Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
“Venus. That’s a month’s work you owe me now.”
“All right hotshot, you’ve won the game, you don’t have to look so smug about it.”
Winchester smiled. The rec room was cold and dank; it smelled like black mold, and the lights always flickered. Bela leaned forward and gathered her astragaloi, rolling the knucklebones in her palm. She was caught in thought, for a moment, feeling the smooth edges pebbling beneath her fingers as Winchester unfolded himself from his sitting position on the grimy tiles and headed for the door.
“Hey—” she said. Winchester turned to look back.
“You got lucky there.” It could have been a throwaway line. A promise of her own future victory. Even a threat. But somehow, when she spoke, it was with an uncharacteristic seriousness. Suddenly feeling obliged to point it out, as though perhaps Dean wasn’t aware of what he’d gained.
“This is Hell, Bela. No one gets lucky.”
In a lavish sitting room, the windowless walls covered in damask drapery perfumed with roses, polished silver chalices on every surface, and the mounted heads of her enemies staring down in empty-eyed beauty, sat the Queen of the Crossroads and the High Inquisitor. They sat across from each other on either side of a polished ebony coffee table inlaid with rubies and ivory.
“I can’t wait until we’ve won,” Lilith said. “Can’t you just picture it, Ali?”
Alastair looked at her, nonplussed. “M-hm. Let me guess. Something a little cold. More souls to torture…” he sighed with the barest hint of a smile.
“Ugh, you’re sooo unimaginative,” Lilith pouted, crossing her arms. “Earth, doofus. Just miles and miles of the place… so many newborns… all ours.”
“His,” Alastair said. “Technically.”
“Well of course it’s His,” Lilith said, tossing her hair. “But I’m talking about the reward.”
“You mean the one you won’t be around for?”
Lilith furrowed her brow. “Sometimes sacrifices have to be made, Ali, in order to bring about a more perfect kingdom.”
“Fuck, I know that. I just meant—you seemed so into picturing it. Anyway, I’ll be sure to toast to you when I down a pint.”
“You’re a bastard,” Lilith sighed. “I don’t know why I expect any sympathy. There’s a reason why some are the big picture people and others just…” she smiled at him, thinly. “Grovel and scrape. Minion!”
Her lapdog-of-the-day cowered forward, eyes downcast. “Yes, mistress?”
“Grab me another baby, would you? I’m parched.”
“Yes, mistress.” He scuttled aside, leaving the room, the floor-to-ceiling doors swinging shut with a click behind him. As he did so, Lilith leaned forward, a spark of glee in her eyes.
“So,” she said. “Give me the scoop. Dean Winchester. Still making daddy proud?”
“As always,” Alastair said drily.
“Aww,” Lilith said. “It’s a right love story between you too,” she said cheerily, clapping her hands together. “It’s sickening.”
“He’s a good protege,” Alastair admitted, after a moment. He paused. “The best.”
“Well don’t get too attached,” Lilith warned. “I mean, in what, a month or two? He’s set to be airlifted out of here by the flying fuckfaces and then—bye-bye Winchester, hello Lucifer-Michael prizefight.” She leaned back, a glazed look in her eyes. “Damn, that’ll be hot. Seeing one of those uptight creeps walking around in that meatsuit, don’t you think?”
“Oh, get out of here,” Lilith waved a hand lethargically as her minion hurried back in, holding a fresh baby in his hands. “I know you’re just aching to get back to your cutting and stabbing.”
“My lady is too kind,” Alastair said with some sarcasm. Lilith just grinned at him before taking the baby in her hands.
“Ooh, aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” she cooed, to the squalling infant. “There, there.”
As Alastair left the room, the crying fell silent, suddenly, with a sharp crack.
Dean had a whole month of free time on his hands, now, that he didn’t know what to do with. On earth, forty years ago, he’d have spent the time finding a good lay, conning folks out of their money, and looking for something to hunt. It sounded pretty pathetic when he thought about it; but there it was, the truth: he was a fucking workaholic. In Hell, that meant spending time with a few of his special projects. Like he’d let Bela lay one rotting claw on these. His favorites: serial killer who’d never gotten caught, war criminal, housewife who’d blackmailed six different lovers. The funny thing about the last one was where she was getting her ability to hang on from. She’d never known pain like this in her life. Still, there she was facing him with defiance in her eyes again, even with hooks pushed through her skin, hanging like a stuck pig. “I’ll fucking kill you, you creep, you just wait till I get out of here.”
“Well, sweetheart, you know the drill.”
“If you think I’m ever gonna work for you, you have another thing coming—”
“Then I guess we’re back to square one.” Today, square one was a box with a twist lid. He set it by her feet, watching her look toward it in curiosity, apprehension.
Of course, the truth was, this was only appearances. It wasn’t the nonexistent body he was aiming for, but the soul. Still, when the swarm of fire-ants started to spill over the side, crawling closer and closer to her feet, he was pretty proud of the picture. If she tried very hard, pulling herself up by her core, she could free her feet from their brush against the floor, so that they couldn’t touch her; and she knew it, too. The strain of sweat broke out over her forehead and collarbone, traced the roundness of her breasts, the backs of her knees. Her wrists, holding most of her weight, were bruised purple and the metal around them cut deep into her arms as she tried to hold herself up. Droplets of blood collecting at the razor-sharp edges. Her jaw was clenched, her gaze still burning into his own. “Kill you,” she muttered, quietly. “I will… I promise…”
The manacles breached the meat of her flexor and with a scream, she fell lower, feet driving into the ground crawling with ants. She made a choked sob that Dean couldn’t help grinning at. How do you like that no-win scenario?
The slowly spinning disc of the platform beneath her that hovered between the endless crisscrossed rows of meathooks came to a rest, and Dean looked toward the edge, standing to attention as Alastair stepped out of a glowing, door-edged outline which faded away behind him again. Alastair looked over the scene cursorily. “Feeling a bit hands-off today?”
“I can take some slices, if you want,” Dean said. His back prickled as Alastair’s gaze raked across him. The High Inquisitor generally left Dean to his own devices on the racks, these days; said he didn’t need hand-holding anymore. This unexpected visit made him wonder—had he heard about the free month Dean had gained from Bela? Did he want to punish Dean for it?
Trading work days wasn’t exactly unheard of in Hell. Since, apart from food and sex, there wasn’t exactly any other reward on offer. Dean had spent a lot of time trying very hard to impress upon Alastair that he wasn’t a slacker. A low, clammy feeling in his gut told him he might’ve screwed that up. Deep breaths, Dean, he reminded himself. So you take two steps backward. It’s not like you’re in a hurry to get anywhere. You can still salvage this.
“No, no,” Alastair said. “I’ll leave the details to you.” His pale eyes glittered, staring at Dean, but he said and did nothing more. So, with a shrug, Dean turned back to work. Tune it all out, Winchester. Just do your job. One thing at a time.
Dean, Alastair thought with an ironic twist to his lips, was very fond of the give-them-hope-and-snatch-it-away approach. He’d gotten his first big break through the slow psychological undoing of a soul, giving it a hellhound as a pet, letting it gather meager scraps of comfort from the puppy before he killed the bitch in front of it. As a wet-off-the-rack newbie, his unique approach had earned him whispers of respect that catapulted him to notoriety in record time. And he kept at it. Always trying something new and inventive, when others would stick to the tried-and-true, too scared of not getting results to really play around. This wasn’t his finest work, but it still had the flair Alastair had come to associate with the infamous Dean Winchester. Righteous Man, my foot, he thought. I made a perfect beast here. The poor damned thing was in his element under Alastair’s thumb, just as he should be. Fuck Lilith. Fuck her and her smarmy ways. ‘Others just grovel and scrape.’ He’d been doing this for more than aeons; just because that stuck-up bitch was the first demon she thought she was so special. He thought about what she’d said: The Archangel Michael parading around in the guttered remnants of this gorgeous boy. What a fucking waste.
It would serve her right if Dean just—
Alastair bit his lip. The tang of blood grounded him, chased away the remnants of his Lilith-induced rage. Like he’d always told his proteges. Don’t strike in anger, you’ll miss the mark. This was about more than Dean.
It always had been.
On the gates of Hell, a tagger had scrawled something dour. No one had ever been able to clean it.
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN,
THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST.
JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER;
MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS
WERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE.
The entry of a phalanx of angels into Hell was met with screams and cries, of course. A straggle of Hell’s foot-soldiers were wiped away by a subatomic blast with barely a thought. The noise of the angels’ footsteps shook the ground for miles, and the beat of their wings drew the air taut like a thread. From his private penthouse in the city of Dis, the High Inquisitor could see the consistent glimmer of their passing on the horizon, lighting up the accustomed endless night like a blood-red dawn. They were coming closer, inexorably.
“It’s pretty cool,” Dean said offhandedly, leaning against the sill next to him, his gaze opened on the view.
“Pretty cool? Son, they could swat you like a bug without even realizing it.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “I know that. I’m not saying I’m gonna charge up to them, waving my arms. What do they even want? Hell’s a piece of shit.” His off-handed tone was belied by the way his gaze kept being dragged to the window. The green, bright aspect of his soul, not entirely corrupted yet, rose in his eyes, reflected the glow of the distant light. Even from this remove, Alastair noticed the trace of awe that couldn’t be buried, in response to that. Dean wasn’t afraid. The idiot.
They were going to grab him, raise him, use him like a cheap whore and kill him. Maybe his soul would go to Heaven, too, cleansed of every impurity like he was nothing but a sword to temper by fire. You’ve gotten too attached, Alastair thought. None of this is personal. It shouldn’t feel like it’s personal. He’d never needed or wanted anything about Earth. Didn’t know why everyone went so gaga over it. It’s a religious matter, he reminded himself.
Our Father who Art in Hell, Whom No One Has Ever Seen (except Lilith, and she won’t stop bragging about it.)
He grabbed Dean by the neck, pressed his face against the rough stone sill, hard enough it scraped blood. Dean went with the motion, letting himself be held. That far-away look wrenched from his eyes, his pupils expanding as his half-turned gaze met Alastair’s unyielding expression. His tongue wetting his lips just barely. That debauched cockslut. He might be promised to the angels but right now, right now he belonged to no one else. Alastair yanked the pants from around Dean’s hips, the boy helping with a shimmy, bracing his legs open. And Alastair spit on his hand, wet his cock and pushed in. Not soft. He could do soft, sometimes. Had taught Dean to respect that just as much as violence. But right now, no—he wanted hurt. The keen that his protege let out, melting into a strangled groan. The wet play of tears in his eyes. The open mouth, and the catch of lips on teeth; his hot, tight, shudder. Rock hard and bucking back against him. Nowhere else in the world, just here.
One arm pressed against the back of his neck so Dean couldn’t move, Alastair scraped the other down his back. Red furrows. Every so often, a hint of nails deep enough to cut the skin. The breathy exhale it gathered him. The murmurs of pleasepleaseyesjustlikethat. “You’re mine, little girl. You’re never gonna forget that are you.”
“No sir,” Dean whispered. His hands clenching and unclenching, the movement rippling up his ams, his shoulders. Alastair chuckled. No sir. He knew what that meant in Dean’s mouth.
He looked out at the still air. The view beyond the window, that mighty, Heavenly force. That’s it, come on, he thought, goading them. Come and take him from me, your Righteous Man shuddering like a bitch around my cock. Take him back and scrub him clean, dress him in white robes. Pretend he never wanted this, wanted me.
He spent himself with a shudder, and pulled out from his protege’s raw, twitching hole. Pulled up Dean’s pants and did the zip while Dean was still shuddering, bent over the sill. The trickle of his come, sliding down Dean’s thighs mixing with blood. Tonight, he didn’t want anything else but that.
It was the middle of the night and still the light of the angels against the horizon. The bed, which was usually bathed in darkness, was cut with the sharp edges of a searing brightness, the merest glimpse of which had yet crawled over them. The sky overhead was still deep and soundless, without stars. The stars—well, they were on the ground, advancing with blades. Fucking celestials. Alastair hated them more than ever. He looked over at Dean, lying beside him, sleepy with a grin. Pressed his hand to the Winchester’s soft hair, petting absently. Watched the tension drain out of him, the look in his eyes losing their usual edge. He liked the softness, too—when it was directed at him. Liked it when he remembered how well he’d taught the boy to carve.
Damn it. Even the fuck hadn’t driven it out of his head. This—stupid thought. Serve Lilith right if Dean Winchester just—vanished.
He’d have to give up his position. Go on the run, and for what? For a soul barely past its baby steps, not even a demon yet. Why would he bother? If he did nothing, he could keep on no matter who won or lost. Same as always.
But without Dean. Fuck it all. I’m not seriously considering it, Alastair thought. Then: I’m not seriously considering it, because I’ve already decided.
He sat up, the covers pooling about his waist, and Dean whined at the loss of contact as he pulled his hand away, giving him a glare. Dean half-sat, pulled at his hand, trying to get Alastair to touch him again. “What are you getting out of bed for? I thought you said you had all day.”
“I know I said that,” Alastair replied shortly.
The flash of hurt in Dean’s eyes was quickly hidden. He flopped back down, grimacing, and closed his eyes. “Whatever. See you then.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Dean. I’m not leaving you. Get up and get dressed.”
Dean cracked an eye open skeptically. “What?”
“Don’t make me ask twice.”
Dean rolled into a sitting position, reached around for his clothes and sighed, realizing he’d have to get out of bed to find them. But he was dressed soon enough and without any fuss. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” Alastair said. He was watching the glow on the horizon. The army was getting nearer.
They took a juddering elevator to the first floor and stepped out into Alastair’s walled garden. Crawling with green, even under the sunless sky. Brown hebeloma dotting the ground, their mushroom caps wet with dew. Along one wall, there was a door leading into the ground, steps going under the streets. Hell didn’t have sewers, per se, but it had caverns and catacombs aplenty, and when Alastair cut his hand and pressed it to the wall, murmuring the words of a spell, the door became visible, clicked open.
“Are you running?” Dean scoffed.
Alastair glanced back at him steadily. Dean fell silent, shocked. “You are.” He glanced over his shoulder again, in the direction the angels had been coming from. “You really think they’ll make it back here?”
“Oh, no doubt about it,” Alastair said bitterly. “Now go.”
Dean stepped down the first crumbling stone step, hand gliding against the side to steady himself in his descent. Alastair stayed behind for a bare moment, casting his eye over the life he’d built for himself. Well, the trappings of it. He’d never felt at home anywhere but the racks, and they weren’t visible from here. I’m a fool, he thought. I’m going to get myself killed.
The spark of it filled his skin with something electric.
Beyond the wall, the brightness in the sky was rising.