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North Hell

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The body is only a vessel, an earthly chalice into which the ocean of his being pours; but it is also, in the end, a body, and like all bodies, it has its mandates. Eat. Sleep. Dream. Touch. Though every atom of his borrowed flesh has died and risen, died and risen and died again, reassembled from powder to shards to pottery like an archaeologist's miracle, still the heart that beats only as a formality refuses to do otherwise, a blood and lightning sentinel. The body is flightless, his wings visible only between blinks, an arcing shadowflash of furled storms tethered to scapulae, tendons, spine. Except when Famine touched him, he has no use for food; yet still, the stomach rumbles, the lips imbibe, the throat swallows. A ritual; the body is pious, or superstitious, or maybe just stupid. He can't decide which. Perhaps it's all three. But either way, it is also his piety, his superstition, his stupidity. He is not of the body, but the body is of him, and with him, and he is with it, a skin into which he has stitched himself so often that his true form - or is it now, rather, his other form? - is scarred with needlemarks, the broadest of which is Memory, and the deepest of which is Love.

Storge. PhiliaAgape. All this he has known before now: love of family, love in virtue, love of God.

Eros, though - eros belongs to bodies, and to such bright creatures as inhabit them.

Even angels.

 

*

 

'I pray to Castiel, who needs to get his ass down here, now. C'mon, Cas.' Dean shuts his eyes, fists clenched because grown men don't hug themselves, not even and especially when they're knee-deep in bodies. 'I know you're busy with the big civil war upstairs, but this is -' A wet scream ceases jaggedly, like ripped meat. ' - bad. Please, or I swear -'

'You always swear,' says Cas. He shows up like a mirror-trick and squints as if it were really the world that moved. 'It isn't much of a threat.' And then, after a moment: 'Dean. These are children.'

'They were, yeah.'

'Where's Sam?'

Another scream. 'Around,' says Dean. He can't quite look at Cas, but when the angel comes closer, he knows.

'What happened here?'

'Hamelin happened. A real Pied Piper. Only it turns out that, when the town doesn't pay up, the kids don't so much get stolen as turned into ravening monsters. Might've fixed it, if we'd been quick enough, but once the flute broke -'

'- there was no turning them back.'

'No,' says Dean. 'There wasn't.'

'Is this all of them?'

'Sam's finishing the rest. He doesn't - without his soul, I mean, he's not... struggling.'

Cas blinks like a cat. 'No, I mean, is this all of them, here. In this building. Did any escape?'

Dean laughs, almost. His hand spasms open, dropping the knife he'd forgotten he held. A line of fire snakes his ribs, a sudden heat. He'd forgotten about that, too. 'No. None escaped.'

'Dean,' says Cas, suddenly, pulling his trick again, there to here before Dean can topple into the corpses, an angel's arm under his own to hold him up. 'You're injured.'

'Just a bit.' He smiles, and his teeth are bloody. Cas leads him out of the charnel-patch and props him against a pylon, holding him there with a hard palm pressed to his collarbone. Dean sways and stares at Cas, at the eyes which in that moment glow like heavenly fire. Of everything you've ever wanted, he tells himself, this is the most absurd. But when his head droops, Cas lifts it again, two fingertips beneath his chin, a touch that lingers for three full heartbeats even after the healing takes, his face so close, they could almost -

'All done,' says Sam, not looking up as he enters, but at the flat machete blade he's wiping clean on his forearm.

Cas steps back, and Dean says, 'That's good, Sammy,' in a voice only slightly less dead than the room's other occupants.

'Yeah,' says Sam, and 'Oh, hey, Cas! Everything all right?'

'I believe so,' says Cas. He flicks his gaze to Dean. 'I would stay, but Heaven -'

'Screw Heaven. If Heaven won't stop a thing like this, it ain't Heaven. Just North Hell.'

Cas huffs, redoubles his squint like his human eyes are glasses made with the wrong prescription. 'As I've repeatedly explained, there is a bigger picture here. If Raphael wins -'

'Save it, Cas,' says Dean. 'Just - save it.'

The glasses seem to fall away; he is pinned with blue, pierced by it. 'I already did,' says Castiel, and vanishes.

His absence hits like a hangover.

'What's up with him?' says Sam. But he doesn't wait for an answer. 'You want a beer?'

'Yeah,' says Dean. 'Sure. Whatever.'

 

*

 

Sam Winchester, who has no soul, has no trouble finding better, more feminine company than Dean. Almost, Dean stops him from going off with the waitress on principle, but the alternative is sitting penned in a motel room with this almost-brother who doesn't remember to flinch from killing children. Instead, he goes back alone, and has another drink, and wonders if maybe, after five years of intermittently mulling the choice between slit wrists and a shotgun blast, he'll finally make a decision.

He doesn't, though. The fantasy is one of oblivion, of controlling exactly when and how he stops, and he already knows he can't do either of those things. Duty means you can't die for yourself until you're done living for others, and the only way you'll ever be done is if you die serving when no-one's left to bring you back.

Dean drains his glass, and goes to have a shower.

 

*

 

Cas.

It's not quite a prayer, nor a true invocation. By rights, it shouldn't reach him. But it does, the syllable burning through Castiel like the wards he once carved in the caller's ribs. There's no urgency to it, no tone of demand: just grief, and need, and - though he should not sense this, either - longing. And nor should he answer. Not just because of Raphael, and not just because he can't trust himself, but because he has lied - is lying - to Dean, and knows his every word is a betrayal.

But even when he is split in two, his essence here and his vessel there, the body - his body - still speaks its piece. He kissed a demon like that, and her lips burned like coals, but in the space when his eyes were closed, it wasn't her face he pictured.

Castiel looks on his battlefield, at the ruin of sightless wings and sundered grace that is Raphael's wrath, and thinks, North Hell.

And then he's there.

 

*

 

And then he's there, on the dry side of the steamfogged shower curtain, and Dean thinks maybe he's dreaming, because sure, yeah, he thought of Cas when his hand went wandering, prepping himself for the sex he can't possibly have, but that's not new, and it's not like he's ever shown up before. But the water is too loud, too real, the rattling spray like frozen peas poured in an oildrum in the tight, tiled space, and all he can do is stare at Cas like a lampstruck deer.

And then he moves, and then they move, and at the edge of the water's reach, Dean twists his hand around Castiel's tie, and Castiel grips the wet skin of his hips, and their foreheads touch as they breathe each other, bodies shuddering on a brink from which they have almost - but not yet - fallen.

'Why now?' says Dean.

'Because,' says Cas, his thumbs sliding slowly up and down, up and down, 'I can no longer bear to see you so broken, when I might do... otherwise.' And he kisses him.

Dean tightens his grip on the tie and kisses back. The water hits him, slicking along the planes of his back and chest in rivulets that melt into Castiel's clothes, the dampened fabric both soft and rough where it rubs his skin, the way Cas's stubbled kiss is soft and rough. He pushes a hand beneath the trenchcoat, tugging an edge of shirt untucked until his palm hits hip, curving possessively over the bone, then questing up, until Castiel gasps, their lips breaking apart.

'Wait,' he says, and under his touch, Dean feels the angel shaking. 'Dean, I am not - adept, at this. At any of this.'

A half-laugh. 'Neither am I.'

'No, I mean... bodies. What and why they want, the ways they want it, what to do.' He looks at him, pleading. 'I don't know what to do.'

'Well,' says Dean, and gulps. The moment stretches out like elastic, with only the falling water to say time moves. 'What do you want to do?

Very seriously, Cas says, 'Sex.' A pause. 'Was that too blunt?'

This time, Dean really does laugh. 'No, that's fine. Just blunt enough.' The hand still twined in Castiel's tie unwinds itself, long fingers loosening the knot. The other hand slips down again, the palm heel pushing gently until Cas steps back and Dean steps with him. 'I can work with that.'

 

*

 

Does he lust because of the body, or does the body lust because of him? Or do they both lust, the confluence of vessel and host a sympathetic coincidence?

It doesn't matter; or rather, he doesn't care. He kisses Dean, his arms held out as strong hands push the coat from his shoulders. He sheds it like the weight of wings, the material pooling half on the bed and half off it; his shirt is untucked, his belt, socks and shoes already discarded, but when Dean moves to loop the loose tie over his head, he shocks them both by growling, 'Don't.'

Dean answers by kissing him harder, hands than can dis- and reassemble any number of weapons blindfolded finding scant challenge in the buttons of a businessman's shirt; and then that, too, is gone. Cas slides a hand up a still-wet flank and across the collarbone, digging his fingers into Dean's hair as he breaks the kiss, mouth skimming down to bite at the junction of jaw and throat. Dean moans, his head tipped back like a Renaissance statue's, but doesn't still his hands; a final button, a zip, and Castiel, too, is naked. Except for the tie, of course, but that doesn't count.

He has never been naked before.

He pulls away - his teeth have left a mark - and drops his hands back to Dean's hips, pulling him close, their foreheads touching again.

'It's, uh, it's been a while,' says Dean, his breathing rapid. 'Since I've done it like this.'

'With an angel?' asks Cas, remembering Anna.

'Well, yeah, that too,' says Dean, his fingers tracing patterns down Castiel's back. 'I meant, with a guy.'

Castiel reaches down, and finally runs his hand along Dean's length, warm and hard and, like the rest of him, still wet. Dean shudders appreciatively. 'Are you telling me this to reassure me, or to reassure yourself?'

'Both. Maybe. I don't know, Cas. Oh, god. Who's flying this thing?'

Cas kisses his throat. 'I thought you were.'

'So did I.' He groans again, so deep his chest seems to vibrate. 'Please.'

'I have never denied you, Dean.' Castiel wraps his arms around him, pivots with an angel's strength, and lifts. This time, there is no trick, no subtle here to there: just bodily motion as he lays Dean down on the coat and counterpane and kneels between his legs. 'I don't intend to start now.'

And just like that, Cas grips the underside of Dean's thighs and pushes into him, a single stroke that seems to change the nature of reality. Dean arches his back, his fingers seeking futile purchase in the coat as Cas begins to fuck him; slowly at first, but with a steady intensity that blacks out damn near everything else. An ecstatic torment, blue eyes boring into him, an expression of sweet seriousness slicked with salt, but it's not enough, not from Cas. He pushes himself up, grabs the tie and yanks it forward, forcing Castiel to follow. Cas's eyes go wide, gasping at the sudden shift, at the muscular contraction this entails, then gasps again as Dean kisses him while collapsing back, his free hand spanning Cas's ribs.

Passion surges through him. Abandoning his grip on Dean's legs - which tense, then tremble, then lock in place around his ribs - Cas trails a hand down his lover's face, temple to cheek to jaw to throat before gripping his shoulder, seeking leverage. In seconds, he finds, it, and slips the other hand down Dean's stomach, curling around the root of him. Dean breaks the kiss in favour of sucking on Castiel's ear, and somehow that single act, the alchemy of breath that shivers through him from crown to sole,  is enough to send him over the edge. He moans, and comes, and Dean comes, too, the two of them falling into each other, against each other, legs laid down but lips still questing, every inch of skin alive and slick with sweat, fire, love.

Collapsed, Cas gathers Dean against him, one hand resting lightly on the back of his tousled head. From somewhere, he hears water falling.

'You left the shower on,' he says.

Dean chuckles. 'Sue me.'

'I feel... satisfied.'

'Me, too.'

'And sticky.'

Another laugh. 'That'll happen.'

'Will the water still be warm?'

A pause. 'Don't see why not.' Dean lifts his head, a sly smile quirking his lips. 'Why, you wanna find out?'

'Unless you have other plans.' Cas tenses. 'Which, it seems, you do. Sam is coming.'

'Son of a bitch.'

'I should go.'

'Cas, no, just - damn it! ' Dean sits up, a look of desperation on his face. 'We need to talk about this. You can't just keep vanishing on me, Cas, not after - '

Cas kisses him, softly. Dean shuts his eyes, willing him to stay.

A rush of atoms. A sudden void.

Dean opens his eyes, and Castiel - and every trace of Castiel, from coat to shoes to shirt - is gone.

The door clicks open.

'Dean? I'm - ahh!' Sam claps a hand over his eyes. 'Dude, seriously! Put some pants on, will you?'

'You're the one who didn't knock.' But he stands, somehow, and grabs his as-yet unused towel from the bedside table. 'I'm having a shower, OK?'

'Jeeze. Fine. Whatever.' He sprawls in the nearest chair and grabs the TV remote. 'Some night I'm having.'

'Oh? What happened to the waitress?'

'Her roommate came home early, told some sob story about getting stood up. Pretty much killed the mood.'

'Tough luck,' says Dean. And then, muttering, 'Can't imagine what that's like.'

Sam doesn't answer. Dean turns away, heads back to the still-running shower.

The water is already cold.