Title: It's Always Sunny at Area 51
Warnings/Tags: Alternate Universe - Military, Gratuitous Military Jargon, Involuntary Imprisonment(and Jailbreak), Photoset Included (at Livejournal and AO3)
Summary: For balder12 and spnspringfling over on livejournal, with the prompt, "Your true face." Dean dreams he's in the cockpit of something dark and swift, skimming across the surface of the world like a skipped stone.
Life is cruel and Dean's life more than most, so they have a morning meeting up at Edwards today. Dean hitches a ride with Benny straight from the barracks at the rosy red asscrack of dawn, when the air still holding a little nighttime chill and a cool breeze whips through the Jeep's open cab as they streak across the desert. Dean slumps down in his seat, knee propped on the dashboard. Dust flares out like a contrail behind them, pale pink in the growing light.
The sergeants at the gatehouses look like they'd love to give Dean shit for not having his cap on or his badge clipped regulation-neat to his collar, and Dean makes sure to give their crisp salutes a half-assed wave and a shit-eating grin as Benny drives the Jeep through the various checkpoints. Seven-thirty and the base is already busy as a beehive, soldiers moving in purposeful twos and threes across the parking lot towards the hangars and the giant chunk of concrete that is Main Building A. Benny rolls to a stop, slaps Dean's shoulder with a pointed, "We're here," and Dean heaves himself out of the Jeep with a heartfelt groan, slouching after Benny and the crowds into the building.
Edwards Air Force Base, skirting the southern edge of a huge salt lake in Bumfuck, Nevada, has a lot of nicknames— Paradise Ranch, Groom Lake, Dreamland, Area 51. Dean still gets a little kick out of that, and God knows the security is tight enough for clandestine experiments and secret underground laboratories, but he can say with all the certainty that his D5 clearance provides that the only thing they're hiding are really cool airplanes. Really, really cool airplanes.
Case in point, the first thing that greets them on entering is a decommissioned SR-71 Blackbird, coal black with a blue sheen like her namesake. "Hey, baby," Dean says, like he always does when he visits her, but Benny keep a hand at the small of Dean's back and frogmarches him past.
"You can eyefuck the antique later, brother," he says, steering Dean towards the stairs. "When we aren't briefing the general. What's the room we're in, anyhow?"
They're late, because Edwards can be like a freaking maze sometimes— especially the basement levels, which is where room B391 ends up being located. Gen. Turner does give them the gimlet eye when they edge sheepishly into the room, but the table and surrounding chairs are packed with dozens of officers waiting to give their own reports, so the worst they get is an dismissive wave and some good-natured nudges from the other O-4s.
As expected, the meeting drags on, and on, and on. Dean shifts in his seat, antsy, and when Benny slants him a look he leans over and whispers, "Hey, gonna take a leak, okay?"
"Don't fall in, cher," Benny says darkly, like he can see Dean's half-thinking about ditching him and going up to the cafeteria to chat up the aerospace engineers. Hell, maybe he and Sam can grab lunch. His geeky little brother's shut up in this building too, somewhere.
"Naw, man, I'd never," Dean blithely lies, and deflects the hard jab Benny aims at his ribs with ptactised ease.
Dean zips up, walks out of the bathroom and cannot for the life of him remember which way he'd come from.
"Well, shit," he says, looking back and forth down the harshly-lit hallway. There's no one around to ask, and no maps on the walls as a security measure. He picks a direction and starts walking, taking the first turn he comes to, and another turn after that. Corridor B400 turns into B800, then B100, and Dean can't see a pattern here, but he figures with that numbering system he should find B300 soon enough.
He stops and gets a candy bar out of a vending machine when he hits BA100, because he still hasn't seen a single other person and at this rate he might actually starve before he finds his way back.
Thirty or so minutes later, he's at the end of a hundred-foot blind hallway and the recess he'd thought was another hallway is just a deeply-set door. A door that is, on closer inspection, actually a passkey-protected elevator. That only goes down.
Weird. He hadn't known there were any floors below this.
Dean indulges in an exasperated, "Fuck me," turns to retrace his steps, and the elevator gives a quiet ding.
He looks back, and the doors slide silently open, revealing a man in a long white lab coat who visibly starts when he sees Dean standing there. Above him, the elevator lights flicker.
"Oh, hey," Dean says, awkwardly.
"Hello," the man says slowly. He has a deeper voice, and a defensive stance, and scared-looking blue eyes. Eyes, really, that are way too pretty to look so frightened. He also looks vaguely familiar, like Dean may have seen him at Edwards before.
"Sorry if I startled you," Dean says, a little entranced. "I'm Dean."
The man carefully straightens, taking a small, hesitant step forward. "Hello, Dean."
Dean moves so he's not blocking the doors, and the man creeps out of the elevator, keeping his blue, blue eyes on Dean like he's expecting him to lunge at him.
Dean tries out his most disarming smile and watches those eyes narrow suspiciously.
The elevator doors start to close and it seems to spur the man on, and Dean steps after him, turning his body so they're walking side by side.
"Now is usually the point where you tell me your name, too." Not that he can't read it off the guy's badge. James Novak, and Christ, his picture has a bright red D7 on it. Maybe it's a typo.
"My name is Cas—" the man starts, stops. "Ah. That is..."
"Cas?" Dean says. "That a nickname?"
"Yes," Cas says instantly, walking a little faster.
Dean has no problem keeping up. "Is it short for something? Casper?"
"It is— Castiel," the man allows reluctantly. "Dean. I apologize for being abrupt, but I am in a hurry."
There's something a little off about Cas, but Dean's finally placed him: one of Sam's nerdy cohort, pointed out to him at the base's Memorial Day cookout a few weeks ago. Dean remembers his voice being higher, though.
"Sorry to hold you up, then," Dean says, "but do me a favor? I've been trying to find the B391 conference room and got turned around."
"Oh," Cas says, and looks a little hunted. "Well…"
"Or just a way up," Dean says, actually jobbing a little to keep up with Cas' pace. "I was thinking about getting a cup of coffee, if you're not in too big a hurry."
"I…" Cas slows down a little, looking around at the featureless corridor, right and left. "Up. Yes."
Something in his face makes Dean ask, "God, are you lost too?"
Cas flushes and Dean laughs, holding his hands up when the man gives him an angry look.
"This place is very confusing," he says defensively, and Dean claps a hand on his shoulder, still chuckling a little.
"Sorry, sorry," Dean says, fishing the candy bar out of his pocket. "Here, take it. We'll find a way out together."
Cas just eyes the candy bar like Dean's just handed him an alien artifact, and Dean rolls his eyes. "C'mon, let's go. Two heads are better than one, right?"
"Right," Cas allows, still examining the wrapper with a dubious expression, but when Dean turns and starts down yet another hallway, he follows.
Dean finally does spot a stairwell beyond a tiny pane of safety glass, glory hallelujah, and he and Cas tramp up the stairs, only to emerge in some gloomy janitor's hall. Still, it's progress.
Dean shoves Cas' fancy D7 card into every keyslot they come across, until finally a door opens and they stumble out into the bright desert sun. They're at the back of Edwards, facing the hangars and a few other buildings Dean doesn't have the clearance to know about. Two hundred yards beyond them, a guard tower shimmers mirage-like on the flat orange plane of the salt lake.
"Are you sure I can't interest you in lunch?" Dean asks, because once Dean had explained that candy bars were for eating (seriously, he'd had to; what kind of deprived childhood had this guy had?), Cas had gone down on it with a frankly distracting amount of enthusiasm.
"No," Cas says. Although he'd loosened up and even smiled once or twice while they'd been looking for a way out, he's shrinking back into himself now, eyeing the far-off tower warily. "I have… I have an appointment. Off of the base. I need to get to the parking lot."
Dean shifts back on his heels. "Okay. I'll walk with you."
Cas opens his mouth like he might argue, then closes it again. "You've been quite helpful," he says grudgingly. "I... I would appreciate that."
It's easier to just go around the building, so they do, sweat soaking through Dean's undershirt in minutes, Cas' cheeks a blotchy, hectic red. They hit the first parking section soon enough, and Dean takes off his cap to rake his fingers through sweat-damp hair. "So, where are you parked?"
Cas' eyes slide over the rows and rows of cars, and a flash of panic widens his eyes as he pats obviously empty labcoat pockets. "Ah."
"Jesus, Cas," Dean groans, and pulls Benny's keys out of his own pocket. "You're gonna owe me for this, though."
Cas looks at him then, really looks, and his eyes are unspeakably grateful. "Yes. I will."
They're in the Jeep and almost to the first guardpost when the sirens start, long sliding howl undulating across the empty desert.
"What the fuck," Dean says, mostly to himself, as they roll to a stop next to the window.
"Beats me," the guard says, flicking disinterested eyes over their ID. "You stealing any plutonium, Major?"
"Not me, sergeant," Dean jokes, glancing over at Cas. "You got any top secret documents under that coat, Cas?"
Cas looks sick. His face is bone-white, fingers curled into claws on the armrest between them. "N-no," he stutters out, staring unblinkingly at the next and final guardpost.
Dean stares at him, even as the guardrail raises and he takes his foot off the brake, easing through. "Cas? You okay?"
Cas closes his eyes. "Please. Please get me out of here, Dean."
"You're not really…?"
Cas' eyes open, an unearthly shade of blue. "Please."
Shit, Dean thinks, even as he steps on the gas.
There's no one at the second guardpost, and the anti-vehicle barricades are up.
"What the…" Dean trails off, leaning out the window to get a better look, and that's when the first bullet goes whistling past his head. "Shit!"
He ducks, and a hand on the back of Cas' head pulls him down too, just as the Jeep's front window shatters. Benny's going to kill him, if his own fucking service doesn't kill him first.
"Friendly fire! Friendly fire!" he yells, hoping from the open cab that they can hear him. He yanks the wheel to the side and the Jeep skids right up to the yellow-striped barricade, and the hand he has on Cas gets thrown off. "Cas!"
"It's okay, Dean," Cas calls, climbing out into the hail of bullets, and Dean watches in shock as they strike and fall with no effect. He slings a leg over the barricade, then smiles, and oh holy fuck Dean is not imagining things, he's starting to glow. "Don't let them shoot Jimmy."
"Who?" Dean yells, squinting up at Cas' face through the growing wind, the strong white light coming from the seams of his lips and the center of his eyes.
"Thank you," Cas whispers as something flares out from his shoulders, arching away into the sky like twin pillars of fire. Dean's eyes are watering, the light stealing all definition from Cas' face. "Thank you, thank you."
It's the last thing Dean hears before everything goes quiet, swallowed up by the grasping dark of unconsiousness.
"I can't believe there are fucking aliens at Area 51," Dean says dazedly. "My life is a lie, Sam."
"Well, technically there was just the one," Sam says, surfing idly through the AFN stations on the tiny TV mounted across from Dean's bed. "And we lost it."
"Yeah, sorry about that," Dean says, spooning up another wobbly lump of red jello. Three days and he's still at the hospital, being poked and prodded by government specialists extremely eager to see what exposure to an extraterrestrial lifeform can do to a man. The real James Novak is taking the brunt of it, he knows, and the poor guy still doesn't have all his muscle control back. The doctors are hopeful, though; Dean himself had been completely blind and stone deaf for a few panic-filled hours, and he's almost back to normal now.
"Not your fault," Sam says, shooting him a glance just short of a glare. "Mostly."
"Oh, fuck off, Sasquatch," Dean grumbles, because Sam— and Jimmy and apparently a fifty-person-strong research team— have been keeping and studying a sentient being pretty obviously against his will, and hadn't even known his name was Castiel until Dean told them. There is no moral high ground here, though the hard-eyed G-men who came and questioned Dean's love of country might disagree. Sam's just lucky Dean has this deep-seated need to keep him happy, result of too many bloody noses and missing lunchbags in their shitshow childhood, or he wouldn't be telling him—and by extension the U.S. government— anything.
Sam checks his watch. "Yeah, it's getting late. We'll talk tomorrow?"
"Yeah, sure," Dean says, drawing the scratchy hospital blankets further up his chest and gratefully closing his eyes. "Whatever."
Sam puts a hand on his arm, warm and solid in an I'm-not-really-mad-even-though-you-totally-helped- the-source-of-all-my-grant-funding-escape way- then swoops in and lands a big smacking kiss on Dean's cheek that has Dean taking a swing at him, even as he dances back with a laugh.
"Night, Dee," he singsongs. "Sleep tight." He flicks off the lights as he goes, leaving the room if not dark, at least dimmer.
"Hope the bedbugs bite your ass, you little shit," Dean says, and is almost immediately asleep.
Dean dreams he's in the cockpit of something dark and swift, skimming across the surface of the world like a skipped stone. The atmosphere curves away below, clouds suspended in a pearl white glow, and above him hangs the void of space, shading up from indigo to inky black.
He knows, with that hazy certainty that dreams have, that he's in the Blackbird. He's always wanted to fly one. His accelerometer is pinned, readings coming in at Mach 2.25, 2.38, 2.51. There's the low thrum of his engines and beyond that, the reigning silence of the cosmos.
Cas, you with me? Dean says into his headset.
Above you, Cas says, and there he is, long angular body and the wide sweep of his wings easily dwarfing the Blackbird as he glides over her.
Fucking showoff, Dean growls, Mach 2.74, Mach 2.91.
I'll race you, Cas laughs, a single massive wingbeat taking him out in front.
You're fucking on, Dean says, and points the Blackbird's nose at the stars.