Characters/Pairings: Sam/Dean, attempted Sam/Ruby, past Sam/Jess, background Casey/Gil, Anna/Castiel, and Henriksen/Bela
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content, violence, alcohol use, and language
Word Count: 16,398
Author’s Note: Written for spn_cinema where my prompt was Blade Runner. With many thanks to the mods both for running this awesome challenge and for allowing me to adopt a slightly later posting date. Thanks are also in order for riyku & BockVer, my two darlings who volunteered to beta THIS MORNING and got it back to me so fast and with so much useful input. Seriously, you guys should have seen the mess draft I sent them, especially the last scene. THEY SAVED THE DAY. But by far my most dramatic thanks (and apologies) are for blythechild who claimed this story for robotbigbang in 2013 (yes, the 2013 that happened three years ago) and did AMAZING BEAUTIFUL ART for a story that never came to be UNTIL TODAY! THIS IS THE SOMEDAY I PROMISED YOU THREE YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS LIKE, "OH MY GOD I TOTALLY PROMISE I WILL FINISH IT, THO!!" The lesson is to never give up on your flaky asshole friends because they might eventually unfuck themselves. ANNNYYWAY, thanks to the wonderful Blythe for responding with kindness and enthusiasm when I reached out this morning about whether I could still use her art with my story THREE YEARS LATE, because she would have been well within her rights to tell me to buzz off but INSTEAD I HAVE THIS BEAUTIFUL ART. As a warning, the art contains a big, big spoiler for the story! You should DEFINITELY LOOK AT THIS ART, but probably read the story first (unless you don't want to read the story, in which case you should nonetheless oogle the art).
Summary: AU: Sam has been training to be a blade runner most of his life, ever since a group of rogue replicants killed his mother in an attempt to kidnap him as a baby. Now he's one of the top officers in the L.A. Police Department's Blade Running Unit, with a reputation for being ruthless when retiring rebellious androids. Problem is: Sam's never been as comfortable killing replicants as he pretends to be; growing up with Dean as his primary caretaker and a valued member of the family has left Sam with a weak spot for androids that he knows might get him killed one day. Knowing that doesn't stop Sam from loving Dean, or from wishing his replicant was as human as he acts. Now he's on the trail of Azazel, the yellow-eyed android responsible for ruining his life, but the closer he gets to retiring Azazel and putting an end to his days as a blade runner, the more he learns that there might be no turning back for him and Dean. (Loosely based on Blade Runner)
LJ ⚡ AO3
Sam's shaking. He's still goddamn shaking. You'd think he was a rookie the way he's letting this case get to him.
"You sure you're okay, Winchester?"
He looks to his right and forces a smile, nodding at his partner. He'd kind of forgotten he wasn't alone while he was staring into his drink and feeling sorry for himself. Not that Sam minds the company. He likes Victor, and there's a lot to be said for having someone competent at your side, but when he asked Sam what his plans for tonight were and Sam answered honestly, he hadn't really been hoping it would be taken as an invitation.
"I'm great," he says, and fuck, his voice is too damn tight. It wouldn't convince a replicant, let alone a human of above-average intelligence. "We got the bad guy, right? What could be wrong?"
Victor grins and raises his bourbon for a toast. "Only problem I can see is that I'm never gonna edge you out of the competition if we keep working jobs together."
He laughs as their glasses clink and downs his scotch. "You're never gonna edge me out period. I keep telling you that."
"You talk real big," Victor says. "Me? I prefer to let my near-perfect retirement record speak for itself."
Sam lets his head fall a little as he laughs, takes a few seconds to breathe in deep and hold it before he looks back up. "This is gonna be just like the academy," Sam tells him. "You and I are gonna spend our whole career competing—"
"Only to get our asses kicked by Agent Moore?" Victor raises an eyebrow, and when Sam nods, he leans in conspiratorially. "There are worse ways to go down than under her, huh?"
Sam shakes his head, but he doesn't contradict it. He has eyes; it's not like it's never occurred to him that Jess is hot. He even tried dating her for a few months in school, but of course, it's hard to hold a relationship when you're fucked up ten ways from Sunday. Victor doesn't know about that, so he doesn't ever miss a chance to try and work some cupid magic to get Sam and Jess back together.
Or…maybe it's just the opposite. Maybe Victor suspects exactly what about this case is getting so deep under Sam's skin. Maybe that's why he's so determined to set Sam and Jess up: he's trying to help Sam, because in love with a replicant is no way for a blade runner to go through life.
He sticks his hand out to get the bartender's attention and orders another drink. Not a good time to let his mind lose the alcohol cloud he's worked so hard on. Not a good time to let himself think of Dean.
"Seriously, though, I've gotta be heading home pretty soon. Bela's gonna put me out on the couch if I'm late again. If you need someone to talk to, now's the time. I'm all ears for the next…" Victor looks down at his wrist and checks his watch, "Fifteen minutes."
It's a damn lucky break. Sam hasn't had the honor of meeting the fourth Mrs. Henriksen just yet, but from what he's gathered, she's a force to be reckoned with. He'll have some peace and quiet sooner than he was hoping.
"And just what do you think I need to talk about?" Sam challenges.
Victor lets out a heavy sigh, but he doesn't push, which is one of Sam's favorite things about working with him. Blade runners don't usually work in teams, not unless a case is too big to handle alone, and not very many of them wanna swap backstories when they do end up partnered. But Sam has gotten unlucky on a few occasions.
He watches his partner settle his bill, and then Victor gives Sam a friendly goodbye, his strong hand gripping Sam's shoulder as he tells Sam not to be a stranger. Sam watches him go with a kind of aloof fondness, but it's not long before he's lost inside his thoughts again.
The bartender keeps track of Sam's drinks for him, so he's not sure how long it's been since Victor left before he feels another hand on his back. Maybe a few minutes, though it's felt like hours, and maybe Victor forgot something or decided to pressure Sam into talking after all.
When he looks, though, the hand is pale, with just a few freckles scattered across the fingers bunched in his jacket, and Sam doesn't have to lift his head to know who it is. He swallows hard and closes his eyes, because he doesn't need to see the hand, not really. He's had that freckle pattern memorized since he was just a kid, and now all that seeing it does is make Sam want to taste them.
He shoves that down and curses his parents for the millionth time for putting so much attention to detail into building Dean. It would be hard enough not to want him if he wasn't so goddamn human.
"How'd you find me?" Sam asks.
He hears Dean laugh from just a few inches behind him, and the sound sinks all the way through Sam until it settles low in his belly, making him flush as hot as a supernova. "Your partner sold you out. He called and said you were pretty messed up over the job today, and that I should come scoop your drunk ass up if you weren't home soon."
"I'm fine." Sam doesn't bother trying to make it sound convincing. Dean always sees right through him anyway.
"Yeah, right," Dean replies with a soft chuckle. "As if any of your work buddies would call me if they weren't sure you needed help."
Sam frowns and turns his head up, almost hoping to see bitterness or hurt in Dean's expression, but Dean's completely neutral. Of course he is, he's a fucking robot. Sam is the only one whose feelings get hurt when his friends treat Dean like they're waiting for a sign he needs to be wasted.
Dean drops a few bills on the bar and stoops just low enough to pull Sam up by his shoulders. "C'mon, bigfoot. I'm gonna need you to work with me here."
Grudgingly, Sam tries to stand. He'd lose his balance if not for Dean propping him up, so instead he sways, finally finding his footing with his body pressed into Dean's chest. It doesn't make for a graceful exit, but they at least get as far as the parking lot.
The Impala is parked off to the side, just under a streetlight, and the lot is mostly empty, making it look like the spinner is on display. Sam wouldn't be surprised if Dean planned it that way. Dean's face is already lighting up as he approaches the vehicle, the way it always does when he gets to drive.
If a replicant can love anything, Dean loves this spinner. Always has, in an easy, uncomplicated way that makes Sam jealous on more than one level. He wants to say he doesn't understand the fondness, but Dean is a machine and his enthusiasm for the Impala probably makes more sense than the way Sam feels about him.
Technically, it's Sam's car. Replicants can't own property. But Sam has never thought of it as anything but Dean's, even before John passed away and left it to him. Sam's dad bought the Impala in 2967, when spinner licenses were still almost impossible to get a hold of, after his and Mary's first line of replicants started selling well. It's a beautiful car but dated, and she takes nearly twice as long as most spinners to get off the ground. She still drives like a dream on land, though, which is where Dean likes to keep her, and the reason she's in such good shape is that Dean spends every moment he isn't working or recharging making sure their spinner is in good shape.
He slides a hand reverently over the hood now, whispering, "Wake up, Baby," and, as usual, the car responds to his touch and his voice before Dean even has a chance to get the remote out. The doors lift up, and Sam slips into the passenger seat.
Sam waits until Dean gets in on the driver's side and the doors have slotted back into place to press his head against the window, looking up at the lights from spinners driving up above them. "We taking the skyway or—?"
"Can't be that drunk if you're remembering to make fun of me," Dean replies, shooting Sam a look before music starts pouring out of the Impala's speakers.
Sam grins as the car pulls out of their spot, wheels still firmly fixed on the ground. Dean insists he prefers land driving because there's less traffic and better views, but Sam hasn't ever been able to shake the suspicion that Dean feels something almost like fear every time they drive more than ten feet off the ground.
"It's okay that you're scared," Sam assures him. "I won't tell anyone."
"I'm not scared," Dean insists. "I can't be scared."
"Uh huh," Sam replies, and he laughs when Dean makes the music go louder, drowning out anything else Sam might have said. Sam listens to the noise between them and dozes, only half registering the lights and billboards of the city as they pass through.
Dean has to shake him when they get home. He's not quite asleep, but he got lost in his thoughts again, remembering the way that replicant had screamed when Henriksen shot her mate.
"You with me, Sammy?" Dean asks, helping to lift Sam out of the car. "Just gotta get as far as the house and you can pass out, alright?"
"How many times do I have to program you not to call me Sammy?" Sam asks, remembering now that he's trying to stand just how drunk he is.
Dean catches him, palm spread out over Sam's chest as he pushes Sam back up from his stumble. "Looks like you messed up the code again there, Sammy," Dean replies, and it sends the same sharp stab into Sam's heart that it always does.
He didn't mess up. Sam knows how to program a damn replicant—he learned from the best after all—and eliminating a word from a vocabulary doesn't exactly require advanced engineering. But this—this glitch, or whatever it is—has proven impossible not just for Sam to override. Even John eventually just shrugged it off, declaring it a mystery, but not one worth his time to unravel.
Sam has altered Dean's biocode at least twenty times, trying to scrub out the nickname, but the reversal has never lasted more than a week. Sooner or later, he's Sammy again, and it’s not that the name annoys him so much, not really. It's that the way Dean says it always sounds fond and Sam's pathetic enough that he has trouble believing sometimes that the glitch isn't willful on Dean's part.
Which is crazy, Sam knows, but then, so are most of the things he thinks about Dean.
"C'mon, Sam. Hands over your head."
Sam snaps back into it and realizes Dean has led him as far as his bedroom and is now attempting to help him into pajamas. He laughs and pushes Dean away. "I can get dressed on my own, dude."
"Then do it, bro," Dean replies in a mocking tone. He tosses Sam the shirt he was about to force over Sam's head, and Sam wiggles into it while Dean watches, hovering like the mother hen he was programmed to be.
"Stop checking me out," Sam says once he's pulled on a pair of boxers. "It's creepy."
Dean snorts at that, knowing how full of shit Sam is. He's been helping dress Sam since he really couldn't do it himself. He scoops down, collecting the work clothes Sam had scattered as he drunkenly changed, and Sam sits at the edge of his bed, watching Dean work.
Finally, Dean has everything where he wants it, and he turns his attention on Sam instead. "We gonna talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" Sam asks, looking up with what he hopes is an innocent expression on his face.
"This case that's got you so fucked up," Dean says, moving to sit next to Sam on the bed.
He tries to take Sam's hand, and Sam pulls back. "I don't know what you mean."
"Oh save it, Sam," Dean tells him. "I always know when you're lying, so why do you even try?"
It's true. Sam has wondered from time to time if John programmed him to detect bullshit—it seems like a thing his dad would have done—or if Dean has just spent enough time analyzing his facial expressions to learn how to read Sam. He kind of hopes it's the latter, but it doesn't really matter now.
"You're a robot," Sam reminds Dean. "You hate talking about it."
"Oh, I know it. This is why you need a real shrink. But until you get one, it's my job to take care of you, so spill."
Sam takes a deep breath. "The replicants we…we retired today. They were different, Dean. They were so human."
"They weren't human," Dean interrupts. "They were replicants."
"No, you don't understand. They didn't just go rogue. It wasn't random violence it was…they ran away together. That's what they did to be put on the retirement list, they ran away together. They were working off-planet. They killed their guards so they could steal a shuttle and come to Earth, and they were passing for human for weeks before we tracked them down. They weren't hurting anyone else. They had jobs. They were in love. They were in love with each other, Dean."
"They were just mimicking what they—"
"No," Sam insists. "Her name was Casey. His name was Gil. We found her first. She tried to hide him. I told her we could get her pardoned if she told us where he was, have her sent back to work on the planet she escaped from. That's when he attacked, when they both attacked. They said they wouldn't be slaves, that they'd kill as many people as they had to in order to stay free."
"That's impossible," Dean tells him. "Why would a replicant want that? We only exist to—"
"Stop," Sam says, feeling sick and not even knowing what he'd rather hear.
He doesn't want Dean to talk like that, like there's nothing more to him than carrying out the tasks Dad gave him. But it doesn't help any, knowing that this is the alternative. If Dean could feel, like Sam spends so much of his life wishing Dean could, why should that mean Dean would love him? Dean would be in the right to identify with rogue replicants, to hate humans for making him a slave, blade runners even more so for hunting them, and Sam most of all.
"Okay," Dean replies, holding his hands up in surrender. "But that doesn't mean they could—"
"When Victor shot Gil, Casey stopped fighting."
"What?" Dean asks with a chuckle. "After all that she just stopped?"
Sam feels his eyes stinging, and he can't even bear to let Dean see him. "She didn't want to live without him. She…she asked me to retire her. Because she loved him and she didn't want to live without him."
"That's just stupid," Dean says with a laugh, and Sam feels like his heart is made of out of paper, as easy to crush into a ball or rip into pieces.
"That's human," Sam explains. "It's just human is what it is."
"You sure these were replicants?" Dean asks, getting up and wandering into the bathroom.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Sam replies when Dean comes back out with a couple of pain killers in one hand and a glass of water in another.
He holds them out and Sam accepts them, downing the pills and hoping he won’t remember this at all tomorrow. Dean takes the glass from him and tries to help him back into bed, but Sam stops him with a hand on his chest. He finds Dean's eyes with his own, searching them. He must be some kind of masochist.
"Do you understand, Dean? Do you understand why that bothered me so much?"
Dean nods. "You feel like you killed a person. You're wondering how many of the replicants you've retired have had loved ones. Look, Sam, it's not like that, okay? You retired some metal and coils that were malfunctioning, that's it."
It's only part of what's bothering Sam, and not the larger part, if he's being honest. If those replicants could love each other, why can't Dean feel a goddamn thing?
"You don't understand," Sam tells him quietly. "You don't really understand."
"No, I don't," Dean agrees. "I'm sorry, Sam. I wish I could for your sake. I'm just not programmed to."
"I know." Sam reaches out, cupping Dean's cheek with his hand. "If you could just feel something, that would be enough. I could make you understand if you could just feel something."
"You're drunk," Dean says, taking Sam's hand and lowering it to his side. "Don't do this to yourself. Just go to sleep."
"You can rest here," Sam tells him, shifting the covers to make room. "Just for one night, so you don't have to stand in the corner while you recharge. I wouldn't mind."
Dean laughs it off. "That would just be stupid. You know I don't feel discomfort, Sam. No reason for me to take up space in your bed. I can reload just as well on my feet."
Sam frowns, but he doesn't bother telling Dean that he's missing the point. Instead he nods and lets Dean steer him down into his pillow. "Okay. Goodnight, Dean."
"Goodnight, Sammy," Dean whispers, and his fingers skim lightly through Sam's hair before he stands.
Sam's left to wonder why Dean still acts out love the way he did when Sam was a child. He was programmed to back then, but it feels horribly unfair that it didn't stop when he reached a certain age. Dean still says his name so softly and looks at him like he's special, so convincing when the actions are empty and meaningless.
If Sam were sober, he might admit that now that John's dead, it's on him to deactivate Dean's affection, and that's why it hasn't happened yet, and that's why it's never going to.
But he isn't sober. He falls asleep with a faint blue glow swimming in his eyes, a sign that Dean is still hovering by his bedside, and he lets himself pretend it's love, not duty.
Despite Dean's best efforts, Sam wakes up with a hangover to end all hangovers the next morning. He practically crawls into work, has every intention of disappearing under his desk for a nap as soon as he's hit up the kitchen for coffee, but the Chief has other plans.
"Winchester, my office, now," Singer barks as soon as he sees Sam, before Sam even has a chance to drop his shit on his desk.
"But—" Sam begins weakly.
Chief Singer raises an eyebrow, the 'but what, idgit?' so thoroughly implied he doesn't even need to open his mouth, and Sam doesn't have a good answer, so he follows after his boss as fast as his self-pity fueled body will allow.
"They caught another one," Singer tells him as soon as the door is closed, and Sam is so out of it, it takes a few seconds to catch onto what his boss is talking about.
Oh, right. Replicants. This is a blade running unit, for chrissake.
"Sir," Sam begins. "Agent Henriksen and I retired two yesterday, and I still haven't gotten the chance to file the report so—"
"We'll leave the paperwork to someone less effective," Singer says. "Henriksen and Moore both went out on new assignments this morning before Agent Harvelle brought this one in, and I'll go ahead and overlook the fact that you're late and obviously coming off one hell of a bender, because I need you in there questioning it."
"Shouldn't Harvelle be interviewing her own catch?" Sam asks.
Chief Singer shrugs. "Jo's a good blade runner, and I'm proud of her, I am. But she's four months out of the academy, and this skinjob is part of the group you and Henriksen targeted yesterday. She stumbled on something too big for her and I need an experienced cop administering the Voight-Kampff test."
Before Sam gets a chance to interject, Chief Singer stands up and fishes a file out of his cabinet. He flips it open and drops it on his desk for Sam to see. "I figured you would want a piece of this one, anyway."
As soon as Sam sees the photo Chief Singer flipped to, he gets it. His body forgets its trouble and he's standing at attention without even realizing it, like he can feel his Dad breathing down his neck from beyond the grave.
He steps forward to pick up the file, observing the image of a bright yellow eye stamped onto a woman's wrist. "This is on the one in there?"
"That's right," Singer confirms. "Just like the two you boys fried yesterday. I figure you're closing in on the big boss."
Sam licks his lips. "I'll talk to her."
The replicant's name is Anna Milton. Anna, according to her file, but she adds the last name, puts stress on it like it's important to her that Sam acknowledge it, even though it's just a name she and her mate pulled out of their asses when they got to Earth and started living as if they were a regular married couple.
Truth be told, she's even more unsettling than the two from yesterday. Sam's been running the Voight-Kampff test on her for over a hundred questions and she's still a jump ball. He'd think Harvelle accidentally brought in a real human if not for the brand on her wrist.
"You're out to dinner," Sam says, reading from the script in front of him. "You catch your husband looking at another woman. How does that make you feel?"
Anna smiles. Her face is kind, eyes compassionate except for one flash of an instant as she listens to this question, and it's not a big enough giveaway to tip the test off, but Sam catches it. "My husband would never," she says easily.
Sam shakes his head. "It's a hypothetical situation, ma'am," he says. "Just like all the others. Go ahead and imagine."
"I don't mean he would never want to," she clarifies, her smile turning playful. "I mean he knows better, and he wouldn't dare."
He laughs. It's such a wonderfully human thing to say, and Sam can't help that he likes her. She's dangerous, he knows that, and once he gets the information he needs from her, he'll have to retire her. But it's making his stomach turn even worse than killing the two yesterday had. This one isn't attacking like they had, isn't giving him the it's-you-or-me mentality that helped him justify retiring those too-human androids in self-defense. She's sitting calmly across from him making jokes, and it feels like murder to even think of turning his gun on her.
Without consulting his brain, Sam starts leading the questions. Not down a path he knows she'll get tripped up on like he's been trained to do. He skips to questions he knows she'll pass on.
Anna lets it go for another half an hour before finally she says, "Mr. Winchester, I know you know. Why don't you just end this for both of us? The waiting, answering these questions, you dragging it on even longer than necessary…it's agonizing."
Sam hesitates for nearly a full minute before finally he pauses the test, cuts the camera and microphone. "If we keep going a little while longer, you can fool it."
She nods. "I know. But you know what I am."
"If you pass the test, all we have on you is the tattoo," Sam says. "You can say you saw it in the parlor window and liked it, play it off like you didn't reali—"
"Another blade runner will find me eventually." She doesn't say it like a question, so Sam doesn't patronize her by lying about it. "One who will shoot before bringing me in for interrogation. I'll spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder when instead I could protect…"
"Protect?" Sam asks after she's silent for too long. "Mrs. Milton, you understand that if you're working with Azazel, I will have to retire you. If you turn him in—"
"Your department's policy is still to retire me," she interrupts and, again, Sam doesn't lie to her about it. "I'm not protecting him. I hate him as much as you do."
"That why you have his insignia on your arm?"
"We were desperate," Anna tells him. "When we first got to this planet. We were fugitives, on the run, didn't understand the customs here. We never would have passed from first arrival. Azazel took us in. He offered us protection. As soon as we realized what kind of person he was, we got out."
"That 'we' refers to Casey, Gil, and Castiel?" Sam clarifies. "The other rogues you escaped from the V-876 colony on Europa with?"
At the name of her supposed husband, Anna flinches slightly, but she nods.
"We captured Casey and Gil yesterday," Sam explains. "I assume you knew that."
"Yes," she says, her voice hostile for the first time since Sam started examining her. He waits for her to turn, to get violent. They always get violent. Anna just sits in front of him with a defiant expression. "I heard that you killed my friends."
"So it's Castiel you're protecting?"
She doesn't say anything, so Sam leans closer. "Anna, you told me to stop the test for a reason."
"You could have retired me forty-five minutes ago," she says. "You tried to help me instead."
"I don't know what makes you so sure—"
"Something about the question about my husband looking at another woman tipped you off. I was made to analyze obscure data, Mr. Winchester. Off planet, I was used to identify exact placement of crops to yield the most harvest. If I know how to detect mineral levels in soil under my feet just by looking at it, I think I can read one blade runner's tells."
Sam licks his lips, decides to go ahead and give her the same respect she's given him. "Your pupils dilated at the test's first mention of the word 'husband.' Just the slightest bit. It wasn't enough to confirm for the test, but I figure you were nervous that question was going to give you away. Anna Milton has a husband, but replicants cannot be married by law."
"A perfect blade runner," she says teasingly. "One who can spot a replicant better than a Voight-Kampff test. You're quite the asset to this department, I bet."
"I'm a good cop," Sam says, brushing it off. Anna laughs softly, like she knows something he doesn't, and it makes Sam's skin crawl. "Let's keep the questions on you, Mrs. Milton. You've been sharing that name with your mate, a Castiel Milton—"
"He is my husband, not my mate. We aren't animals," she says, tone defiant. "And I love him."
"I don't question that you believe you feel that way."
"Don't condescend to me," says Anna. "I know you blade runners like to believe replicants don't feel. I guess it helps you sleep at night after you run around all day killing people."
"If you're going to get hostile, I will turn the test back on," Sam says.
She reaches out very suddenly, and for a moment, Sam thinks she's about to attack. Instead, she lays her hand over Sam's, and her face becomes openly desperate. "Please, I need your help."
"You need my help?" Sam asks. "You realize you're in a blade running unit and I'm a blade runner?"
"I know what you do for a living," she says. "But I don't think that's who you are. I trust you, Sam."
"It's Sam now?"
"You've been using my first name when it suits you," she points out.
"Fair enough." Sam sits back. "Let's say I'm willing to listen to what you have to say. What is it you need me to do?"
"I need you to protect my husband."
Sam's mouth drops open. "That's crazy."
"Is it?" she asks. "You were going to let me walk out of here, weren't you? After you figured me out, you were still going to let me walk."
"I…that's still different from actively protecting you. Or protecting another dangerous rogue who's still—"
"Castiel is not dangerous," Anna insists. "He's never hurt a human in his life, please. Listen to me. He's a good man. The least human of any of us, but he loves humans. He's kind, gentle. You fascinate him. He didn't even hold a grudge against the slavers on Europa. He only left with us because I couldn't stay there any longer."
"And in doing so, he assisted you and your partners in the murder of over twenty humans during the escape."
"No," Anna says. "The rest of us…look, I'm not proud of everything we did to win our freedom. But we did what we had to do. Those slavers were monsters, more so than I am, that's for sure."
"They were human," Sam reasons. "There are laws."
"Human laws," Anna says. "Human laws say not to kill, but what about our lives? Gil was an exploratory droid. They sent him and his squadron out to map new parts of the planet. They were seen as expendable—hundreds would die to discover the terrain on Europa, and he never knew what day it would be his turn. Then, after all of those replicant lives had been thrown to the elements, once the area was secured and potential threats assessed, they would send in some prominent human explorer and that person would get credit for 'discovering' the land. They would report no casualties. What's a replicant life to them? But we would lose our friends, Gil lost his sisters and brothers."
Sam pulls back slightly, repulsed by the idea that replicants might feel that pain the way a person would. But he keeps his tone even, a perfect mask over his uneasiness. "And this gave him a license to kill?"
"It gave him an impetus to get the hell out," Anna replies bluntly. "Casey was a pleasure model. I don't have to tell you the horrors she was subjected to."
"None of this makes what you did excusable," Sam insists, though truth be told, the whole thing is getting to him more than he would like to admit. He softens his approach. "Anna, I'm sorry for the way you were treated on Europa. I'm sorry to all of you, I truly am. But no matter how righteous what you did felt, I can't exactly go to my boss and tell him he should let you and Castiel walk the streets freely. He won't care. You're replicants on Earth. You've taken human life. It's black and white to him."
"But not to you," she says. "Please listen to me. Castiel drove the shuttle we stole when we escaped. That's it. The rest of us—we did what we had to do to get free. I didn't like it—I think Gil and Casey did. They hated humans, they believed what Azazel preached to us. I hated it, but I won't pretend I never took a life. My husband never did."
"That's not going to matter to my—"
"But it matters to you." Anna's tone is steel now, her eyes determined. If the Voight-Kampff were still on, she would pass for human easily. Replicants aren't supposed to be capable of this kind of fierce loyalty. "I know it does, I've been studying you. I know what kind of person you are. If you save my husband, he can help you. He can find Azazel for you. It'll be worth your while. I don't know how to find him. When we separated from him, I washed my hands of him, but Castiel has kept in touch. He wanted to make sure yellow eyes didn't decide we might turn on him and come for us."
"This doesn't make any sense. Why didn't you just walk out of here when you had the chance?" Sam asks. "Warn him yourself? Why would you tell me where to find him?"
"Because he isn't like me. He isn't like Gil and Casey. He'll never pass a Voight-Kampff. He needs protection. He can't pass for human. I need your unit looking the other way while he's escaping, because the city is crawling with blade runners who would shoot him first and ask questions later. And I would rather have him owe his life to you than to that monster Azazel."
"Anna, you know that I can't have this much of our interview missing and no final say from the Voight-Kampff test unless…"
"Yes," she says. "I know no one will ask questions about the missing time if you retire me. I never expected to walk out of here alive."
"And yet you took this chance," Sam says.
"You're my husband's only hope," she explains. "Haven't you ever been in love?"
There's no control for Sam, as soon as she asks the question, his mind screams Dean's name, and Sam nods.
"Imagine the person you loved was a replicant," she says. "But nothing else was different. They still love you. They're still that person. Would you retire them?"
Sam laughs bitterly, more at himself than at the question. He doesn't have to imagine a whole lot here. "Never."
"Would you die for them?"
"In a heartbeat," Sam says.
"I don't have one of those," Anna jokes. "But I understand the expression indicates an affirmative response."
Sam laughs and rolls his eyes as he nods.
"So will you help Castiel if I tell you where he is? I just need you to get a message to him and make sure that your colleagues are distracted in other parts of the city for the few hours he'll need to get out. Let him know we've been made, tell him to get out of town. Somewhere smaller, somewhere people won't suspect him as easily. Where the blade runners aren't as experienced. He can pass for human somewhere else, I'm sure of it."
"Yes, I'll tell him." Sam slides a pad and pen across the table to her. "Write down where I can find him."
"You promise you won't kill him?" Sam realizes for the first time that her eyes are wide, like she would be crying if that was something replicants were capable of. She's afraid. "You promise you'll go to him alone, that you won't tell the others how to find him?"
"I promise," Sam says. "If it's not to save my life, I won't hurt your husband. If he helps me find Azazel, I'll try to help him escape."
She writes down an address and pushes the pad back to Sam. "He works at a clinic in Sector Six."
"A clinic?" Sam asks, raising an eyebrow.
"He was a medical droid on Europa," she explains. "And he wasn't like the rest of us. He didn't feel enslaved. He loves helping people. It's what he wanted to do when we got here. Sam, he's a good man. Just like you."
"I don't want to do this," he admits as he reaches for his gun.
"I know," she tells him, and she puts on a brave face, reaching out to touch the hand he doesn't have on his weapon. "It's okay, Sam. My expiration date is not far off. Castiel still has years. This is what I want you to do."
Sam nods and closes his eyes. Feels like he's turning the gun on himself when he pulls the trigger.
The Chief gives him a fond slap on the back and the afternoon off when he finds Anna retired in the interrogation room. It takes everything Sam has not to scream, not to visibly shake in response to what he's done. Anna was a good person, and he put a bullet through her operating system. She told him to, to save a life she valued more than her own.
This isn't what his father raised him to do. This is execution.
Sam's instinct is to go on another bender, to let himself wallow for a few hours before having to look Dean in the eye after what he did to Anna. But he made a promise, he made a promise to a good woman before he killed her, and he's damn well going to follow through on it.
That's why Sam finds himself in a nondescript little clinic in one of the most run down sections of town by mid-afternoon, waiting to see the doctor, whose name, according to the sign on the door, is Castiel Milton.
He's called in after about an hour of waiting and led to a small white room. The doctor enters shortly after that, the same dark hair and bright blue eyes as in the pictures Sam and the rest of his unit were given last week, along with mugshots of the now-retired Gil, Casey, and Anna, when they were told to hunt these replicants to extinction.
The photos didn't show how expressive Anna's face was, the passion in Casey's voice as she screamed for her retired mate, and as soon as Castiel walks in, Sam knows they didn't do him justice, either. He gives Sam a kind smile as he takes a seat and asks what Sam is there to see him about.
Castiel is convincing enough, but not exceptional, not like the others had been. Anna was right. While she had taken over an hour even for him to identify as a replicant, any blade runner worth their salt would spot Castiel from his intonation alone.
"Your wife sent me," Sam says, cutting to the chase. "With a warning."
Castiel's big eyes immediately cloud over with fear. He doesn't have the tact that his wife had. If replicants can have emotions—and Sam is hardly clinging to any hope they can't at this point—Castiel's are far more basic, visible on the surface, whereas the others had shown some amount of human restraint in expressing themselves.
"Where is she?" he asks, stepping forward and putting his hands on Sam's shoulders. "Is she okay? Are you a—?"
"I'm not a replicant," Sam tells him. "I'm a blade runner."
Castiel staggers back, his eyes darting around the room like a trapped animal. For a moment, Sam is sure he's about to attack, hell, he wouldn't even blame him. But all Castiel does is shrink as far back as he can, press himself to the wall. "Did you kill my wife?"
"She's been retired," Sam confirms.
Castiel turns, pounds his fist on the wall, and Sam stands up. "Listen to me, you need—"
"Just do what you came here to do," Castiel says. "I never wanted to live on this planet. I never wanted to live anywhere she wasn't."
"I'm not here to ki—to retire you," Sam explains. "I'm here to warn you."
"Warn me?" he asks, turning to meet Sam's eyes. "What more could be done to me?"
"She died to save your life," says Sam. "You have to get out of here, try to move on, based on that alone."
"I suppose you're here to help me do that?" Castiel asks accusingly.
"I know you have no reason to trust me, but she did. She told me where to find you so that I could help you escape. How else would I have known to come here?"
Castiel shakes his head and takes his seat again, running his hands through his hair in a perfect copy of human distress. "This isn't right. It should have been me. Not her."
"She made her choice, Castiel. You can respect it or not, but I promised to do what I could to save you, so I am. You need to get out of L.A. Maybe the whole state. And fast. I'll be sending my unit down the wrong path, but that's only going to work for so long before someone spots you. Every cop in the city has your photo."
Castiel's lips tighten. "How did it happen?"
Sam shakes his head. He doesn't want to relive it, doesn't want to torture Castiel with more details than he needs. But the replicant stares at him unblinking, and finally Sam sighs and says, "She was caught this morning. One of my co-workers spotted the yellow eyes tattoo on her wrist—"
Castiel slams his hand on the nearest hard surface, and the movement makes the sleeve of his long white coat move up just enough to show that he has one too. "I always knew that bastard was going to cost us our lives one way or the other."
"I'm sorry," Sam tells him, and he's completely earnest, even if the replicant likely won't believe it. "He killed both my parents. I understand how you feel."
"Your parents," Castiel says, looking up too quickly. Sam can tell that he's calculating something, but he doesn't say what, just gives Sam a sharp nod of his head. "I've decided I trust you, like my wife did, Sam Winchester."
"You know who I am?"
"I'm fairly adept at connecting dots," the replicant says, raising an eyebrow. "Your story is not a common one. And I am, after all, a beneficiary of your parent's work."
"I suppose that's true," Sam says, trying to shake off the unease he's feeling from Castiel's sudden, laser-focus on him.
"You're not just here to warn me," Castiel guesses. "You want information."
"Anna told me you could help me find him," says Sam. "I can get revenge for both of us if you do, Castiel. I can make sure he doesn't hurt anyone else."
Castiel seems to consider it for a long moment. "I can't tell you where he is," he says. Before Sam has a chance to argue, he adds, "I genuinely don't know. But I can contact him, tell him I want to meet up tomorrow. I can tell him that…" he chokes a bit, but finally he continues, "I can tell him that Anna's death has made me reconsider my position toward humans. He will come to meet with me. He is loyal to those he sees as his kin, believe it or not."
"What made you turn from him?" Sam asks. "If he's not all evil."
"I would categorize him as evil," Castiel answers. "I never liked him. He doesn’t wish to reconcile with humans. He wants to kill. He enjoys it. I suppose his grievance is legitimate, but the bloodthirst, his wish to enslave humans—it's trading one injustice for another."
"I think we can agree on that," Sam tells him.
Castiel gives him a wry smile. "Most blade runners would not agree that any replicant can have a case against humans."
"Let's also agree I'm not most blade runners," Sam says. "I was raised by a replicant."
"Yes, you're quite the special case, aren't you?" Castiel asks in a tone Sam imagines he must use when he's examining a broken bone. It makes Sam profoundly uncomfortable.
"So that's his endgame? Kill all humans, enslave the ones that survive?"
"Yes," Castiel says. "Giving humans a taste of their own medicine, in his view."
Sam nods. That's in line with what his research on the replicant that killed his parents has told him. What he never was able to understand was what Azazel wanted from him.
"You were close to him. Closer than anyone I've interrogated. Do you know…?" Sam begins, but he shakes his head, thinking it's probably a stupid question.
"You want to know why he targeted your parents," Castiel says matter-of-factly. "Your mother specifically."
"Dad told me he was trying to get to me," Sam says. "But I was just a baby. What would he have wanted with me?"
Castiel looks pitying for a few moments before finally he speaks. "At that time, he was near his expiration date. I think he believed your parents would know how to extend his life."
"But why me?" Sam asks again.
The replicant seems uncomfortable, and he's not a good enough AI to get a lie past Sam. His answer is hiding something, and Sam knows it. "Perhaps he thought they would be more willing to help him if he had you as leverage."
"Yeah, alright," Sam says, not willing to push it when Castiel is cooperating more than any of the witnesses he's found in the last four years have. "So that's it? He wanted more life?"
"Azazel has found the override to his expiration date, as you I'm sure were aware. He has been killing blade runners for more than a decade, well over his four-year life. But he is not done with you or your family. He will still come for you, like he did when your mother died to protect you, and when your father did the same."
"Dad died because of me?" Sam asks. "That's not…Dad went after him and lost. His whole life was focused on killing Azazel after what he did to mom. He spent my whole life training me to be the perfect blade runner. He didn't die to protect me, he died for revenge."
"In a way, yes," Castiel says. "And in a way, no."
"Speak plainly," Sam demands.
"Azazel has achieved his most immediate need, he managed to extend his life. But he has a greater plan, and he believed that your parents were the only robotic engineers capable of accomplishing what he needed. He was sure they had already done so."
"He wants to build replicants who can pass as human. He wants to create an army that can infiltrate human infrastructure until it is powerful enough to take control. Not just convincing copies like myself and Anna. What he needs is something that can fool even the best blade runners. 'More human than human,' as your parent's company used to say before it shut down operation."
"But they never accomplished that," Sam says. "Azazel killed mom and Dad quit creating artificial intelligence completely. The project got scrapped, he shifted gears, worked to make me the best of the best for the blade running academy and never built another android. The closest they ever got was Dean, and Dean is…he's special, but he's not human. He's a basic enough model that the government didn't even require he have an expiration date installed. He was produced long before replicants started going rogue."
Castiel is quiet for a long time. Finally he says, "Well, Azazel was and is still convinced they succeeded. And that means he's not going to stop coming after their research. He believes the blueprint to perfect fabricated life is locked up in the workshop you inherited."
"So it's kill or be killed," says Sam. Castiel nods and Sam shrugs. "I was planning to go after him anyway. I need you to set up a meeting for me, tell him to meet you at the abandoned Winchester Corp. factory. Then you can leave town. I'll make sure you're safe."
Castiel nods. "But Sam, Azazel is no one to be taken on lightly. He's good at killing. He enjoys it."
"I know that," Sam tells him. "My father was the greatest blade runner the world had ever seen and he…well, Azazel beat him. But I have to try to stop him. He's not hurting anyone else I care about. Dean would die to protect my parents' work. It's what he was programmed to do."
Castiel's expression is sad, probably thinking of his own recent loss, of the fact that she had given her life for him, just as Sam intends to do for Dean, if it comes to that.
"I hope you have a fun night planned," he says, and Sam doesn't think it's supposed to be a joke, but his flat intonation makes Sam laugh anyway. "It's probably going to be your last."