The melting snow had turned most of the terrain into dirty slop, but by early-March, the roads had cleared enough to head out to Camp Wal-Mart, even if the skies looked like rain.
Chuck had been too sick for the February supply run, though Dean had come back with an envelope- pink, with kittens on it- and given it to him.
The letter had been from Cas, and it didn't say much, beyond that he hoped that Chuck was feeling better, soon. No word as to how he was faring with the married life, or what his world looked like.
So Chuck didn't really know what to expect when they arrived.
Still, though, he wasn't expecting this.
Cas was waiting for them in the parking lot, and greeted them with a smile that meant either that he was very happy, or very high.
"It's good to see you." His voice was warm, his hug, awkward. "How were the roads?"
"They're good. Looks like we're in business for the season." Chuck grinned, checking over his shoulder to make sure the last truck had pulled in behind him. "And we just had a hell of a run of luck on the last hunting trip, so there's lots of venison sausage to go 'round."
"Excellent. Come on," he nodded his head towards the main entrance.
Realization that he was limping set in slowly, and Chuck tried to ask about it when they stepped through the doors. Inside, Dean and Mindy were talking, and it was clear that Cas was heading their way. But Chuck wanted another few moments.
He slowed his pace, deliberately, until Cas followed suit, and stopped. "How've you been?"
Chuck hadn't seen the moment where everything shifted, but Cas's shoulders were tight, rigid, and whatever glint had been in his eye outside had faded down to nothing as he tried to avoid Chuck's scrutiny. But he hadn't walked off, yet.
Chuck had seen Cas high before. He'd seen him drunk. And even with his metabolism being what it was on the best of days, he'd never sobered this quickly.
Which meant that something was up.
Following the wary gaze to where Mindy and Dean were talking, Chuck's curiosity- and his uneasiness- grew. He doesn't want to go near them.
"Hey. You wanna give me the tour? Haven't actually set foot inside here before."
Sighing, Cas glanced at him nervously and nodded, signaling him to wait while he went and stood next Mindy. It took a few moments before she turned her attention towards him, and as Chuck watched Cas waiting, he noticed someone staring at him from one of the stripped checkout lanes.
An older woman, with heavy glasses and blonde hair going to gray, she turned her head towards Cas and the others, and then looked at Chuck again, nodding slightly.
He had no idea what she was on about. He was probably just imagining it. Turning his attention back to the conversation, he watched Mindy and Cas exchange a few words- strange ones, given the confusion spreading across Dean's face- and then Cas was heading back towards him.
"Let's go," he said, all false cheer, and Chuck pretended not to notice Dean's worried stare as he followed Cas towards what was once the pharmacy department.
They'd left the shelves and the aisles where they were, but the stocks had been moved to the center of the building. Between the shelves around the outer ridge was evidence of life- beds, chairs, piles of clothing and sheets hung for privacy. They'd converted what had used to be the children's clothing section- the sign still hung from the ceiling- into a work area, where people were stripping guns and stocking ammunition cases.
Through it all, Cas kept his head down, carried himself like he'd been doing that for a while. He said little, and by the time they reached the far end of the store- sporting goods- Chuck couldn't stop himself from asking. "What's up with your knee?"
"It's fine." Cas checked his watch. "They should be done with their negotiations. We should get back."
It had barely been ten minutes.
Chuck hadn't expected them to stay long, but it was evident that Dean was ready to leave as soon as possible, and that Mindy wanted them gone.
There was no telling what Cas wanted. Standing next to Mindy, he was having a hard time meeting their eyes.
"Chuck," Dean sounded like he'd had to repeat himself. "You want to get the trucks pulled 'round to the loading dock? We'll meet you back there."
"Name's Linda," the woman from the cash register said, stepping down from the loading dock to shake Chuck's hand. "Real quick now. We've got your stuff stockpiled. You're ready to go as soon as it's loaded. But I'm hoping you might have space to take Cas with you."
"Um. Sure, but. What's going on? He didn't say anything about-"
"What he doesn’t know can't be used against him. So we're taking care of it for him. He told me everything, about his…er…angel business." She grimaced. "That all true?"
"Ah. Yes. Probably. But. No offense, but I doubt he'd just come out and tell you about it."
"He was on morphine at the time, the first time we talked about it-"
"Oh. He hasn't used up your stockpile, has he? The morphine?"
"What?" Sensing what he meant, she shook her head. "No. I'd prescribed it to him. And why is up for him to tell you. But Mindy. It's not safe for him here. He needs to leave."
"What's going on?" He didn't ask what the morphine had been for. It probably wasn't relevant.
"Long story short, she thinks that if Cas impregnates her, her children will be strong enough to end the war. Now, we've got no idea if that's the case, and so far, she's not had a single positive pregnancy test, but that's not stopping her."
"Oh, ah…" Chuck scratched at his neck. "I didn't realize he wanted kids."
"His wants, whatever they may be, have gone mostly ignored. The amount of Viagra she forces on him is probably enough to kill a man." Her eyes bored into Chuck, hoping that he understood the full import.
"Fuck." He sighed. "What's the plan?"
"Night after tomorrow, bring a truck out and wait on the other side of that McDonald's, there. Stay out of sight. We'll get him out to you between 3 and 4 in the morning."
"Wow. Okay. So. Not that I don't appreciate it, but what are you going to tell Mindy?"
"Croat attack," she said, stepping back as the loading dock door opened. "At least they're useful for something,"
Dean's reply, once Chuck filled him in, was succinct. "What the hell? She wants to wait two more days?"
"If this got traced back to us…"
"I know. But he's got three more evenings with that bitch, and I don't like it."
It was easier to lie awake for two nights in a row, coming up with hundreds of questions he should've asked, than it was to sleep.
He waited in the truck for hours, too tired and insane to think. Every sound sent him searching through the windows, every imagined shift of shadow made him freeze in his seat.
Eventually, though, he could see them. Just on the edge of the parking lot, and then picking their way carefully down the easement. The lights stayed off, but he had the engine running and one hand on the wheel.
The other was on the .38, just in case.
"Soon as you're clear, we're gonna raise the alarm," Linda explained, holding the door open while a man Chuck didn't recognize helped Cas into the front seat.
"Okay." Cas said, his surprisingly clear voice making Chuck wonder what, exactly, he'd been expecting. "Seriously. Thank you for everything. Good luck."
"You too. Safe trip."
And then the door was being closed, and Cas was blinking at him. "Hello."
"Hi." Chuck shook himself, and turned the truck around.
For the first few minutes, he tried to think of something to say, and settled, wincingly, for a weak "how're you doing?"
"Sore. Tired. I want a shower." Cas leaned his head against the window, though the rest of his body was stiff, and his hands were fists. "It's been a long winter."
"I know. So what was going on in there?"
"I'd really rather not talk about it."
"Oh. Okay." Chuck sighed. "Oh. There's medical supplies in the back, and a bottle of whiskey if you want or need some."
"You having any?"
"Oh. Yes." Cas closed his eyes again, went silent for a few minutes. "You think she knows yet? That I'm gone?"
"They're telling her that a Croat got me."
Chuck wanted to tell him that he missed him, but it was a hard thing to work into conversation, and proving even harder to work into awkward silence.
They passed three guards on the way into the park and towards the campgrounds, but if any of them were surprised to see Cas there, they seemed content to keep it to themselves, at least until their shifts ended.
Cas moved gingerly as they got out of the car, but said nothing, allowing Chuck to lead him inside. In the comparatively bright light from the lamp, the shadows under his eyes were dark. He was staring at the cot Chuck had set up next to the couch with guilty relief. He knew how tight supplies were, and the slim odds that someone would give up their bed for him, regardless of how tempting Chuck found the lie. Nobody beyond Dean and the guards even knew he was here, and he had no idea if anyone else actually cared. And Cas wasn't an idiot.
"It was Roy's. He didn't, ah. Die in it, or anything. Went out fighting a demon. And anyway, you're taking the couch."
"Barely. It's fine. It's amazing what a few day's skipped sleep will do for your ability to fall asleep absolutely anywhere."
"You haven't been sleeping?"
"Not since Linda told me the plan."
Cas smiled humorlessly, steeling himself. "What else did she tell you?"
"That she wasn't going to tell me anything beyond the fact that you needed to get out of there and Mindy wanted kids."
"That about sums it up," Cas said, dropping to the couch, hands on his knees. His eyes darted to the bottle sticking out of the box Chuck had brought in from the car, but didn't ask for it. "Mindy is insane. I believe Linda and her contingent are planning a coup."
"Why would they want to get you out of there first? I'd think you'd be a useful ally."
Cas laughed, a little manic. "The nature of my arrangement was of no secret to anyone." Glancing up to curtail Chuck's argument, he shook his head. "There's not a person over there who would've considered me useful."
"Linda seemed to think you were worth saving."
"She thought I needed saving. There's a difference." Cas was staring at the floor, frame rigid and knuckles fisted white.
Chuck pulled the whiskey out of the bag and held it out, knowing that it wasn't exactly a knight in shining armor kind of move, but being at a bit of a loss for options. "So what, exactly, did you need saving from?"
In his head, he knew that it probably wasn't the ideal solution, but Chuck drank when the bottle was passed his way. He wasn't the only one looking for blurred edges, and after a few swigs, it seemed that Cas had already found his.
"She wanted a baby, and. I tried. I really did. The pills helped, for a while, and thinking about… other things when it was happening did too, but. It never took. There were a lot of nights that I couldn't manage it at all. Those were almost the worst."
"Sunday mornings were the worst."
"She'd take her pregnancy test. Every time, it came up negative and she'd become very angry. She'd start shouting, and everyone else in the camp would go silent. Her voice carried, in there. Everyone heard. Some people avoided me, when that started happening, but." He took a drink and tried to look at Chuck squarely as he passed the bottle, but it didn't quite take.
He waited until Chuck drank and handed the bottle back before continuing.
"I don't know why people believe that inability to father a child means being completely incapable of doing anything at all, but some of them, they'd try to help me. First it was the medications in the pharmacy, then it was the herbal supplements on the shelves. Then it was eating handfuls of almonds or drinking a specific fruit juice. And every night, I'd go to bed with Mindy, knowing how much the sound carried in there, and that whoever had given me the remedy for the day was listening to us having sex. And that next Sunday they'd hear that I failed, that their cures didn't work. My failures became theirs. And that's why they wanted me gone."
Chuck sighed, shrugging. "From where I was standing, Linda was more worried about you than your reputation."
"She was a nurse, before. It's her job. Mike was a doctor."
"Was he guy that was getting you down to the car?" At Cas's confirmation, Chuck finally asked the main thing he'd been trying to work himself up to. "About that. Your limp?"
"Bad ligament in my knee. Croats came a few days after I arrived. I couldn't fix it all the way, but it's mostly healed. Slopes are a little problematic." The edges of his mouth quirked up just a bit before he snorted in irritation. "Chuck. Please stop frowning. I'm fine, I've been through worse, and I've had enough people trying to fix me for months now. I'm tired of it."
"Sorry." Chuck hadn't expected the knee question to lead them back onto safe conversational territory, and he didn't want to move it back there if he could avoid it, though it didn't leave him with a whole lot of options for conversation. Thankfully, Cas yawned.
"You must be tired."
"You must be correct,' he deadpanned, stretching out on the sofa, his eyes drifting shut. "You're sure you're okay with me being here?"
"Yeah, I'm very okay with it." Chuck blinked, repeating the words in his head. "Okay, that sounded kind of leery and creepy. Don't take that the wrong way. Not trying to get in your pants or anything. Just missed you, is all."
"You can, you know."
"Get in my pants. If you wanted." Cas was drunk, halfway passed out, by the looks of it. So was Chuck, for that matter, but this was a bit much.
"I'm not looking for payment for extraction services rendered, you know."
"It's not like that. I thought about it enough, when-" Cas cut himself off, his eyes swimming. "I missed you, too. More than I thought I would."
"Get some sleep, okay? We'll talk about it in the morning."
"Very well." Cas accepted it, leaning back, and toed off his boots with a slight frown that didn't fade, even after Chuck turned off the light.
It was late verging on early when Chuck woke to find Cas sitting up on the couch, stone still and staring out the window. He watched, for a moment, trying to decide if his hangover was already taking root, or if he was still buzzed. "Awake already?"
"What?" Chuck lay his head down again. "You've been sitting there all night?"
"Didn't want to wake you."
"Oh. Thanks, I guess. Would've thought you'd have passed out easy."
Cas snorted, his jaw tight. "Doesn't matter. The sun's coming up, and I suppose Dean's going to need to be informed of what's going on."
"He already knows you're here. And that we're both probably going to be sleeping in, unless you're hell bent on getting up."
"Oh." Cas stretched, but fell short of actually standing. Closing his eyes again, he eased back against the couch. "I don't think I am."
"Anything I can do to help?" Yawning, he hoped the answer was no, so that he could go back to sleep and stop worrying.
Cas's face twitched, but he didn't open his eyes. It wasn't a denial.
"Come here." Cas held an arm up, tilting his head away slightly, expecting rejection. "You want me to sleep, well. I've gotten used to sleeping with someone else here, so..."
"Just don't try and get in my pants. I'm not in the mood."
"Totally platonic, I got ya. No worries." Clambering off the cot, he sat down on the couch. "Still works better if we're actually laying down, though."
"Right," Cas murmured, stretching out as Chuck arranged himself and dragged the blanket over them. Forgetting that they didn't do this any more, he draped an arm over Cas's waist. He was debating figuring out where to move it to when he realized that instead of fighting the contact, Cas had relaxed against him.
Cas grabbed hold of his hand and brought it up to his chest. "Be quiet. I'm trying to sleep."