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Title: Spring and by Summer Fall (God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise) Part 1
Author: chartruscan
Beta: _mens_rea_
Characters/Pairings: D/C pre-slash, Dean, Castiel, John, Sam, mention of Rufus
Rating: PG this part
Wordcount: ~3000
Warnings: abuse of real places, medicine, traveling doctors, cattle ranching, South Dakota flora, and lawschool
Genre: AU, H/C, Whump
Summary:   He had never wanted his father's life of ranching. Years after returning as 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 1): Dean was almost twenty-seven when Cas came into his life and turned everything upside down.

January 2006

Cas was thirty two when he drove down the frozen dirt track in his 2002 GMC van, bumping slowly along the country road after turning off of the relative smoothness of the frost-heaved Highway 73.  It was a long way from the center of town, twenty three miles and forty five minutes of driving, and Cas was glad that he’d topped off the tank at what seemed to be the only pump in fifty square miles.   He’d arrived in town the night before and stayed at the Prairie Vista Inn, a two story lodge across the street from what appeared to be a derby track; the nights were too cold to spend sacked out in the back of the van like he usually did. The road lay almost straight before him, a wide riverbed to the right and endless prairie off to the left, bales of hay left rolled and covered in frost for miles and miles.  

He’d spent the morning in town, visiting the various addresses on the itinerary provided by the agency.  Most of his patients lived in the trailers that dominated the center (and outskirts) of town, seemingly ready to drive off in the middle of the night and leave Faith a ghost town.   The river, sure to be raging come spring melt, was low; fifteen feet down the sloped banks ice clung to the edges, but the deepest part of the river was still running black and swift.   He saw the righthand turn up ahead, marked only by a mailbox that stood at the end of a narrow wooden bridge that spanned the river. Beyond the bridge was another, narrower, long dirt road.  He flicked his signal absentmindedly, crossing over, his tires thudding over the planks before the track smoothed out into something more well maintained.

The prairie gave way to woods on his right, standing up firm and defiant beside the windswept grasses.  Spruces and pines and junipers and small brush.  Snow dusted the ground, old drifts clinging on the north-facing hillocks.  After half a mile the river returned on the left side of the road and hugged it close for another quarter of a mile before meandering off into the distance.

Up ahead the main ranch house rose up into view over the last grade, smaller out-buildings and sheds and barns scattered around.  Several trucks and cars were parked between the house and barn.  Cas slowed his van in front of the house and parked, digging into his black bag and making sure the appropriate files were there.  He shut off the engine and walked up the porch steps.  It was just after noon.  Cas knew this was a working ranch and reaching anyone besides his current patient was an iffy prospect.  He hoped that he’d timed it right.

After a few short knocks and few long minutes later, the door opened and Cas was greeted by young man with a stern mouth and wary eyes.


Cas gazed for a moment, his lips parting to speak.  He hesitated, as if choosing different words, before informing him, “I’m here for Sam Winchester.”

The man’s eyes narrowed and he turned his shoulders to more fully block the door.  “Who’s asking?” he demanded gruffly.

Cas tilted his head in confusion, squinting his eyes as he turned the question over in his mind.  

“I am,” he settled on as the most obvious response.  

Through the screen the young man snorted.   Cas’ eyes widened in embarrassment a second later and he quickly amended, “Cas, Cas Novak.  Dr. Novak.”   

The man continued to gaze at him unrelentingly, hazel green eyes piercing even through the mesh.

“I’m standing in for Doctor Shepard,” Cas added.  “I’m here for Sam’s physical therapy.  Dr. Shepard is unable to make his rounds this month.”

Something flickered across Dean’s face, eyes going distant.

“Dean!” a deep voice shouted from inside.  Cas could vaguely make out an older man, dark hair and beard.  “In or out.”

Dean snapped a quick look over his shoulder with a “Yessir” and pushed the screen door open abruptly, forcing Cas to step back quickly.  Dean took a single step and pulled the inner door shut behind him, his other arm still outstretched on the open screen door.

“How’d’I know you’re really a doctor?” he asked bluntly.

Cas was prepared for this, had encountered many a paranoid patient or family member in his travels.  He considered it part of the job.  Cas pulled out a neat piece of parchment from his black bag and handed it to him.  Dean propped the door with his foot and snatched the paper from Cas, snapping in front of face with a flourish.  In the minute that he perused the document, Cas studied Dean.  Tall, broad shoulders wrapped in flannel and thermals, well-muscled, a healthy flush in the cold bringing out a spattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks.  Clear quick eyes that studied Cas’ certificate with more deliberate intent and intelligence than just a show of heckling called for.   

The cold was starting to leach into Cas’ bones through his down jacket when Dean thrust the now wrinkled document back at him with a “Still coulda been forged.”

Cas offered him a faint smirk at that, smoothing out the creases before neatly returning it to the folder in his bag.

Cas wasn’t sure if it was the shiver that coursed through Dean that finally made him cave and swing the inner door back open, but he was glad when Dean tersely repeated the other man’s words, “In or out, Doc.”  

He wasn’t overly accommodating, as Cas had barely enough room to slip in; Dean held both doors open and tucked his body against the doorjam, but not nearly enough.  Cas led with his bag and had to turn his shoulders sideways before he could step through, felt Dean’s gaze heavy on him and he stumbled to a stop halfway in, the doorjam scraping his back.  He met those green eyes defiantly, wondering why he was being hassled, and stopped trying to be polite about the conservation of personal space and brushed bodily past Dean as he stepped into the kitchen.  Dean thumped back against the door frame as the screen door swung shut against his arm.  Cas was subsequently bumped back a step with a rough nudge from Dean’s shoulder as he closed the wooden door, causing Cas to spin around to face him.  This was not what he'd expected.  

As the final ghost of cold air was burned away by the heat from the woodstove, three of the four people at the longtable looked up at Cas.  Two, the youngest, offered brief impersonal smiles.  Cas had eyes only for Dean, both men refusing to be the first one to step back to a respectful distance.  

“Knock it off, Dean,” that same deep voice said, coming into the kitchen from the living room.  There was a glimmer of amusement before Dean's face schooled itself to look every inch the scolded child.  Dean’s gaze broke off and Cas turned to meet the other man, who exchanged a silent look with Dean before the younger man disappeared into the next room.

“John Winchester,” the older man said, holding out a large hand.  Silver flecked his beard and the hair around his temple, hard brown eyes not reflecting the smile on his face.  Cas stared at the hand offered to him like it was a weapon, but one glance at John’s face told him he’d be safer returning the gesture.  John’s grip was like iron.  Cas felt like he was taking a test, and returned the grip and kept John’s stare.  He wondered how many other gauntlets he’d have to pass.

“Dr. Novak.  Please, call me Cas,” and as an afterthought he added, “Sir.”

“You here about Sammy?”  Cas nodded, following John with his eyes as he moved further into the kitchen.  “How is old Shep, by the way?”

At least one more, it seemed, “I’ve never met him.  I’m Agency.  I heard he had a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to make his rounds.  Dr. Richardson assigned me Meade County.”  Half of this was true.

Seemingly satisfied, John rolled up his sleeves, his entire demeanor suddenly more open, and nodded in the direction Dean had gone.  “We’ve got Sammy set up in the office off of the living room, seeing as he can’t use the stairs yet.  Don’t know how long you’ll be or if you’ve had lunch, but there’s plenty of fixings still on the stove, and you’re more than welcome to stay for dinner, Shep usually did when he came by this way.”

Taken aback, Cas hesitated before replying, “Thank you, sir, but . . . that won’t be necessary.”  

John was a little disappointed.  In a town with a population of five hundred, new faces were always a boon, and anyone who didn’t cower under his oldest son’s attitude was sure to provide entertainment.   “Suit yourself,” he said and walked over to the stove to make his own lunch as the others began to clear their dishes.

Finding himself dismissed, Cas walked into the living room, maneuvering past an old couch, which faced the dark fireplace instead of the old tv at the end of the room, before approaching the half-opened door.

Hearing harsh whispers, Cas hesitated only a moment before rapping firmly on the door and pushing it in.  It was a cluttered room; file cabinets shoved aside, bookcases covered in clothing, miscellaneous boxes stacked in the corner.  The only sign of sanity in the room was the desk with it’s ledgers and computer and files.  It took a moment for the chaos to allow Cas’ gaze to find the two men at the back of the tiny room.  Dean’s head had snapped around from where he leaned against the twin bed crammed incongruously between a curio cabinet and rifle case.   The younger man on the bed, Sam, had his hand on Dean’s bicep.  He gave a squeeze and said, “Let it go.”

Dean jerked his arm away, his chin dipping to his chest, and there was that brief flash again.  The cheeky grin and the hair ruffle, that had Sam ducking away in pleased annoyance, was so swift on it’s heels that Cas could almost believe that he hadn’t seen that look on Dean’s face.  He knew what it was now. Guilt.

But then Sam was shoving him away from the bed with a falsely cheery “Go.  I’ll be fine, Dean, really.”

The momentum of the shove brought Dean halfway across the small room and he stopped almost alongside Cas, shoulders overlapping.  Dean looked sidelong at Cas, and Cas did the same to him.  After a moment’s consideration, Dean said, “Take care of my brother,” slapped him on the back, and bumped his shoulder out of the way as he left the room.

“Don’t mind Dean, he just . . .” Sam trailed off.

“Doesn’t like doctors?” Cas prompted.  

In the outer room they could hear the door slamming as the ranch hands filed out back to work.  Dean was shouting something to John about looking for a lady outside the fence by the lower prairie.  Truck doors slammed and vehicles pulled away, leaving Cas and Sam in peace.

Sam huffed a breath, “There’s that, sure.”  Sam gathered himself, set aside the laptop, and plastered a smile back on his face, holding out his hand.  “Hi, I’m Sam, the brother with the social skills.”

Cas smiled back and shook his hand, “Dr. Novak.  Is it always this hard to gain an audience with you?”  At Sam’s confused look, Cas clarified, “Your family is very protective of you.”

Sam ran a hand through his hair and smiled ruefully, “Yeah, they still treat me like I’m twelve.”

“I suppose it doesn’t help when you belong to a family of cowboys and get bucked off a horse.”   Cas had read the file; fall from a horse two weeks ago, just before Christmas, fracturing of the right tibia and fibula, and patellar tendinopathy in the left knee.  He knew that the nearest ambulance service was out of Lemmon, an hour and a half north, and the nearest hospital was an hour and half over in Eagle Butte --which was why he had a job making a circuit of the small towns.  Sam had been taken to the veterinarian downtown instead, only forty minutes away.  The x-rays were enormous, but the doctor had done a good job with the plaster, and the brace on his left knee was fairly easily acquired.

“Not that your local vet did a bad job, but why didn’t you go to the hospital?”

Cas expected Sam to flush with embarassment at having been treated by a horse doctor.  Instead, Sam’s eyes shifted left and said, as if by rote, “Didn’t want to spend Christmas at the hospital, and Dr. Stevens is a family friend.”  Cas nodded, dismissing the lie as unimportant to his task at hand, and tried for a more neutral topic as he pulled out his stethoscope and blood pressure kit.

He nodded at the laptop whose screened displayed a half-typed email to a deans office, “You’re in school?”

Sam immediately relaxed and opened up.  “Yeah, I am --well, was, until this,” he gestured at  his legs.  “Halfway through my second year at Stanford.  Came home for Christmas break and now I can’t go anywhere.  They don’t offer online courses, but I’m trying to see if there’s anything I can do from home, work something out so I don’t get set back too much or lose my scholarship.”

Cas nodded sympathetically.  “Well there’s not much we can do to hurry along the healing process.  You’ve got at least another three weeks in the cast, and I suggest you get another x-ray in two --from your doctor of choice--” Sam smiled, the red flush now making it’s presence.  “And you won’t be winning any races with that knee for another four months or so.  I’ll get some baselines from you and then take a look at your knee.”  

If Cas had stayed for dinner, he might have made it out of town.  

Instead, he finished going through Sam’s rehabilitation routine, left him copies of the exercises, gave him a quick shot of cortisone for the pain that Sam was already starting to feel from his light workout, a prescription for low level pain medication, and a promise to send word to the agency to send someone around again in three weeks.  Sam asked if he wouldn't be sticking around the area.  Cas had replied, "Not likely."

He left well before the evening meal and still had two hours of daylight left; plenty of time to get back out onto marked roads before darkness fell and reach Howes well in time to check in and get dinner.

Cas never even made it to the bridge at the end of the long, narrow dirt drive.

Leaving the ranch, he flipped on the radio and was immediately greeted by a woman singing about sending her heart to a place in the middle of nowhere.  Now that he knew how long the driveway was, he picked up speed, a thrilling thirty miles an hour instead of the crawl he’d come in at.   It had been a good day and Cas smiled to himself, tapping his thumbs on the steering wheel.  Nevermind that Sam's brother had been somewhat hostile.

As the van made it’s way down alongside the river, something white caught his eyes off to the left in the trees.  It flickered in and out of the evergreens like a ghost, and before he knew what was happening, a large white horse burst from the brush and flashed across the dirt road.  Cas didn’t see where the horse went after that, because when he slammed on the breaks the seatbelt caught his chest hard and his right knee jammed into the steering column, white and red shooting blindingly across his vision.  He felt the van swerve and his head cracked against the driver’s window, and then everything became muffled as the backend of the van fishtailed wildly, prairie and trees spinning in a blur through the windshield.  He tried to turn into the spin, but he couldn’t remember which way that would be, and the van was already tipping over the bank.

In a surreal moment of clarity and stillness, he caught a brief glimpse of the ranch house, suddenly no longer behind him, and then, almost as if in slow motion, his head lolled on his shoulders and he slid limply to the right, his arms and various loose items beginning to trickle up towards the ceiling, the seatbelt tightening painfully around his chest like a vice, making it hard to breath.  Then time came back with a vengeance.  With a groan of protesting metal, the whole thing was falling, sliding, Cas' heart in his throat, and landed on it’s roof with a violent jolt.  

He saw sand and gravel and snow where there should have been sky, and then everything went black.

on to Part 2

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