“Is that the lot then?” Dean asked when they had got every last toy or scrap of fabric that looked like it could belong to a little girl out of Cas’ house the next morning.
“Yep, all there,” Sam said as he squirted fire accelerant onto the pile of old crap.
“Then let’s hope this is it,” Dean said as he lit a matchbook and set the pile on fire. He really didn’t hope that they had gotten rid of the ghost though. He wished Cas to stay with him, even if it would take years to search the farm for something else that the ghost might be tied to. He just wanted more time.
“So, how long do we have to wait for her to turn up?” Cas asked when he and Dean had settled down in his own house for the night, another hard day's work over.
“If she doesn’t turn up tonight, then I guess you’re safe,” he told Cas, just when something moved in his peripheral vision. He turned around immediately and saw the ghost from before stand there. She looked just like when they had first seen her, ghostly pale and pretty non descriptive if you hadn’t known that she was dead. Without needing time to react, he shot a load of rock salt at her, not wanting her to do stuff to Cas again.
“Ok, that means it didn’t do the trick. Let’s get outta here.”
“You seem happy about the fact that she’s not gone,” Cas said and only then, Dean realized that he was smiling.
“Yeah, because it means you’ll stay with me for a while,” he thought and when Cas looked at him, he realized he’d said it out loud.
During the next week, they settled into a routine. Dean excused himself from continuing the search for the object, and went over to Devereaux’s farm to finish the training of the quarter horse. He put it up at the stable over there now, it was easier since he could work with cattle here and Jess sometimes joined him to oversee his training of the mare.
They had decided that she wasn’t gonna try and train her, but when Dean thought that the horse was ready for another rider, Jess was the first to try it.
“She’s handling well,” she said, nodding down at Dean when she let her trot.
“So you’ll admit that I’m a better trainer than you then?” Dean grinned, but Jess only frowned.
“Oh, just you wait, Winchester. The next quarter horse is mine and I’ll do a much better job on it, you’ll see.”
“Bet you a fiver you won’t,” Dean bit back.
“You’re on,” she smiled and dismounted.
When they had led the animal into the stable and brushed her down meticulously, she asked: “So no news from your father, then?”
“No. Radio silence,” Dean mumbled.
“How are things over there with you?” she asked and Dean smirked.
“Sammy’s fine, Jess. You should come over soon. And bring Charlie with you of course.”
“Yeah, guess I should see the place and in what kind of shack you’re really living.”
“Hey, it’s not that bad,” Dean lied. “But the walls are paper thin apparently.”
“Do I even wanna know how you found that out?” she smirked as they latched the horse box.
“Probably not,” he grinned.
Dean went over to the neighboring farm every day and came home once it was dark, Sam was being crazy excited about seeing the first green sprouts on the fields and Cas had made the boundary run all by himself for the first time.
“No need to sound so surprised, Dean,” Cas smiled strainedly.
“Yeah, but when he came back and tried to open the gate, he totally fell off and landed on his bum,” Sam laughed and Dean joined in.
“Oh, I would have paid money to see that,” he grinned into Cas’ neck as he pulled him close. “Bet you looked adorable down in the dirt.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” Cas said, not really in a humorous mood.
“Do you need another massage today, baby?” Dean asked once they were in his bedroom again.
“No, I don’t,” Cas grumbled, still pissed about being laughed at as he undressed.
“Ah, c’mon. It’s not a big deal. People fall off their horses all the time,” Dean said as he walked over and helped Cas when he was too slow with getting naked for his own liking. “It’s just something you pick up over time, y’know? You’ll ride closer to the gate tomorrow and pull the latch open without any problems before you know it,” Dean said as the in turn pulled Cas’ zipper down without any problems.
“But I looked completely ridiculous,” Cas pouted and then he hissed when Dean started stroking him.
“I bet you did,” Dean chuckled, his teeth scraping over Cas’ shoulders as he worked him. “But you know where you’re not looking ridiculous?”
“In my bed,” Dean rasped out and pressed Cas down into the mattress. “You look perfectly at home here,” he said once they were in the middle of action once more. “The rest will come in time.”
Cas nodded and came hard just a few thrusts later, grinning: “I guess I’m just in time then.”
Dean had smiled back even though he had meant much more with his words just now.
A few weeks later, they still hadn’t found anything that locked the spirit in this world, and if Dean was honest, he admitted that he hadn’t even really looked. Sam, Mary, Bobby and Cas searched whenever they had the time, but Dean always came up with more excuses.
His mom was the only one who knew that Dean’s eyes for this sort of thing were better than any trackers she’d ever met, but she didn’t comment on his lack of enthusiasm for the hunt. Dean still suspected he’d never hold Cas in his arms again once they got rid of the ghost and he really didn’t want that.
The mare that had made the move to Sam’s farm with him had been brought back to her owner, who was so pleased with Dean’s work that he had immediately contracted Dean and Jess for two new horses and due to form, they rivaled the other in the training of the new colts. The horses both stood at Devereaux farm because it had been easier to bring them over in one trailer and Dean really didn’t want to rip his new trainee horse out of his new environment, so he went over there every day again.
The corn back at home grew nicely and they’d already found a company who would buy it. The only problem that remained was harvesting it and getting it sorted and delivered. They’d need organic trucks and harvesting machines again and John’s cronies still didn’t want Sam’s business, even though Mary said that she tried to convince him to lift the ban on them whenever she brought the topic up in conversation.
It didn’t help though and whenever Mary came over these days, she looked bitter and like she was still thinking about the last fight with her husband. She helped out at Cedar Ridge even more now, working to get the pumps and pipes in the paddocks replaced and even going so far as to place an order for rock phosphate in her own name.
“Thanks, mom,” Sam said when they had finished bringing the phosphate onto the paddocks. “I know I would have had to wait months until the one person who delivers organic fertilizer to me would have got it.”
“I think this is ridiculous, your father can’t do this to you,” Cas said to which Dean just snorted. “What is it, Dean? Did I miss something again?” Cas rolled his eyes aggregately. Dean realized by now that Cas was doing that whenever he let it show that he knew more about what was required to living on a farm and around these parts. He had tried as he might to avoid irritating Cas like this, but here again was a thing that Cas didn't really understand and it looked comical to them all.
“No, Cas. It’s just… You see that he’s doing it, right?”
“But he can’t tell people not to sell to Sam. That’s unethical and people shouldn’t let him to this.”
“Take a look around you, man. If you oppose John Winchester in these parts, this is what you’re getting. He can do it and he is doing it. They’re all too much of darned cowards to stand up to him because he runs the biggest ranch in the area and people need his business more than ours.”
“But even organic suppliers don’t oppose him when he’s actually got nothing to do with them.”
“Please, Cas. Everyone knows everyone around here. Jim, the tractor guy? He’s the brother of the part-owner of Bill’s truck stop. And guess who’s a part-owner too? That’s right, dear old dad. He’d sell the place out from under him if Bill’s brother would go against his will.”
“I don’t like your tone, Dean. You know I don’t know any of that,” Cas rumbled, seeing now that Dean was right in what he had said.
“That’s why I’m explaining it to you,” Dean smiled and nudged Cas in the shoulder playfully. “So that you know how it works around here.”
Cas nodded stiffly, and Dean wondered what he had done now to offend the other man and just knew they'd have to talk about this later.
“It’s just that I think I’ll never fit in,” Cas admitted at night once they had finished and Dean had been so incredibly gentle that Cas felt coaxed to admit what he had been thinking in the afternoon.
“You fit in right here,” Dean mumbled and trailed the back of his hand over Cas’ sweaty body. He smoothed his fingertips over the other man’s abs in soothing circles while he just stared at his radiant after sex beauty. “But you’re right, people will see you as the new guy for some time still.”
“For how long?”
“Dunno,” Dean yawned and switched the lights off. “Couple a’ years, I’d say.”
“Years?” Cas said in shock and stilled Dean’s hands which still worked his stomach in lazy motions.
“Yeah,” Dean reached around and captured Cas’ neck in a tender grasp instead. “But don’t worry, they’ll stop after a while. And you’re here, learning everything. Don’t worry, one day you’ll spot a city boy and laugh about his cluelessness too,” he chuckled, kissing the other man’s collarbone before he settled down to watch him in the moonlight shining through the window.
“And what if I don’t want to make new arrivals feel bad about themselves at all? Have you ever thought of that, Dean?”
Dean propped his head up, stroking softly over Cas’ smooth chest and smiling: “What are you on about?”
“Oh, nothing,” Cas sighed and turned his back to him. “Let’s just go to sleep, ok?”
“Ok,” Dean mouthed and followed him on his side of the bed, throwing his arms around him, physically incapable of stopping to touch him.
“You never give me a rest, do you?” Dean finally heard a faint smile in Cas’ voice as he relaxed in his arms once more.
“And here I thought you loved sleeping in my arms,” he chuckled and tugged him closer. The only answer he got was soft breathing, because Cas had already gone to sleep.
Their routine worked well, and Dean thought he could finally relax now and not expect the blow that he always feared would come.
Cas learned the ways around the farm very fast, and within weeks of his coming to live with them, the men from Cedar Ridge joined the residents of Devereaux’s farm for a big cattle drive.
“Are you really sure you’re up to this already?” Dean asked when they got their horses ready to ride over there. When Cas only smiled and shook his head at Dean’s insistence, he came over and tipped Cas’ hat, whispering into his ear. “We’re gonna be in the saddle for days, baby. I know you got good at this stuff, but it’s gonna be rough. No one would think less of you if you’d take Ellen’s place in the truck, y’know? Ellen would love to drive the cattle instead, I know that.”
“I think I can manage,” Cas tried to shove Dean off him with a small eye roll, but then saw real concern in Dean‘s eyes. “Don’t worry, Dean. I’ll be fine.”
Sometimes when Dean had gone over to Devereaux’s, he had taken Cas with him and especially Charlie had made it her business to teach Cas the ropes about working with cattle. Over lunch, Cas had told them about how he roped his first steer, or how Charlie let him round up 50 head all by himself and Dean couldn’t have been prouder of him. But this was a big drove, 400 head had to be moved over 200 miles.
They were gonna be on the road for at least a week, constantly riding and watching the cattle at all times.
“I trust you to stay in charge of the farm hands and the sheep,” Frank told Jo, who would be leading the property in their absence and was pretty keen to prove herself.
“I’m not sure about this, Frank. Jo’s not ready for this kinda responsibility,” Ellen objected.
“Ellen, c’mon. Jo has been out there all her life, she knows her stuff,” Dean took Jo’s position and was surprised at the sour look he got from Cas at that.
He looked at him, shaking his head with sass oozing out of his movements, but now was not the time to discuss what he had done now.
They rode out: Sam, Jess, Bobby and Frank bringing up the sides while Dean and Cas brought up the rear, with Ellen following them in the truck.
“We’re not really doing anything back here, do we?” Cas announced when they were about 20 miles from their starting point and they began to find a good place to round up for the night.
“Fancy that,” Dean said, trying to sound as if he hadn’t noticed that.
“You’re not fooling me, Dean. You assigned me the easiest task, didn’t you?”
“I kinda did, yeah,” Dean announced when Charlie once again rode off after a straggler and guided it back to the mob.
“Can I ask why?”
“Because I don’t think you’re ready for this. How much does your butt hurt? And don’t try to pretend it doesn’t.”
“It hurts,” Cas admitted, shifting in the saddle again like he had during the most part of the afternoon. “And I think everything else is pretty sore too. But that doesn’t give you the right to decide that I have to stay back here,” he bit out when his butt hit the saddle uncomfortably again.
“Sorry,” Dean said emphatically and more than a little pissed. “Fine, if you’re so confident of what you can do, you’ll guide the rear by yourself. I’m sure they need help in the front. Yah!” he yelled and pressed his thighs into Mary Grace’s sides to speed past the entire mob and drive from the sides.
“So what happened between you and Cas back there? I only saw you gallop and your shoulders were scrunched like whenever you’re pissed,” Charlie asked while Ellen prepared dinner for them.
“Ah, don’t ask,” Dean answered and stared brooding into the camp fire while Charlie laid her head tiredly on his arm. The day had been long and everyone was exhausted, apparently except for Jess and Sam who talked to each other with an enviable amount of élan. Frank and Bobby were half sitting, half napping until dinner was ready and Cas sat farthest away, staring and brooding just like Dean, who felt his tongue loosen at the sight now.
“I mean, I thought it was a good idea that he’d take an easier job, y’know? And he bites my head off about it.”
“Yeah,” Charlie agreed haltingly but it was evident that there was more coming once she’d thought about it. “You see,” she picked up again after a few minutes. “The way I see it, Cas is like Jo when it comes to this. She knows what she can do, but always strives for more. And then you’re the bad one if you don’t let them prove themselves, y’know? I think you should let Cas do more on his own, at least that's what I gathered from the way he was when you stood up for Jo and from what you told me happened this afternoon.”
“Yeah, sure," Dean conceded, seeing the point of Charlie's words. "It’s just, when he goes off by himself, he I dunno, falls off his horse, leaves the gate open or something. Nothing too bad, not on our farm since we don’t have animals yet, but imagine if he felt the gates open at your place… And he always gets tetchy when he screws up. I keep telling him it’s not a big deal, but he feels ridiculed when we’re having a laugh about it. It’s not as if he can’t join in, he just doesn’t, y’know?”
“Sounds like he’s a perfectionist,” Charlie yawned as Ellen finally started to hand out plates and Dean helped everyone to stew afterwards.
“Yeah, big time,” Dean nodded when everyone was chewing and even Sam and Jess were too busy eating to make doe eyes at each other.
“Then let him. Let him prove himself and if he can’t, you’ll pick up the pieces.”
“I don’t think I can, Char. What if he screws up and it costs us a lot of money to fix it? I mean, I don’t always know everything about organics and check back with Sammy constantly. What if Cas does something we can’t fix?”
“I see your point,” Charlie swallowed around a mouthful. “But you gotta let him off the leash just a little bit. I think he’d feel better then. How about I take the back tomorrow and Cas brings up my side? You can stay a little further back and if he really can’t get a stray back to the herd, you jump in. And don‘t give him the silent treatment tonight either. Do whatever you do to make him weak in the knees. And can we stop talking about this now before I get uncomfortable?” she said with a strained smile, shaking herself.
“Sure thing, Char,” Dean nudged her.
After dinner everyone was too tired to do much more than put up the tents and go to sleep.
Dean took a last round around the cattle, leaving Cas time to pretend to be asleep, should he not want to talk to him.
Five minutes were enough he thought as he turned his steps to his tent and slipped in.
“Wow, is it just me or did I just stumble right into heaven?” he asked Cas’ exposed backside and he saw the other man flinch a little, trying to cover himself up, but Dean had already seen most of the damage. Poor Cas was covered in angry red blisters.
Dean bit his tongue and just started undressing without saying something.
When he wriggled into his sleeping bag, Cas looked at him, most likely surprised that he didn’t get a lecture now as he quietly asked: “Do you have ointment or something on you?”
“Yeah,” Dean said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic about it. He got back up and fumbled around in his saddle bag until he found a small bottle of tincture, too lazy to even get out of his sleeping bag again.
“I fear it’s not enough for the whole journey, but I just won’t apply it too liberally, then it should last long enough. Turn around.”
While he carefully treated Cas, he tried not to think or say anything about today, and Cas didn’t either, he just laid into Dean’s touch, softly hissing whenever he found a new sore spot.
“I can’t understand why we can’t just get them there in a truck,” Cas grumbled.
“Because Frank’s no John Winchester and that’s a good thing. He can’t just spit money either. There,” he announced when he was finished and regretfully let go of Cas. “You’re all perfect now. Of course you’ll have to keep your butt exposed until it’s all dry. Not that I’m complaining about that or nothing,” he smirked. “But I guess you’re not up for some fun tonight, huh?” he took in the sight of sore, red skin when Cas turned to face him.
“I could give you a ‘thank you’ blow job?” he offered, but Dean shook his head.
“Neh, it’s only half the fun if you can’t enjoy it. And besides, little Cas would probably swell too much for comfort then,” he cupped Cas’ unclothed dick and the other man hissed from the simple touch alone. “See,” Dean proved his point and climbed back into his sleeping bag while Cas laid down on top of his own belly down, his ass still exposed and glistening.
“So, I was thinking,” Dean said cupping Cas’ asscheeks where they weren’t stinging as he talked on, because it looked just too perfect to not touch it. “Tomorrow, you’ll take the side and Charlie and me will bring up the back.”
“Yeah,” Dean shrugged and wanted to turn around to face the tarpaulin and go to sleep but within a second, his arms were filled with Cas who practically attacked him with his tongue.
“Woah, easy there tiger,” he grinned and kissed him back, his fingers naturally gliding down and cupping Cas’ ass until he heard a soft hissing sound again.
“Sorry,” he grumbled.
“It’s ok. Thank you for this, Dean.”
“Don’t thank me,” Dean felt himself blushing. “It’s gonna be hard work, so let’s get some shut eye, ok?”
“Yes,” Cas agreed while at the same time seeking out Dean’s mouth, completely against his words.
“Cas, damn it, we need sleep,” Dean rasped out half an hour of making out later. Cas’ grinned down at him happy and excited about tomorrow as he finally pulled off and could now slip into his pants and sleeping bag as well.
Dean watched as Cas went to sleep with a grin of anticipation of tomorrow, while he on the other hand had a sinking feeling in his gut.
“Here they go again, Cas. That one’s yours,” Dean said. They were on the road for some hours already and Cas looked incredibly tired as he once again rode off after a stray and tried to get it back to the herd. He had managed with the first few, but it was evident in the way he guided his horse that he was tired and that his reflexes weren’t up to their best anymore.
“He’s picking up on you,” Dean shouted out. “Bring him round that bush, that’s it.”
“He’s doing pretty good, isn’t he?” Charlie announced from the back.
“He’s exhausted,” Dean shook his head, just when Cas got the young steer back and talked to him when he was close enough again. “Need a breather? I can take over for a while, y’know?”
“No, I’m good,” Cas tried to beam, but he flinched at being even more saddle sore and his eyes looked very tired.
Dean had an itching in him to tell Cas to get behind, and just take his position over, but he checked himself. Cas wanted to prove himself and this ordeal he put himself through was his way of doing it. So, against his better judgment, Dean conceded and let Cas work on.
The next stray was a young heifer which Dean could have brought back with his eyes closed, but Cas took a wrong turn around the animal and it darted off.
“Sorry,” Cas shouted and galloped after it.
Dean kept a look out with anxiety pooling in his stomach and when Cas didn’t return he rode off after him while Charlie got the others to stop and wait up because it was high time for lunch anyway.
“Cas?” Dean shouted out until he found him, trying to get the heifer out of some bushes. “Hey, we’re making lunch now, you can go. I’ll bring it back up.”
“I got this, Dean!” Cas shouted angrily and rode up the animal which leapt off again before Cas could rope it.
“Hey! Watch out for that slope!” Dean shouted when Cas drove the animal too close to a ravine. Cas listened and stilled his horse but the damage was done. The young cow tumbled down, mooing loudly and disappeared from sight.
“Goddamn shit!” Dean cursed and tied Mary Grace to the nearest tree. “Cas, go back to the herd and tell Frank we have an animal down. Don’t just stand there and look shocked. Go!”
Cas nodded and spurred his horse, while Dean climbed down the slope to the unfortunate animal.
“Hey, you silly thing. Why did you have to go here, huh?” he checked the panting animal, whose eyes rolled in their sockets, for damage. Once he was sure of all the injuries from the fall, he pressed the back of his fist to his mouth. “Don’t worry, little girl,” he tried to soothe despite his own violent shaking. “Frank will be here soon, and then it’s gonna be better real quick, I promise.”
He stroked the animals‘ neck to calm it, until he heard two horses coming back. Frank and Cas climbed down towards him, Frank having got the rifle out of the back of the truck.
“What are we looking at, Dean?”
“Broken back and pale lips,” Dean gave the verdict.
“Pale lips means internal bleeding, right?” Cas looked at the others with panic in his eyes and then down at the suffering animal. “Can we load it into the back of the truck and get it to a veterinarian?”
“Too late for the vet,” Dean said with bile in voice and held out his hand for Frank’s rifle.
“No, no. Maybe we could help it. Do something.”
“Yes, we can do something,” Dean said angrily. “We can put it out of it’s misery.”
“You sure you wanna do this, son? I can do it too,” Frank said.
“No, he was my responsibility. This is my fault.”
“He?” Cas said, completely downcast now.
“Yes,” Dean stared at him, leaving no room for doubt which ‘he’ was meant. “And you will watch it. You will see what happens when you try to prove yourself and can‘t.”
Dean aimed between the ear and the eye of the heifer and shot. Cas flinched violently and tears rolled down his face as the animal stopped breathing and Dean stalked off, just saying to Frank: “I’ll pay for the damage,” without being able to look at Cas.
He rode back to the others, and tried to eat a sandwich, but he couldn’t get anything down. Instead he walked off, finding a river bank about half a mile from the camp and ferociously washed his hands several times in the creek water.
He sat with his back to a tree when he heard steps coming up behind him and Cas suddenly showed up, more tracks of tears in his dirty face.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I know you are,” Dean said with bone deep exhaustion in his voice. “But it was my fault. You weren’t ready. And you were tired and I let you do this, even though I knew better,” he felt the need to wash overcome him once more and walked down to the creek again.
“I hate doing this,” Dean said passionately while he let the water flow over his hands. “I hate having to put them down.”
“How often have you done it?” Cas asked very softly.
“Too often to count. That‘s why we don‘t give them names or get attached, Cas. Because something like this can always happen and then you gotta do what you gotta do.”
“I’m sorry,” Cas repeated and threw his arms around Dean from the back.
“Yeah, you’ve said that,” Dean answered, not as cold as he’d like to sound, and pressed himself into Cas’ arms for a minute before he got up, drying his hands on his jeans. “Let’s go back to the others.”