And the Tongue is a Fire

- Chapter I -


That a gang of youths had once again taken it upon themselves to make Epsom Alley the center of a 'turf war' was unsurprising, and the angel Castiel, upon witnessing its attendant carnage, was reminded rather forcibly of similar territorial conflicts waged, time and again, between Heaven and Hell.

Except that in this war, one could hardly call either side heavenly. Indeed, upon closer attention, it became clear that this was a thrashing, of many against one. Not a war at all.

Castiel considered calling the police, without interfering personally, but then he noticed a familiar head of hair being dashed against a moss-slick wall.

Instinctively, he felt his wings flare up behind him - a reaction that he knew, rather shamefully, to be on par with a beast's baring of teeth - but surely a certain righteous rage could be pardoned under this provocation. That was his charge, being treated so roughly. And while none here could see his wings, they could sense the ominous ripples stirred by their rising, and for a single moment, the frantic beating paused.

The youths turned to face him.

"Gentlemen," he remarked mildly, in line with the behavior expected of his adopted identity. "Kindly desist from this barbarity." In case they did not perceive the urgency of his request, he added: "Now."

The gang stared at him. After a moment of silence, a general derisive laughter rustled through their ranks, like a rough wind among young trees. One of them whistled, and said something peculiar about a 'butt-munching priest' (really? How unsanitary), while another stepped closer to Castiel, brandishing what looked very much like a pocket-knife (doubly unsanitary, given its victims' increased risk of infection).

Another laugh sounded in the alley - a voice as familiar to Castiel as the song of Heaven - and Castiel noted that his charge, bloody-lipped and grinning, was slumped against the ground.

Dean Winchester. Sixteen years old, impossibly high-spirited given the occasion, and nursing what Castiel perceived to be at the very least a bruised rib, given the slight slant of his body to the left. This, in addition to the split skin at his forehead, where he had been slammed into the wall.

Dean had been injured.

This would not stand.

Castiel's power gathered around him, almost without thought, and he had to remind himself rather sternly not to inadvertently vivisect what was really only a ragtag bunch of children, aged similarly to Dean.

"Heh," Dean chuckled from his supine position. His eyes were glazed; he was very probably concussed. "Watch out, guys. The good priest's gonna go medieval on your asses."

"Oh, yeah?" The knife-brandisher swaggered up to Castiel. "What're you gonna do, Father? Call the cops?"

Castiel refrained from mentioning that there was a far more punctual and effective law-keeping force that he could summon, but calling the Heavenly Host to intimidate wayward teenagers would certainly be, as Uriel would term it, 'overkill'.

And while Castiel was currently inclined to kill, he was equally capable of staying his hand. That was the difference between virtue and vice, after all - the timely and appropriate application of instinct.

"You will leave," Castiel repeated, "and not repeat this misbehavior."

"You gonna make us?"

"If I must." Even if only this human form was visible, Castiel could still take up a stance that, while not overtly confrontational, placed a certain emphasis on the breadth of his shoulders beneath his cassock. It was known to have effectively discouraged minor demons during the last Great War.

"Holy shit," the knife-wielder guffawed, incredulous. "Are you serious?"

There was nothing singularly holy about excrement, at least not to the exclusion of all else, but -

"Yes," answered Castiel, simply.

Unfortunately, the boys did not take this opportunity to desist. Rather, they persisted, and within the space of the next few minutes, Castiel was troubled to restrain himself to mere human strength in the timely and, he hoped, not unnecessarily violent dissuasion of their attentions.

By the fifth minute, two youths were unconscious, another three piled upon each other like poorly padded mattresses (if mattresses could groan), and the last, the knife-carrier, was nowhere to be seen.

Castiel turned to Dean.

Who, happily concussed, beheld this spectacle with a certain proprietary glee.

"Man, you gotta teach me that priest-fu," he said. "You know, wax on, wax off. I'll be your Little Grasshopper and everything."

Castiel frowned. His charge was apparently more badly concussed than he had estimated. The last time Castiel had heard such surreal poetry regarding insects, it had been from the great Zhūangzi, but he had talked of butterflies, not grasshoppers. Castiel could extract no similar metaphorical or idiomatic meaning from Dean's utterances.

"How many fingers do you see?" he asked, crouching before the boy and holding up three digits.

Dean blinked. Slowly. "Fo... Three...?"

Well.

"I shall take you to the hospital," Castiel said, and gathered Dean into his arms, as gently as he could afford.

"I can walk," Dean squawked indignantly. "Ain't no princess."

"But you are my charge," Castiel replied, firmly. Sensing that Dean would protest, he sent out the slightest tendril of his power to coax the boy into sleep.

A moment's struggle more, and the boy slid helplessly into unconsciousness. Castiel curled a hand under the bony knees, settled a wiry arm around his shoulders, and lifted.

"Mmm," said Dean, and left a smudge of bloody saliva on Castiel's collar.


Two weeks after the gang-beating, Dean figured it was time to go and see Father Castiel. He knew that Castiel was keeping an eye on him anyway, because - heck, it was Castiel, crazy-ass stalker-vigilante-priest. Dean's very own private Batman. Dean had even stopped being creeped out by it years ago.

Still, being watched from the shadows - or wherever the hell Castiel watched him from - wasn't giving Dean any jollies. (Most of the time. He didn't really want to admit to jerking off with the curtains open at night, but it wasn't like he seriously believed Castiel would watch him do that; Castiel had the whole priestly moral code thing going on, and he'd probably look away. Then again, Castiel was the most asexual guy on the planet, so maybe he would watch that and remain completely indifferent to it - which was weirdly hot in its own way, although Dean couldn't figure out why.)

... Anyway. Going to see Castiel. He just needed his preachy priest fix, all right? Nothing wrong with that. It was good Christian behavior. Even if he'd brushed the rough skin of his knuckles against his dick last night, the cuts mostly-healed after the beating, and had imagined Castiel's stubble there instead. Hey, Dean was a teenager. Stuff happened.

And if Sam had snickered when Dean had mumbled something about going to church today, he was just going to ignore his stupid little brother's waggling eyebrows and any sentences that might have featured the word 'crush'.

Dean did not have a crush. Girls had crushes. And Dean was not a girl. He might be kind of maybe vaguely gay, at least when it came to his friendly neighborhood clergyman, but he wasn't a girl. Hell, he liked girls.

"I like girls," Dean blurted, the moment Castiel opened the door.

Castiel just looked at him.

Way to go, jackass, Dean cursed himself. Now he probably thinks you're just another kid with sex on the brain. Even though you are just another kid with sex on the brain. Except that in your brain, sex = Castiel.

"Come in, Dean," Castiel said, probably having figured out from the way Dean was nervously bouncing up and down on his heels that he had something to say.

"Um. Yeah," Dean replied, and felt the usual surge of - pride? Warmth? Possessiveness? - that he felt whenever Castiel let Dean into his home. He hardly ever let anyone in the rectory, except other visiting priests, so. This was pretty special. (Dean was pretty special.)

"May I offer you some tea?" asked Castiel, the very picture of politeness. "Or would you prefer a Zesti?"

"Uh. Zesti, thanks." The only reason Castiel kept Zesti around was because of Dean. That was pretty special, too.

Dean headed straight for his favorite chair - the one with the ratty tartan upholstery - and plopped down on it without ceremony. Castiel's digs were kind of spare, and somehow never really felt lived-in, but Dean liked them anyhow. The panes of the ceiling fan were as dusty as moth's wings, and the little blue 1950s refrigerator hummed and vibrated like a fat kid on speed, but this place felt his, somehow, in a way that Sam's and Dean's foster home never did.

"Here," said Castiel, handing Dean a can he'd retrieved from the six-pack in the fridge - which didn't seem to have anything else in it, actually. Come to think of it, Dean couldn't ever remember seeing food in there. Didn't Castiel eat anything? "Is this about Jenny?"

"Huh?" Dean popped his can open and fought off the urge to drag his apparently underfed priest to a burger joint, or something. There was something vaguely satisfying about the thought of stuffing Castiel with junk food. An image flashed through his mind: Castiel's mouth, mayonnaise smudged across its lower lip.

"The young lady with whom you recently established intimate relations," said Castiel, and how the hell did he know that? Oh, yeah, he was Castiel.

"Why'd you think I'm here about that?"

"I was given to believe that it would be the topic of today's conversation," said Castiel, taking the chair across from Dean's, and Dean nearly kicked himself for that I-like-girls comment. No wonder Castiel thought -

"Nah," he said. "It was nothing serious. Me and Jenny were just, you know." How much did Castiel know? "I mean, you know everything."

Castiel's eyebrows did that interesting twitchy thing they did when Dean made broad generalizations. Dean wondered if Castiel knew that his compulsive hair-splitting was kind of like Spock's, and made a mental note to show him some episodes of Star Trek, next time. Dean himself was obviously Kirk material. What with the impulse control issues and the constant hitting on women, not to mention the massive man-crushes on Vulcans. (Er. Priests.)

"I do not," said Castiel, right on cue, "know everything. That would be hubris, and a sin against God, to claim to know all things. Only the Lord is omniscient."

Right. "But you know everything about me, don't you?"

Castiel's eyes flared - which was so scary and also sexy that Dean almost dropped his can of Zesti. "I would if I could," said Castiel, his voice settling into its lower registers like a dark-furred beast onto its haunches, and fuck. Guess whose curtains were gonna be left open tonight?

"Oh," said Dean, weakly, and reminded himself again that if it were anyone else talking to him that way, it would probably mean that they were coming on to him, but this was Castiel, and he frankly had no freaking clue. Just like he had no concept of personal space or, hell, not watching other people have sex.

But that was the Castiel Dean had come to know and, heh, love. And not be totally freaked out by. Not for the last time, Dean wondered if he should ask Castiel how he always seemed to know so much about Dean - but that felt wrong, somehow, for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on. Just that whenever he actually started asking, he mysteriously ended up talking about something else, and by now, he'd gotten so used to not asking that actually asking would feel kind of impolite, or something. And that was weird, wondering whether it was okay to ask the guy who spied on you exactly how he spied on you, but that wasn't even the weirdest thing in Dean's life. Sammy's visions were weirder, for one thing. Didn't stop Dean from loving or trusting Sam; Castiel was no different.

Even if Castiel was obviously a heck of a lot more than a 'priest'.

Castiel probably had intelligence networks and security feeds and hidden cameras and sparkle-motion, or whatever the hell Batman had to keep track of everything. And Dean had never thought of himself as someone's personal Gotham, but whatever. Castiel was watching out for him. And that was all right.

The only thing that bothered Dean was that he didn't know why...

"You are being unusually introspective," Castiel observed, and Dean snorted.

"Yeah." He ran a hand over his face. "You could say that. I just came to tell you... I mean, you probably know this already, but I wanted to tell you anyway. I wasn't - that fight, with those jerkoffs the other day - I wasn't, you know, asking for trouble. I don't do that anymore." You told me not to.

"I am well aware of that," said Castiel, and the utter faith in his voice was, wow. It kind of made Dean jealous of that God of Castiel's, if Castiel believed in him half as much.

"Uh. Yeah." Dean cleared his throat. "It was a girl. They were - you know these guys, they're total pigs - they were bothering her, you know? And I saw them, and I tried to stop them, and. She kind of ran away. I mean, I told her to. Would've been nice if she'd called the cops or something, but..."

"But you were left to face them alone," Castiel said, quietly, "and you did." A small smile, so rare on Castiel's face that Dean's breath caught in his throat. "You are brave, Dean Winchester."

"Sh-shut up," he growled, because. Because this wasn't fair. "I'm nothing compared to my Dad."

"Dean." Volumes, somehow, in that single word. Castiel left his chair to kneel in front of Dean's, and reached out to take Dean's hands in his own.

Dean tried not to look away.

"Your father was a hero and a very great man," Castiel said, so close that Dean could see the somber blue of his eyes. "But you shall be even greater."

Yeah, right. "How the fuck do you know?"

"I know," said Castiel, that damn faith in his voice again, "because I know you. I have watched you, Dean, longer than you can imagine, and I know that you were born to save people. It is not only in your blood; it is in your soul."

"So you can see into my soul, Cas?" Dean had meant it to be sarcastic, but somehow, it came out all wavery and low.

"I can." Castiel turned Dean's hands palm-up, and kissed first one, then the other. His lips were warm and dry. "This," he said, finally cupping Dean's face and kissing him softly, ever so softly, on the forehead, "is what you were made for."

And. Jesus. Castiel didn't - he didn't know, not this, but -

"That's not how it's done," Dean said, reckless and with his heart a wild, jolting thing.

Castiel only tilted his head in a question, his thumbs still smoothing over Dean's cheekbones - and he looked so innocent that Dean almost didn't do it, but Castiel was right there, and Dean had had enough of priestly kisses.

"If you want to make me feel better," Dean said, bringing his own hands up to hold Castiel's face (shiver-rough brush of stubble, oh God), "you do it like this."

And then he was kissing Castiel, mouth upon mouth, in a touch as light as a breath, lighter than, and Castiel was probably to blame for not eating and making Dean think of junk food and driving Dean insane, but Dean shuddered and slid his tongue along Castiel's lower lip, slowly, tasting chapped skin and a hint of something like burnt air, or ozone. A spike of incredulous, panicky heat speared him, before he came to his senses and drew back.

His hands were shaking.

So was his blood, somehow, as if his entire body had been picked up by some great hand and shaken, and -

And Castiel was staring at him.

At his mouth.

"That was not," Castiel said, "a kiss of benediction." He looked up at Dean's eyes again, and somehow he was no less innocent than before - only wondering, curious as a child is, or a madman. "Was it?"

"No." Dean gulped. Oh, shit. This was Castiel. He was a priest. And priests didn't really approve of the whole 'My Big Fat Gay Wedding' thing. If - if Castiel hated him - "Um. I probably shouldn't have done that, huh?" Again, he tried to sound lighthearted, but his words thudded onto the floor like lead.

"Indeed." And Castiel's voice was so gentle, so fucking kind, that Dean was sure Castiel didn't even realize what it did to him. "The body is as driftwood upon the ocean of the Lord." His thumb drifted down to Dean's mouth. "The tides that carry it forth are beyond one's reckoning."

Which, okay, what?

But then Castiel's thumb moved, along the curve of Dean's lip, mirroring the way Dean had kissed him, and Dean's pulse stuttered. "One would do better to remember," said Castiel, almost meditatively, "that the currents are fashioned not of oneself, but of the sea."

Dean swallowed. Castiel sounded kind of stoned, like that homeless guy who slept in the park, but Dean couldn't tell if it was a good stoned or a bad stoned. "In plain English, Cas?"

Another smile, even smaller than the previous one, but no less miraculous for the fact that it was Castiel, smiling. Castiel, not hating him - but for some reason, that almost made it worse. "It means," said Castiel, "exactly what you yourself had said." He took his thumb away, and his hands, and stood up. "You should not have done that."

"Haha." Dean's stomach was turning in on itself. "Yeah. Pretty obvious, ain't it?"

Something in what he said, or how he said it, must've sounded strange, because Castiel's gaze suddenly snapped to him, sharp and aware, the way it did whenever Dean got into a fight and got himself hurt, and Castiel was searching for the wound.

He had to get out of here. Wouldn't do to let Cas see this wound, huh?

"Yeah. So. Thanks for the Zesti." He put his can down, carefully, and stood up on legs that felt like jello.

"Dean."

"Bye! Um, I'll tell Sam to visit. Soon. He's kind of an asshole about it, but he'll drop by, one of these days. I swear."

"Dean - "

And with that, Dean left - fled, more like - and all he caught was one last glimpse of Castiel, standing there in his black cassock and looking totally poleaxed, before Dean slammed the door behind himself and got the fuck out.

Needless to say, he didn't leave the curtains open that night.


to be continued.


Notes:

The title is inspired by this delightfully pornographic verse from the Bible:

"Even so, the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by hell." - James (ch. III, v. 5-6).

I know it's not meant to be dirty, but somehow, it totally is. AH, BIBLE-PORN. How you make me wish I went to Sunday School.

Oh, and that Zhūangzi guy Castiel remembered? He was the great Chinese philosopher-poet responsible for these famous words: "I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man." Zhūangzi lived almost 2400 years ago, in the 4th century BC. Yes, Castiel really is that old. (Poor lad. Which is exactly why he should find a nice human Hunter to settle down with. The market's shrinking, m'boy! Better get yourself a man before it's too late! /Yenta)

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