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The Game of God

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--Day 153, continued--

Dean insists on carrying his clothes for him to the second floor bathroom with an attached shower, dogging Castiel's heels like he's made of spun glass; it's almost as gratifying as it is maddening. Almost. "You don't have to--"

"It's fine," Dean says, flipping on the light to look around the elegantly appointed room--the putative soul-selling lawyer did have good taste, albeit slightly ostentatious for the Midwest--and leaving his toothbrush (and toothpaste) by the granite sink before opening the door to the room housing the shower with a flourish. "Don't worry about it."

Resigned, Castiel follows him in, noting the remains of a very nice sofa against the wall and the size of the walk-in shower. Obviously, the owner had his priorities in order and while some might find the practice of law incompatible with what appears to be a considerable effort toward constant debauchery, he's not one of them. (Nothing should be incompatible with debauchery; humanity's innovations on this are to be admired and encouraged.) However, when one is not allowed to engage in debauchery (for one is being watched by one's significant other as if one might collapse unexpectedly, not an entirely invalid worry, he must admit), it's salt in the wound.

Dean sets the clean clothes on the shredded leather along with two towels, origin unknown and uncared-about, before looking at Castiel expectantly.

He wonders uneasily if this is something he's supposed to already know about relationships; how does one ask for time to use the shower for one of its lesser but very important functions? "Dean--"

"You were under for eighteen hours," Dean says. "Just, you know, watching out for you. Might fall and hit your head or something." Castiel blinks slowly. "It happens!"

Taking off his coat, Castiel tosses it on the couch, holding Dean's eyes before reaching for the scrub top and pulling it over his head, and receives a very satisfactory response. Excellent. "I'll need to leave the shower door open then," he says, reaching lazily for the scrub bottoms, watching Dean's attention refocus immediately at a much lower point. "Remove your coat and first two layers, please."

Dean drops his coat directly on the floor, shrugging free of the flannel and dragging the grey thermal over his head without question as Castiel helpfully slides the shower open.

"And sit where I can see you," he adds, tugging down the bottoms until their own weight drags them to the floor before stepping out of them and going inside to turn on the water--buttons? Interesting--before stepping back and waiting for the temperature to increase. Turning around, he sees Dean standing very still in a circle of discarded clothing. "I want to jerk off, and since you insist on being here, I might as well take advantage of the visual incentive you offer."

Dean sucks in a breath. "Uh."

Seeing the beginnings of steam, Castiel steps back in, ducking beneath the warming spray: excellent water pressure. Shaking his head roughly, he feels the cobwebs shake themselves free as well, the hazy events of yesterday slotting into uncertain position. There's no benefit in pushing them aside; he needs to know--

He stills at the feel of a cool hand between his shoulder blades, palm skimming up the back of his neck and pushing his hair away for a pair of warm lips pressed just below the hairline. Closing his eyes, he feels a hand resting on his hip, tentative at first before the long fingers tighten, and six plus feet of somewhat-clothed Dean Winchester is stretched against the length of his back, lips parting against the hard beat of his pulse.

"You could have said something," Dean breathes, soft laughter puffing against his skin. "Unless you don't want company, of course."

"I could have." He blames the confusing events of the evening, catching his breath when Dean's tongue follows a trickle of water down his upper arm. "Consider it an open invitation."

"Up the hill," Dean says, mouth skimming from his shoulder to the shell of Castiel's ear with the edge of his teeth, "and back down again. Over. And. Over."

Castiel swallows, waiting until he's sure his voice is steady. "Does Sisyphus grow weary?"

"Sisyphus isn't even getting started," Dean answers, catching the lobe between his teeth, just enough pressure to give warning, callused fingertips skimming over his stomach, and he can feel the hard press of Dean's cock through the damp jeans, pressing insistently against his ass. A gentle tug and Castiel tips his head back against Dean's shoulder, and Dean's tongue traces a line down the side of his neck. "Guy wasn't too bright, though, gotta say. Been thinking about that."

It's a concerted effort to gather his thoughts, Dean's fingers tracing indecipherable patterns over his stomach, breath warm against his throat. "Sisyphus was the cleverest man ever born."

"Clever, maybe," Dean allows, opening his mouth over the curve of Castiel's shoulder and bearing down, just enough to feel the pressure. "But not all that smart."

"What--" Dean's arm wraps around his waist, turning him around before pushing him back against cool, frosted glass. Castiel looks at him helplessly; he's beautiful, without flaw, and never more so than now, wet lashes surrounding green incandescent with desire. He's seen Dean look at so many like that, but never him, and he never wanted it, not until now. "Why would you think--"

"Nice day, pretty hill, and an awesome buddy to hang out with," Dean says reasonably, lips brushing temptingly against his with each word. "And what does he do? Gotta run, tell me when the fucker comes back and we'll hang until he goes away? Dick move."

He starts to laugh, unable to help himself, and he can feel the puff of Dean's laughter before Dean kisses him, slow and deep, and he could be convinced of anything Dean believes if he keeps doing that. Threading his fingers through Dean's hair, he catches Dean's tongue between his teeth, raking the length before sucking on the tip, and Dean groans into his mouth, a vibration that shivers down his throat before pooling in his belly.

"You," he says breathlessly, draping an arm over Dean's wet t-shirt covered shoulder, "are insane."

"Back atcha," Dean says, grinning at him, and Castiel reaches for a handful of wet cotton, tugging it up impatiently, wanting to touch bare skin.

"You could have at least finished undressing," he murmurs, pushing Dean back enough to tug the clinging fabric over his head, disarranging already wet hair, before reaching for the waist of his jeans and thumbing open the first button before setting his thumb against the top and finishing the rest in a single quick slide.

"Jesus," Dean breathes. "You're good at that."

"I've had a great deal of practice," he answers without thinking, then reconsiders, remembering the unexpected Theodore issue, but Dean's grin only widens. Pulling them open, he cups Dean's cock through damp boxers, the heat unmistakable as Dean pushes into his hand with a groan.

"Practice is awesome," Dean agrees huskily, tugging Castiel into another kiss, rough and over far too quickly as Castiel drags the jeans and boxers down enough to touch him. "Speaking of, I need some more of that. Hold up."

Before Castiel can make sense of that, Dean reaches for his hips and slides down, hands closing over his ass and lifting him up with a huff of breath, and startled, Castiel reaches up, grabbing for the metal edge of the stall, and wrapping his legs around Dean's bare waist, and lets out a shuddering breath at the feel of Dean's wet cock pressed firmly against his own. Castiel pulls himself up slightly, checking for any signs of shoddy workmanship in shower construction before sliding back down the glass, breath catching in his throat at the slick slide of Dean's cock against his own. Truly, the work ethic of the designer is to be lauded.

Dean, however…. "Is--something wrong?" he asks, locking his ankles as he pulls himself back against the shower for another endless slide. "If you--"

"Making sure this is actually happening," Dean answers breathlessly, reaching to pull him into a kiss on the next downstroke. "Keep yourself up there, right?"

He nods dreamily, and Dean squeezes his ass before reaching between them and wrapping a hand around their cocks, perfect, and then leans forward to lick Castiel's nipple, catching it between his teeth. The clouds of steam billow over them, turning the shower into a barely-there dream; Dean sucking a kiss against his collar, his shoulder, returning to suck the other nipple, shifting his grip on their cocks to squeeze on the downstroke and pushing up on his toes to meet him. Given a choice, he'd stay here forever, the build coiling endlessly in his spine, tight and hot, but Dean is ruthless, catching his mouth in quick, biting kisses, thumb stroking over the head and down the vein, moaning against his lips, his throat, sucking open-mouthed kisses against his chest and the sounds….

With a gasp, Castiel stills, locking his fingers helplessly around the metal frame as Dean's head drops against his shoulder, and the coil snaps, rushing through him. Dean gasps, squeezing impossibly tight, before coming only seconds after him in a second flood of liquid warmth between them.


Dean slides into the scrub bottoms unself-consciously, shrugging into the thermal with a grin as Castiel fumbles the sweatpants, almost dropping them. Smirking, Dean retrieves his jeans and t-shirt, tossing them to hang over the top of the shower, stretching the boxers between his hands for a moment before adding them in the space between them.

"Hurry up," Dean says, crossing to the sofa and taking the sweatpants out of Castiel's nerveless hands, cocking his head before dropping to the floor. "Come on, time's a wastin'."

With an effort--the greatest of his life to date--Castiel slides a foot through the helpfully offered opening. There's no particular need to balance himself with a hand on Dean's shoulder--his balance has never been other than perfect--but he does it anyway, placing his other foot through the other opening and watching dazedly as Dean works them up his calves. At mid-thigh, Dean gets to his feet, catching him in a kiss as he pulls them up, and is only vaguely aware of the sound of the door opening, but the exclamation of surprise is impossible to ignore.

Pulling back, Dean cups the back of Castiel's neck, turning to look at James and Nate frozen in the doorway, who stare back, utterly appalled. "Give us a minute?" he asks pointedly, and James stumbles backward, shoving Nate out behind him before closing the door frantically.

Rolling his eyes, Dean tips Castiel's head back for another leisurely kiss. "Let me get your shirt," he murmurs, nipping Castiel's lip before finding it on the couch and pulling it over Castiel's unresisting head, helping his arms through the short sleeves, then retrieves the discarded flannel and holding it out invitingly before gathering up socks, boots, and coats and reaching for Castiel's hand to tug him toward the door.

James and Nate are standing immobile on the other side, and Dean ushers Castiel to the sink to brush his teeth. In the mirror, Castiel watches in amusement as James and Nate fail to even attempt normal conversation. Dean's stern expression is probably inhibiting, but Castiel can see his eyes are dancing. So he brushes very, very slowly, and very, very thoroughly.

"So," James bursts out in a register more appropriate to the pre-pubescent, eyes widening in horror. "How's it going?"

"Great," Dean drawls. "Just relaxing. How about you?"

"Good," James agrees, leaping bravely between registers to return to his usual warm tenor. "Just--going to use the shower."

"It's a nice shower," Dean agree, straight-faced.

"To get clean!" James says quickly, and Nate squeezes his eyes shut. "Just--clean. Hey, we should get more towels."

Reaching blindly, James closes a hand over Nate's wrist and practically drags him out the bathroom door. Dean just restrains himself before starting to snicker, coming to lean on the counter by the sink as Castiel finishes, turning the water off.

"Kids these days," Dean says mockingly, straightening and looking at Cas, cocking his head. "You got something--" A thumb presses against the corner of his mouth before Dean kisses him, turning him against the counter. Far too quickly, however, Dean pulls back, and Castiel can't quite breathe; no one's ever looked at him before like that. "Let's get back."


Dean insists on settling him back in bed despite the fact he's not at all tired and leaves him with a pile of written reports of the previous day to read. Necessity has required artistry in presentation be sacrificed, but he does appreciate Joseph's summary of events of the morning and early afternoon.

When Dean returns, he's carrying--a tray. Putting down the report, he watches Dean hip-check the door closed. "Where did you get--"

"Esperanza in our mess," Dean explains, setting the tray on a cleared space on the table beside the bed. Taking one of the large mugs, he hands it to Castiel. "Alonzo made broth, and there's naan and butter. Easier on the stomach when you come out of anesthesia. Also, water and coffee."

Castiel focuses on the cup of golden broth, taking a sip as Dean ducks under the table and comes back with three medium pillar candles. "From the insert," he says, reading Wendy's neat handwriting, "these are for relaxing after a lot of stress. Also good for post-possession therapy--there's therapy for that?"

"There should be," Castiel answers absently, taking another sip and rolling the rich flavor over his tongue. Like liquid sunlight, he thinks, soothed by the feel of it settling inside him. "This is very good. We have a mess?"

"Yep." Lighting the candles, Dean settles on the bed in front of him, settling his chin in his hands and apparently content to do nothing but watch him.

"Did I hurt anyone," he asks quietly.

"I told you--"

"When…" He glances at the medical paraphernalia, then at Dean. "How did they get me back here without being injured?"

"That." Dean makes a face. "I don't remember."

He lowers the cup. "You don't--"

"I don't even remember Joe getting me back here," Dean admits, shaking his head. "Amanda and Sidney got you on the bed--I think--then Alicia told everyone to move before you hurt yourself and--sat on top of you and started talking." He shrugs at Castiel's blank look. "Then Vera…" His lips tighten. "Anyway, she did her thing, and you were out like a light. For eighteen hours. Drink your broth."

Castiel does so, turning that over in his head and searching for something resembling sense to emerge; it doesn't. Then, "Did I hurt you?"

Dean straightens, looking so transparently surprised that he relaxes. "No! Of course not! Told you a long time ago, even out of your head, you wouldn't hurt…." A strange expression crosses his face. "Huh." He shakes his head at Castiel. "Later. So...."

Reluctantly, he lowers the mug. "I should tell you what happened--"

"Right," Dean agrees immediately. "While you finish the broth and a piece of naan. Human body needs food, so get on it."


The broth, two pieces of naan, and a glass of water later, Castiel finishes his recitation of his interview with Crowley, realizing belatedly he's three-quarters of the way through a cup of coffee as well that Dean made for him. Looking down at the light brown color, he swallows hard and takes another determined drink, relaxing at the memory of watching Dean get up to prepare it correctly; it's nothing like what Crowley gave him.

Dean, unfortunately, is watching. "It was in the coffee first, wasn't it?"

"I think so," he says, taking another drink and banishing the ghost of tainted coffee. "It doesn't make sense, however; there was no reason for him to do that unless he planned to give me that power all along and wanted to assure I wouldn't be killed by it."

"This is Crowley," Dean answers flatly. "He'd do it for kicks. Or just to know, why not both?"

Castiel lowers the cup to regard Dean thoughtfully. "You know him very well."

"Yeah." Dean braces a hand on the mattress behind him. "Okay, look--"

"You expected something like this to happen."

"Yeah, no," he disagrees. "Ply you with demon blood and try to seduce you--"

"I don't think he was serious." Dean doesn't say anything. "Dean, you can't think he--"

"It's Crowley," Dean interrupts in that flat voice again. Castiel's long suspected there's a great deal that Dean's left out in regard to Crowley and Castiel, but that…. "Anyway--double blind, so it's basically the definition of need-to-know only?" He nods. "Would that include someone knowing whether they signed at all?"

Castiel forces himself not to react. "You mean me."

"What?" Dean blinks at him slowly, eyes widening incrementally before he bursts into laughter, tipping forward and catching himself before landing on his face on the mattress between them. Finishing his cup, Castiel almost wishes he had. "God, no," he says breathlessly after a few moments, wiping his eyes. "Jesus, Cas, seriously? You?"

"You're inexplicable faith in my incorruptibility is both touching and utterly wrong."

"It's not inexplicable, one, and two, it's not just that, though that's all I'd need." Dean snickers briefly, shaking himself. "Anyway, yes or no--could them not remembering that they signed be part of the contract?"

Slumping back against the pillows, Castiel sets his empty cup aside and considers. Being neither Crossroad demon or lawyer, that's a complicated question from all angles.

"Yes," he says slowly. "It's possible, but it would skirt very close to breaking even the most technical definition of consent, and I'm not sure the contract would even allow it. Much less anyone sign it."

Dean cocks his head. "Why? What's the difference?"

"Insufficent as they are there are protections inherent in contract law. The person who makes the contract and knowing and willingly agreed to the terms must exist and they can't deal on behalf of anyone else without their full knowledge and permission, or the natural right to speak for them," he explains. "A provision allowing you to forget you signed could be interpreted as the equivalent of signing for an entirely different person that has no knowledge of what you're doing or why."

Dean's eyebrows jump.

"As I said, a technicality, but one that would risk the entire contract," he says. "There's also this: everyone who signed was fully aware of all the terms at the time of signing, and that option would have to be in there. One: no one would agree to anyone else having that kind of potential way out of the contract altogether; for another, they'd know as well as I od that the existence of such a provision could invalidate the entire contract."

"They would?" Dean asks blankly, then scowls. "Actually, thinking about it, yeah. No one likes a loophole unless they're the only ones that can use it."

"Exactly. This is supposed to last--literally--until Lucifer is caged or dead, and there's no time limit; if I’m right about how it must have been structured, the first principle was to assure there was no way out for anyone who might rethink their decision. The contract itself is new, yes, but nothing else within it hasn't already been thoroughly tested over eons at the Crossroads. One mistake--"

"--and Crowley would be first against the wall when the Apocalypse ends," Dean agrees, nodding. "And everyone who signed right beside him." He nods seriously. "So knowing that, ask yourself--would you sign a contract where you know for a fact it could break on suspicion of breaking consent?"

He glares his acknowledgment of the point.

"Incorruptible," Dean says, blatantly not gloating, "but also not stupid." Taking a drink of coffee with a conspicuous lack of triumph, he sighs. "Dude, it's not like we didn't know it wasn't an accident, me coming here," he says, sounding surprisingly philosophical and therefore nothing like Dean Winchester at all. Possibly a nod to variety, he supposes, and trying new things, as everyone else seems to be doing it. "Gotta say, I'm impressed; looks like demons have been using the Host as role models in how to manipulate for fun and profit. At least this time, no one's expecting me to agree to it first. Or even know about it, for that matter."

"Your input seemed to surprise him for some reason."

Dean snorts. "I think it was working so well without me they forgot I was here." He takes another drink. "I think we can both agree--having experienced both--that being fucked by demons for a master plan isn't better than the Host, but at least we're getting variety now."

"We also now know it's possible you can go back to your world." Dean looks up from his cup, eyes unreadable, and Castiel keeps his voice steady. "Once the contract ends, whether or not that's a condition, whoever brought you was a part of it and obviously can return you."

"If that's true--and let's go with that's true just for the fuck of it--if they have to do a blood sacrifice to get the barrier up, what the hell will it take to get the power to send me back?" Dean shakes his head. "Before you answer that demons like blood sacrifices so why not--they like it when they get to keep the power, and it's gotta hurt to have to give it up like this to make the barrier. Unless it's in the contract, they won't be able to resist keeping that kind of power for themselves, and I wouldn't accept it either way. Once this is over, I'll be way too busy making sure it never happens again, contract or not."

"We need to know who signed the contract and was responsible for this part," he agrees, and Dean relaxes minutely.

"I'd give a lot to find out who's in on this, period," Dean says, and from the distant expression on his face, he's recalling those demons he knows, both from his time in Hell and since then. "You said the contract affects memory of the terms and other signers?"

"Signatories."

"Whatever." Dean rolls his eyes, relaxing even more. "It's backward and forward? Can't remember then and even if they find out about the others later, they can't remember?"

"That's a feature. The memory clause went into effect at the signing and is persistent; even if they did find out about each other, not only wouldn't they remember, they'd be unable to tell anyone about it. That would also include terms that don't apply to them as well."

Dean looks skeptical. "And you believe Crowley about that?"

"No, but I do know contract law," he answers. "At least well enough to recognize the structure and its limitations. In this case, Crowley has no reason to lie; this may look restrictive, but it's the best possible protection he or anyone else could have, and no one who signed this wouldn't have read and possibly had input on every clause. Doubtless Crowley created loopholes for himself, but…." He tries to think how to put this. "They all signed the same contract. What he could use, someone else could as well."

"Crowley's smart enough to know not fuck with any part that would risk the contract," Dean says heavily. "Or himself. You want more coffee?"

He nods as Dean climbs off the bed, trying to decide how to broach the next subject as Dean prepares both their cups. Taking it with a thank you--which makes Dean smile--he waits for Dean to sit down and starts to speak before Dean interrupts him with, "Auction."

Oh, that. "What about it?"

Turning his cup in his hand, Dean cocks his head, looking at him. "You get--the auction, whatever--it doesn't mean anything. It's--presale, doesn't mean you'll…that's not where you're going, Cas, come on."

"It's not important--"

"It's important," Dean states flatly, and startled, he lowers his cup. "You--you don't think you're--not for Falling."

"I'm not subject to human morality in any form," he says slowly. "Angels exist in a state of Grace; we cannot sin, for our actions are always just."

"Like Zachariah?" Dean asks bitterly.

"We answer to our Father, and in His absence, Michael and the Host," he says patiently. "No one else. If you wish to discuss the failures of this particular hierarchy, you'll get no argument from me, but this is natural law, as it has been since time began. It is humanity's privilege to be granted forgiveness for your trespasses; there is no such privilege for angels. I was damned when I rebelled, and Falling only confirmed it."

"The Host--before they left, they could have…." Dean trails off, making a face before taking a drink. "Can't believe I actually said that."

"I would as soon seen to my own torture on the rack as beg forgiveness of the Host." Taking a more moderate drink, Castiel shrugs. "It makes no difference; even had they offered, I would have rejected it."

"What?" Dean fumbles his cup, cursing when coffee splashes over his hands, and quickly retrieves a shirt from the floor to wipe his hands before glaring at Castiel. "Why?"

"I was right."

"What does that have to do with--"

"Forgiveness is given to one who has done wrong," he answers. "I did nothing wrong."

Dean stares at him as if he's never seen him before.

"I do not repent," he says, looking down at his cup. "I feel no remorse. I'm not sorry. I reject forgiveness for what I did; there was nothing I did that required it. I will go to Hell, to Purgatory, to Limbo, to oblivion, but I will not go to Heaven when acceptance is bought with a lie."

"You're kidding." He looks up, raising his eyebrows in polite inquiry. "You would go to Hell for a principle?"

"I didn't say I wouldn't make every effort to escape--"

"For. A. Principle?" Dean repeats, voice rising with each word.

"Yes."

Dean blinks at him slowly, tilting his head as if a new angle might bring enlightenment--it never does, he's tried, but hope springs eternal, he supposes--before emptying the coffee cup in a single drink. He wonders if perhaps this is a moment where whiskey might be more appropriate; Dean certainly seems to think so.

"I would try to escape, of course," he adds, wondering vaguely how this conversation went off course and for that matter, where. "Hell is vast, and a great deal of it is one step from anarchy. Crowley knows its geography better than I do, and since apparently he'll be my defacto owner--"

"Stop there." Dean abruptly gets to his feet, leaving his cup on the table both before going to their bags on the other side of the bed. Deciding to allow Dean to do whatever he needs to do, he turns his attention to the room, considering possibilities.

While he and Dean live in Chitaqua, it would be convenient to have a room here of their own, especially if--as he suspects--Alison and Teresa decide to have children. Not to mention the other residents: their building is very spacious and he doubts that the town's established communal living arrangement is one that will be discarded by many (if any) considering the benefits, not only in defense and pooling of supplies and responsibilities, but care and protection of the more vulnerable members of the community.

He certainly wouldn't object to living here during their visits; there is much to be said for sharing a single building with the other members of Chitaqua, and the trade of some amount of privacy--and in Chitaqua, it's not as if they have much--is amply compensated with community. Visualizing the layout of the three floors, attic, and basement, he examines the potential for public rooms on the first floor to welcome visitors and encourage casual fraternization with the residents while maintaining security and privacy for those living in their headquarters. The lobby, for example, is unduly large for their purposes--a wall could be built to restrict access to the stairs and eastern rooms, while the western ones---

The bed bounces abruptly, and he looks up to see Dean holding a bottle of the currant wine with a pleased smile.

"Finish that up," Dean advises him, uncorking the bottle and taking a drink. "Okay, now: Jesus Christ, Crowley bought you."


It takes two-thirds of the bottle for Dean to reconcile himself to the fact this did indeed happen, but Castiel has no objections, as it leads to Dean stretching out on the bed and encouraging Castiel to do the same. His tolerance has suffered; one third of a bottle of what he admits is very potent currant wine and logic dictates lying down would be best, and if Dean's stomach is the most convenient available place on which to put his head, he has no objections to that, either.

Not only has his tolerance suffered: so apparently has his memory of what usually happens when one deals with stress with depressives. In retrospect, there was no possible way the subject wouldn't settle on exactly what even when sober should be approached with caution if at all.

"Because I fail at being Dean Winchester," Dean tells him moodily, sprawled against the relocated pillows. "That's why they're doing it again."

Castiel stares resentfully at the bottle in Dean's hand as he takes another drink. "Dean--"

"Five months," Dean tells the bottle. "That was supposed to be it. Now…." He takes another drink. "Two thousand people--more than two thousand--are gonna die to get that thing back up, and that's if it even works."

Yes, that. "From my examination of it, there's no reason that it shouldn't work, but I can't claim expertise on the subject, considering some parts have never been used before."

Dean looks down at him with the eyes of a stranger. "That supposed to help?"

"In the long term, it would be preferable that the circle fails," he answers obliquely. "In that case, however, those people will die for nothing, and many more both on the roads leading to Chitaqua as well as those defending the town."

"So right now, we're hoping it works and that they can kill everyone on time before it finally breaks, that's what you're saying?" Dean takes another drink. "Angel thing, right? Must be nice not to give a shit."

Castiel rolls his eyes; if Dean wants to pick a fight, he'll have to do better than that.

"It doesn't bother you?" Dean demands, sitting up abruptly, and Castiel finds himself relocated to the mattress. "How can it not bother you?"

Crowley was right about the sensibilities of an angel, and Castiel is perfectly aware his are lacking even by the standards of his own kind. Dean knows, of course, but it occurs to him that, like many things, knowing in theory and experiencing in fact are two very different things.

"There is nothing I can do to stop it," he starts, knowing it won't help, but Dean's expectant silence makes it clear he needs to answer. "I'm not taking their lives, nor arranged their deaths, nor knew about it or was responsible even tangentially--"

"And that makes it okay?"

"It's obscene," he answers calmly. "They'll be found, their names discovered and their faces recorded, and their bodies given a clean burn and the ashes buried with salt to assure their mortal remains are not desecrated. Those who bear responsibility for their deaths will be found and will make full payment for their actions, to me if at all possible."

Dean opens his mouth and then shuts it, frowning at him. "You've been thinking about this."

"I have several potential options for how I'll deal with them," he agrees. Several is an understatement: every time he tries to narrow it down, the list expands. "Why?"

"You think I'm overreacting?"

"Not at all." He can understand the conflict Dean feels without experiencing it himself. "You're not responsible for their deaths."

Dean looks away, finishing the bottle, and Castiel eases it from his hand before any unfortunate impulses lead to a broken bottle and having to clean up glass. He hates cleaning up glass; no matter how careful he is, invariably a sliver ends up in either a finger or his foot, and it hurts.

"It's because of me," Dean says quietly, looking at nothing. "Because I'm here."

"If you weren't here, the world would have ended and we'd all be dead. They're dying because of those who decided to kill them," Castiel answers. "They're a means to an end, just as you are; the only difference is, they have to keep you alive instead of killing you to achieve those ends. Like they assured you were found by me, because they knew I'd protect you." He considers that for a moment. "I did that much, but it was entirely by accident thus far, so no, that wasn't their best idea."

"Dude, come on; we're both Plan Z for ending the Apocalypse here. This is the best they could have hoped for. And I'm not ready, whatever the hell that means. If I--"

"Dean," he interrupts, rolling on his side and reaching for Dean's free hand. "As for being ready, that's a laughably subjective statement on par with an utter lie."

"I'm not." Dean gives Castiel's hand a long look, and hopefully, he tugs it, wanting Dean closer. Rolling his eyes, Dean drops back on the bed but noticeably scoots closer, and also doesn't pull his hand away. "In a fight right now, I'm dead."

"I can think of a demon and several Croats who would disagree," he says casually, watching Dean's face, but no hint of distress appears, nor does curiosity. Dean is past master of avoiding subjects he has no interest in pursuing, and if nothing else, that lack of interest on the discrepancy between his memories and the events at the daycare confirms Amanda's judgment on if he should be told the details.

Dean makes a face, scooting closer, their joined hands on the bed between them. Threading their fingers together, Castiel looks at the scar tissue revealed by the rolled up sleeve of the thermal, the fading scar of the Croat bite, so close together there's no way now to tell them apart unless you know what it was.

For lack of sufficient bullets, Dean is alive, but equally true that for lack of whatever drove Dean that day, he would be dead. Castiel has no illusions on what would have happened; no matter how determined Dean might have been, it wouldn't have saved his life. Crowley was only partially correct on one point, and if he didn't lie on the second, he evaded the question altogether; that demon may not have recognized Dean Winchester, but the lack of restraints means however reluctant, it submitted to its own slow dismemberment and torture in obedience to the order of someone of far higher rank, and that means it came from the Pit itself.

It also means that the Pit itself hasn't accepted the rule of a new master, no matter who might now claim the title, not if Dean is still considered in the line of succession, enough to claim obedience by right from one of its demons. Crowley is definitely aware of the former, but Castiel doubts he suspects the latter or he would have been more curious--and far more wary--about this Dean Winchester who now walks the earth.

"That aside," he continues, shifting irresistibly closer (and understanding very well the attraction that draws a moth to a flame), "I'd like to know who would know enough about you to make that judgment."

Dean blinks slowly, not entirely because of the liquor. "Someone's been watching me? How?"

"I can almost accept we've been under surveillance outside Chitaqua," Castiel answers, reaching for a nearby pillow with his free hand and tucking it under his head. "At least, before your inspiring speech to the watch on the scope of their duties and the penalty for failure," which makes Dean's mouth twitch smugly, "but not since. Nothing has tested the wards--other than brownies, due to their recent antipathy for them--and only human sight wouldn't at least elicit a reaction."

Dean starts to answer, then stops, eyes darkening. "Jeffrey."

"He didn't know about you," Castiel answers, carefully shifting the pillow enough to invite Dean to share it, which he does with pleasing alacrity. "He wasn't lying, that much I can assure you."

"He wouldn't need to know anything but where to pick up a message," Dean answers, meeting his eyes. "You don't need Crossroads to be summoned, that's just the easiest. Did Crowley mention him?"

"I didn't ask," he answers, frowning in turn. "I forgot."

"If Crowley sent him, he would have said something. We got it backwards--one plan, the contract, and a lot of masters." Dean's mouth tightens. "A contract with terms that include watching me."

Castiel reviews every time Dean's left the camp both with and without him, growing more chilled by the moment. If Jeffery was the first to be able to cross the barrier when it weakened enough for a summoning, that means…. "Someone in Chitaqua is reporting on you. Jeffrey was there to pick up their report."

Dean starts to say something, then chuckles reluctantly. "I was about to say, only you are that into reports, but actually…it probably was. Fuck knows you trained them into it."

Castiel looks his opinion of that, which makes Dean laugh again, less reluctantly.

"Or," Dean says, abruptly freeing his hand and wrapping an arm around Castiel's waist, "it's something else entirely. We're talking someone--for five months--knowing who I am and taking notes the entire time without anyone noticing. They live three to five to a cabin; how the hell would they hide it? For that matter…."

"What?"

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Unexpected benefits of your leader being obsessed; you imagine any of 'em willingly dealing with a demon?"

"That only means they had a very good reason to do it."

"Give you that one, but me, I can't think of a single one." He settles himself in a way that suggests bracing for impact. "Tell me about the Misborn."

Castiel licks his lips. "Do you have another bottle?"


"The Old Ones, the Elder--they're children of Ether alone and came into being in the stillness between nothing and beginning of the universe, before there was anything else," he starts, clutching the half-empty bottle. "They're small children, in a sense, and like all children, they're amoral; they are the center of all things, and all things serve them. Dealing with them is impossible; they have no concept of promises made or broken, they can't be controlled or reasoned with, and despite being individual, their memory is singular and retention almost non-existent. When they came into being, all was only potential, and in a sense, that's all they can be: potential unrealized, for all of time."

"That's kind of sad."

"When they get bored, they've been known to eat galaxies."

"Over it." Dean waves a hand. "So we're all still alive--or we're living the dream of an Elder God, why the fuck did I just say that?" Dean takes another drink

"Cynothoglys was the last born of Ether, brought into being at the very cusp of the beginning of all things, and perhaps because of that, she was different; she observed the cycles of creation and saw beauty not in birth but in the cycle of decay and death. She watched the heat death of the first newborn star and found ecstasy in it. She was like her brethren in this much; she was a child and thought nothing of sharing her discovery with all. She was called the Mortician of the gods: to look upon her was ecstatic death, and none were exempt from it."

"So she--kills you with ecstasy?"

"The death she offered was ecstasy," he explains to Dean's baffled expression, adding, "But your interpretation works as well."

"Not better."

"So noted." He sits up to push a pillow against the headboard, trying to find the right words for this. "The last time she was on earth was for Winchester House for breaking the ban on their kind on this plane, but due to its--properties--and the fact its effect on this plane were limited to the house itself and its grounds, we sent her away again. Very carefully."

Dean's eyes widen. "What a coincidence. We got it's BFF down the hall."

"Quite. To behold Cynothoglys in her true form is to experience ecstatic death," Castiel explains. "She had no form that was safe for any being, even us, to view with impunity, and her kind are incompatible with life on this plane, so a vessel was out of the question." He hears the strain in his voice. "When Lucifer escaped the Cage, he summoned Cynothoglys not to a place, but into something: mortal flesh. Dead flesh, with the symbol you saw me start to place on Jeffrey to trap her within it." He looks away, staring at the quilt from Alison's home. "She had no comprehension of the corporeal form. She was Ether's last daughter, born before there were even stars, who'd never known anything but a child's simple pleasure...and he used his Grace to awaken dead nerves and tortured her out of time. Then he cut her into a thousand pieces, and buried each within the earth at different points in a pocket in time before men walked the earth and left her there to slowly rot. She went insane."

"Christ," Dean breathes sickly. "Why?"

"She was of that which came before the cosmos itself; he couldn't take her power, but I think he meant to find another way to acquire it."

"So he drove her crazy to use her--"

"Not her," he interrupts, forcing out the words. "He could never hope to control her, even after that. Especially after that. Her offspring."

"What?" Dean's bewilderment lasts only a moment, replaced by utter horror. "He didn't...."

"Himself, I doubt it," Castiel answers. "He thinks them degenerate; even if he so lowered himself to reproduce, which he wouldn't, it wouldn't be with them, nor would he wish to share his power. But he doesn't object to reproduction in itself, especially when it's to his benefit."

"And the Host didn't give a shit."

"In this case, they cared very much," Castiel says, almost amused by Dean's surprise. "For one, their very existence was offensive to the Host. They don't like the Nephilim either, and those, at least, had the advantage of being born to beings who are native to this universe." He shrugs at Dean's skeptical expression "They were potentially dangerous to angels as well; such a weapon in Lucifer's hand wasn't to be risked."

"That, I buy."

"The Host searched, but they couldn't find where he concealed them, and there was some doubt even if he were successful, the offspring would be viable, or be able to survive here. While I wasn't among those searching--being with you on earth--my guess is they were concealed in the same pocket of time as their parent, but it's not as if there aren't an endless number of those, and Lucifer was unavailable for questioning."

"I'm guessing if they weren't alive, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"That they survived the Host knew before they left, and so did I, but more than that--very little. Up until very recently, they have been hunting in the lands of the dead, which makes sense with their mother's attraction to death, but...."

"Did Crowley tell you that?"

"I told him and he didn't disagree," he answers evasively. "So it must be common knowledge among demons. Our interrogation techniques may need work if--"

"You gonna answer the question or just pretend to?" Dean leans his chin on his hand. "I can wait."

"It was two minutes," he tells Dean. "In the mess. And it was forever. Someone pulled the entire mess out of time, I assume to assure on the off-chance I killed someone, it wouldn't count there."

Dean's expression goes through several permutations before settling on 'resigned'. "I'm just gonna to go with that and move on. Who?"

"I don't remember yet." Dean's pained look inspires him to elaborate. "The memories weren't stored organically, and searching infinite memory--even within a two minute period--takes time. In any case, the Misborn are hunting the Five Rivers, and there's no reason to assume they aren't doing so in all the lands, which means the gates of Heaven as well. They couldn't have inherited rights to this plane from Cynothoglys; that must have come from their sire."

"What are they?"

"I don't know," he answers shortly. "We don't know what Lucifer used to rape Cynothoglys and sire them, and no one's beheld her true form without dying. What they look like, what they can do, are unknown, and until now theoretical; however, if they're waiting outside the barrier, both these questions are of paramount importance."

"Okay, catch me up," Dean says. "How do we even know they're here?"

"She has only a sevenday upon the earth to hunt them per annum to take their lives in payment for Charon's death," he explains. "She wouldn't waste them showing up here unless they are here or will be here within those seven days."

"Going with 'person you don't remember who is definitely a woman'," Dean offers after a moment, inexplicably rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Why would they be here now...." He looks at Castiel sharply. "Alison?"

"The barrier itself. If they are anything like Cynothoglys, they are like children and therefore must have grown bored being in the lands of the dead," he says. "Many things will be curious about what the barrier was concealing, and at best, Alison will remain concealed to anything still outside it until its final collapse. It's possible they'll grow bored before that."

"I get the feeling you think they won't." Dean meets his eyes. "You mentioned Winchester House--you mean Nate? Because he was there? No, I got this one--it put him back together? Contamination, right?"

"The tiniest amount," Castiel agrees and Dean grins briefly, pleased with himself. "But any amount would be enough. They recognize that, even those hybrids, and as I said, they don't like each other. I can't count on their sire giving them fraternal impulses; frankly, I'm surprised they haven't killed each other. It's very possible they'll grow bored if it's merely Alison, a human, but Nate...."

"So we hope--Christ--that the barrier comes back up and--your expression tells me that's not gonna work." Dean licks his lips. "You're saying they'll stick around even then, waiting?"

"As long as he's alive," he answers. "I've been trying to think of a subtle way to give them directions to Winchester House and let it deal with its hybrid cousins when they arrive."

"You aren't even joking, are you?" Dean braces a hand on the bed behind him. "Okay, any way to hide him?"

"A convenient pocket of time, preferably one built to purpose, and the only one I know of is where Cynothoglys was kept. Otherwise--perhaps Chitaqua's wards, but that's a guess and not one we can test now in any case. Teresa's wards may slow them down--if nothing else, they can be distracted--but otherwise, I'm not sure."

"We need to talk to him," Dean says finally, looking grim. "Yeah, it's shitty to have this hanging over him, but maybe--I don't know." He sighs. "So we tell him something--don't know what it looks like or can do--is gonna want to kill him if he finds out he exists. This is gonna be fun."

Castiel tilts his head, frowning. "I wonder how you ease into that particular subject."

"If you think of it, tell me," Dean answers glumly. "One question--you keep saying 'was' ; how did you find out Cynothoglys was dead?"

"It would be in hope rather than any certainty." He looks at Dean. "Lucifer drove her insane and had her raped so he could force her to bear offspring he could control. He couldn't hope to control her, then and certainly not after that. If she's alive--if she's alive, she's in a thousand pieces buried in earth in a pocket universe and will stay there until the end of Time. A daughter of Ether--a child in all ways but age--is trapped forever in rotting flesh, insane, and...." He closes his eyes. "If he could do that to her, the least he could do is show her this one mercy and kill her."

Distantly, he feels Dean's shoulder press against his; he didn't even feel him move. "She was that dangerous, Cas, he wouldn't keep her alive any longer than he had to."

"Lucifer's much like them in this; like a child, he can't bear his will to be crossed, even--and he couldn't control her. He must have hated her for that, and he's so vindictive..." He looks at Dean. "He told me once, mercy is an illusion. Even if he knew what it was--perhaps especially if he did--even knowing the danger to himself, he might very well deny her it from spite."


Fitting the last bracket into place, Castiel wipes his hands clean on a convenient cloth and picks up the knife, tossing it absently as he studies his work, searching for flaws in either design or execution. While form must always follow function, only an amateur wouldn't know how to combine them to achieve the desired result, but--he's not sure.

He stills at the feel of a hand between his shoulder blades, heat like a branding iron fresh from holy fire, palm skimming up the back of his neck and pushing his hair away for a pair of warm lips pressed just below the hairline, tongue tracing the complicated whirls of the sigils tattooed there. Closing his eyes, he feels a hand on his hip, fingers vise-tight, the lazy stretch of a body against his back as teeth sink into the side of his neck. The walls, volcanic glass polished to a high gloss, reflect only the haziest impression of two figures and the unmistakable spread of great wings before they fold themselves away, lingering only in impression like a retinal burn.

"Look at you," is crooned against his ear, and a sharp chin rests on his shoulder, digging in to appraise his work with the critical eye of one whose technique is without flaw. He should find none here; the ribs, neatly snapped from the sternum but still in contact with the spine, were carefully pulled open and bracketed to the table individually, each cradling a whole lung, still puffed and quivering with trapped air it neither needs nor exists at all, at least not here. The obscene swell of its belly is more questionable, skin pulled shiny and tight; that part, he's not sure about yet. "Not bad."

"The praise of my master," he answers mockingly, "is sweeter to me than wine." He tilts his head, marking the shuddering heart impaled on a spike through the sternum. "Variation of the blood eagle, a mythological form of execution that appears in Norse poetry during the tenth and eleventh century. The body would be opened from the back--I assume for plausibility, which isn't generally a feature of epic poetry in any form, but who am I to judge fictional forms of execution?--to avoid snapping the ribs entirely before removing the lungs." He still hasn't decided what to do with the extraneous organs, neatly piled on the others side of the body and gleaming wetly as the ooze blood and bile onto the table's otherwise immaculately clean surface.

"Still needs some work." He controls the flinch at the casual dismissal, an arm sliding around his waist and jerking him tight against the body behind him, and he can feel the hard press of a cock against his ass.

It's the belly that's the problem; it has to be. "It's in progress."

"Huh." A hand drops to his cock, squeezing, and Castiel bites back a moan, hearing the low laugh. "That's what I thought. You'd spread for anyone right now."

Flipping the knife over his wrist, Castiel stabs backward and hears the pained grunt when it sinks into the meat of his thigh, laughing at the angry hiss as he grabs Castiel's wrist, jerking the blade free. Twisting his arm against his back, he spins Castiel around and shoves him back against the solid table, bending him backward over the restrained legs, slit open to reveal the clean expanse of white bone, and settling the dull-sharp blade against his throat.

Looking into the enraged green eyes, he smiles. "I would," he agrees. "And do, as much as possible in your extended absences."

"So I heard." The blade parts flesh with a line of welling blood, crushing Castiel's wrist to powdered bone behind him. "Who this time?"

"Too many to count." Grin widening at the helpless rage, he licks his lower lip, watching the shift of attention, the abbreviated thrust between his legs. "You were otherwise occupied, and I was bored."

"You...." Leaning closer, he breathes against Castiel's neck, "Testing boundaries again, Cas? Not getting enough attention, that it?" A slick tongue slides up his throat. "Sometimes, I wonder if I put you back together wrong after all. Only one way to find out; take you apart piece by piece and try again. Maybe--" A deliberate thrust against his cock that makes Castiel's breath catch--and the hilt of the knife Dean carries pressed against his inner thigh. "--leave out a few parts this time, see if that helps. What do you think?"

Castiel snaps the knife into his free hand, pressing it against a vulnerable belly and witnessing the startlement in the wide green eyes with satisfaction. "As you wish, but be aware, I'll take yours in recompense, Dean."

The anger dissolves completely, replaced with amusement-threaded lust, and Dean leans forward for a brutal kiss. Castiel tastes blood, leaning into the rich heat of that mouth and ignoring the blade sinking deeper into his throat, spraying them both with bright blood, humid air heavy with iron and copper and smothering the scent of rotting flesh beneath them. Growling into Castiel's mouth, Dean jerks the knife away, bare palm circling Castiel's neck and squeezing with another shock of molten heat, exquisitely painful to the point of ecstasy. Castiel catches his breath as electric threads winding through him, agonizing pain and euphoria as the bones in his wrist reconstruct themselves, flesh and muscle knitting back together until his throat is once again whole.

Pulling back, Dean grins at him and raises the bloody knife to his lips, licking the blade clean before holding out his hand, and reluctantly Castiel offers him back his own knife. It's still perfectly clean, the flesh it was pressed against not so much as scratched; unlike some people, a blade is his natural weapon, and he knows exactly how to use it and how not to, no matter how distracted he may be.

"Show off." Taking it, Dean looks at the table again and makes a face, tugging Castiel off it and vanishing the blood from them both. "Hold that thought," he tells the thing on the table and snaps his fingers, putting it in suspension (a mercy it certainly doesn't deserve). Reaching out, he brushes Castiel hair back before knotting his fingers in it and shoving Castiel to his knees. "Now answer my question: who?"

Castiel glares up at him resentfully. "I'd have to think. I took their names before I started this."

"Before you started...." Dean looks at the table blankly before comprehension sweeps across his face. "You're fucking with me."

"They're both there," he says bitterly. "I--"

Dean's hand tightens painfully, and he cuts himself off.

"Just a sec." Petting his head, Dean walks away, circling the table, and Castiel grits his teeth, keeping his gaze fixed on the floor as he listens to the slow footsteps, knowing exactly where Dean is when he pauses and why. It's not right, he knows that, and he doesn't need the reminder.

Then Dean starts to chuckle, low and amused, and only with an effort does Castiel stay where he is, feeling a now familiar heat in his face: humiliation, another word Dean taught him, in all its infinite forms.

Finally, Dean returns, still chuckling as he drops into a crouch, reaching out to tip Castiel's head up. "Did you even cut the other one up first before...?"

"The first had teeth and knew perfectly well how to use them," he answers defensively. "Then, anyway."

Dean starts to laugh. "Always an overachiever. You said it was in progress." His fingers tighten viciously. "Cas?"

"When the digestion process is complete, the other one should reconstitute enough to chew its way out," he answers reluctantly, hating Dean's indulgent smile. "Obviously, I was wrong--"

"And after that?"

He's tempted to refuse to answer, but at the moment, it's not worth it. "It was supposed to be a surprise."

"For me?" Dean asks in surprise. "Cas, come on, stop making this so hard."

Castiel glares at him. "Yes."

"I gotta see this from the beginning." Dean cocks his head. "I take it back. It's awesome."

"Your condescension is unappreciated."

"I’m not--"

"You said," he bites out, "that it needed work."

"I didn't know you'd branched out into performance art! Totally different thing," Dean protests, kissing him before he can protest and pulling him unresistingly to his feet. "Wakey-wakey," Dean croons at the table with a snap, watching it return from stasis with a muffled scream, gaze lingering approvingly on the lidless eyes staring in horror at the mirrored ceiling, cheeks bugling with the former contents of its scrotum before its lips were sewn shut, metallic thread as fine as spider silk gleaming dully. Almost as if aware of Dean's attention, the right side of the obscene mound of its stomach bulges weakly, and Dean starts to smile. "That's really something else," he murmurs appreciatively, and Castiel relaxes despite his best efforts: that much is genuine. "Gotta see how this plays out. How many parts?"

"Five acts and an intermission," he answers as it pokes again, causing a slow ripple over the distended flesh. "We're in the intermission before act three now. The material isn't the best, so I'm not sure how long it will take for it to discover the obvious solution to its situation."

"It's what you do with it," Dean says, biting his lip at another, more frantic bulge and sliding a reassuring hand down his back. "The material, it's never gonna be good enough."

Castiel flinches before he can stop himself and feels Dean look at him.

"Don't change a thing," Dean adds, frowning at him for a moment, then glancing back at the table. "Can you hold it, though? Got something to show you."

Curious despite himself, Castiel nods, stopping the progression before snapping the lights off, leaving just enough so its view of itself in the mirrored ceiling remains uninhibited, and closes the ornately decorated door behind them before stepping into the vastness of the innermost Pit.

The discordant cacophony of sound is almost overwhelming: screams and moans, fear and pain and terror and lust complement and compete, trenches filled with the agony of both those on the rack and those that wield it, corrupted souls already twisting into new and far better forms practicing their craft beneath the brutal lash of their superiors. All grow silent, however, when the Master of the Pit walks his domain, fear and adoration washing over Dean, clinging like cobwebs, the shadows of great wings darkening everywhere they touch. Hands snake out to simply touch him as he passes, offering their worship without reservation.

Dean's lieutenants await them, and Castiel smiles slowly at their cringing terror on seeing him, remembering the sensual pleasure of taking payment for that night at his cabin in their agony. Already broken but perfect for Dean's purposes, patiently teaching Castiel the first lessons of his craft on their corrupted souls. It would never be enough for Castiel to have the skills alone, not for Dean; all of Dean's expertise was turned to the single purpose of carefully remaking Castiel on his own image in all things, and part of it was this.

Leaving Dean to deal with his pets, Castiel sprawls in comfort at the base of the black iron chair; aware of Dean's attention, he makes a careful show of not kneeling, Hellhounds dropping their heads to whine their obeisance at his presence, heavy chains rattling as they turn their attention to those surrounding their master, growling softly.

"You might rip them apart for all eternity with my good will, Fido," he tells one, reaching to stroke the sleek head and watching as one of the group moves closer, body projecting blatant, inexpert seduction before one hand comes to rest on Dean's arm. He wonders if she's the one that told Dean. "I think not."

She and two closest to her burst apart at a thought, only enough left to fill the cavern with their screams. The others leap back in terror, but Dean only turns around with a razor smile, and Castiel shrugs, unwilling to be appeased.

Dismissing them, Dean comes to a stop to look down at him. "Any reason you're down there?"

Castiel looks up him and solemnly intones, "We all kneel at the feet of our master in obedience to his will."

"Still sulking, got it. What about, who can tell--the ways of Castiel are mysterious and kind of fucked up." Annoyed, Dean drops into his seat, one leg hooking over the opposite arm, and after a moment, Castiel feels long fingers threading through his hair, stroking slowly. He manages to resist the light pressure for all of a moment--which may be a new record--before leaning his head against Dean's thigh. "Tick-tock, we're on the clock, people, so let's get this show on the road," Dean tells someone mildly, which is as good as a promise of a very, very horrible immediate future.

The groan of massive engines shake the stones beneath them, the great machinery of the Pit grinding to life, chains the width of a man's body dropping to coil on the ground before them. Castiel shifts closer, draping an arm over Dean's thigh, cheek pressed against warm, soft denim, shutting his eyes as Dean's fingers trail down the back of his neck, tracing the sigils again. It was the first thing he received when he rose from the rack remade, kneeling with his face pressed to Dean's lap as Dean carefully wrote his own name into Castiel's true form, Dean, unspoken by any mouth now but Castiel's. Not since Dean claimed the Pit with Alistair's name by right of inheritance and the abject submission and obedience of its occupants by right of conquest after Castiel took it in both his names and for his glory.

"They gotta know something's going on," Dean remarks softly. "You'd think they'd wonder why no one's seen me around."

"As long as they can sense you're in the Pit, they don't care," he answers lazily. Creating foldspace inside Hell isn't something one does every day, especially nospace. "Technically, this room is within the Pit's domain, they just can't sense the room itself."

"Pit of invisibility," Dean agrees in satisfaction. "Talk about awesome variations on a theme."

The euphoria of slaughter only seemed endless; it did end, and Castiel finds himself turning his eyes more and more to the great doors that open into the Pit and Hell itself beyond it. To bring Hell itself to its knees in Dean's name….

"Soon," Dean murmurs soothingly, tangling his fingers in Castiel's hair as he surveys his domain in satisfaction. An army unlike anything ever seen in Hell forms under Castiel's supervision, broken souls already remade on the rack remade anew here to the singular purpose of serving Dean's pleasure, and his pleasure now is to take the submission of every territory in Hell and sit unopposed on its Throne for all of Time. "In fact--" At the sound of heavy thump, he looks at something over Castiel's head, grin widening. "Check it out."

Obediently, Castiel turns his gaze to the massive stone and metal frame hundreds of feet in length as well as width, hanging from dozens of chains, and straightens as he sees what is bound to it.

"How…." The framework is familiar enough; he designed it to Dean's vague description of its functions and for his pleasure, ancient sigils unseen and unused almost since Time began chained together and carved painstakingly into its surface to create the most powerful bindings ever attempted and until now, theory untested. He's only seen them inert, but now, they're everything he imagined; glowing sullen red and black, limned in sickly yellow and dead white, responding to the presence of the limp figure pinned to the framework with a thousand individual, gleaming screws driven through its true form.

Broken, he realizes, unmade but not remade anew, not yet. Searching its mind, he finds it empty of thought, of volition, stripped even of their true name; everywhere within belongs to Dean.

Against his will, his eyes drift to the great sweep of gleaming wings stretched out on either side to their fullest extent, grinding hunger and gnawing envy and hatred and want so strong he can barely breathe. They're whole, undamaged, spared even a single scratch, each carefully confined in individual cages worked in dozens of protective and restraining sigils that are bolted directly to the frame. The only difference he can find from his design is the addition of padding in the cages, protecting each wing from the least damage should it awaken and try to move them.

The Pit is utterly silent, awestruck as they behold the massive frame on which is displayed the impossible, prostrating themselves before the proof that the Master of the Pit broke an angel on the rack of Hell.

He tears his gaze away from the frame to look up at Dean. "You did it."

Dean laughs softly, and for a moment, rage courses through him, betrayal that he wasn't told or even allowed to watch, which only makes Dean laugh harder.

"Couldn't afford the distraction," Dean says, still laughing. "Don't tell me you wouldn't have been; just knowing you were there would do it."

Castiel eyes the cluster of forms near the frame resentfully. "And they weren't?"

"I thought I might need fodder, and was I right about that." Long fingers close vise-tight on his face, green eyes meeting his, and in an instant he experiences it all in an endless, euphoric rush, the expertise of the Pit's greatest torturer practicing his craft. With a very volatiles subject at that. "See? Just like you were there. Better?"

Subsiding, he nods reluctantly, and the tight hold loosens, thumb stroking across Castiel's lower lip.

"Awesome." Dean gives him an exasperated look. "Now, you gonna stop sulking like I forgot to bring you flowers and didn't take you to prom and get up here?"

He looks up at Dean in bewilderment. "What's prom?"

"Fuck my life."

"As you wish." Reluctantly, he stands up, taking the space between Dean's legs--definitely one of his favorite places to be--and slumps back, eyeing the cluster of Dean's lieutenants hovering near the frame. "They should be kneeling. We all should be."

"They are," Dean answers easily, following his gaze. "They never got up, not since I let them off the rack. They don't even remember how." Then, "Okay, I gotta know. Not that I don't appreciate you offering atonement for your sins--especially like that--but what'd those two do to piss you off that much? They're all gonna be shitty lays, Cas, not like that was a surprise. Fuck knows you've tested that enough."

He considers several possible answers before deciding on the truth. "They propositioned me."

Dean waits. "And?"

"They contravened the will of their Master in even thinking it, much less doing it," he answers. "You weren't available to discipline them for their presumption, so I did so in your name."

Dean blinks at him. "But--"

"It was an insult to us both," he continues, something very stupid taking control of his tongue.

"And when you do the propositioning, it's not?"

"Then it's just to you. Obviously."

Dean opens his mouth again; Castiel ignores him.

"Not that I can entirely blame them, but they were the ones in front of me, so they pay for you as well," he continues flatly, staring at the frame. "They had no reason to assume...the material was insufficient, is that why? It couldn't be you, so it must be me."

"You...what?"

It takes him two tries to say it. "Made wrong."

The resulting silence is almost painful before Dean says, "Get out." A hand clamps down on his shoulder, digging into the bone deep enough to leave fingerprints. "Not you."

The vastness of the inner Pit is cleared on seconds; in all honesty, Castiel can't blame them.

"Look at me." The deceptively pleasant voice is enough to elicit instant obedience in the sane (and he is, on occasion). Just as deceptive is the interested expression, head cocked curiously. "Who told you that?"

"Dean--"

"One more time," Dean interrupts, expression unchanged, but Castiel stills, mouth dry. "Or I'll rip the answer out of you piece by piece. Who told you that?"

"No one," he answers. "You did, technically, but I guessed before that."

Dean's expression dissolves into infinitely less dangerous bewilderment. "When did I--oh come on, you pissed me off with that bullshit! I can't stop you from fucking around--"

"Yes, you could."

"But--what?"

"Just because you were unhappy with me when you said it doesn't mean it's not true."

"That it's not true means it's not true!" Dean snaps. "Where do you even get--"

"Why won't let me kneel?"

Dean slumps back in the chair, rolling his eyes. "You gotta be fucking with me."

"I have the right--"

"You don't have any rights," Dean interrupts softly, very pleasantly indeed. "None. Except what I give you."

Through a haze, Castiel sees Dean's eyes widen as he says, "Okay, wait--," but he jerks away, evading Dean's restraining hand and gets to his feet as the room echoes with the sound of shifting stone, solid rock splitting open wide everywhere he looks and pouring noxious fumes in ghostly green-yellow, cracks spidering up the wall and shaking loose a rain of rock the size of cities. Fascinated, Castiel blinks down dizzily at the one splaying open at his feet, wondering how deep it extends, how far he might fall; it looks like forever.

Then an arm clamps around his waist, jerking him back from the edge, and Dean breathes in his ear, "Control it. Now."

It only takes a moment now, shutting it down effortlessly, and as the dust settles, Castiel observes the cavern is both much, much larger and far craggier (thankfully, the frame and thing restrained upon it are untouched). It's somewhat more difficult to navigate as well; except where they are, the floor's dropped several hundred feet, rising in some areas miles high. He starts to check but Dean's arm stops him, and after a moment, he realizes Dean is shaking and--

He twists around to look at Dean incredulously, who drags him back two steps before falling into the chair and dissolving into laughter. Feeling unsettled, Castiel searches for the early anger and finds it gone entirely; Dean's sheer enjoyment drowns it out entirely. How typical.

"You shouldn't have let me do that," he says finally when Dean seems calm enough to hear him, and watches in bemusement as he almost starts again before making an effort to control himself. "I...forgot."

"Now why," Dean asks, hooking a knee back over the arm and grinning at him, "would I want to do that? Only wish I hadn't cleared everyone out." He cocks his head. "Come here."

Taking a deep breath, Castiel slowly approaches, perching uneasily on the edge of the chair.

"There's nothing wrong with you," Dean says quietly. "I made you, Cas. I couldn't do it wrong."

"It wasn't you." He makes himself look at Dean. "Even you couldn't compensate material that was irreparably flawed."

Dean groans, head dropping against the high back. "Cas, kneel."

He just barely restrains the urge to tell Dean to fuck himself (a glance at state of the Pit helps), making an elaborate production of it, and surreptitiously flattening the surface beneath him before settling on his heels. He's tempted to prostrate himself just to see if that gets a reaction, but Dean projecting boredom is somewhat inhibiting.

"Get up," Dean says finally, an edge in his voice, his eyes flickering to the frame and narrowing before settling on Castiel again once he's on his feet. "Was it good for you?"

"You know what I meant." Dean looks at him without expression. "Everyone else has the privilege of kneeling before the Pit to offer their submission to you. Why not me?"

Dean's gaze returns to the frame, narrowing speculatively. "It have any idea what's going on?"

"What--"

"Check for me again," Dean interrupts, looking at it thoughtfully, and Castiel tenses. "Fool me once, pay for that shit tenfold, but twice--not happening."

Lips tightening, Castiel turns his attention it and focusing until he's certain. "No. It's still as you left it. Why?"

"I have plans for it," Dean answers with a shrug. "Other than a cool wall hanging: gives the room a certain something, you know? I'd have to make some changes if I killed it now."

"Why kill it now?"

"You kneel for me," Dean answers casually. "It's mine, and no one sees it but me. You ever do that in front of the Pit, I'll purge it before you hit the ground."

Castiel stills, mouth dry.

"You're mine," he continues, green eyes fixing on Castiel lazily. "Not the Pit's, Hell's, the Host's, Heaven's: mine. You have no rights but those I give you, and no one and nothing else can claim anything from you but me. You wanna bring the whole place down around us and kill everyone you see, I don't give a shit, but you don't have the right to give to anyone else what's mine. Got it?"

He gives himself a moment to absorb that. "You could have told me that before."

"My bad, I thought it was obvious, but next time, I'll tattoo it on you, along with my name." The chill expression fades into a smile. "Feel better?"

"I do, yes." With a snort, Dean coaxes him down until his head's tucked against Dean's shoulder, fingers trailing soothingly down his back.

"There we go," Dean says softly, in a voice no one but Castiel ever has the privilege of hearing, palm settling on his hip as his thumb rubs slow circles in the hollow. "Those two in there--last ones I need to hang with the others when I'm done with 'em? After you're done, of course: I gotta see what comes next if that's just the start. Five acts and an intermission?"

He looks up suspiciously, but the sincerity is unmistakable. "You never disciplined me. Just them." Dean shrugs. "I thought it was me. Because I was flawed, and you couldn't fix it so you wouldn't even bother trying."

Dean sighs, foot kicking idly against the side of the chair. "Material's always flawed, Alistair told me. No way around that, you just work with what you got. I couldn't prove him wrong, and fuck if I didn't try." Abruptly, he chuckles. "Then I figured it out, what I was missing; go back to the beginning and fix the material first. He never even thought of it."

"Did it work?"

"First time I tried," Dean agrees, a smile in his voice. "Only that once, but that's all I needed; I knew when I was done I'd never get anything close to that again. Best I ever made, right from the start."

Castiel reviews Dean's work, searching for that one, not sure if he's more annoyed that he can't find it, or angry that it exists at all. "Who?"

"You. I'll add that to the tattoo, remind me." Dean ruffles his hair when he looks up. "I made you. I'm not gonna discipline you for being exactly what I wanted." Dean's gaze drifts to a distant corner of the Pit, where many, many (many) chains hang with those not him, doing their penance on very large hooks until Dean remembers what they did and takes one down for further expiation of their sins. "Them, not so much." He wrinkles his nose fastidiously. "Not a bad way to weed out the stupidest, though."

"I'll stop." He shivers at the soft brush of lips against his forehead, almost wishing he'd never started in the first place. "I'm sorry I interrupted your presentation to the Pit." He looks at it in the intricate framework and the thing on display, awe thrumming through him. "It's a wonder to behold."

Dean snorts. "This is for you. Not like anyone else could appreciate it."

"I beg to disagree."

"Feel free, I love when you beg." Dean tips Castiel's head back, smirking. "Pay attention: I need your help for the next part."

He can't imagine what he could possibly offer to someone who could accomplish this. "Other than the most unique wall-hanging in all of Time, I assume." Dean twists his fingers in his hair. "You want to use its Grace. It'll obey you now, of course, but yes, it can transfer it to you if that's what you were wondering. Through me, of course."

"I can't use it like you can, though," Dean says, shaking his head. "Only an angel can do that. However, that's not important this time." Castiel looks at him incredulously. "This was just a rough draft. Just wanted to see if I could even do it."

"There was no doubt of that." It's true; he never doubted Dean could, simply if he'd have time before someone noticed its absence, much less somewhere safe to do it. It's one of the reasons he created nospace for Dean, after all. "Its wings were the most vulnerable part of it; it might have been faster if you'd started with those."

Dean grins down at him. "And that's the other reason I didn't let you watch. You would have told me that, and I would look like an idiot not taking obvious advice, especially coming from you about that. Not this time: they were the only part of it that mattered, had to keep them perfect."

He lifts his head. "Why?"

"You're gonna love it." Abruptly, he pulls Castiel across his lap and stretching an arm to protect him from the sharp edge of the armrest before kissing him. Draping an arm around Dean's neck, Castiel bites down on his tongue, starving for him, the taste of blood lighting up every nerve. Dean growls, jerking open Castiel's jeans before pulling back with a snarl. "Those last two," he rasps. "Did you fuck them?"

"No."

Dean's eyes narrow, cupping his cock and squeezing brutally. "Did they fuck you?"

"No," he breathes, arching into Dean's hand. "None of them."

Dean's mouth falls open, and Castiel grins; it was definitely worth it. "I give to no one else what's yours."

"You let me think...." He trails off, glaring at him, torn between rage and something like relief. "Every time."

"You didn't believe them?" he asks innocently. "Surely they told you."

"I ripped out their tongues first," he answers distractedly. "Wouldn't have believed 'em anyway. You...."

"After you were done with them, you'd come to me still wearing their flesh and their blood," he says, watching Dean through half-closed eyes. "I would taste it on your skin and see what you did to them in your mind, and know you did it for me. I'm going to miss that very much."

Dean glare slowly turns into amused approval, laughing against his mouth. "And you thought there was something wrong with you. Next time I take one down, you get to watch first, how about that?" Dean kisses him again, but pulls back far too quickly. "Our wall ornament."

"Now?" At Dean's adamant nod, Castiel reluctantly turns to look at it "What about it?"

"The wings--removing them, will that kill it?"

Castiel tenses, and Dean's hand lands on his chest, holding him in place as the floor shivers before he shuts it down. "I survived."

"Yeah, but it's not you." Dean cocks his head, gazing at it thoughtfully. "Important part is the wings anyway; we're gonna take 'em."

He nods: two wall ornaments are always better than one.

"For you."

He looks up at Dean. "What?"

"They took yours," Dean answers. "Only fair."

Castiel snaps his gaze to those restless wings within their protective cages, shoulderblades itching, burning as Dean's hand skims down his back in reminder of what he lost and never thought to have again; that's why they're undamaged.

"What do you think?" Dean murmurs in his ear. "Think we can do it?"

He wants them too badly to say no, but-- "I've never done it before."

"Then we try, try again." He nods stiffly, and Dean nuzzles his neck, voice soft. "Everything takes practice, and we're gonna get 'em all, so got all the material we need. By the time we get to the big event, we'll have it down."

Yes. "Lucifer." He turns his head, hand on Dean's chest to allow no more than a brush of their lips. "Fuck me. After you wake it up."

Never looking away, Dean snaps his fingers, and in his peripheral vision, Castiel sees a thousand eyes flutter open, sense returning; even broken, there's enough for it to see him beneath the Master of the Pit and understand what it sees.

"Exactly what I wanted," Dean breathes, and Castiel tugs him down, opening his mouth for Dean's kiss, offering his abject adoration and devotion as he has since he rose from the rack.

Tipping his head back, he sucks in a breath as Dean's tongue traces the invisible line where he healed his throat and toward the pulsing jugular. "Ad maiorem tuī gloriam," he whispers, threading his fingers through Dean's hair and arching when Dean's teeth break the skin. "Always."


He wakes up to the sound of screaming, unable to breathe, confused the give beneath his body isn't flesh or the cold of solid iron; it's only a moment--but a very long one--before he remembers he's in Chitaqua's headquarters in Ichabod. Blinking, he stares up at Dean hovering above him and realizes first that he's pinned to the bed, and second, that his throat hurts. It's possible he was the one that was screaming.

"Get out," Dean snaps, never looking away from him. "Shut the door and don't fucking open it again without an order from me or I'll assume it's something trying to kill us and shoot first and not ask shit later."

The sound of the door slamming shut tells Castiel that wasn't directed at him. He doesn't bother testing Dean's hold on his wrists; he could break it easily. It's far more important that he didn't do it before.

"You okay? Just nod or shake your head," Dean asks encouragingly. Slowly, he shakes his head, and Dean lets out a breath; that was apparently the right answer. "You okay?"

He couldn't have stopped the words that spill out between them even if he didn't need to tell Dean, almost as if they were waiting; half-way through, he closes his eyes to spare himself even a glimpse of Dean's face. Finally, it's over, and taking a breath, he waits what feels like the length of immortal and mortal life for Dean's horror and rejection.

Dean says, "So that was a shitty dream."

Castiel jerks his gaze to Dean before he can stop himself. "What?"

"Huh?" Dean frowns, easing back to sit on the mattress beside him. "Thought mine were bad. Mine at least don't qualify as a creepy-ass mirror universe episode of my life."

"That was a dream?"

"Well, nightmare...wait. What did you think it was?"

"I don't dream. At least, I never remember them." Sitting up, Castiel tries to reconcile what he knows of dreams and fails. "There were no tadpoles."

"Uh." Dean stares at him as if he just changed shape; surreptitiously, he checks to be sure he didn't. "Let's go with 'what'?"

"Alicia told me about one of hers," he explains distractedly. "She married a sea plumber and they had tadpoles."

"Tadpoles."

"Also, a cake, which she looked for after she woke up and was unhappy when she couldn't find it. Yours were..." Well, none involved fucking the Master of the Pit in front of one of his Brothers, which he assumes Dean is grateful for and he is as well. "Not like that." He looks at Dean in bewilderment. "A dream?"

"Congratulations," Dean says glumly, resting his chin on his hands. "Welcome to the human ability to make sleep more miserable than your actual life." He looks at Castiel speculatively. "Thought it was a vision or something?"

"My life is going very well at the moment," he says, falling back against the pillows. "Personal life, that is; I have one. It seemed rather inevitable that would go terribly wrong somehow. Developing clairvoyance specifically to show me how much wouldn't be a surprise, all things considered."

Dean opens his mouth, then nudges him over before dropping down beside him, bouncing the mattress. "I'm trying to work out an argument on why that's crazy but--dude, that could happen. Surprised it hasn't happened to me, now that I think about it." He turns his head to see Dean scowling at the ceiling. "Anyone else, it'd be breaking up, cheating, dying, but not us, no. We worry about...I'm not even sure what to call that."

"Dreams do that?"

"Dreams can do anything," Dean tells him with a sigh, rolling on his side and pushing himself up on an elbow. "They don't mean anything. I mean, unless you're being dreamwalked or clairvoyant--which not saying couldn't happen, but no. Besides, you said his lieutenants were your--" Castiel waits as Dean searches for an appropriate and yet not utterly appalling description. "You practiced on them."

"I was hoping you could think of an acceptable euphemism," he admits.

"Glad to help. So--total dream thing, people randomly showing up."

"It wasn't random." He takes a deep breath. "The demon that attacked Crowley--I knew her."

"The one that almost put him on his ass?" Dean grins. "Wish I could have seen that. So who was it?"

"Erica."

"Okay, who..." Dean shuts his mouth, a strange expression crossing his face, there and gone before Castiel can define it. "Dean's team leader and full time fucking assassin Erica? That Erica?"

He nods shortly.

"So there's justice in the world after all," Dean says softly, and startled, Castiel sees Dean's faint smile, an echo of the one worn by the man seated on the throne of the Pit. "Can't think of a better place for her. Any of them."

"Then you'll be unsurprised to hear it's likely they're all there," Castiel says quietly, and Dean's gaze snaps back to him, distant look and the Master of the Pit vanishing. "Crowley told me when I questioned his control over her that all of them would learn."

Dean abruptly sits up. "Crowley's loaner demons are Chitaqua hunters?"

"More than one, at least," he answers, looking at Dean. "It's not just that. My Brothers knew perfectly well I was instructing humans on earth. The moment they passed through the gates of Hell, they would have been claimed by my Brothers, possibly in person."

"Because they were pissed at you and were going to take it out on them?" Dean cocks his head. "Yeah, no, not seeing the problem."

"Dean--"

"How many people did they kill?" Dean asks, voice quiet. "You never told me that part."

"I’m not sure--"

"Your guess would be as good as counting the bodies," Dean interrupts. "I'm saying, if it was under a hundred, I'd be really surprised."

He doesn't answer, but that's an answer in itself.

"And that's just the body count," Dean continues flatly. "Joe--he said they had help and some of it at the point of a gun. There was a reason half the goddamn camp hated them even after you stopped the slaughter of the unbelievers. They stopped killing, yeah, because you made them; they didn't stop being what they were. Hell--only problem I have with it is they would have fit right in before they went on the rack. Surprised they didn't jump off before it even started. They had nothing human in them to give up."

"Twenty-five years. It took twenty-five years to break her in Hell. Amateurs: on earth, it only took three days." He pauses, aware of Dean watching him. "I was her instructor. She was excellent at hand to hand combat, less so in strategy and tactics, she liked the color yellow and used to have cats. She had a lover who trapped her and her entire family in their basement when she brought him home for Thanksgiving and spent the day slowly killing them all in Lucifer's name, for his greater glory."

Beside him, he feels Dean still.

"He left her for last. When he finally got to her," he whispers, "he told her that he loved her, and eviscerated himself so he could die in her arms--or rather, on top of her bound body on the floor in a puddle of her family's blood. It was three days before someone found them. He was dead, lying in her lap; she was catatonic. Dean and I both recognized her immediately; we saw it on the news at Bobby's. It was a very popular topic on every station." He meets Dean's eyes. "What she did was an atrocity, so her punishment is to serve in Lucifer's army when it comes to earth, kneel in the shadow of he who destroyed her. Truly justice is served; if only I could discover what she did that earned her those three days in that basement, trapped beneath her lover's dead body and lying in her family's blood. Twenty-five years on the rack; that was nothing compared to that."

The silence that follows is almost painful. "What happened to her," Dean says finally, "wasn't her choice, and it was...Christ." He hears Dean take a deep breath. "What she did at Chitaqua, though--that was her choice, all of it."

"The reporters--they wrote about how she said she prayed. The Host wouldn't answer, of course, but--I was still an angel then."

"Cas--"

"If I'd listened, if I'd heard her, I could have stopped it," he continues bleakly. "The Host contravened the order we were no longer permitted to intervene at our own discretion many times, and I'd rebelled anyway, so why didn't I--"

"Cas, no--"

"Justice: where is it to be found here, who will make payment for what was done to her and when? Who bears the responsibility? Lucifer's crime in commission, the Host's in deliberate omission, or mine in sheer lack of interest?" he demands. "Two years I was an angel after I rebelled, and I could have--I should have--"

Then Dean's arms are around him, pulling him against the warmth of his body, breath rasping painfully in his chest, and he only realizes he's crying when he feels the growing dampness in the thin cotton of Dean's t-shirt.

"I hate her," he whispers brokenly, feeling Dean's hand stroking down his back, murmuring reassurance he can't hear through the rush of anger. "But when I think of Lucifer, what he's done--compared to that, it's...."

"I know."

Pressing his forehead against Dean's shoulder, Castiel breathes obscenities from every language he knows, sibilant hisses and rough-edged consonants and elongated vowels slipping effortlessly from between his lips. For the first time, human languages come more naturally than his own native tongue, unchanged and unchanging since before time began, since before Lucifer Fell. Enochian has no concept of betrayal so far beyond forgiveness: no word to express how the least of Lucifer's crimes was his choice to Fall from Heaven and turn his back on what he was meant to be: nothing that can encompass the crawling cowardice and brutal indifference of the Host in abandoning the world, their shared responsibility in every single human death: clawing grief and helpless rage and the scars they've left that he wonders if he'll always feel burning beneath the surface of his skin.

He runs out of breath long before he runs out of languages, panting helplessly into the fragile warmth between their bodies, fingers twisting numbly in the fragile cotton of Dean's t-shirt. Distantly, he can feel the heat of Dean's hand against the back of his neck, warm breath stirring his hair with every exhale: easy, as if he could stay like this for as long as Castiel needs: as if he could do it forever.

Eventually, Dean coaxes him to lie back down, rearranging the blankets before joining him beneath them, and Castiel doesn't bother resisting the implicit invitation, curling against the solid warmth of Dean's body with a tired sigh.

"Dreams don't mean shit," Dean tells him quietly. "You know that, right?"

"I know that," he agrees, thinking of that massive frame. "It can't be reproduced on earth."

"What?"

"The framework." Dean doesn't stiffen or pull away, so he continues. "A circle of holy fire has limitations and it can--with an effort, granted--be broken from within. It's a mutable, fire; it lacks permanence. Nothing can hold him long--except the Cage, obviously--"

"Cas."

"It doesn't mean anything, I know," he agrees. "But it's not often one sees a manifestation of an idea that one once considered while very, very stoned to the last detail. When you weren't thinking of Caging him after all, but something that would be ideal for his eternal torture."

He feels Dean nod, chin brushing against his hair.

"I took your memories of Hell," he continues brittlely. "I saw them all, and I thought I understood. You should have told me to fuck myself for the presumption. I didn't understand at all."

He feels Dean's chest lift and fall in a sigh. "How much do you remember now?"

"The agonizing pain portion of the evening is still something of a question mark, but I find myself uninterested in attempting further recall." He closes his eyes. "The rest is now fully intact. They're fully accurate, I assume; experience is very different from theory."

Dean does him the courtesy of not pretending not to understand. "Yeah. That's what it's like." There's a short silence before he adds, "By the way, looking at you? Still not a problem."

Castiel hears himself say, "I did wonder, I never told you that. He was always so frustrated afterward. I could reproduce what he showed me, but that was never enough, and I never understood why, what I was doing wrong."

Dean stills, hand frozen against the small of his back.

"You may have forgotten that conversation, it was a long time ago--"

"I remember." It's barely a breath.

"--but I did think about it, why he taught me what he remembered from the Pit. I may have thought you actually didn't know and wanted an answer. On occasion, I miss obviously rhetorical questions."

"I never should have said that."

Castiel pulls back, evading the belated grasp of Dean's hands and sits up, glaring into the guilty green eyes. "Or you could have told me you knew what he was doing! Unless you're going to protest you weren't sure--"

"I was sure." Rolling onto his back, Dean takes a deep breath before he pushes himself up and looks at him, and for a second, Castiel's in the Pit, in that chair, looking at the same person who told him that he knelt for no one but him. "And I told you why, Cas. Later, yeah, I was a dick throwing that at you the first time, but I told you."

After Jeffrey, yes. "I thought...."

"You didn't believe me," Dean says flatly. "Just admit it, Cas, I saw it on your face."

"I didn't think you were lying."

"Could have fooled me. From where I was standing, it sure as fuck looked like it." Dean shakes his head. "Christ, he's dead, I can--you can--literally count the ways he fucked you over, and you still would rather blame me for saying it than him for doing it!"

"I don't...." He searches Dean's face. "You think I'm doing that?"

"I'm saying, good thing this isn't a competition or anything," Dean retorts, "or I'd really be starting to wonder why the fuck I can't ever win, even by default."

Castiel tries to think of a reply to that, but his mind's curiously blank, everything in suspension. Looking away, he focuses on the complex pattern of the quilt, but even grasping that seems beyond him at the moment, chaos incarnate.

"Okay, any way you can--forget, not think, whatever--about me saying that?" Dean says abruptly, but Castiel can't trust himself enough at the moment to correctly interpret his tone of voice.

"Not if it's true."

"It's not." Then, "Cas look at me. It's not--"

"Do you want me to leave?" Where he's not sure; for some reason, he can't remember which rooms are occupied, either. If asked, he's not sure he could accurately state how many floors there are.

"No!" The sheer volume of the answer makes him look up, and he sees Dean just stop himself reaching for him, sitting back on his heels. "I fucked up, Cas. I’m sorry."

"Do you...." He wonders how it is he can have been on earth for two and a half years in mortal form and almost three as an angel, and still fail so terribly at the most fundamental parts of this. In retrospect, it's unsurprising he's far better at learning torture mechanics and how to enjoy it. "Do you think it's a competition?"

"No," Dean answers with a certainty he wishes he could trust himself enough to believe. "I don't."

He also wishes he could trust himself enough to believe Dean's telling the truth. "It's not."

"I know." Closing his eyes, Dean makes a face. "Look, I can--"

"Don't say it, it becomes ridiculous if we both offer to leave the room without any idea of where to go."

Dean's mouth twitches reluctantly. "Dude, speak for yourself. I was thinking the Jacuzzi downstairs."

He fights down any sense of reassurance from that. "Is this a tragedy for the ages, an adamant disagreement, or a fight? I defer to your expertise."

"I'm going with shitty fight," Dean answers, shoulders relaxing, and that, he trusts.

"And in the morning?"

"I'll make you breakfast." He grins suddenly. "Or go get it from the mess, no idea who's on mess duty. Now that we have a mess."

That seems clear enough. "Don't leave me."

"That was never gonna happen," Dean answers, very certain indeed. "Look, get some sleep--both of us sleep, wake up, food, deal with--Christ," he interrupts himself, sounding incredulous as he pushes back the blankets invitingly, "we actually need a list for that."

"I'll make one in the morning."

Dean makes everything very easy; directing him to the appropriate spot, rearranging the blankets, and easing down beside him, and without any effort on his part, he's exactly where he wants to be. Dean is very warm, and he's surprised to realize that he's very tired and might possibly go back to sleep. "It's not a competition."

"You get this wasn't you, right?" Dean asks, fingers stroking slowly down the back of his neck. "It's..." There's a long pause, but the warm touch continues unbroken. "You shouldn't have to--to know that. What you got from Crowley." Then, more quietly, "Or what he was trying to do. I shouldn't have said a goddamn thing."

Castiel nods, trying to unknot his fingers from Dean's t-shirt and failing. "Dean, it's not a competition--"

"I know, I swear, that was..." Dean trails off. "After breakfast, I'll have something to go there."

"I look forward to hearing it." He can barely keep his eyes open, but try, try again. "It's that--you don't have anyone with which to compete." If he could think, perhaps he'd be able to tell if that made sense. "For a long time now."

That made no sense at all.

"Right," Dean says a little blankly. "Thanks."

Close enough. "Good night."

"You, too." Castiel fights back a yawn, pressing his forehead against Dean's t-shirt and waits. "Look this is going to sound stupid--and really fucked up, I get that, but--"

"I'm certain I wouldn't dream about you ruling the Pit, beginning a war against Lucifer, and then losing."

Dean blows out a breath that sounds suspiciously like relief. "Just--it'd be salt in the wound, you know?"

He does, actually. "Be comforted, I'm certain the inevitable progression was a horrific and bloody campaign ending in inevitable, and equally horrific, victory. Perhaps even with a party afterward."

He feels Dean nod. "Yeah, thanks. Let's never talk about this again."

He thinks about answering, but he sleepily assumes silence is confirmation, and concentrates on the slow rhythm of Dean's fingers against his skin.