Tremont.”

“Any injuries?”

The Colt glances over his shoulder at Cas, not long enough to recognize him in the darkness. “Minor. Attacker’s knocked out in an act of self-defense.”

“I’m going to need you to stay on the line.”

The Colt doesn’t answer that, instead flipping the phone over so that its face is against the pavement. He gets slowly, gingerly to his feet, and says over his shoulder, "Can you walk? We've gotta bail."

Cas finally finds his voice again after that. “Dean,” he says softly, and the Colt--Dean, Dean --whirls around to stare at him, eyes wide behind his mask.

“Wh-- Cas ?” Dean’s voice is just as stunned as Cas feels, and it makes Cas’ stomach churn.

Cas takes a deep breath and forces himself to his feet, bracing himself against the brick wall. He offers Dean the best smile he can, which he’s sure looks forced and like he’s on the verge of tears, or maybe throwing up. “Surprise.”


 

“How long have you known?” Dean asks when they’re back at the apartment, his voice quiet, almost a little embarrassed. He won’t meet Cas’ eye, no matter how hard Cas tries to look at him, and hadn’t said a word the whole walk back to the apartment.

“A few days.”

Dean stares at him, then drops his head in his hands, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. There’s a faint ring of bruising around Dean’s neck from the mugger’s fingers, and just looking at it makes Cas wince. “You were the dick taking pictures.” It isn’t a question, and Cas feels the corners of his lips quirk up slightly.

“You were the masked vigilante who flipped me off.”

Dean wants to smile at that, Cas can tell, and the only thing he wants to see is Dean’s stupid crooked grin, but instead, he shakes his head. “Should’ve known that was you,” he says. “I knew you were writing that article.”

“And now I understand why you seemed so disinterested in it,” Cas says gently. “You’re an expert on the topic.”

“I can’t believe that fucking asshole fired you,” Dean says, his eyes darkening as he remembers Cas’ awkward explanation of why he had been carrying all his work things home in the first place. Then, softly, “You lost your job because of me.” His hair is disheveled and eyes are dark with exhaustion; all traces of the strong, nimble Colt from earlier are gone.

“If I had to do it all again, I’d make the same decision.”

Dean’s cheeks go pink at that as he wrings his hands in his lap. An awkward, uncomfortable silence permeates the apartment for a few seconds until Cas decides to switch topics and ask one of the questions that’s been on his mind the most since his revelation. “Why do you do it?”

Dean’s teeth pull at the skin of his lower lip. “It’s stupid,” he says, but doesn’t elaborate. Cas waits a few more beats and is about to change the subject when Dean starts talking at the floor. “D’you remember when I told you about my mom?”

Dean’s mother had been killed in a hit-and-run when he and his brother Sam were young. Cas remembers it being the first real tragedy their small town had ever really been exposed to.  Dean had been able to tell Cas about it without crying, something he’d admitted he’d just recently been able to accomplish, but Cas remembers the way he’d still had to blink away tears.

“Of course.”

Dean sucks in a long, deep breath through his nose. “The cops never found who did it,” he says, “because they stopped looking. It was like the case had a goddamn expiration date, and once they hit it, they just gave us an apology and a lollipop and sent us on our merry fucking way.”

And that part, Cas had never heard before. “Oh, Dean.”

Dean waves off the apology before Cas can say it. “As much as the Internet loves to shit on me, I don’t do this --” he gestures to his bruised face, “--to get my rocks off or because I want attention or think the cops are incompetent or whatever the fuck other excuse they want to throw at me. I just fill in where they leave off. I don’t want anyone else to have to deal with what Sammy and I did.”

Cas nods. He understands Dean’s line of thinking, he really does, but a question still nags at the back of his mind. “If you want to help, why not join the police department?”

Dean flashes him a small, humorless grin. “I’d flunk out in a second, and you know it. Plus, no rules, no one to report to: I kind of like being my own boss.”

Cas can’t help but laugh at that, and a warmth grows in his gut at Dean’s smile in response. It’s almost immediately extinguished, though, when Dean’s eyes go dark again. You should’ve told me once you figured it out, Cas.”

“Why? So one of your enemies could kidnap me, use me against you in a fight or something? Excuse me if that idea isn’t exactly appealing.” Cas shakes his head. “I’d be keeping us both safer by playing dumb, so that’s what I decided to do.”

Dean scoffs. “Come on, Cas, that shit only happens in the comics, not real life. It’s not like I have any goddamn mob bosses after me.”

“That you know of.”

“And besides,” Dean continues, as if he hadn’t even heard or registered Cas’ last remark, “even if that were the case, they only kidnap love interests.”

Cas’ eyes dart up at that, and he tries to hide the hurt he feels at how quickly Dean seems to dismiss the idea. He doesn’t do a very good job, though, because in a matter of seconds Dean’s looking at him, his brows furrowed together.

“Dude, what’s that look--” Any remaining color drains from his face as he puts two and two together, and Cas can feel his cheeks heating up fast. “You…” Dean says faintly, and Cas’ heart starts pounding as he tries to figure out what Dean’s thinking. “Me?” he finally asks, pointing his index finger toward his own chest.

“This,” Cas says slowly, trying to find the right words, “isn’t exactly how I had planned to tell you.”

Dean laughs hollowly. “Yeah, well, I can say the same about filling you in on my, uh, hobby.”

Cas shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Dean. I know you and Anna just broke up a few months ago, and I don’t want to--”

He’s cut off when Dean’s lips press gently against his own. His eyes are wide, and he’s so stunned he almost forgets to return the kiss. Dean is about to pull back, his body going stiff when Cas doesn’t reciprocate, and Cas scrambles to keep contact. He reaches forward and entwines his fingers behind Dean’s neck, keeping him in place, but Dean hisses in pain through his teeth, and Cas immediately pulls back.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says quickly.

Dean smirks. “Just give me a little bit to stop being a walking human bruise, okay?” He gingerly touches the small cut below Cas’ eye from the gun before kissing him again. His tongue presses against Cas’ lips and Cas parts them, focusing on not recoiling when he feels a stinging sensation as Dean’s tongue brushes against his split lip.

Just imagining kissing Dean had been incredible, but actually doing so? Cas can’t think of anything else he’d rather do. Dean’s warmth next to him, in his mouth, in his heart, is worth losing every job for the rest of his life, because at least he’d be able to come home to the person he feels safest with. The person who cares so much for people that he’d spend all his free time protecting them.

Dean isn’t just a person anymore; he’s Cas’ person, and Cas smiles against Dean’s lips, reveling in the way he can feel Dean doing the same.

“Does that answer your question?” Dean asks after pulling away a few moments later, his crooked grin that Cas loves so much back in place.

“Yes,” Cas says, leaning forward to press one more kiss against his lips. “Mr. and Mr. Colt.”

Dean hesitates at that, and Cas wonders if he’s taken things a step too far too fast.

“It was just a joke, Dean,” he says quickly. “I didn’t mean--”

Dean waves him off. “No, it’s not that. Just...what if people do come after you? Now that we’re, uh, a thing? Together.”

“I thought you weren’t worried about that.”

Dean rolls his eyes and flops back exasperatedly on their ragged little couch. “That was before all this happened,” he says, motioning between the two of them.

Cas smiles, but he also can’t help but see the logic in Dean’s concerns. He doesn’t want to be used against Dean as much as Dean doesn’t want him to be, but he has no idea how to avoid that situation without breaking things off with Dean before they’d even started.

“We’ll be careful,” Dean decides for both of them, looking over at Cas. “There isn’t a handbook for this shit, but we’ll figure it out.”

Cas nods and reaches for Dean’s hand, twining their fingers together.

“And I’ll tell you right now,” Dean continues, “don’t expect me to give you a kiss while hanging upside down or some shit. We ain’t Peter and Mary Jane, got it?”

Cas squeezes Dean’s hand and, before he can think any more about it, he leans forward and presses a soft kiss against the rapidly swelling bruise forming along Dean’s cheekbone. “Got it.”


 

A few days later, Cas is sitting at the kitchen table, studying the photo he’d just printed out. It’s a side-profile picture of him and Dean--or Dean as the Colt, with his costume that Cas still insists they should go to Charlie for help with: “Her cosplay skills are top-notch, Dean”--kissing, but they’re in the background of the photo, all blurred colors and shaky lines, almost impossible to tell who’s who. What is in focus, though, is Cas’ middle finger, his arm extended toward the camera as he kisses Dean.

Dean still wants to be careful, he’s still cautious with PDA and keeping Cas safe, but he’s allowing this one small act, and Cas couldn’t appreciate it more.

He looks down at the photo once more and grins before meticulously folding it and tucking it into an envelope. He seals it, flips it over, then addresses it to Zachariah Adler.