Author's Notes: This is a slowburn romance, filled with angst, hurt/comfort and fluff. Also sex ;) Please note that WARNINGS apply for future chapters - mentions of rape/non-con. If you do not wish to read such content, stop after chapter 22 (the story can stand alone at that point). The story is complete and consists of 33 chapters. I will be uploading daily. Enjoy!
When he received word that Dean had been found, Cas broke every road law in America to get there as soon as possible. He screeched to a halt in the hospital car park and sprinted inside.
He found Sam in the Emergency waiting room.
"Where is he? How is he? How did you find him? Is he alright? Which room is he in?" Before he even received a reply, Cas was headed for the doors, intending to find Dean's room himself.
Sam caught his sleeve. "Cas, wait. Before you see him… there's something you need to know."
It was a struggle to pull himself back, to stop and listen. "What is it?"
"He doesn't remember anything."
Cas frowned. "About what happened to him?"
Sam swallowed. Shook his head. "Anything. He didn't recognise me. He couldn't even remember his own name."
"He has all these injuries… I told him he was a solider wounded in action." Sam gave a low, humourless laugh. "Close enough."
"Bad. It's probably a mercy that he doesn't remember what they did to him. After everything he has already been through, and now this… I can't blame him for wanting to forget."
"There's no head injury?"
"No. The doctors are calling it 'Dissociative Amnesia' – loss of memory due to psychological trauma."
Dean was the strongest person Cas knew. He felt a horrible sinking feeling in his stomach. "It was bad, then."
"Cas, you have no idea. Beneath those bandages..." Sam's face blanched, telling Cas more than words ever could.
"Will he ever remember?"
"The doctors don't know. For his sake, I almost hope he doesn't."
"How can you say that? He has lost everything that makes him who he is!"
"Think about it, Cas. He doesn't remember Mom's death. Or Dad's. He doesn't remember watching me die. He doesn't remember Hell. He doesn't remember losing Jo, or Ellen, or Ash, or Bobby. He doesn't remember monsters or mutilated corpses. He doesn't remember having the weight of the world on his shoulders."
"He doesn't remember us."
"I know. And that hurts. But it doesn't hurt him because he doesn't know any different. Maybe this is… better. He was never going to stop hunting. He would have kept fighting the good fight until it killed him. This way he has a chance at a life, a normal life. Maybe he could even find a way to be happy. At peace."
"But he won't be Dean."
"No. But he will be alive. And safe. After everything… he deserves that."
"Sam, we can't. It isn't right."
Sam shrugged a little. "Well, it's not up to us anyway. Either Dean will remember, or he won't."
"Even if he doesn't, we could still tell him the truth."
"What, that he's a hunter? He would laugh in our faces."
"What is the alternative? We just… let him go?"
"Yes. We get him set up in a nice house somewhere, help him find a job as a mechanic or something, and then we let him live his life away from all of this crap."
"You can't ask me to do that."
"We've done it before, when I jumped into the Pit and you went back to Heaven. Except last time he was too haunted by his past to really have a true shot at happiness. This is his chance to start fresh. I say we give it to him."
Sam placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I know this isn't easy. You love him. I do, too. He's my brother, Cas; he is everything to me. And I know what he means to you. But we humans have a phrase: 'If you love them, let them go'. We have to put aside what we want and do what is best for Dean."
Cas glanced towards the doors. They had been searching for Dean for 7 months and 12 days. Every night, Cas had dreamed of finding him. He had dreamed of hugging him and kissing him and forcing him to promise that he would never disappear like that again.
When Sam called, Cas had felt such tremendous joy and relief.
But they hadn't found Dean. Not really. They were 7 months, 12 days too late.
Cas had vowed to save him. He had failed. The least he could do was not hurt him any further.
"Okay," Cas said quietly.
"You won't tell him?"
"I won't tell him. But I at least want to say goodbye."
Sam dropped his hand and stepped back. "Of course."
It was with a heavy heart that Cas entered Dean's room.
The sight of all the tubes and wires and monitors and bandages should have been horrifying.
But by far the worst was meeting those beautiful green eyes, and seeing no recognition of him in their depths.
His mouth twisted a little. "Right. Uh, hi. I'm sorry, I don't…"
"I know. It's alright. I'm just… a friend."
"Oh. Were we… close?"
"In a manner of speaking."
Dean nodded awkwardly. "What- what was your name?"
His mouth did that funny twisty thing again. "Interesting name."
"You called me Cas."
"Ah. That's easier."
"I am glad that you are okay, Dean. I hope that you have a swift recovery so that your life can get back to normal."
"Yeah. I just wish I knew what that was."
Cas opened his mouth to tell him, but he remembered his promise to Sam. "You'll work it out," he said instead. "You'll be fine."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Dean tilted his head, looking at him oddly, almost as though there was a flicker of… something.
Cas realised that prolonged exposure to him may cause Dean to remember.
The bandages covered almost every inch of his skin. Even his cheekbone was marred by a dark bruise and there was a scar across his forehead that hadn't been there 7 months ago.
Whatever had been done to him had been so severe, so far beyond anything he had experienced in Hell, that Dean had chosen to forget everything rather than be forced to relive those memories.
Cas couldn't be the one to hurt him like that.
"I'm sorry I can't stay," he said. "Take care of yourself, Dean."
Dean frowned a little. "Yeah… you too."
It took every ounce of strength he had not to break, to run over to the bed and take Dean in his arms and cling to him forever.
Heart splintering, Cas slipped the gold ring off his finger and placed it gently on Dean's beside table. "This is yours," he whispered. "I was just holding onto it for you."
He turned and left the room before his composure could shatter.
He didn't see Dean pick up the ring, and then look down at the identical ring he still wore on his own hand. He didn't feel Dean's gaze staring after him.
He thought that was the last time he would ever see his husband.
But he didn't realise he had just given Dean every incentive to remember what he had lost.
It wouldn't be long before Dean came after him.