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Chapter Track: Fuel to Fire – Agnes Obel
Never Do We Know
The grocery store lies several miles down the mountain, a forty-five minute drive in ideal weather, which the weather is currently not. It’s raining, the scent of wet earth and electricity moistening the air outside of Castiel’s Prius. He loves this smell, and loves the purity of it that comes with living in a secluded home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
He liked his life in Denver when he lived it, but since being disgraced and having his medical license revoked, this is the lifestyle that suits him: Quiet, solitude, and spending his days reading, teaching himself to cook, and living off of the money he poured into his savings account when he had his illustrious career as a surgeon in the city.
Now he’s unemployed and alone, and he likes it better this way. The nearest town is Buena Vista, a town of only just over twenty five hundred. His own house lies beyond roping dirt roads and rolling hills of aspen trees, conifers and wildflowers. This is a better home. Here, he can smell the rain. There are no exhaust fumes or dumpsters too full of garbage, or alleyways scent-marked by dozens of alphas.
No there isn’t – there’s something else out there tonight, something strong. Castiel almost slams his foot down on the brakes before he realizes how unwise it would be to do so on the muddy, sopping-wet length of road, and instead eases down on the pedal and lets the Prius slow to a crawl.
He scents the air, just to make sure he isn’t crazy.
The bouquet of smells that hits him is the strongest thing he’s smelled in years. The most poignant of the aromas is distress. Not just any distress, either. It’s omega distress. Pregnant omega distress.
Pregnant in heat omega distress.
That shouldn’t be possible. He has, of course, heard of the rare case in which such a thing has occurred, but simultaneous heats and pregnancy are medical anomalies.
That’s when Castiel sees the source of the heady scent, only a few paces in front of his car, stumbling along the side of the road. A naked omega, soaked in rain, arms wrapped around its body. He pulls up just a little, alpha kicking in, his brain throbbing with protectprotectprotect. Logically following, he wonders what a naked, pregnant, in-heat omega is doing out in The Middle of Nowhere, Colorado. There’s nothing out here. Neighbors live miles apart and the world is dead quiet. His own mailbox is seven miles from his home.
As Castiel eases to a stop, he sees furious red marks slashing across the omega’s slender back. It’s horrifying, and the alpha in his gut has him burning with fury. Castiel halts his vehicle beside the omega and rolls down the window of his Prius.
“Hello!” he calls over the sound of the rain beating down against the earth, “Get it the car!”
Gaunt eyes stare back at him in a pretty male omega face, wet with rain.
“Please get in the car,” Castiel says.
The omega swallows slowly, and after a long moment of consideration, obeys. He opens the passenger’s side door and slides onto the seat. Despite the outward curve to his belly, he’s too skinny, malnourished and trembling from cold and wet and terror. And even with the scent of fear rolling off of him in droves, he still reaches over and tiredly places his hands between Castiel’s legs, rubbing at his cock through the fabric of his jeans. It’s a practiced movement, an automatic drive for a traumatized omega trying to survive.
“No, no,” Castiel says, and plucks the omega’s hand away by the wrist, placing it back into his own lap. He knows that most alphas would say yes – the skinniness aside, this omega is irrefutably attractive, and underneath all the layers of scents of fear and pain and heat, the one that belongs just to this man is divine. The confused expression that crosses the omega’s face prompts him to add, “I don’t want that from you, okay? I’m just going to take you home and get you warm. All right?”
The omega doesn’t answer.
“What’s your name?”
He doesn’t reply to this either, instead wrapping his arms around himself and sinking lower into the seat.
“Okay,” Castiel says, “I’m Castiel. I live about a half-hour up the mountain.”
Again, the omega doesn't respond to Castiel, but he does shiver. Castiel puts the Prius in park and sheds his coat. It’s springtime, so he doesn’t need anything too thick, just a windbreaker, but it’s dry on the inside and warm with Castiel’s body heat. He drapes it over the man’s shoulders and gives him a gentle nod.
As Castiel drives, he sees the omega pull the coat more tightly around himself out of the corner of his eye. He can feel the man watching him as he drives and tries not to glance back. He’s skittish, and though the scent of distress so sharp that it made him stop his car in the middle of the dirt road through the hills has eased, the aromas of caution and instinctual fright remain. Castiel doesn’t know what happened here, but it’s clear that it cannot have been good. He has marks on his thighs like the ones on his back: angry, red welts and thin white scars.
“My home is just around this bend,” Castiel says after several minutes to fill the silence. He gnaws on his lower lip and tries to think of what this man might need first. Food. Clothing. A bath. Toys to push himself through his heat. There is nothing that this omega does not need.
He pulls his Prius into the garage and ushers the Omega inside his home, into the warmth. He stops behind Castiel in the entryway, still shivering and shaking underneath Castiel’s windbreaker.
“Are you hungry?” asks Castiel.
The man nods.
“Let me fix you something to eat,” Castiel replies. He guides the omega into the kitchen and motions for him to sit at the kitchen table. Most of his supplies are still in the car, so he ducks back out to collect the groceries and prepare something simple and quick. In a pan on the stove he throws together a grilled cheese and places the sandwich on a plate in front of the man.
“Here,” Castiel says.
The man watches him for a moment, looking almost as if he thinks that the food is a trick, and then seems to give up. He grabs the grilled cheese with both hands, biting in like he hasn’t tasted food in years.
“I’ll find you some clothes,” he murmurs to him.
But by the time that Castiel has a set of pajama pants and a t-shirt in his hands, the omega has finished his meal and is bunched up into a ball on the kitchen chair. He’s filthy, reeking of dirt and grime and covered from foot to knee in mud from the road.
The soles of his feet are cut up. The sharp scent of blood beats off of him in wispy tendrils, acrid to the nose.
The omega needs medical attention, without a doubt.
“Hello,” Castiel says awkwardly, to announce his presence, “You…follow me.”
And the omega obeys his command, just like that. He leads him into the guest room and places the clothes on the foot of the neatly-made queen bed against the back wall. It’s a simple room but comfortable, stocked with everything a person could need. A wood-burning fireplace sits across from the bed, adjacent to the door, and on the other side of the room is the guest bathroom, modest but supplied with unscented soaps nonspecific to gender, shampoo and toothpaste, soft towels and disposable razors still in the package.
Castiel gestures to the shower there and says gently, “Why don’t you bathe? There’s soap and shampoo in the cabinet and, um, I may be able to find you a. Ah. A toy. If you need it? For the heat?”
The omega nods, and so Castiel leaves to rummage through his closet. It’s been years since he’s been romantically involved with an omega and several months since he’s tended to omegas in a medical setting, but one never knows when a fake knot could come in handy. He used to keep more, especially before all of the legal nonsense went down, but now he doesn't have as much use for omega toys, excepting the occasional slip into curiosity when he's used one on himself.
The idea of the idea of the omega in the other room fucking himself on a fake knot in the shower just across the hall makes Castiel itch underneath his skin. He isn’t used to that. He prides himself on his control and neutrality. Omega heats weren’t uncommon within the walls of the hospital, or in his apartment, and after a while he learned to cope through varying methods – drinking good scotch, intense after-work exercise – and he could pull through just fine.
This omega makes him need.
He finds the toy – a fake purple knot that sits in a shoebox beneath Castiel’s running shoes – just after that realization and makes himself stomp it all down, down, down. To hell with biology and instinct. He is a rational human being and he will not abruptly turn into some knothead idiot because of one omega in heat in his home. Naked. All slick and –
Stop. He inhales a long breath to steel himself and crosses into the bathroom, wielding the toy.
“Here,” he says, “That will help. Please find me if you need anything. I’ll just be in my bedroom across the hall.”
He wipes his sweating palms on his jeans and removes himself from the situation before it can get out of hand. He didn’t know that an omega’s scent could be like this, an embodiment of pure temptation, chemistry so deep that he can feel it in the marrow of his bones. Castiel covers his nose and mouth with his palm and inhales his own scent, letting alpha sink into place and wash out some of the omega clinging to the insides of his nostrils. It helps, but not by much, so he hustles out to the kitchen to prepare more food despite his lack of hunger – something fragrant with onions or garlic that’ll edge out the alpha need that rattles his entire body.
He doesn’t hear the omega get out of his shower, doesn’t realize how long he’s been focused on his broccoli stir-fry dish with soy sauce and garlic until he hears a small cough from his left. The omega stands in Castiel’s clothes and smells freshly fucked. It’s erotic and has Castiel itchy all over again, cock half-hard in his pants in an instant. The omega awkwardly cradles the plastic knot his hands, and holds it out when Castiel glances at him.
“Um. Keep…that. For the heat,” Castiel says, and catches the omega’s eyes flitting to the sizzle of food over the stove. He ventures, “You’re still hungry?”
“Please put the toy back and I’ll serve you a bowl,” he says, and tries to make his words as polite as possible. They come out tight and frustrated instead, in a growl that alarms the omega into immediate action and has him scrambling from the room. The absence he leaves doesn’t help much, or at all, rather – as the omega darts away an indescribable urge to chase pinpricks Castiel’s skin like needles. Chase is soon followed by a loud string of fuckmatebreed, which shouldn’t be allowed, as the omega already has another alpha’s pup inside him.
And beyond that, the poor man’s in no shape to fucked or mated or any of that. Castiel runs his fingers through his hair and blows all of the air out of his lungs. He can do this. He will control himself.
The omega returns and sits meekly at the kitchen table. He lifts his fork to eat but pauses and glances over at Castiel, a tilt to his head.
“Is something wrong?” Castiel asks.
The omega drops his silverware in his bowl and steps toward Castiel. His eyes are glued to Castiel’s crotch, where his cock is now fully hard and very much in danger of sprouting a knot. That has never happened since puberty unless he’s been inside someone (though rare those occasions have been), but with as delicious as this omega smells to him, Castiel is surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. The omega reaches for his crotch and grabs through the denim, closing his hand around Castiel’s erection.
Castiel gasps, and shoves the omega back. No no no no. He will not hurt this omega. He’s scarred up and hungry and still scared out of his wits – Castiel can smell bitter fear everywhere, especially as the omega stumbles from his push away.
“Sorry,” Castiel pants, “Sorry, sorry. I don’t…I don’t need that from you, okay? You're safe here, and I have control over myself.”
The omega cocks a brow at that, as if to say Oh, really? It’s the very first sign of anything but obedience that Castiel has seen out of him.
“I – just eat your meal,” Castiel says, “I’ll be back.” He escapes to his bedroom and fumbles in the master bath for anything that might help him stave off his stupid alpha desire, going through bars of plain, practical soap and bottles of shampoo underneath his sink before his hand brushes against a glass bottle – of course, he should have thought of that earlier – the overpriced alpha cologne that Michael gave him a few Christmases ago. He never wears it. It’s used to seduce pretty omegas and was Michael’s less-than-subtle way of telling Castiel that it was high time that he find his mate and settle down. It smells vile, and it’s the perfect anti-omega scent to keep him at bay.
Castiel douses a wash cloth with the stuff and holds it over his face before he dares to go back out to the omega, who’s sitting at his kitchen table over an empty bowl, knees drawn back up his chin in effort to make himself smaller. He doesn’t hear Castiel right away, and so Castiel watches him without speaking, just for a moment.
Were he not thin as a switch, he’d be big for an omega, big even for a beta. He might be taller than Castiel on his feet, though it’s difficult to tell when the man is trying to make himself smaller in every way possible, holding his head down and keeping his eyes trained on the floor. His skin doesn’t look like it has seen sun in ages, though the sun reigns in the Rockies. He’s pale and sallow, sickly looking underneath the wealth of scars that litter his body.
“Let me take a look at you,” Castiel finally says.
The omega looks at him like he’s crazy and reaches for the hem of his shirt. He starts to pull it up and Castiel says, “No, no. Not like that. I used to be a doctor. You’re hurt. I wanted to ensure that you’re okay. Then perhaps we could call your family? You may use my phone.”
The omega shakes his head.
“You don’t want to contact your family?”
The omega shakes his head again.
“Do you have a family?”
Again, a shake of the head.
“Oh,” Castiel says. His stomach twists at this news. He didn’t quite think it through when he smelled distress and let a strange omega into his car and then his house. This man has no place to go, no one to go to.
Castiel values his solitude, and doesn’t know what to make of the idea that he may indefinitely house this odd, pregnant omega that hasn’t spoken a word to him and looks sickly enough to be on the brink of death, that eats like a starving man and is in heat at the same time as being ill with a pup in his belly.
Naked, freezing, injured, alone and pregnant in the middle of nowhere.
It would be cruel to turn him out. Solitude be damned.
“You can stay here as long as you need,” Castiel says with finality, “Sit here.”
He leaves and retrieves a few of the remnants of his medical past. He paid for his own kit and felt it a waste to throw it away. The hospital provided the majority of his in-house supplies, but he always did keep a few different medications and immunization shots on his person. It’s so easy to get hurt in such a violent world, one run by instinct. In Denver, he had omegas filtering through his apartment on a regular basis that needed pain medications or stitches or any number of things. Castiel never did like the idea of helplessness.
And so his medical supplies sit in the back of his closet in the bag that he used to take every day to his job in the city.
In the kitchen, he places the bag on the table and lets the omega look inside it before he goes through the motions – takes his pulse, checks his eyes and ears. He figures it invasive to do the standard examination of the omega’s genitals, especially considering how even now the omega’s fear permeates the air.
“Let me bandage your feet,” Castiel finally says, “Your heart rate is a little quick, but everything else seems to be in order.”
Castiel makes sure that the omega’s feet are clean before he applies Neosporin to the cuts and wraps them up neatly.
That’s when he sees it: a barely noticeable disfiguration near the omega’s left ankle. He frowns and touches it with his fingers, only to illicit a whine from the man above him. Castiel glances up and sees pain at the same time he smells arousal and omega slick. He coughs and reaches for his cologne-washcloth, breathing deep before going back to check the omega’s ankle.
The lump is small, about half an inch wide across and three quarters of an inch down.
He’s seen this before.
Only once, but Castiel has seen it.
It’s a hormone implant. The chips were outlawed decades ago, but they appear sometimes in omegas subject to sex trafficking: omegas that have been kidnapped or that have run away from their families, found by powerful pimps and kept drugged and in heat so that they’re pliant for alpha clients. It’s barbaric though not uncommon: seeing news stories of omegas found half-dead and drugged, with cigarette burns scarring the soles of their feet and bodies ravaged.
Castiel slowly lifts his eyes and asks quietly, “Omega, are you on the run?”
The man tenses under his hand.
“It’s okay,” Castiel rushes to say, “It’s just that I’ve seen one of these once before. It’s a hormone implant. I used to work in Denver, in a hospital, and we had a young omega woman with an implant like this in her wrist. It kept her in heat for her pimp.” They never did convict that man. It makes Castiel’s blood boil.
He will not fail this omega as he failed that one.
The omega’s brow crinkles. He bends to look at his ankle, reaches down to skim his fingertips over the lump, and looks horrified when he meets Castiel’s eyes again.
“I can remove it,” Castiel says, “I have the supplies that I would need.”
Relief flushes the omega’s face, and he nods.
“Okay,” Castiel draws up to his feet and fishes through his bag. He pulls out packaged syringe of anesthetic –
Only to have the omega launch from the kitchen chair and across the room. He presses his back against the wall and looks at the syringe with wide, horrified eyes, new, fresh fear rolling off of him. The distress is so strong it’s like a punch to the gut, sending Castiel reeling back. The omega shakes his head. His eyes search the room. He’s looking for an escape, Castiel realizes, and immediate guilt swings into him.
Castiel sets the package down on the table.
“It’s anesthesia,” he says, “for the pain. It will hurt to have the implant removed.”
The omega shakes his head again, violently.
“Okay,” Castiel says, “It will not be pleasant to have the procedure without the anesthesia. I could offer you a drink instead? It won’t do much, but it would be better than nothing. And you would have to go easy on it, for the pup.” He’s careful not to get too close to the omega as he reaches for his liquor cabinet, pulling out a bottle of fine bourbon. Expensive bourbon. He holds it out, and the omega hesitates before he takes it. When his hand brushes Castiel’s fingers as he clutches the neck of the bottle, Castiel has to retrieve his washcloth and breathe in the scent of alpha to put the aroma of slick out of his mind.
He’s good at this, he has to remind himself. It’s how he attained his hospital job in spite of not being a neutral beta, because he’s cool-headed. He isn’t affected the way that other alphas are. Except now. Now he is.
The omega tips bourbon down his throat before he relaxes enough to return back to his kitchen chair. He takes two more swallows before places the bottle on the table, exhales, and levels a nod at Castiel. Castiel rummages in his bag and offers a rubber bit – “To bite down on,” he explains.
The omega makes a grab for the bourbon downs more liquor before he accepts the rubber bit and shoves it in his mouth.
The procedure is simple: make the incision, remove the implant, and sew the wound closed. Castiel is careful, removing his tools and laying the packaged scalpel, forceps, and suture needle in a line on the kitchen table so that the omega can see each step that will need to occur. Ideally, he should really take the omega back to the guest room to lie down, but he’s inclined to think that this would be another offer not taken well. He doesn’t know what this omega has faced, but syringes frighten him and he’s attempted to sexually satisfy Castiel twice already.
When Castiel unwraps the scalpel and wipes it down, the omega begins to shake.
“I’ll be efficient,” Castiel promises, and presses the blade of the scalpel into the omega’s skin. He moans around the bit and curls his hands around the back of the kitchen chair, knuckles whitening. The incision doesn’t need to be long, and as soon as the cut is made the implant is visible. It is a tiny rectangle of white plastic, unassuming to anyone unaware of its purpose. With the forceps, Castiel grips the implant and pulls it out, calculating and cautious. It slides out with ease and a sticky sound. The omega still makes a noise of pain in his throat. His toes curl where they peek out of the bandages on his feet.
“Shh,” Castiel soothes, “You’re doing well. I just need to stitch the wound closed. Your system will take a few hours to flush the hormones out, but as soon as it does, the heat will be over, and you shouldn’t have another until after you birth your pup. Do you understand?”
The omega nods. It is as much as he is going to get.
Making the sutures is a simple process. As soon as Castiel finishes he stares up at the omega and says, “You’re finished,” and pushes the hormone implant across the kitchen table, “Do you remember getting that in your ankle?”
The omega shrugs. He reaches for the implant and holds it in his palm.
For a stretch of silence, he stares at it before anger distorts his face and he hurls it across the room. The soft noise of the plastic implant hitting furniture sounds, though Castiel cannot pinpoint where it landed.
“Good riddance to that,” Castiel murmurs, and the omega huffs in agreement before Castiel goes on, “You must be exhausted. Let me help you to the guest room.”
Reluctance crosses the omega’s face, but in the end he allows Castiel to aid him to his feet. He has to lean against him and use Castiel as his support…and Castiel is going to have to take the longest shower of his life to get this scent off of him. He hauls the omega into the guest room and supports him with one arm while moving the comforter down with the other. The omega makes a noise of protest when he’s scooped up and placed on the mattress, but Castiel hushes him and pulls the blankets over his quivering, skinny body.
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask,” Castiel says, an awkward goodbye.
But when he turns to exit, the omega’s hand closes over his wrist. He blinks back at the man, confused.
“Cast-Casti-Cas,” he stammers out, settling with, “Cas.”
His voice is hoarse and unused, scraped raw.
“Cas is good,” agrees Castiel.
“Cas,” repeats the omega, and then puts his hand against his chest, “I’m Dean.”