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[personal profile] jendavis
Title: Better Man
Author: jendavis
Fandom/ Pairing: Supernatural; references to Chuck/Cas
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue, don't take too seriously.
Summary: Croat!verse. Written for hc_bingo prompt "forced marriage."

It had already been a bad week.

Croats had nearly broken through their defenses on the southern end of the camp, and three people had died. Somewhere in the middle of the bender that followed, he'd exchanged black eyes and fuck you's with Chuck, probably for the last time. And the hangover had been a bitch.

So when the bridge into town collapsed under the weight of two months' worth of unplowed snow, Cas chalked it up to nothing more than the usual accumulation of shitty luck that life seemed to be these days. snow that brought it down, cutting the camp off from most of the rest of the world.

He tried, too, not to see any omens in it. As far as he could tell, everything had already gone to hell completely anyway. One more thing couldn't matter.

---

Two years previous, Dean explained, the downed bridge would've meant turning around, driving back past the park, through town and taking the next exit. Annoying, but no massive crisis. Now, though, it meant their main supply route was destroyed. And it meant they had to deal with their backup route.

It had been the backup route for a reason. Her name was Mindy; she was originally from New Orleans.

She and her people had set up shop at the old Wal-Mart out on the interstate. Though she and her camp had a tenuous alliance with Chitaqua, they were very protective of the patch of strip mall they'd carved out for themselves. They weren't any worse or better than any other patch of people left in the world. They allowed free passage past their parking lot, and with the neighborly discount Dean had negotiated last spring, the trading rates inside were close enough to fair.

But now, it was the middle of winter and Chuck's inventories were all starting to say the same thing- they were nearly out of everything. It was almost funny, how quickly the neighborly discount vanished once Mindy's camp heard about the bridge.

The rumor around camp was that Mindy had bombed the bridge, forcing them to deal, but it made no sense. There was little they had that her people could use. They still had food for another two weeks if they rationed it, enough ammo for one, maybe two more Croat attacks. No need to start another war they couldn't win.

But they had to do something.

---

The brainstorming session wasn't going particularly well.

"What if we go in with a small raiding team, head in from the eastern entrance?"

"No, they've got lights on the parking lots on three sides, we've got to go through the back. Cover's relatively good up until the last twenty yards before the doors or so. Set up a distraction on the main entrance while the second wave gets in through the back."

Chuck shifted in his seat, regarding Dean and the rest of the group irritably. "Is it at all possible for any of you to think of a distraction that won't result in them shooting us?"

Cas shrugged. It was worth a shot. "How about if we just go in and talk to her?" Chuck glanced over, surprised, perhaps, to find an ally in him. Apparently he was supposed to disagree with everything Chuck said, now, just because they'd stopped sleeping together. "Let me go in and find out if she's willing to negotiate before we go in guns blazing. If not, I'll keep her busy while you all do your thing. "

"Yeah, that'll work," Dean muttered sarcastically, but he gave it some thought. "You know, actually. Yeah. As far as distractions go, it's not the worst I've heard."

---

Mindy was nowhere near as non-negotiable as they'd feared.

"It's taken care of," Cas assured Dean when he climbed back into the truck. "The first supply shipment will come tomorrow morning, and I'm going back with them. Mindy's throwing in some whiskey and half a case of ammo, too. Call it a dowry, I guess."

Dean stared at him for what seemed like a long time. "You're getting married?"

"Yes."

"Oh." Dean clearly had something on his mind, but after a moment, he turned on his radio and ordered the raiding team to withdraw from the East entrance. "Cas took care of it," was all he said when they asked why. "We're heading home."

Cas didn't need anyone's permission to agree to her terms, and he didn't need anyone's blessing. Though either would've been better than the silent treatment that lasted the entire trip back home.

---

News spread fast, though, back at the camp. People stopped talking when he came near, and he pretended that he couldn’t hear them when he passed by.

---

"Prostitution's fucked up, even for him."

---

"He's an idiot, doesn't even know what he's getting himself into. What's he think is going to happen to us when it all goes to hell?"

---

"So he decided to do this, what, just today?"

"Yeah. And what, he and Chuck just broke up a few days ago?"

"Yeah. Real classy, that one."

---

"It's gotta be something else. Ulterior motive, you know? He strike you as the marrying type?"

"Don't know. He seems pretty loyal to Winchester."

"A little naïve, though, don't you think?"

"Yeah."

---

"He was drunk, right? Again?"

"Probably."


---

And then it was mid-afternoon, and Dean was standing on his porch, waving Cas over, looking like he'd decided what he wanted to say.

"Damn it," Dean growled, shoving him into a chair, resuming the pacing that probably hadn't been long paused. "You do realize that I don't have the first clue how to undo all this, right?"

"I don't know that there is anything to be done," Cas shrugged. "It's not your responsibility."

"The hell it ain't. My second in command's taking off for a honeymoon with the Wicked Witch of the Wal-Mart. Morale around here is gonna be shit, and that's not even getting into…" Taking a breath, Dean shook his head, and straightened. "We'll fix it. I just need time. I'll figure something out."

"I already have, Dean. You'll have one less mouth to feed and enough supplies coming in to keep everyone alive. That will do more for morale than my continued presence here."

"Right, but." Dean realized that he'd just agreed with him, and taken the wind out of his own arguments. But he continued. "That's not the point."

"Then what is, oh fearless leader?"

"Have you talked to Chuck?"

He honestly hadn't been expecting that. And it wasn't any of Dean's business, either. "No."

Dean sighed. "Are you going to?"

"Am I supposed to?" He played dumb. He'd been putting it off all afternoon. Dean blinked at him, shaking his head, and sighed. It was hard to tell if he was more tired than disappointed, or if he was chalking this up to just another human thing that Cas didn't understand.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think you kind of are."

---

He'd already seen the betrayed faces of everyone else in the camp, already heard their complaints, the thousand ways he was wrong to do what he'd agreed to do. It reminded him of heaven, right when things were starting to go to hell. Allegiances were being declared, and most of them were on the opposite side.

He didn't care about most of them, really.

But in less than twenty paces, he'd be standing in Chuck's doorway, and by then he'd have to know what to say.

---

The wood scraped the dry skin of his knuckles when he knocked, and he still didn't have a clue.

---

"C'mon in," Chuck said, not looking up from his clipboard. When Cas sat down, he regarded him with a smirk, and spoke again. "I gotta say, man. I don't get it."

"In return for my joining her camp, she's willing to include us as part of her operation. We will have full access to all the supplies and support we'll need. This is how the nations of the world have operated for the bulk of human existence," Cas explained, puzzled.

"Doesn't mean it's the only option," Chuck argued, eyes down like he didn't want to fight about it. "You're not, like, common chattel, you know?"

"No, but I haven't yet lost all my abilities to heal. I'm very uncommon chattel. And the point is moot. I've already agreed. They're bringing the first shipment here day after tomorrow, and I'm going back with them."

"Yeah. I know. And nobody's getting killed this way. So on that level, at least, I'm cool with it. But," he fixed Cas with a glare that was steady and a little disappointed. "Gotta say, I'm a little blindsided, here."

Then it's a good thing we already broke up, Cas very nearly said, cutting himself off at the last moment. "I would imagine so. It's thrown me as well."

"Yeah? From what everyone's saying, you seemed pretty certain about it earlier."

"I still think it's the only sane solution. Even if… it didn't occur to me to wonder what's going to happen when I go out there. She may soon realize that I'm not quite what she's hoping for."

Chuck smirked. He probably knew more about that, when it came to Cas, than anyone. "And what about you? You looking forward to it?"

"What?"

"Married life."

"It's fine." Cas shrugged.

Chuck seemed taken aback. "You don't…you do know what marriage is, right? People tend to take it seriously. Covenant and all that?"

"That seems to be the popular conception, yes." Cas muttered, rolling his eyes. As if it could hold a candle to the things I've done in this war and a thousand others. "But if you're worried that it might get me kicked out of the host- oh, wait. My mistake. That already happened."

Chuck wouldn't rise to the bait. "Okay, but. Take the deal out of it. Everyone else. Would you still want to go through with it?"

"What I want doesn't matter."

"Okay, so that's pretty much a resounding no. So, I guess, ah…" Chuck looked away and back again. "Thanks?"

Cas had missed something, he was sure of it. "For what?"

"As far as taking one for the team goes, this is pretty far up there," he shrugged, looking away again in vague embarrassment. Maybe Chuck wanted him gone, maybe he'd finally hurt him that badly. "You're not angry?"

"I'm feeling a nebulous sort of disappointment, but it's not localized on you. I mean, okay, maybe a little, but it's mostly the situation." His mouth quirked into a sad near-smile as he reached out to clap a hand on Cas's shoulder. "But I get why you're doing this. And that it's our best shot at keeping everyone alive through the winter. I'm not angry with you. I mean-"

He broke off, his smile genuine and real, if still a little embarrassed. It wasn't perfect. But.

Cas felt something unwinding in his chest, intense, quiet, and rushing too fast, and it felt like falling all over again. It felt like relief and loss and love all rolled into one.

It felt like forgiveness.

"Oh." Cas frowned, studying Chuck's face- the bruising around his eye was mostly gone, now-and trying not to bring his hand up to grab his, still warm on his shoulder. He hadn't been expecting this. "Good. I mean. Thank you."

He was getting married in the morning. He was leaving the camp. But it didn't stop him from wondering about what could've been. How long it would've been before Chuck would've taken him back, how many weeks and bottles of whiskey. But that was being greedy. Human.

He missed Chuck already.

"It is what it is," Chuck said, apropos of nothing, and glanced out the window with a smirk. "Is everyone pissed at you as I think they are?"

"That depends on how angry you believe them to be. But the short answer is yes."

"Well, screw them. They're not invited to the bachelor party."

"The what?"

Chuck brandished the bottle and two glasses, and the glint was back in his eye, knowing and familiar. This, at least, Cas understood.

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