A/N: Hello everyone. So this story kind of went out of hand. I only intended like 3000 words when I started but I just can't keep myself short. So yeah, have fun with this nasty piece of exploded inspiration. And thanks to my dear friend for always listening to my random ideas and your suggestions ;)
He is in chains when they bring him in.
That shouldn't really surprise him, not after Castiel had heard what he'd supposedly done. It had taken four men to subdue him, two of whom are now accompanying him; the other two are in too bad of a shape to walk on their own. Castiel would be lying if he said he isn't a tiny bit worried. The man has almost fought off four people on his own, putting two of them into the nearby guild hospital. He's packed with muscles, that much Castiel can see even in the state he is, and there is no doubt that he could overpower Castiel if he really wanted to.
But Castiel has been a doctor for most of his life, and he is not going to be deterred by someone's bad reputation. It's not like he's defenseless either.
Castiel watches with well-practiced impassiveness as the guards deposit him on one of his beds, fastening the ends of his chains to the rings in the wall. They are rarely used; the injured that are brought down to him are usually in a state where resistance is the least of their concerns. Not to mention that their presence in the Stadium is voluntary. But this one is different, he's not a Fighter and he has already proven that he's dangerous.
According to the Overseer the man had been a criminal sentenced to slavery in the mines, from where he had tried to escape, injuring the mine's slave master in the process. The Master wants to make an example out of him, so Castiel's orders are to treat him, make him ready for battle so that he'll provide a good show when he's executed. He has two weeks until the Mesmeralias are over and the culmination Games begin.
Castiel never had a taste for the bloody fights held in the Stadium, especially since it's his duty to care for the injured and the dying, as the Stadium's doctor.
And now there is this man, a slave of the mines, an escapee who had been caught and who brought down two full grown men and injured two others, a man destined to spill his life-blood on the white Marble floor of the Stadium. The two guards don't spare him another glance before they walk out, leaving the man at his mercy. Castiel can't help but think that maybe it's the other way round.
The man is dirty, that much is plain obvious, not just with the slate-grey dust from the mines, but also dried mud and blood and other things that Castiel cannot name. His hair is matted with dirt and blood, the real color hardly distinguishable from the filthy strands. He only wears a ragged pair of pants, torn at the seams and ripped on multiple spots, skin covered with the oily sheen of sweat where it isn't covered with dirt. A thin red line around his neck shows where his slave collar used to be. Castiel supposes it is ironic that it's his death sentence that lost the man his collar.
There's a deep cut over his left eyebrow, dripping down blood steadily, over the dark bruises swelling around the eye. There are other bruises and contusions on his body, some old and faded, but most are fresh, as are the multiple cuts on his arms and legs. He looks fine otherwise but Castiel has noted earlier that he's moving with a certain restrain, as if he's in deep pain, and judging by the big purple bruise on his chest, he has at least one cracked rib.
Considering what he's been up against, he's in remarkably good shape.
"You going to fix me up or are you planning on staring all day?" The man breaks the silence and Castiel's eyes snap up from where they've gone astray on the man's defined thighs. He was a miner, and he has the muscles to show it. His one open eye is glazed over with pain, but the startling green shines through nevertheless. There are small specks of gold in his iris, glowing in the dancing light of the fireplace.
"Okay, staring it is." The man grins, but it is strained, and it is more than obvious that he is in pain. It can't be comfortable in his position, the chains barely have any give and the shackles around his wrists force him to sit awkwardly upright with his torso slumped to relieve the tension.
"Apologies." Castiel quickly shakes off his daze and walks over to where his equipment is set on the table, prisoner or not, the man is his patient and he has sworn an oath to treat everyone with absolute care. He has failed enough things in his live, he will at least keep this oath.
There's a sound of startled surprise and Castiel's head whips around to its source. The stranger looks at him with an unfathomable expression, or maybe that's just what the bruises formed his face into. it's hard to tell and Castiel doesn't know him well enough to say for sure.
"Okay, that's new."
"What do you mean?" Castiel eyes his equipment with disdain, it's far from what he's used to from his time in the guild and he has to improvise more than he'd like to, but it will have to do. But first he needs to clean the man up, or else treating him will be rather pointless. There's a small fireplace in the room and he wisely has put on a pot with water when they brought the stranger in, it must be hot enough by now.
"I've never met a polite quack before."
"I prefer the term doctor or physician if you must." Castiel corrects him as he pulls the pot from the metal tripod and onto the stone floor. It's cooking, steam rising and he'll probably burn his hand if he puts it in right now, so he takes the time to prepare the pieces of cloth and the bandages he'll need. The fire is too small to heat the room, the stone walls absorb too much of the warmth, so even when the fire is burning fully, as it is now, it's always cold down here.
"Okay, doc." Castiel throws him a sour glance, not quite sure if he's trying to be obnoxious on purpose or if that's just the pain. Or maybe it's just his personality.
"Castiel." He says perhaps a bit more tersely then absolutely necessary.
"Castiel, that's my name."
"Okay, nice to meet you. Castiel." He says the name with a pause, as if he's testing the sound on his tongue and then he smiles up at him, or at least he's trying to, but it comes out more as a grimace and Castiel notes with worry that a new layer of sweat has broken out on his face.
"I'm Dean." His breathing has turned a bit harsh and his one good eye seems to struggle to stay open. "Excuse me but I think I'm going to pass out now." And with that his eyelids flutter shut and he slumps forwards as far as his bonds allow.
There's an uneasy feeling in Castiel's stomach, he has allowed Dean's brash attitude to not only distract him but also to fool him enough to think that his injuries aren't as severe as they obviously are. He curses softly under his breath and dunks the first cloth in the water, ignoring the heat as he pulls it out again and quickly sets to work.
It is more difficult than it should be to cleanse Dean's skin of all the dirt, because with every inch of clean skin he uncovers, he gets more and more distracted. His skin is tanned, despite all the time he must have spent down in the mines. He is heavily muscled and the skin is mostly smooth, aside from a set of strange scars on his lower back, three thin parallel lines and a fourth crossing through them. They're a stark contrast to the splatter of whip marks on his upper back and shoulders, where the skin didn't heal as cleanly. There are other smaller scars scattered on his body, all together telling the story of a life of hardships and harsh punishments, and Castiel feels his heart squeeze tighter with every mark he uncovers.
But despite all the grime - most of which seems to be older than from the most recent events - and all the bruises and contusions, it is astounding how healthy Dean is. He's a slave of the mines, and the few Castiel has seen so far had been scrawny and malnourished, bones standing out against the stretch of their sun depraved skin, eyes hollow and useless in the harsh light of day. Maybe he hasn't been a mine slave for long, his tanned skin suggests that he at least recently spent time in the sun, and he must have had enough food to sustain these muscles.
He had been right on his first observation, two ribs are cracked, no fracture, but close enough. Castiel's glad that Dean is already unconscious, because he can fix them up now, without causing additional pain. He presses a folded cloth covered in salve over the bruise and wraps bandages around his chest with careful precision. He stitches up the cut on Dean's eyebrow next, after carefully cleaning out the wound. It's shallow but the skin is severely jagged at the edges and he's not going to take any risk. He really doesn't want to know what caused the wound either.
And all the while he keeps wondering, why he's so careful, gentle almost, and thorough in his treatment, knowing full well that Dean is not only a stranger but also sentenced to die. It shouldn't affect him as much as he does. Eventually, everyone he treats is going to die on the Marble floor, the life of a fighter is a short one. Too few survive the five years of minimum service, and those that do are often pressured into doing another five. The man is a criminal, maybe even a murderer, if anything, he's got what he deserved. There's no reason to feel pity. But there's something in the man's eye he can't forget, a haunting sadness, a secret covered by curtains of gold speckled green.
Castiel applies salve to the various bruises, more than strictly necessary, even though he knows that he shouldn't waste their already meager supplies on a stranger with a death sentence. But he can't bear the thought of doing any less, and that is a conflicted feeling in itself, because the more careful care he takes of Dean, the better the man will heal, and the more wasted his life will be when it's time for him to die. And that's probably the most messed up thing he has ever thought in his life. Castiel's hand stills, where he was just about to wrap up the last of the smaller cuts, that didn't require stitching.
It's strange to think, that after all these years, there is a stranger on his bed - one who might deserve it - and he doesn't want him to die.
There's no rational reason for him to do that, but he still does; he's been brought countless injured Fighters, all destined to die anyway, and all he's ever allowed to do is buy them a little more time. His hands take up their movement again, finishing the treatment, while his mind is still lost on his feelings. He shouldn't feel this strong, shouldn't feel anything about the man, but he's curious. He wants to know what hides behind his mask, the brash attitude and the sad eyes.
And that must be it - curiosity.
Dean groans in his sleep, face twisted into a pained grimace as he shifts, trying to find a more comfortable position, but the chains barely allow any movement. He has his hand on Dean's shoulder before he realizes that he's doing it and then it instantly feels at home there. He can feel the tension from muscles stretched into an unnatural position and he can feel the unnatural heat signaling a fever, radiating off his skin.
It only takes a brief moment of consideration before Castiel makes a decision. The men took the key to Dean's shackles with them but Castiel has a few tricks up his sleeve. He takes the curved needle he uses for wound stitching and after some fumbling, the lock clicks open with a satisfying sound. He notices a strange round stone embedded into the metal of the cuffs. It seems familiar somehow but Castiel doesn't have the muse to ponder that now.
He's careful with removing the shackles, but the raw chafed skin sticks to the metal and Dean winces in pain as Castiel pulls his hands free. He relaxes instantly once his arms are free though, shuffling a bit until he has pulled his shoulders to the front again, and sagging to the side with a pleased sigh.
Another bit of fumbling and Dean's legs are also freed and he instantly stretches out on the thin mattress. Castiel is distracted for a moment by the roll of muscles on Dean's stomach as he stretches. But there is a flush of red on his skin and a frown etched into his features and Castiel shakes himself back into function. This won't do, he can't keep getting distracted, not when there's a patient that needs his care.
Fever is one of the more common sicknesses he has to battle, almost on a daily basis. No matter how careful he cleans out the wounds, an infection forms more often than not, and over time he has become quite skilled in the treatment. But he's careful to never allow routine take over care in his job, a fever is nothing to take lightly, and he won't make the mistake of underestimating any sickness in his chambers. He collects a few leaves from his herb bag and brews a tea for Dean. It takes a long time until he has fed the whole cup to Dean, but he takes to the task with patience, and he's rewarded by the slight relaxation of Dean's creased forehead. It will help both against the fever and with healing.
Hours pass and Castiel never once leaves the room. Dean doesn't necessarily need the supervision - not for medical matters at least - but Castiel is loath to leave him alone. Technically he isn't even allowed to leave him like that, unbound and potentially dangerous, but it goes strictly against his morals to bind him when he is in this much pain.
Besides, he has a feeling that Dean wouldn't try to hurt him, as a doctor he has learned to listen to his instincts, sometimes it decides between life and death. He keeps a cool wet cloth on Dean's forehead and regularly checks his temperature, but so far his condition hasn't improved. It hasn't deteriorated either and that is a good thing. It's not that he has anywhere else to be at the moment, no fights are held during the Mesmeralias and he didn't have a serious case patient in a while.
Rachel, his assistant, comes in at some point to check on him and it's clear that she disapproves of the unbound prisoner, but she knows him better than to say anything. She tells him the status of the rest of his small infirmary, but since there is nothing that requires his immediate attention, she leaves him alone soon after, throwing another scowl to where Dean lies on the bed.
And with that he's alone again, with nothing else to do than watching Dean's sleeping form. He looks peaceful now, the pained frown and the worry lines smoothed from his face and the red glow of fever casts an almost ethereal beauty on his features. Castiel finds himself wondering what happened to him, what crime got him into slavery, the stories behind his scars, especially the four lines on his lower back.
From what he's seen so far, he already knows that Dean is pretty spirited, but there's also an undeniable history of defiance mapped out on his back. But despite the countless scars, despite the disgust the men who brought him in treated him with, he's still whole, whatever happened to him, it did nothing to break him.
He shouldn't be this fascinated; Dean is a criminal, slavery isn't earned easily. But somehow he can't believe that Dean is a bad man, wronged maybe, but whatever he did he's done it out of good reason, of that much, Castiel is sure. And maybe that should have him worried
It is somewhere in the midst of those thoughts that he falls asleep in his chair, finally overtaken by exhaustion and the long hours he has been awake.
Something startles him awake, but he doesn't exactly know what. The room is dark, the fire has burnt down to embers and the oil lamp has guttered out of oil sometime earlier, but there is a presence there, unmistakably, that he can't shake. His back hurts from the cramped position he accidentally fell asleep in, and his legs are numb from how they're awkwardly folded under the chair.
"I thought I was dreaming you." A voice said, startlingly rough and deep, sending a shiver down Castiel's spine. And then he remembers; the man that was brought in earlier today, now lying on his bed propped up on his elbows, a dark silhouette against the darker wall behind him, the faint glow of embers reflecting on his sweat damp skin, where the blanket fell off.
Castiel blinks and slowly his eyes adjust to the darkness, peeling Dean's shape out of layers of darkness. There's still a faint red hue on his face, but the one eye he can open is clear, albeit tired. "How do you feel?"
Dean frowns, as if he just now realizes that he's injured, but then his face lights up again as he takes in the state of his body. "Quite good actually. So I really am dreaming."
This time it is Castiel's turn to frown and he tilts his head slightly, as if looking at Dean at a different angle will help to understand him better. Unsurprisingly, the altered angle does nothing to clear up his puzzlement. "You're not dreaming." No matter how much he thinks about it; Castiel can't think of a symptom Dean could have that would let him think he's dreaming. Not when he seems this lucid. And his fever has clearly broken.
"You can't be real." Dean shakes his head and his eye is wide as he gazes at Castiel like he's the rarest thing he's ever seen. "Come on man, that's just not possible."
"What do you mean? I am very real, and you are certainly not dreaming." Castiel insists, but the awestruck expression doesn't disappear from Dean's eye.
"Right. So you're basically telling me you unchained me and patched me up, apparently even gave me the good stuff." He experimentally pokes a finger against his chest, wincing as he prods against his bandaged ribs. It's true though; Castiel applied some pain-soothing liniment that helps to relax the muscles and supports the healing process. He also notes that Dean doesn't speak with the usual slang he's used to from the people he has to treat, the dialect of the slums, from where most of the Fighters originate. He had been too busy to notice it before, but there certainly is wealth behind the way Dean speaks, however roughed up it appears at the edges.
"Dude, that's crazy." Dean seems to believe finally that he's indeed awake, but that does nothing to quell the surprise in his expression. He still looks at Castiel like he's a dream, like he can't quite believe that he's real.
"The bonds hindered your healing process, and the treatment I applied to your injuries is the same as every patient of mine receives." Okay, that's not entirely true. He used more of the salve and liniment than he usually would have, and it is certainly not part of his usual treatments to sit and wait with the patient during a fever. Which Dean, come to think of it, had shaken off pretty quickly.
Dean laughs, it's a quick burst, as surprising as it is pleasant and then he grins at Castiel, or really, it's more of a smirk. "It's a shame though. The things I would do to you if I were still dreaming…" He trails off and Castiel finds himself oddly entranced by the quick flick of tongue over chapped lips, and then he has the equally odd thought to lean in and touch those same lips.
"Now I really wish I were dreaming." Dean smirks again, but there's reservation in his eye now, as if he had retreated to somewhere deeper in his mind, a place Castiel can't follow. As if he#s trying to hide.
Castiel doesn't know what to reply to that. Technically the declaration of 'things done to him' should alarm him, especially coming from a man with a questionable history like Dean, but all he feels is a slight curiosity, curling in his stomach, a soft flutter of ideas long buried under years of duty. But still, he has no clue what to say to that.
"Your fever has broken remarkably fast, but I think it is a necessary precaution to check you over once again." He's slipped back into his 'doctor voice', the one he uses to convey to his patients what he's doing, impassive and distant, as if he's forgotten to be affable, the one that Rachel berates him for again and again, the one he can't shake because it gives him that sliver of security he needs in the face of fragile mortal life.
The last of the embers in the fireplace are dying and Castiel can feel the weariness of the night drag on his mind, tempting him to fall into one of the empty beds, but he has a responsibility to his patient, and that has and always will come first.
(A memory comes, unbidden, of angry eyes and an angrier voice, yelling at him for the impertinence of daring to put his life on the line just to try and save another. The words still sting, even after years have grated out their meaning.)
A shadow creeps over Dean's eye, at least Castiel thinks so, but maybe it's just a trick of what little light is left, and he takes that as his cue to get up and relight his oil lamp. Dean slumps back on his bed, without a word, but Castiel can feel the heaviness of the silence that suddenly fills the room. It's like there are a million voices in the air, whispering and murmuring, but he can't understand a single one of them. There's something he's missing, but he can't tell for the life of him what it is.
The lamp is empty, only a thin pool of oil left and Castiel starts on the arduous task to find the oil canister and refill the lamp in the dark. His eyes have grown used to the sparse light of the remaining embers, but it is no easy task to aim the beaked opening of the canister right and not spill any of the precious oil. He had to fight hard to even get the oil lamp, the Stadium Overseer insisted that he use tallow lamps, and only after a lot of insisting back (courtesy of Rachel) did he finally relent and allow Castiel this luxury. The light of the tallow lamps is too unsteady for his work, not to mention that all the soot in the air is of little help to his patients. It's bad enough that the shaft above the fireplace regularly clogs up and the whole room fills with smoke.
He can feel Dean's eye on him the whole time he fiddles with the lamp, and it makes him oddly self conscious, enough so that he almost spills the oil. This is new to him, the way Dean's mere presence seems able to throw him off balance, how he's spent more time pondering over Dean's words than he has over his medical studies in a long time. Strangely though, he really doesn't mind.
Dean allows him to check him over, an unreadable expression on his face as he watches Castiel's every movement. He closes his eye when Castiel puts another damp cloth on his forehead, after coming to the decision that there are still traces of fever in him. And to be sure he makes Dean another cup of herbal tea, even though that means he has to rekindle the fire. The tea relaxes Dean into a sleepy state and his eyes fall shut shortly after he finishes it, as sleep claims him once more.
It's then that he's unsure what to do, for the first time since Dean was brought in. He could stay here and continue to watch over him, but that seems redundant now, and so he figures it is time to return to his own sleeping chamber and finally get some decent rest. He covers the fire and blows out the lamp, resting one last glance on Dean's slumbering form.
"Don't go." The voice sounds sleepy, just as he is about to turn around and open the door. Dean is lying in the same position, eyes still closed, but he had unmistakably spoken. And Castiel knows he should ignore him, knows he should get some rest himself, but he has never been able to ignore the woes of his patients, has always found it hard to turn away from someone in need, no matter the cost to himself. And so he sits down in his chair again, resigning himself to spend the rest of the night in another uncomfortable position.
The faint smile that blossoms on Dean's mouth is very much worth it.
And the question of why doesn't keep him up as long as he thought it would.