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Title: Spring and by Summer Fall (God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise) Part 3b
Author: chartruscan
Characters/Pairings: D/C pre-slash, Dean, Castiel, John, Sam, Rufus, Bobby
Rating: PG-13 this part (R for language)
Wordcount: ~3700
Warnings:  WIP,  Language of the potty mouth variety, more heapings of self-indulgent hurt/comfort (it's a plot point, seriously!).
Genre: AU, H/C, Whump
Summary:   He had never wanted his father's life of ranching. Years after returning as a former POW, Dean can think of nowhere else he'd rather be, and he'll do anything to keep his family and home safe.
Summary (Part 3b):   John makes Cas an offer he can't refuse

7 January 2006

Cas was at a crossroads.

Dean was still burning up with fever the next morning.  They'd forced him to take acetaminophen and kept him as hydrated as possible without an IV solution, but the fever wasn't breaking.  If Castiel were to guess, it was a bacterial infection.

John Winchester could take his eldest to the hospital an hour and a half out and wait five minutes or five hours to be seen, and Dean would be fine.  Or they could drive the twenty or so minutes to Bobby Singer's salvage yard and garage where his ambulance van was and get the anitbiotics.  Forty-five minutes and Dean would be fine, and he was sure John would appreciate avoiding another medical expense.

Cas knew that he was stuck.  His means of work and transport was out of commission for the foreseeable future, if not permanently, and even if it wasn't, Cas himself was out of commission for at least a month, if not longer.  And he knew he needed John Winchester's goodwill if he wanted a safe place to recover before he moved on.

To an outsider it would seem like an easy choice.

The keys for the locked drug storage cabinet were in the safe under the center of the front cabin's bench seat, and the key for that lock box was secure around Cas’ neck on a chain.  Cas knew that he wouldn't be able to get to it himself.  He could barely make it to the bathroom on his own with his borrowed crutches, let alone crawl around the inside of the van.

What he didn't know was how John Winchester would react when he found what was kept inside that lock box alongside the keys to the storage cabinet.  Maybe he'd turn Cas in, try and get a reward, maybe he'd just dump him back at a motel in town and wash his hands of him.  

Cas was tempted to tempt fate.  A small part of him wanted to be known, after all these years.  He was tired of being alone, of being so careful.  It felt like madness and he wanted to hurtle into that insanity head-first.  If it was fate that his life was to fall further apart, he'd rather gamble on that happening sooner, and maybe, just maybe, he'd survive this.

Whatever happened was meant to happen.  

Cas took a deep breath.

"John, Dean's fever isn't breaking.  I've medicine if you'll drive me."

Cas immediately regretted his decision as he gripped tightly to the oh-shit handle above the passenger window.  He should have taken the coward’s out and waited back at the ranch with Dean, stewing in anxiety about what John’s reaction would be.  At least then he wouldn’t be in agonizing pain.

The pickup truck moved down the frost-heaved highway, John driving five miles below the speed limit, but Cas felt every bump and shudder in his ribs and his knee.  Snow dust billowed across their path, glowing in the morning light as they turned east onto another country road thirty minutes from town.

"You didn't have to come," John said.   He didn't offer to turn around; it was a pointed, curious question.

"It's fine," Cas gritted.  "I want to see how bad the damage is for myself."  He was actually still holding onto the most tenuous of hopes that he could get to the keys for the drug storage cabinet himself.  

John said nothing as he slowed the truck, driving now alongside a corrugated steel wall looped on top with barbed wire.   Cas tensed as they pulled through the open gates, closed his eyes and had to remind himself that he was in South Dakota.

He opened his eyes when they pulled to a stop.  They were parked in front of a ramshackle house and an older man in a truckers cap was walking down the front porch.

John greeted him with a curt, "Bobby" as Cas fumbled with the crutches and limped over to meet them.

"Son," Bobby said to Cas. "Tough break.  Your ride's around the side.  Haven't had a chance to look it over yet."

Cas nodded and followed him over the frozen ground rutted deep with tire tracks.  His van was parked outside a three-bay garage and the sight wasn't promising.  

Bobby pried first the rear doors and then the passenger door open with a crowbar when they stuck against the crumpled roof.  A young dark-haired woman and a younger sharp-faced man watched from the first bay of the garage.

John looked at him expectantly, but oddly patiently.  Cas was wiped from the walk over, and he was having trouble just keeping upright.  So, he decided with resignation, he wouldn’t be the one to get the keys.  Cas tucked the right-hand crutch firmly into his armpit and reached inside his jacket, hesitating for the briefest of moments before pulling the key and it's chain off over his head.  John noticed his reluctance with a narrowing of his eyes.  Shit.  Cas held out the key over John's outstretched hand.  And still he hesitated, but this time with intent.  This was it.  Cas met John's eyes and tried to convey wordlessly what he was entrusting to him.  

His life, if nothing else.

John seemed to get some of that, a question in his eyes, but also an understanding that there was more at stake than his son's health, even if it would never rank higher than anything to do with his sons.

Cas leaned heavily on the crutches as John disappeared inside the cabin of the van.  Cas breathed in the sharp wet bite of air that said snow was coming, tried not to think of being cast out in this weather.  He tried not to count every interminable second that John was out of sight.

He didn't see the sharp-nosed man licking his lips.

John emerged long moments later with a jangle of keys, his face dark, not meeting Cas' trepidatious gaze.  John went next to the rear of the ambulance and retrieved the vials and syringes from where Cas had said they would be.  He stepped back out, shoulders stiff, bouncing the vials in his hand as if testing their weight.

He looked at Cas then.

"I'm going to put these away," he said, holding up the keys.  

Cas swallowed, his stomach settling by inches.  When John came back he stood in front of Cas and held out the necklace.  In relief Cas quickly grasped the key where it dangled from John's fist and looked up in sharp surprise when the older man didn't reliquish it immediately.  Sweat trickled down inside his coat.  John's gaze serious and full of promises of intent.  

Cas nodded.  

John let go.  

Cas pulled the necklace back over his neck and tucked it away again inside his shirt.  When John wordlessly started walking away, Cas followed.

Back in the truck John placed the medicine on the air vents and turned the defroster on low.  They drove in silence for a few miles.

Eventually, John said, "That was a bold move."

Cas said nothing.

"I appreciate that, don't think that I don't."  Cas didn't relax.  John continued, "I don't make a habit of inquiring into a man's past, and I won't start now.  I take the measure of a man for who he is today, and I don't think I've read you wrong."

Cas glanced warily at John.

John sighed heavily, gripping the steering wheel tighlty, and looked Cas steadily in the eyes.  "Was I wrong?  I've got enough trouble of my own on my plate, you understand?"

Here it was, Cas thought.

"Give me one good reason I shouldn't let you out right here and now.  One good reason why I shouldn't give Sheriif Mills a call when I get home in fifteen minutes."

So Cas did.

Sam felt his heart jump when his father arrived back at the ranch; the ranch hands were off to their chores and Sam was alone, sitting precariously on edge of the couch with his legs and crutches splayed out across half the room.  He was jammed up against Dean, half-sitting on him with one hand planted in the middle of his brother's chest, the other gripping Dean's wrist.  The blankets were kicked back and Dean had one arm free from his flannel shirt, fabric dark with sweat and skin shining sickly in the morning light.  It had been awkward and not a little painful wrestling Dean down, and now Sam was holding onto Dean as much to keep from himself falling to the floor as he was making sure he didn't wander off into snow-crusted prairie.

He felt a thread of worry begin to twist in his gut when he saw that his father was alone, expression distant and dark, methodically hanging up his coat in the kitchen and pulling off his boots as if lost in thought.


Cas pushed his way into the kitchen then, and Sam felt relief flood him.  Everything would be alright, the doctor is here.

John’s dark expression immediately changed to anxiety when he saw the tableau his two sons made: Sam tight with pain and discomfort as he clamped down on Dean, who was struggling weakly, breath coming in quick, harsh pants.

“What happened?” John asked in a panic.

"He tried undressing and was raving about needing to go outside," Sam explained as Cas limped over.

John pulled Sam up, strong hands easily taking his youngest son's weight, and gently helped him over into a nearby armchair and moved his crutches within easy reach.  Sam watched curiously as his father and the doctor move around each other.  His father stepping around him to the bathroom, Cas waiting until his path was clear and slowly lowering himself onto the coffee table next to Dean, John returning with alcohol wipes and almost seeming to ask permission before he knelt beside his oldest son.  Like two wary predators choosing to briefly share territory.  Sam wondered briefly what the hell was going on, but another half-muttered plea from Dean drew his attention back to the immediate situation.

Cas pulled the vial and syringe from a pocket.  "I'll need for him to be still."

Sam eyed the needle dubiously as his father place a gentle hand on Dean's brow, trying to calm his thrashing, asking  "Does it have to go in a vein?"

"It's preferable," Cas answered Sam.  "But the shoulder will do fine."

Sam watched as his father pushed the blankets further back and rolled Dean to pull the remaining sleeve the rest of the way off.  He then rolled up the sleeve of the t-shirt facing the doctor and hesitated.  Cas sucked in a startled breath.

Sam realized that it was Dean's left shoulder.

He'd seen the scar only once, back when it was still new and healing.  What was once red and angry was now pale ridges, lighter than the rest of Dean’s skin.  

Burning shrapnel, the doctors had said, from the bombs that destroyed the village that Dean had been held in.  It looked like a comet, a large jagged patch of badly healed skin and a starburst of other scars tracing thin grooves up towards his back and neck.  A constellation of smaller nicks peppered down his arm.  Sam had always wondered why Dean had only sustained injury on that part of his body when he’d apparently been found stretched out in the open, no shelter in sight.

"He was overseas." John explained quietly to Cas.

Cas said nothing.  His hand was shaking more than Dean with his fever-chills.

"Looks like a hand, don't it?" John said almost conversationally, trying for casual and almost making it work.  "Sometimes I forget he has this."  He rolled down the sleeve, putting the reminder out of sight.  "There's too much scar tissue," he continued in a louder voice and gently lifted Dean, who batted weakly at him.  John hushed Dean and slipped behind him.  Then he rolled him in his lap so that his right shoulder was within the doctor's reach and tugged up the other sleeve.

Sam watched as the doctor settled into an efficient and competent persona, not unlike the one he'd adopted when seeing to Sam's knee, ripping open an alcohol wipe and disinfecting the exposed skin, filling the syringe with practiced ease and squirting out the air bubbles.  Dean shivered at the brief touch but seemed calmer as John held him tightly.   Sam watched as Cas glanced at John as if asking if he was ready --although it looked more like the doctor was asking for permission-- and received a curt nod.  Do it.  Cas leaned forward carefully, as much mindful of his own injured ribs as he was ensuring he didn't spook Dean.  

Not that it helped, in the end.  

Cas placed a hand on Dean's arm first, and seeing no distress on Dean's part, brusquely stabbed the needle into his arm, pressed down on the plunger, and had the needle out and safely capped within less than a second.

Cas was saying, "There, that was painless--" when Dean's eyes flew open and flailed bodily in John's embrace, left arm catching Cas in the chest as he was in the process of sitting back onto the coffee table.  

John clamped down on Dean immediately, but Cas was doubling forward in pain even as he fell backwards.  Sam witnessed this helplessly as Cas caught the coffee table with the small of his back and bounced off.  The table skittered away and the doctor landed on his bad knee and then hit the floor on his side, curling in on himself.

John held onto Dean with his arms and legs as he writhed and bucked.  Sam slithered to the floor and reached out to the doctor collapsed onto the floor, his mouth opened in a wordless scream, breath stuttering out in jagged bursts as he rocked back and forth on his side in agony.

"Don't touch me",  Cas finally gasped, tears leaking silently down into his hair and ears.  Sam's hand froze midair, looking helplessly between his father and the doctor.

Cas hummed in pain as John held Dean tight to him, rocking him and shushing him in a steady rhythmic voice, hand on his sweaty brow and an arm across his chest.  

Sam wanted to throw up, reminded of the summer when he had returned from school that first year Dean had been back, waking up from debilitating nightmares.  Dean had been so hard to look at, then.  Too pale, too skinny, too changed.  He’d felt helpless then, when he didn’t know how to be with Dean, when Dean would withdraw into himself and shut Sam out.

Cas' voice came to him, whispery and chanting, "I'm fine, I'm fine.  Don't touch me, please, I'm fine don't touch me, don't touch me, I'm fine."

Dean awoke blearily to warm afternoon sun and firelight.  He drifted through half-remembered dreams mingled with disordered memories of the morning.   Misplaced sounds.   A horse snorting, helicopter blades whirring, a fire crackling.  Snatches of washed-out color, his father's arms around him, his leg breaking as his helicopter hit sand, Cas Novak's face leaning over him with the desert behind him.

That wasn't right.

He remembered the doctor up in his space, too close, remembered panicking, feeling harsh sunlight and pain, a deafening sound, his shoulder on fire.  Remembered being restrained, and then his father's voice cutting through the panic.  It had been a nice dream, being held like his father used to do when he was still a kid, strong arms wrapped around him, keeping him safe from the monsters in his closet.  Dean didn't have pleasant dreams often, so he let himself drift in the memory of this one, half-hearing his father in the kitchen, murmuring on the phone, long pauses followed by querying tones.

He blinked sweat out of his eyes and glanced around the room.  The coffee table was askew, the fire burned halfway down.  Something closer to him caught his feverish gaze.  The doctor was on the floor, pillows under his head and right knee, blanket pulled up over his shoulders, a frown on his face.  Dean shivered, trying to pull Cas out of his memories of Before.  

He wasn't there.  He shoudn't be there.  

Weariness pulled at him, and he fell back into a fitful sleep.

The noisy clomp of boots and slamming doors startled Cas awake, his first panicked thought being that John had called the sheriff anyway.  Gusts of cold air swirled in, bringing in the wet sharp smell of snow and making the fire gutter.  There was the sound of chairs scraping and dishes clattering, someone laughed loudly, followed by an admonishment, and the conversation died down to hushed whispers.  He was sore all over; a dull ache in his knee, chest, and neck, a new pain in the small of his back, and his right side overly hot where it faced the fire.  He remembered insisting being left where he had fallen, regretting that decision with every aching nerve in his body, but didn't remember passing out.

He looked around tentatively and saw Dean sleeping to his left on the couch, body stretched parallel to his.  Cas still hurt, but he closed his eyes, feeling how close they were, silently enjoying the buzz that stole over him, and wondered at it.  He indulged this for only a moment before he opened his eyes again, took in the presence of crutches to his right, ibuprofen and a bottle of water on the coffee table just within reach.  He rolled awkwardly to his side and got his good knee under him when John came in with an armful of wood.  He dropped it into the bin and helped Cas up before passing him the crutches and inviting him to join them for lunch.

He downed four pills and cleaned himself quickly in the bathroom before joining the meal already in progress.  Sam was already there and introduced the ranch hands to him, and this time he received more polite smiles and a few statements of gratitude for what he'd done for Dean.  Cas swallowed down the thought that it was because of him that Dean had caught ill to begin with.

After lunch was cleared and the hands set back outside with a few instructions from John, Cas reached for his crutches, intent on checking on Dean

"Wait a moment," John ordered.  Cas froze.

Sam had also been levering himself up and paused, not sure whom his father had addressed.

John clarified, "Cas.  Sam, this concerns you as well."  Sam sat back down along with the doctor.

Cas tensed.  John hadn't turned on him, but he still wasn't sure of his situation, where he would go next.  After he'd told John as much as fifteen minutes would allow in the truck ride back from Singer’s, John Winchester had fallen silent and thoughtful.  Any further discussion being derailed by a well-placed blow from a feverish Dean.

"The way I see it," John began.  "Is you have limited options here.  Until your knee heals, you won't be driving out of here on your own steam.  Now, if you got a place to go with folks to look after you, I can drop you at the bus station or the airport."  Cas knew John knew this wasn't so, and that the offer was made for Sam’s benefit alone.  The older man continued, "If Bobby can get your van back in running condition, we can make arrangements to send it on to you, or you can come back and get it, if you don't just want to scrap it."

That was a lot of money.  Cas had money, but he didn't have anything more than a post office box, no permanent address, just lots of motel bills and a permanent kink in his back from camping in the back of the ambulance.  He gave no outward sign that he didn't care for these options in the offchance that this was what he had to choose from.

"Or," John said.  "Or we set you up here in one of the cabins, and in exchange for room and board, when you're able, you see to Sam's recovery, make sure he’s doing his exercises, and when and if Bobby's got your van running and you're able, you can be off."

John flicks his eyes to his youngest, "Sam?"

Cas raised his eyes from the worm-eaten wood of the kitchen table.  He can feel Sam's eyes on him and turns to see a hopeful expression.  Cas glances at John, sees a there warm invitation to stay.  

For the first time in a long time, Cas feels wanted, needed.

He chose to stay.


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