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True North

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***

Dean skulks out of the bed at oh-dark-thirty, and Cas mutters his name and makes snuffling sleep noises as he dresses and sneaks on his way.

He lockpicks his way into the cabin the Doc uses as a morgue, and the kid he shot is all covered up and decent. She’ll burn tomorrow, after the Doc has drawn off his samples, made his y-shaped incision, and sawed through her skull so he can slice her up, pull her apart, and section what’s left of her brain in his quest to find out how it is Croatoan turns you into a rabid, foaming, bloodstreaked monster within twenty minutes of one of the psychos biting you. But Dean knows it’s a waste of time for any of them to think this virus has a backdoor just waiting to be found, so this kid won’t be cut up, and her sister isn’t going to smell her body roasting on the pyre.

He knows where he’ll bury her, where the earth won’t be quite so hard-packed because it’s been well tilled for planting. But she isn’t going to be spreading any of her germs into the food supply, though she might guarantee Cas a bumper crop in the summer. Ironically it was Cas’s idea, and Dean still remembers how he droned on for days about how it completed the cycle of life if they planted anything dead they couldn’t eat in with the vegetables. It made Dean throw up in his mouth, and he remembers scowling, it’s like Pet Sematary, and Cas doing that head-tilting Dean-I-don’t-understand thing he trademarked when he was an angel. But then Chuck’s face lit up too, and he started babbling on about how it returned the nutrients of organics to the soil, ended up browbeating Dean into issuing an executive decree that they all had to stop and scrape up every damn roadkill rat and squirrel the trucks flattened as they drove along the trails, so they could be composted.

It’s so fucking Dahmer it still turns Dean’s stomach.

***

Cas isn’t quite as stealthy as he used to be, and Dean knows he’s there for a good minute before he speaks out into the darkness, just as Dean is hefting the pickax to start loosening up the soil.

“You’re burying her under my weed patch,” he muses, as he stands there with his arms folded. “It’ll be interesting to see what transpires.”

“She’s not going to burn,” Dean says, neutral. “The ground’s less hard here. And I can’t put her under the potatoes. Doc says the virus could mutate any time, go airborne or get in the soil, screw it up for planting crops.” He straightens up, feels something crack loudly in his lower back.

Cas winces. “That’ll hurt in the morning.”

Dean snorts. “It hurts every morning. Are you going to dig or lecture me?”

“Lecture you, I think. Why change the habit of a lifetime?”

Cas smiles whitely in the moonlight, and Dean hooks the shovel up with his foot, flicks it over. “Lazy bastard. Start digging.”

***

Right after Cas started sleeping through the night like humans do, he told Dean he couldn’t stand the damp, the gray, the gloom, said they seeped into his bones and froze their marrow, said he needed light, said he wanted to head south, Florida maybe. But Dean always did have a major hate-on for the dick-shaped state and its octogenarians crawling along at thirty-five in the fast lane, its skateboard-sized roaches with thigh muscles bigger than his, its skin-peeling sunshine and sweat-dripping humidity, and he damn well drew the line, made some snappy comment about how he’d rather die at sixty from prostate cancer than at forty from skin cancer. The north is safer anyway, now the world has gone to Hell. The Croats don’t have the brains left to handle the winters and the freezes keep their numbers down to manageable levels. And Chuck reckons the virus doesn’t like the cold even if it is making inroads now.

Chitaqua is a compromise of sorts, even if Dean tells himself there’s no way he really felt guilty about the fact Cas fell for him, no way he gave it serious thought, no way he sat down and pored over Bobby’s reference books, no way he made lists and charted all the pros and cons to narrow it down to somewhere they’d all be safe, that was near water, with a good supply of game. And somewhere Cas might not be dragged down even deeper into the mind-numbing depression that dulled his eyes after his brothers left, somewhere he might not have cold bones year-round.

Whatever, it took Dean days to work through his shortlist, and here they are. And Cas is good with it, because now they’ve settled in one spot he can cultivate his weed with the tender loving care it needs in a climate where eight hours of direct sunlight a day is a rarity. But even if it isn’t ideal pot-growing weather, in this half of the state it’s semi-arid and bright. And for three months of the year, on those odd days when it hits seventy degrees and higher, Cas gets to strip off and drape himself across the hood of the Impala to warm his bones and work on his tan, and he smiles lazily at Dean while he tokes, stretching out his arms languorously so his skin pulls tight over his ribs and the jut of his hips, scratching himself idly as Dean works the land. When he’s really high, Cas tells Dean that the sky is big, that he longs to fall into it like he once did, and that lying there in the sun with Dean watching him is like basking in the light of his Lord. And sometimes Dean thinks it isn’t the sun that makes Cas feel that way, it’s Dean watching him; that maybe Cas means him when he says light, or maybe even when he says Lord. But when he asks, Cas just smiles enigmatically and drifts off into daydreams.

And in the two years since they’ve been here, Dean can’t count how often he’s thanked the fucking Maker that Cas is a sun worshiper, because sometimes he wonders if he ever would have looked, and seen, and finally got a clue that Hell twisted something inside him into a brand-new sequence and design, rewired him to want that spare hardness, those sharp angles and points, pressed up against him, and in him, and around him. He looked, and saw, saw the gleam of sweat glistening, rivulets of it trickling down Cas’s belly and Cas sliding his finger through it as he scratched that itch. And it hit Dean dead center and abseiled straight down to his dick, and it stuck its head up above the parapet and pointed at what it wanted, that, right the fuck now, soldier.

So Dean got up and walked over there, his gaze gone intense, his mouth sandpaper-dry, and his knees like jelly. And it turned out Cas had been watching him all along too, and waiting for this moment. He rose up to meet Dean, and folded him inside his arms and legs, and Dean tasted the sweat and the sun on Cas’s skin. When Dean pushed into him, Cas’s stubble grazed Dean’s cheek, and Cas breathed his name all soft and secret into Dean’s ear, where no one else would hear how his voice broke on it when he came. And right then Dean felt safe, felt valued, felt like he was worth something to someone. He forgot all the crap, and he felt joy.

Dean thinks he might have stuttered out all of that happiness into Cas’s neck as he spilled inside him. But he knows he definitely hasn’t told Cas since then, because it was the day he found out his brother said yes. Now he doesn’t fuck Cas when he’s sober. He gets drunk, pinpoints Cas with unerring accuracy, because he always knows exactly where Cas is, and hollers at him to get in my cabin now, it’s fucking important. And Cas gives him that measured stare, all shot through with insolence, and he does as he’s told.

***

Cas stops, rolls his shoulders and groans out feelingly, and Dean can see the puff of his breath in the frosty air.

“Why are you even here?” Dean asks, as he reaches out, takes hold of the shovel himself and keeps at it. They’re just past knee deep, maybe a couple of feet to go before it gets too icy to break through any further.

“I knew you’d do this,” Cas says simply. “I didn’t want you doing it alone.”

“How did you know I’d be here?” Dean challenges.

“I always know where you are, Dean.” Cas ponders it for a second or two. “It’s just how it is. Like it is for you.”

Dean throws him a flat look, snaps, “Don’t give me that shining crap. I find you by process of elimination. Sometimes I look in ten other places before I track you down.”

Cas doesn’t comment, just blinks at Dean while he blows on his fingers and stamps his boots on the ground.

“You’re cold,” Dean observes, as he scoops out another shovelful. “It’ll get in your bones. You could catch another chill. I don’t want you getting sick.”

The other man’s voice takes on a note of wry amusement. “Why Dean, I didn’t know you cared.”

Dean snorts. “Fucking idiot,” he scathes out. “I can’t afford to be a man down, Cas. And I don’t want you whining at me and dripping snot everywhere like the last time.”

Cas laughs out a low throaty chuckle. “A smoke will warm us both up,” he offers.

“That stuff is shredding your brain cells,” Dean chides wearily, his irritation deflating abruptly into resignation because he knows it’s a waste of his time and his breath.

“Evidence found at archeological digs indicates that people have been experimenting with marijuana spiritually and medicinally since at least three million years BC,” Cas replies loftily.

“And do you see any of those guys here?” Dean snipes. “No. Because it shredded their brain cells.”

Cas smirks. “You know what they say, Dean. If the words life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.”

He strolls over to the Impala, up on bricks now in a shady spot near his garden. He keeps her windows open a couple of inches to air her, and the glass is blacked out with tarry stuff he daubs on so it’s dark inside. Dean knows he has string stretched out all across her innards, and in the summer he hangs his weed there, carefully arranged in individual stems to dry, and he keeps a handy jar of the cured stuff stashed in the glovebox so he can take a hit when he’s communing with his crop.

That very jar in hand, Cas schleps back, flops down next to Dean, rolls one expertly, savors it, takes a long pull. Dean can see his features slacken as he turns his face up to the moon, and his shoulders drop down a few inches as he relaxes into the euphoria. “The world is but a fragment of my mind,” he announces dreamily. “I feel extremely creative, and I love everyone. But I love you most of all, Dean. I think we should make the purple monkey together.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Jesus.” He plants his butt down on the snow to take five, feels the icy damp start seeping through his jeans. “What is in that?” he asks balefully. “I mean, besides the obvious?”

“Artemisia,” Cas smiles woozily. “Wormwood. Chuck informs me that its scented foliage deters many pests. I promise I’m cultivating it to keep the ants away, Dean.” He winks. “But… when it’s dried and added to weed, it intensifies the trip. And there it was. So how could I not?” He scratches at his stubble. “It’s also the basis for absinthe.”

“The little green fairy.” Dean shakes his head, rueful.

“My next project,” Cas corrects him. “All the artistic and literary greats used it. Van Gogh, Wilde, Baudelaire.” He wafts the joint over in Dean’s direction. “Try some?”

Dean sniffs, pushes up. “I need to get done here,” he says curtly. “I care about my ass freezing to the ground, even if you don’t give a shit about yours. And you’re killing yourself with that crap. Once in a while is fine, not a big deal, I like it myself. But you’re stoned all the damn time, and mixing it up with pills and liquor is messing with your head.”

Cas furrows his brow as he stares up. “It helps me forget the things I don’t want to remember,” he says mildly. “For a while, anyway. Aren’t there things you want to—”

“No,” Dean cuts in brusquely, before Cas can go there. “All I have are my memories. I’m keeping them.”

***

Sometimes when Cas is under him, and he can’t drag his eyes from the soft, naked blue of Cas’s gaze, Dean sneers out spiteful abuse about how Cas mindwhammied him to swing the other way when he pulled him out of Hell, and that this isn’t his choice even if he knows damn well he never was too fussy about where he poked his dick once he worked out it wasn’t just for pissing through. And Cas whispers, say my name, Dean, and even if Dean never does, Cas’s voice grounds him through his rage, while he rams into tight heat and grips Cas so hard his fingers leave bruises. One time Dean came round afterwards to find the other man’s eye pinkish and puffy and his lip split, and he asked why Cas took that shit from him, why he didn’t have any self-respect, why Cas fucked him at all. And Cas turned a brief, complicated look on him, before he huffed out derisively and said he’d never fucked Dean in his life and didn’t intend starting any time soon.

The night after that, Dean bedded one of his regulars, a widow whose husband got taken out by Croats the year before, and they sat there next to each other afterwards, sharing a proper cigarette. And since she was female, and women have the touchy-feely-emo insight into sex that dudes totally lack, Dean had come right out and asked her why anyone would say that to someone whose brains they’d been fucking out for months. Hypothetically of course, he raced out afterwards, to cover himself.

“It sounds like something Cas would say,” she’d remarked, and the way she slanted her eyes across at Dean as she spoke told him he’d been rumbled.

“Cas fucks everything,” he’d snarked back airily. “Animal, vegetable, mineral.”

She’d studied him for an awkward moment, and he’d ended up scrambling for his clothes and muttering something about it being his shift on guard duty.

“I’m going to give you some of the wisdom of Eve, Dean,” she’d said, as he laced up his boots. “There’s a difference between fucking and making love to someone you’re in love with. What we did just then was fucking. It was in the moment, scratching an itch, and now I want you gone so I can sleep.” Her eyes had melted into sadness then, and understanding. “But when you make love with someone you love, well. You forget it all. The pain, the worry, all gone like they were never there. You feel safe, and cherished. You feel joy. And you don’t want to let them go afterwards.”

She’d paused a beat for it to sink in maybe, and then smiled at Dean. “Jen Schweitzer told me Cas doesn’t fuck anyone at his orgies. He just blathers on about the within you-without you while he gets high, and then he rolls over and goes to sleep while they get it on by themselves.”

As Dean was leaving she’d told him, “Cas looks at you like you hung the moon, Dean,” and her voice was wistful with memories.

***

The kid isn’t heavy, and Dean eases her carefully into the hole, kneels there at the lip for a minute before he shovels the dirt in on top of her. It doesn’t take long before he’s tamping it all down with his boots and kicking slush over the dark, muddy scar the grave makes against the white.

“Maybe…” Cas is behind him, and he clears his throat quietly. “You should say a few words.”

Dean exhales sharply. “I blew the top of the kid’s head off, Cas. What can I say? Words fail me.”

There’s movement, shuffling, and Cas is beside Dean, his shoulder bumping Dean’s expectantly. He cants his face forward to catch Dean’s gaze, and his look is searching. “Dean,” he says, in that soft, secret way.

It’s like a switch flipped, and Dean feels himself starting to shake, feels it all start boiling up and out of him. “It isn’t fucking fair, Cas. It isn’t fucking fair. None of this is fair.”

Cas puts his hand firm and steady at the back of Dean’s head, pulls him around and into his warmth, wraps him in his embrace. “You did the best you could," he whispers. “And it’ll be alright.”

Right then Dean feels safe, feels valued, feels like he’s worth something to someone. And he knows he never wants to let go.

***

When the guilt and the booze have him rock hard and needy for something brutal, Dean spreads himself out for Cas, and provokes Cas, pleads for Cas to hurt him, be my Alastair if you have the fucking guts, spits out vicious retorts about Cas lying as smoothly to him back then as that demon bitch Ruby did to Sam. And even through Dean’s frenzied bitterness, Cas is slow and gentle inside him, and he smiles knowingly down at Dean. He lays his hand on Dean’s cheek, strokes his thumb tenderly across the skin under Dean’s eye to wipe away the tears, and he says Dean’s name in that soft, secret way as he shudders out his climax.

Sometimes, in the slumped exhaustion afterwards, Dean curls himself around Cas and traps him, and he whispers out a slurred, teary, drunken diatribe, hate you, fucking hate you so much, you lied to me about my brother, you have no fucking idea how much I hate you, and don’t ever go, because I can’t without you, I can’t.

And Cas holds on just as tightly, and traces circles on Dean’s skin, and croons nonsense in his ear, all that crap about how he’ll never leave Dean, because Dean is his true north.

***

There’s this disquiet, restlessness, as they walk back, and they’re both speeding up, both edgy. Cas knows the drill by now, knows how Dean likes to work it out of his system, and he’s already heaving his sweater and hoodie off and stepping out of his pants before Dean closes the door, all pale skin in the lamplight as he crawls back into the bed.

“If you want to fuck me, we can—”

“No,” Dean says, through his own layers coming off over his head, and he swallows thickly. “That’s not – I mean, no. I don’t want to. Ever again. Fuck you, I mean.”

He toes off his boots, sits down on the bed to haul off his own jeans, crawls in under the covers, and presses himself up against Cas, and Cas squints at him quizzically. “I’m never fucking you again as long as I live, Cas,” Dean murmurs. “I’m licking your neck, though.” And he does. “In preparation for licking you all over, because I love your fucking skin so much,” he says then. “And now I’m trailing my tongue up your jaw, and across your chin, and Jesus, you need a shave. And now I’m going to kiss you like it’s going out of style.”

Dean dips his head down and Cas opens up under his mouth, and his lips are icy cold but his tongue is warm and wet against Dean’s, fucking perfect, in fact. Dean trails his hand up Cas’s arm to his face, lays his palm against it and smoothes it on up into Cas’s hair, buries his fingers in its softness, and he grinds his hip against Cas’s crotch. Cas is hard and desperate against Dean, rocks his own hips frantically, claws his hands along Dean’s back to his butt, teases the crease as he moans into Dean’s mouth, but his whole body is rigid with tension.

“Don’t you want to, you always want to – uh. Dean…”

“No, I don’t want to,” Dean mutters. “This isn’t for me, this is for you.”

He nuzzles his way back around and down to Cas’s neck, and he sucks and nips at the skin there. “I know I’ve hurt you,” he whispers, and Cas huffs soft noises into his hair that bullet straight to Dean’s dick. “I’m not good with words, Cas,” Dean says then. “I just – this isn’t just fucking to me. Do you get it? It never was just that.”

And just like that, Cas relaxes under Dean, the anxiety juddering out of him. He hitches out fitful gasps, and they move against each other, slipping and sliding on a film of sweat, finding the right angle, the right degree of friction. It’s slow and easy, and Dean is as gentle, as careful, as Cas has always been with him. He presses his forehead to Cas’s, fixes him with his eyes. “You’re fundamental to me,” he murmurs. “You always have been.”

Cas stares up at him, and his breathing is ragged. “Dean,” he chokes out. “Dean, I lo—”

But Dean already knows, and he swallows the words, strokes his thumb tenderly across the skin under Cas’s eye to wipe away the tears, like Cas always has for him. He keeps moving, unhurried and deliberate, until Cas’s eyes go wide and he cries out, Dean, and pulses hot and slick on Dean’s skin.

When Dean comes, he whispers Cas’s name all soft and secret into his ear, and his voice breaks on it.

***

Sometimes, in the slumped exhaustion afterwards, Cas curls himself around Dean and traps him, and he whispers out a slurred, teary, stoned diatribe, hate you, fucking hate you so much, you did this to me, you have no fucking idea how much I hate you, and don’t ever go, because I can’t without you, I can’t.

And Dean holds on just as tightly, and traces circles on Cas’s skin, and croons nonsense in his ear, all that crap about how he’ll never leave Cas, because Cas is his true north.

***