Friday, September 7, 2018
There were no squealing tires. A strange thought to have at a time like this, but there it is. In the movies, the high-pitched squeal of rubber on asphalt always precedes the grating crash of metal-on-metal. But not today. The other driver hadn’t even had time to hit her brakes when Castiel, in a life-altering split-second of distraction, pulled out in front of her black Ford Expedition. Castiel’s eyes zeroed in on long blonde hair framing wide, panicked eyes before he heard a sickening crunch, followed by the deeper, heavier feeling of the Expedition colliding with the driver’s side door of his Highlander, the way the resounding crack of thunder always follows the lightning.
Castiel’s eyes slowly blink open, squinting at the blurry dash and cracked windshield in front of him, before realizing that he must have lost his glasses during the collision. Collision. Right. He had been (is still in?) a car accident.
His thoughts coming slowly, each one taking what he’s fairly certain is considerably more effort than usual, Castiel takes stock of his battered vehicle and equally battered body. He’d been thrown toward the center of the SUV and his top half is currently suspended over the center console, being held up by his seatbelt and his right arm, which is supporting him with his hand pressed into the passenger seat. Squinting at the horizon beyond the damaged windshield, Castiel concludes that the Highlander is right side up (why that’s so relieving he isn’t sure), but the driver’s side has been, for lack of a better term, scrunched up by the impact and is now tilted toward the passenger side. Said scrunching has also left his bottom half pinned underneath the steering column.
Speaking of... Castiel focuses his seemingly molasses-logged mental faculties on his body, starting with his toes. He attempts to flex his right foot and finds that it’s still pressed against the gas pedal, which he had slammed on in a futile attempt to outrun the impending collision. He can’t manage more than the slightest wiggle of his trapped foot, but that, along with the slowly registering pain he feels radiating throughout his body reassure him. At first, the pain feels... distant, almost like it’s happening to someone else. That doesn’t even make sense. If he could move his head, he’d shake it to dispel the ridiculous thought, but he finds that moving anything seems to take a colossal amount of effort, and each small movement sharpens his increasing awareness of the pain which suddenly seems much more present, and a thing that is definitely happening to him. His ribs burn and his attempts to move send shooting pains through his pelvis. Yet, somehow more prevalent in the forefront of his mind is a sharp pain in his backside. It feels like something is stabbing him and pressing deeper with every shift. How absurd. He has God-only-knows how many broken bones and the thing that’s bothering him most is something poking him in the ass. Castiel tries to chuckle, but all that leaves his lips is a pained gasp. He breathes through the pain.
Pain is good, he reminds himself. Pain means alive. Pain means feeling. Pain means not paralyzed. That thought brings immense relief, in spite of his growing discomfort. The only place he doesn’t feel pain is his head, which either means he’s been lucky enough not to sustain a head injury... or just means he’s in even more shock than is already apparent. Suddenly exhausted, Castiel drops his head and stops trying to analyze his situation. On TV, doctors and EMTs are always trying to reduce the symptoms of shock. Distantly, Castiel thinks there must be a reason, but he knows enough to recognize now that it’s shock keeping his pain at bay and so he embraces it as he feels himself slowly drifting, his thoughts turning hazy.
The crunch of boots on gravel and broken glass bring Castiel’s head up. He drags his eyes upward from where his unfocused gaze on the light splatter of blood staining his slacks has been causing the small red droplets to dance around one another. An indistinct figure in the dark blue uniform of a police officer walks toward him, the red and blue lights of his patrol car flashing in the background. He’s not sure how long it’s been since he collided with the other SUV, which he only now realizes he hasn’t seen since those brief seconds before the crash. He supposes his vehicle must have spun away after the impact, but he can’t remember for sure.
The officer’s voice interrupts Castiel’s thoughts, asking his name and assuring him that help is on the way. Castiel finds that he can’t quite bring his head up enough to focus on the man’s face, hovering what is probably only a few feet above him but may as well be miles, and focuses his attention on the dark skin of his hands instead.
As the officer continues to speak, Castiel’s attention drifts. He thinks he answered some of the questions asked of him, but he’s not really sure of that either. He would feel frustrated if he could feel anything beyond a sense of numbness and a growing fatigue in the top half of his body, which is still straining to remain upright. It’s getting harder and harder to force his mind to attention and he floats in a haze of shock and adrenaline until the sound of nearing sirens catches his ear and finally draws his gaze to the officer’s face. Castiel is certain he didn’t imagine the expression of relief on features drawn tight with concern. For the first time since the accident, he feels afraid. How badly must he be injured for the officer to look like that? Eyes crossing and gaze unfocusing, Castiel’s heartrate and breathing quicken and he feels as if he might fly right out of his body. Overwhelmed, he surrenders to the feeling, letting it carry him away.
He almost doesn’t register the officer’s last words, drenched with relief, “Do you hear that? The firefighters are here.”
The voice is deep but gentle; warm and reassuring, like sunlight through the window pane on those early spring days when the sun pushes away the winter chill and whispers promises of summer. It calls Castiel back to himself and with less effort than any motion has taken so far, he turns his head to the left and opens his eyes, only to find his breath catching in his throat as he locks onto green eyes less than a foot away from his. The eyes match the voice, Castiel thinks idly, a warm green flecked with gold that reminds him of summer afternoons as a child spent exploring the woods behind his grandparents’ house, pinpricks of sunlight filtering through the dense leaf cover. And where did that thought come from? Maybe he actually did hit his head after all.
“Ah, there you are.” The eyes crinkle around the edges, drawing Castiel’s attention to the rest of the man before him. The glass in Castiel’s driver’s side window had shattered and fallen away from the door completely, opening the space through which the man (firefighter, Castiel corrects in his head, remembering the police officer’s parting words) leans carefully, bringing himself level with Castiel. He’s close enough that Castiel can discern his features even without his glasses. The green eyes that provoked such embarrassingly poetic thoughts of summer are set in a tan face with high cheekbones, a strong, stubbled jawline, and full cupid’s bow lips that look equally suited to pouting or smiling. Right now, they’re smiling gently as Castiel takes in light brown hair, muscled arms, and a broad set of shoulders filling out a fitted, dark gray t-shirt framed by the mangled remains of Castiel’s car window. In short, he’s the most gorgeous man Castiel has ever seen up close. Suddenly, Castiel is mortifyingly aware that he has a dribble of blood and saliva hanging from his mouth, but he still can’t get his muscles to cooperate enough to wipe it way. His embarrassment is short lived however. Like the other swirling thoughts he’s had since the crash, he can’t seem to grasp onto it and it shifts away like sand through his fingers.
“My name’s Dean,” says the firefighter as his eyes continue to hold Castiel’s. “Can you tell me yours?”
“Castiel. Milton.” It takes Castiel several seconds to form his mouth around the familiar and yet suddenly foreign shape of his name. He’s not sure if it’s from the trauma and shock of the accident or the shock from the vision that is Dean the Firefighter, but he suspects it might be both.
“Hey Cas.” Dean’s smile widens like Castiel’s given him a gift and not just struggled to produce his own damn name.
“We’re gonna get you out of here, but it’s going to take a little bit, so I need you to stay with me and talk to me, okay? Were you alone in the vehicle?” Dean asks, his eyes flickering to the car seat positioned on the passenger side of Castiel’s back seat.
“Yes,” Castiel grunts, his words slurring together as he adds, “My daughter. Claire. At daycare.”
Claire had been the reason Castiel was in the car in the first place, making the left hand turn that should have led him towards Claire’s daycare, but instead ended with him trapped in the wreckage of his SUV. Castiel had received a call from the daycare while teaching his last class of the day at Shawnee Mission North High School, letting him know that 8-month-old Claire had a fever. Castiel had cursed inwardly. He’d known Claire wasn’t feeling good that morning, her usual happy demeanor subdued and replaced by whiney clinginess. However, she hadn’t had a fever, and while people tended to think teachers “lucky” for having two months off in the summer, what they didn’t realize was that this resulted in them getting very little sick leave during the school year. Unfortunately, small children typically weren’t considerate enough to reserve all of their sniffles and illnesses for the months of June and July. Also, it was only the first week of school and Castiel hadn’t wanted to set a bad example for his students by missing a day already. After all, the best way to teach was through example. If his students didn’t think that he took his class and their learning seriously enough to show up, neither would they. And so, Castiel had dropped Claire off at daycare that morning and hoped for the best. So much for that.
Resigned, he had sighed and assured the daycare assistant that he was on his way. After assigning reading for his students to complete and quickly arranging for an office staff member to cover the last 25 minutes of his class, Castiel had rushed to his SUV and pulled quickly out of the parking lot. Feeling guilty and eager to get Claire home, Castiel’s mind had jumped from thoughts of how much children’s ibuprofen he had at the house, to how he was going to rearrange his lesson plans for the next week to make up for missing half a class today (thank goodness it was Friday and he’d at least have the weekend to make adjustments), to how he was going to get dinner made with a sick child at home (not to mention the grocery shopping and other errands he needed to do this weekend). Castiel loved his daughter more than anything, but sometimes the stress of being a single parent caught up to him. Feeling exhausted and defeated, Castiel had pulled up to the stop sign at an intersection less than five minutes from his school, his mind still on his seemingly endless “to do” list. He had looked both ways before pulling into the intersection. He knows he did. Did he see the other SUV? How could he not have?
“Okay,” soothes Dean, drawing Castiel back to the present. “Do you feel any pain right now?” Dean’s eyes narrow in concern, never leaving Castiel’s. Castiel couldn’t look away if he tried and while he had found himself barely able to respond to the police officer, he feels compelled to answer Dean the Firefighter. He pushes away the floaty feeling still clouding his mind and focuses instead on the sharpening pain.
“My lower back hurts the worst,” he says and look at that, his first sentence! “My hips and pelvis hurt if I move. And it feels like something is poking me in the... back.” The pain floods his awareness and Castiel gasps, his breaths coming harsher as he begins to feel the damage done to his body all over again.
Dean’s eyes scan down his torso, sharply taking in the details of his visible injuries. He continues to guide Castiel through cataloguing his pain. Castiel finds himself able to answer Dean’s questions, although the effort it takes is palpable. He seems completely unable to form any novel conversation of his own though. His mind is still sluggish and what thoughts he’s able to hold onto refuse to be forced into spoken words.
“You’re doing great, Cas,” Dean says softly, his eyes back on Castiel’s. Castiel tries to nod, but the right arm that’s still supporting his upper half wobbles dangerously and he gasps as the sudden shift sends pain through his back and pelvis.
“Here,” Dean says quickly, already moving around the front of the SUV, “let me get in there and help you with that.” Sliding into the passenger seat, Dean wraps his left arm behind Castiel while bracing Castiel’s right shoulder against his chest and gripping his bicep with a warm, firm hand.
“There, I’ve got you. Just relax,” says Dean, easily taking Castiel’s weight as he sags against him with a sigh of relief. Castiel has no idea how long they sit like that, only vaguely aware of the movement and voices of Dean’s fellow firefighters around him as they cut away the driver’s side door. The floaty feeling from before starts to press against Castiel’s consciousness again and he feels himself start to drift like an unmoored boat floating away from the shore.
“Stay with me, Cas,” Dean’s voice anchors him, solid and strong against the tide. Castiel pulls himself back from the edge, focusing on the warm, firm line of Dean’s body against his.
Castiel’s awareness sharpens as the door to his left is lifted away from the SUV and he hears the whiskey rich voice of another fire fighter say in a (Cajun?) tinged accent, “Ain’t gonna work. No way we’ll be able to get him out this way.”
“What do you want to do?” asks a disembodied voice, presumably that of yet another one of Dean’s colleagues.
“We’ll have to take the whole roof off,” answers the Cajun decisively. “Dean, you’re gonna want to come out of there. We’ve gotta take the roof.” Castiel panics. No. Instinctively, he knows that Dean is the only thing holding him together right now. Without Dean, he’ll fly apart. A cold fear fills every part of Castiel’s body, even subsuming the ever-present pain.
“Don’t leave me!” screams Castiel in his mind, the sentiment echoed by every suddenly taut muscle in his body, but the words get caught in his throat, his mouth unable to form the syllables and his breath too strangled to force out the sounds. However, it seems his panic was for nothing, because barely a moment passes before he can feel Dean shaking his head next to him.
“Nah. I’m good where I am. I’ll need a shower after this, cause I’ll be covered in glass, but I’ll be fine.”
Castiel starts to relax, then tenses again as the Cajun firefighter he’s quickly building a grudge against responds, “At least take a minute to put on some gear.”
Dean stiffens next to him and says firmly, tone brooking no argument, “He’s already gone out on me twice Benny. I’m not leaving him.”
Castiel feels lightheaded with relief at the decisiveness in Dean’s voice and Benny must hear it too, because he sighs, “Alright brother. It’s your choice.” Dean shifts beside Castiel and leans into him.
“Alright Cas, here comes the hard part. We’re gonna get you out of here, but we’ve gotta take the roof off and while we do that, we’re gonna have to cover you with a sheet to protect you from the glass. I’ll be right here though. I’m not going anywhere.”
While the concern is touching, Castiel thinks it a little excessive. It’s just a sheet. He knows Dean will still be here next to him and he’ll be able to hear everything happening, even if he can’t see it.
But Dean must know something he doesn’t. As the heavy white sheet descends over his head, separating him from Dean and the distractions of the outside world, Castiel’s focus narrows to his own body, to the pain, to the abrasions covering his arms where the glass from his window has sliced at him and ground itself into his skin, to the blood still spattered on and around him. He feels his pulse quicken, his breaths coming shallow and fast, and the same flying apart feeling as before begins to crash over him, pulling him further from the shore.
As he starts to drift away, he suddenly feels the press of Dean’s forehead against his own through the rough fabric and hears that warm, sunlit voice murmer quietly in his ear, too low to be overheard by the firefighters currently working to remove the SUV’s roof, “Stay with me, Sweetheart.”
Dean’s voice, the quiet endearment, and the extra point of contact at his forehead ground Castiel. How Dean knew, he can’t imagine, but everything he’s done is exactly what Castiel needs in this moment. His eyes tear up and he wishes for the words to express his gratitude to the firefighter currently curved over him protectively, his head bowed to rest against Castiel’s, exposing his neck to the shower of crumbling safety glass. As it is, the words seem to get lost somewhere between his brain and his mouth, so he presses his forehead back against Dean’s, doing his best to reassure the firefighter that he’s heeded his words. He’s still here. He stayed.
Castiel blinks up at Dean as the white tarp-like sheet is carefully pulled off him, squinting at the sudden brightness now that his SUV is officially a convertible. The change is disorienting. Whereas before it had felt like he and Dean were in their own world, separated from the buzz of the busy firefighters moving around his vehicle by the twisted metal frame of his Highlander, now the rescue team is suddenly much closer, climbing over the crumpled hood as they prepare to lift Castiel out of the vehicle.
Dean smiles down at Castiel, “There you are. Ready to get out of here?” Dean supports Castiel’s right side, while another firefighter takes his left as two others crouch behind and in front of him. As the team begins to slowly lift Castiel and slide him out from beneath the weight of the steering column, pain flares through his bottom half and Castiel throws his head back and lets out a pained shout.
“Easy! Easy,” Dean calls roughly to his colleagues, who pause in their attempt to extricate Castiel from the wreckage.
“Hey there, Sunshine,” Dean says soothingly, “I know it hurts, but we’ve gotta move you. We’ll be as careful and as quick as we can be, okay?”
In too much pain to speak, Castiel grits his teeth and nods once. Seeing his resolve, Dean gives his team the go ahead to continue.
In a move that is surprisingly smooth and fluid, Castiel is lifted out of the driver’s seat, over the hood of his SUV, and deposited gently on a stretcher before he even has time to react to the sudden spike in pain. Once there, two EMTs strap his chest to the backboard, before one moves to straighten his lower half, which even Castiel can see is twisted unnaturally. As the man places his hands on Castiel’s hips and begins to turn them, Castiel screams in agony. In less than a heartbeat, Dean is there.
“Don’t turn him,” he orders the EMT gruffly. “I’m about 90% sure he’s got a shattered pelvis. Just take him like that.”
As the EMT starts to argue, Dean talks over him, “Look, it’s pretty clear that moving hurts him. There’s no reason to move him more than you have to. Leave it.”
Castiel hears another voice call out, “We’ve got to go! That was a long extraction and we’re running low on fuel.”
At this, Dean looks down at Cas, “Hey Sunshine, guess what? You’re gonna take a ride in a helicopter.” He nods to the left and Castiel looks to see a medevac chopper sitting in the field next to the intersection.
As Castiel turns his gaze back to Dean, his eyes land on a black SUV with a smashed front end, sitting abandoned in the middle of the road. Wide, scared eyes and blonde hair flood his memory. The other driver. Castiel scans the area surrounding the SUV, but there’s no sign of her. Is she okay? Was she injured and already taken to the hospital? By ambulance or was she flown out too? Castiel swallows. Or worse, did he kill somebody? He looks up at Dean. He should ask. Castiel opens his mouth, but it seems that although his brain is functioning, his mouth is still in Q&A mode. Voluntary sentences are apparently a no go. Castiel closes his eyes as he’s flooded with guilty relief that he won’t have to ask about the woman and learn the consequences of his horrifying mistake right now. He’ll ask eventually, but right now, it’s taking everything he has to hold himself together and he’s not sure he could handle it if the worst is true. He feels selfish and cowardly, but there it is.
Blissfully, he’s distracted from his current train of thought as they approach the helicopter and Dean speaks again, “Cas, these are my friends Jo and Tessa and they’re gonna take good care of you.” The two flight medics smile at him and Castiel manages a weak smile in return.
“Is there anyone we can have the hospital call for you?” Dean asks and Castiel didn’t realize until just that moment how much he had been waiting for someone to ask that question. “My brother,” he almost shouts, “Gabriel.” Castiel rattles off Gabriel’s cell number, the only phone number besides his own and his work number that he has memorized. He had rolled his eyes when he first learned Gabriel’s phone number and the reason behind it. The last four digits, “7399,” spelled out the word “S-E-X-Y.” “Easy to remember and the pick-up lines write themselves,” Gabriel had winked when he first gave Castiel his new number. Now though, Castiel is suddenly grateful for his ridiculous older brother’s immature sense of humor, not that he’ll ever tell him that.
Thoughts of Gabriel immediately lead to thoughts of Claire. Gabriel will be able to finally pick her up from daycare. How late is it anyway? He knows Claire is too young to understand what’s going on, but Castiel always picks her up at the same time every day. Does she realize that something’s different? Is she upset that the other children have all gone home, but her Daddy hasn’t come through the door yet? Will she be upset when he’s not there to put her to bed tonight? She’s so young she won’t even be able to understand why he’s not there... why he’s left her. He blinks back tears as he wonders how long it will be before he tucks in his baby girl again. Desperate to pull himself away from his dark thoughts, he looks back up at Dean, who must notice his distress, because he places a gentle hand on Castiel’s shoulder and squeezes.
“You’re gonna be okay, Cas.” As the stretcher is lifted into the helicopter, Jo and Tessa climbing in with him, Castiel watches Dean. He wishes he could say something; thank you, goodbye, anything, but the words don’t come.