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Burn With the Amber Light

Summary:

The origin of the angel feather in the trunk of the Impala (8x12, As Time Goes By). On the night before the world ended, Castiel mended Dean's broken faith.

Notes:

In 8x12, As Time Goes By, Henry Winchester found an angel feather in the Impala. I, like many others, immediately wondered as to where this feather came about, and this is the result.

I skipped reading my Psych and the Law textbook for this, guys. Please read and review!

Warning: more angst than fluff.

There are two stars in my sky
And they burn with the amber light
When my hope in this world gone astray
Don't you go away


The first time Dean'd seen Castiel's wings was in an abandoned warehouse. The lights flickered and sparkled and burned, and massive shadows in the shapes of eagle wings stretched above the angel's head, a murky darkness sucking in the flashes of lightning.

"Who are you?" he'd asked, and the deep, gravelly voice answered, "I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition." And just like that, the wings were gone, and in front of him was just a short holy tax accountant angel in a long trenchcoat, and Dean couldn't help but to feel a twinge of loss as he stared at the empty space behind the angel's back.

The next time, they were in a dingy motel room. Sam had gone out in search of food--though Dean suspected that his little brother just wanted to get away and blow off some steam; they haven't exactly been best friends lately--and Dean was stuck with paper pushing duty. He was deep in the bowel of the internet, searching for a way, any way of destroying the Devil himself, so completely lost in the myriad websites that he did not hear the rustles of feathers behind him

"Hello, Dean," Castiel said in that chronic smoker voice--Dean'd grown fond of it, really, but speaking like that all the time simply couldn't be good for the vessel

"Jesus Christ, Cas!" he swore, nearly knocking Sam's laptop over as he whipped his head around to find the angel mere inches from him, so that his face was right smack in the middle of Castiel's chest. For a split second, in his peripheral vision, he could see the shimmering darkness hovering over the angel's shoulders, but it could have been a trick of the light because it was gone as he could fix his eyes on it. "I- never mind, just don't sneak up on me like that again, got it? Stop being a creeper, Cas," he muttered, turning back to his research, the task inexplicably more enjoyable now with an angel reading over his shoulders.

But he wasn't sure if he could truly count that last time in his very short list of Times I've Sighted Sissy Feathers On Cas. Because he'd truly only seen the feathers once, on that night before Castiel's death at the hand of Lucifer. They were alone again, Sam already long gone to meet with Lucifer, pumped on demon blood, and Dean could do nothing but pace the length of Bobby's yard, almost jogging in his agitation, and Castiel a quiet shade stooped to the side, leaning on a rusty brown Sedan and for once not wearing the weathered trenchcoat. It was too hot a night for such garments, and Castiel no longer had the juice necessary to keep himself impervious to human weaknesses.

He'd jogged over to Cas then, huffing and trying to regain his breath and wiping away the beads of sweat pooling at the hollow of his throat, grimacing a little at the way his worn black shirt clung to his back in sticky folds. "Doing alright, Cas?" he'd asked, tracing the tired lines under Castiel's eyes with his own, and instinctively he inched a little closer, close enough that he could feel the way the air was slightly cooler around Castiel's body, and exhaled with a small sigh of relief.

"I am well, Dean," the not-quite angel replied quietly, the eternally pensive expression on his face somehow more pronounced

They didn't speak any more after that, not for a long time, not until Dean's hand found Cas' in a blind, drunken haze, the calloused tips of his fingers grazing the coolness of Castiel's knuckles, and, facing no resistance, he hesitantly placed the whole of his palm over the back of Castiel's hand, their fingers finding each other in the darkness, slick with sweat and a bit of grime on Dean's part, but Castiel didn't seem to mind. And fuck, it was the Apocalypse, and it was really too late for Dean to care about such things as self-image anymore.

"We might die tomorrow," Dean started almost conversationally, his voice completely calm and not at all betraying the fear thrumming in his blood. It was irrational for him to expect a long, peaceful life, but he'd hoped.... Well, he had hopes.

Castiel's voice was without inflection. "We most likely will," he confirmed, and the slight, wistful smile that graced his face was such that Dean could not breathe lest he disturb the moment. "I don't mind, Dean. My only regret when I die would be not being able to see you through this safely; but other than that, I regret nothing." His blue eyes, almost black in the darkness, held Dean petrified. "You will live, if I must die a thousand times over to ensure that. But you will not perish, Dean Winchester, because I would lay waste to this world before I see you hurt-"

"Stop," Dean cried out hoarsely, his grip on the angel's hand tightening of its own accord. "Fuck, don't say things like that, man! I don't want to hear you promise that kind of future to me! I'm not worth the world, Cas, just look at it logically. I get that you're my guardian angel and everything, but just-...." He paused to gather his bearing, and continued in the same tone, "Listen, your objective isn't to keep me safe. It's to seal Lucifer in his cage again and t make sure my brother doesn't go with him, understand?"

There was doubt in Castiel's eyes, and rebellion, and Dean saw very clearly how much the angel wished to disobey, but finally he relented with a curt nod and a squeeze to their still joined hands. "I understand, Dean."

"Good," he rasped, and the world fell silent again around them. From far away came the shrill sirens of an ambulance or a fire truck, he couldn't tell at this distance, and the cloudless night showered them with a million stars, the kind you could only see in a tiny town off the map in South Dakota

And there was that familiar flap of wings again, a sound he had not heard in quite a long time, at least not around Cas. His eyes widened as he tilted his head in an unconscious imitation of Castiel's beloved gesture, and there they were again--darkness, warm and glossy and thick, curling behind Castiel and condensing into the shapes of wings, and for the first time settled into long, tapered feathers that held form and had shape and weight, and Dean could not stop himself from reaching out to a velvety black feather the exact softness of Castiel's hair.

"This- how?" he murmured, enraptured by the way the wings curled so naturally around Cas, and he berated himself for ever seeing Castiel without wings before because they were an extension of him, as natural as a leg or an arm and perhaps even more so

"These are the last remnants of my Grace," Castiel whispered, the lines of his mouth tightening imperceptibly as if in pain. "I cannot fly with them, but I am able to manifest their appearance on a mortal plane."

The edges of his flight feathers were tattered and scorched, the plumes misshapen and bent at odd angles. Dean traced the outline of a particularly damaged one, and the odd smile appeared on Castiel's face again. "Hell was very hot, Dean," he said by way of explanation, and Dean's heart clenched so tightly that it left him gasping for breath. "No, do not fret--I wear these scars with pride; they are badges of honor because I have succeeded in the most important task of my existence thus far."

Castiel reached into the richness of his wings and selected a choice feather, one mostly unburned and intact and shimmering with the distilled essence of a thousand extinguished stars, and he plucked it cleanly from the root, presenting the quill to Dean with a certain proudness to his stance. "A memento, Dean, to remind you of me."

"I'm not going to let you throw your life away for me, you stupid son of a bit-"

"Please, Dean. Accept it."

Something about the desperation in Castiel's face made him do it; he took the feather from Cas's proffered hand, twirling it around between his fingers like he would a pen. "An angel feather," he said. "I didn't think you would have such girly wings, Cas." He tried for a light, teasing tone, but it came out flat and forced and a little bit like he was trying hard not to let his stupid clogged nose overcame his words.

"Yes, well, not all of us have to overcompensate, Dean." Castiel ducked his head and smiled, a genuine one that melded his cheeks with the lines at the corner of his eyes

"You learned that from Sam."

"And Bobby," Castiel added.

"Figured you would pic that p first before learning any actual cool references," Dean complained without real malice, tucking the feather safely in the breast pocket of his shirt because it would definitely snap if he kept it in his pants

He probably shouldn't even think of keeping it in his pants.

"Whatever happens tomorrow, Cas, I just want you to know-," he began, but a glance at Castiel's face made him pause.

"You don't have to say anything, Dean."

"I really think I should, Listen, Cas-"

"Dean."

He stopped, and they looked at each other again, Castiel's unnerving blue gaze holding his green eyes captive. "Dean, I know."

"Cas-"

"No more words, Dean."

And that was a relief because he wasn't sure if he could say them, but Castiel knew, and that was all that mattered. The stars were still shining overhead, Castiel's wings swaying in the stillness of the air and fanning them with a gentle breeze, their hands were glued together by sweat and heat, and the feather was safe in his pocket.

And when Castiel exploded into a gazillion pieces in front of him the next day, then somehow came back and healed his wounds and fixed Bobby and abandoned them again, Dean was left staring at the slight dent in the ground where Sam and Lucifer and Michael and Adam had disappeared, and it hit him that he had no brother and no angel, and victory had never before tasted so bitter.

When he walked back to the Impala, he took the feather out from his pocket and tucked it all the way at the bottom of the trunk and covered it with every possible gadget he owned, and still he could feel its velvet weight in his pocket, and for just a moment there was a flash of wings as dark as the Dakota night.

He startled, turned back, but there was nothing. Just a bird, a dark grackle fleeing from its nest, frightened by the commotion going on below.

He must have stood there for quite some time because Bobby's impatient voice rang out next to his ears, and he was sure he wasn't standing that close to Bobby before. "You ready, Dean?"

Was he ready? How could he possibly be ready?

"Yeah, Bobby. I'm ready."

Notes:

Song lyrics: A Song About Stars, by Jason Castro.

On the Coldest Winter Night - Chapter 3

Standard Disclaimer: Not mine; everything is Kaori Yuki's.

Warning: Graphic homosexual non-con, other graphic sexual situations, blood, gore, and general violence. Not for the young.

Chapter warning: Fade-to-black dubious consent scene!

Thank you so much for the reviews! They're the best way to keep me going-special thanks to Kare Uta for the constant encouragements and general enthusiasm! I hope I deliver. :D

On the Coldest Winter Night

Chapter Three

Cain has never bought a pet before. In fact, he hasn't seen an actual live animal in a long time, asides from the scurrying sewer rats and emaciated pigeons that made up the major population of London. And of course, he didn't count the fashionable pets paraded by the Lords and Ladies over tea to be animals; there was something about those creatures that set him off in all the wrong ways. Perhaps it was simply how rich and pampered their lives were, and it disgusted him to see such hideous creatures, bred exclusively for the enjoyment of the aristocracy, turned into sickeningly temperamental monsters that have lost all their natural instincts and all the characteristics that rendered them lovable.

He has had a most unfortunate experience of a prissy blue-eyed Siamese jumping into his lap and nuzzling its head against his exquisitely tailored black suit, and he has endured its owner's cloyingly sweet laughter as the vapid girl cooed over her beloved pet. It has taken all of his willpower to not swat the irritating critter off of him and have it land most satisfyingly on its owner's face; Lady Emma was the daughter of a powerful Marquis, and, at the time, his position in society was not yet stable, and thus it was natural to want the girl to be besotted with him. Mistreating her obnoxious cat wasn't the best way to go about that, and in the end he had to throw the fur-covered suit away, but he was rewarded with a remarkably well-received entrance into London's high society. He supposed he had the cat to thank, but in all honesty he would most likely strangle it were he to ever lay eyes on it again.

Perhaps a dog for little Mary Weather then, he thought. Riff and he did not end up bringing home a pet after the visit to Lady Isabel, after all, and Mary Weather had thrown a fit worthy of a Hargreaves that day. He had managed to sooth her and promised her a special gift, and the little girl's eyes had lit up so beautifully that Cain was momentarily stunned, his face growing so warm that he had thought he was coming down with a sickness.

The problem was that he couldn't find a suitable pet for his sister. He and Riff had scoured countless breeders stores, traversed the streets of London in hope of finding an acceptable stray, and Cain even asked Lady Emma, owner of the accursed Siamese, if she could recommend any reputable traders of pets. All was for naught. None of the animals they encountered was deemed appropriate for his angel; they were too dirty, too perfect, too mean, or too aristocratic—in short, none met his impossibly high standards. His sister, as a Hargreaves, deserved the very best, after all.

About two weeks after Cain had given up hope and brought home an exquisite crystal ball as a consolation present (much to Mary's delight; the little fortune-telling devices she had as a street urchin were nowhere near as beautiful), he and Riff were making their way back to the Hargreaves' mansion after a rowdy night with Oscar and his circle. The night was clear and crisp; their carriage rolled almost silently through a sea of gold, the silence only disturbed by the occasional cracklings of dried leaves. Cain had pushed the thick curtains asides at some point, and he leaned out of the window, hand on chin, staring at the stubborn golden-orange canopy of the ancient oak trees on the sides of the street, a stark juxtaposition against the unspoiled blackness of the sky. He could feel Riff shifting besides him, vying for a more comfortable position in the small carriage, and a small smile graced his lips. Moments like this were far too rare, he felt, and he slightly turned his head, catching Riff's gaze. He was strangely satisfied at the way Riff's cheeks flushed a light pink and his lips parted momentarily, revealing a flash of white, before the butler's self-control took over and clamped them shut again.

Cain also decided that he liked the way Riff held his gaze unflinchingly. Bravery was a quality he needed in a loyal servant. Although, he suddenly realized as a gust of autumnal wind sent Riff's hair flying in a golden halo around his face, it has been a very long time since he last thought of Riff as merely his servant.

The carriage screeched to an abrupt halt. Cain's head bumped against the wooden rails of the window, and he let out a surprised gasp as arms quickly encircled his waist, grounding him so that he would not topple over. He was barely aware of the driver's apologetic shout or Riff's worried calls, swept in the throw of vertigo as he gripped the worn cushioned seat to steady himself.

Blinking blearily at his surroundings at what seemed like hours later, he finally recognized the lush interior of his carriage, Riff now hunching over on the seat opposite from him, hands on Cain's face and peering into his eyes with something akin to panic underneath his medical administration.

"I'm okay," he grunted, embarrassed at causing a scene from such a mundane incident. "Really, Riff," he snapped, his own cheeks aflame with red, "You're not my guardian, and I'm not a child. Get your face away from mine. It's just a small bump. It doesn't even hurt anymore."

A tiny tendril of guilt nagged at him as Riff recoiled as if burned, but the older man quickly covered his reaction with a small, forced smile. "My apologies, Master Cain. I was afraid that you had obtained a concussion."

Cain immediately regretted the loss of warmth as Riff drew back to his own seat, but he was unable to come up with something to retract his earlier words. "What happened? Why has the car stopped?" he demanded hastily, though he suppressed the urge to lean out the window again, the subdued ache in his head a sufficient restraint.

Silence. Riff squirmed uncomfortably—if the man could ever look non-composed while donning that butler outfit—under his gaze. "Well, what is it? Have you not demanded the driver?"

Riff opened his mouth and shut it repeatedly, and while Cain found the situation quite comical—he cannot recall seeing Riff react this way outside of the bedroom before, and he meant that in the most platonic sense possible—he was also immensely curious and not a bit fearful of their sudden interruption. "Ah, my Lord," Riff finally responded apprehensively. "The mansion gates are closed, and the gatekeeper is nowhere to be found. Also…" He paused, searching Cain's face for a reaction before taking a deep breath. "It's Doctor Disraeli. His body is nailed to the front gates."
-x-

Two weeks. Two long, horrible weeks since Cassian has last seen his superior—or rather, at this point, his old superior, since he doubted that Jizabel still remained a Major Arcana even in death.

He was quite convinced that the doctor was dead. It seemed the only plausible explanation, for he knew Jizabel, and he knew that as long as Jizabel was alive, the man would be resourceful enough to escape whatever his predicament proved to be and returned to him, even if he were held captive somewhere in Cassandra's disgustingly large ground. And of course he was sure that Jizabel was held against his will. He knew that they shared a hatred for the vile Head Priest. Jizabel had told him as such.

He refused to believe that Jizabel was, of his own volition, associating with Cassandra. Even on his father's order, Jizabel would limit his contact with the greasy haired bastard as much as he was able to. He knew how much the doctor disliked being away from his own quarters; even his interactions with his closest colleague, the old man Zenopia, were distasteful to him because it meant leaving his own meticulously kept lab and entering someone else's work environment. He knew that the only human contacts that Jizabel could tolerate were with him.

And that's how he knew Jizabel was dead, or at least horrifically wounded and chained up in the deepest dungeon on Gladstone's estate—which isn't that far off from the first option. If Jizabel were alive, he would have found his way back to Cassian. Cassian made his life bearable—he knew, he knew, even if Jizabel had never actually said it outright. And he knew that if Jizabel still had the capacity to love—he doesn't, at least not for human beings, not anymore—he knew that Jizabel would be half in love with him. He knew because he planned it this way.

What he didn't count on was how he would return the younger man's strange sort of affection, as well. He didn't count on warming up to such an obviously broken soul, but God, so strong, still so strong, even when he had no reason to be. And yet, with a small touch in the right places, Cassian knew, he would be so irreparably damaged. He could see how the doctor was hanging onto the very edge of sanity. Sometimes he slipped. And during those times, Cassian could do nothing more but to cower behind the door and peer into the keyhole to watch the most heart-breaking tragedies unfold before his eyes.

When he first came to work for Delilah, Cassian had had a very specific agenda: to work closely with the best and brightest medical masterminds that the organization possessed, and, at the earliest moment possible, to obtain the adult body that he has always desired. The Cardmaster figured as such, and the man offered him a proposition: to become his bastard son's assistant as well as his prison guard. Cassian had accepted without questions.

The bastard son turned out to be a young man of about twenty-one or twenty-two, tall and slender with long, ash-blond waves that fell to his chest and a dazzling pair of amethyst eyes hidden behind a serious, respectable pair of spectacles that seemed to rest impeccably on his perfect, aristocratic nose. He was handsome, no doubt, and he seemed like he was aware of it. Cassian decided immediately that he disliked the boy. He could tell that the feeling was mutual; Jizabel Disraeli, the boy was called, didn't seem to care for him, either.

No matter, he thought. He had spent years in the circus. He was a trained performer, and he knew just how to act to worm his way into someone's heart. This was one of those instances where his infantile body was a great asset rather than something he detested. It was a simple fact that people tend to trust those who appear non-threatening, and what could be more docile than a child?

He had to give Jizabel credit, however; the man wasn't fooled by his act, at least for a while. The two maintained a very distant relationship, one mostly of avoidance and curt orders and deceit on Cassian's part. He could recall the weekly reports that he gave to the Cardmaster, and he could remember the sick sort of joy it gave him when Alexis' face would darken with anger. That arrogant bastard is going to get it now, he thought gleefully. Jizabel might have potentially held the key to his adult body, but that didn't make Cassian like the man's cold insanity any better. And there was always Zenopia, who, he suspected, was much easier to manipulate. Pity that he wasn't given to Zenopia instead.

Eventually, spying on Jizabel wasn't a duty anymore. It was more like a habit, and God forbids, a hobby. It was fascinating to him how such a callous, blatantly insane man who made murder seemed like an art could show such gentleness to the creatures that deserved it least: city doves—no better than flying rats, he thought—and homeless, ragged, filthy dogs and cats, sometimes missing an eye or an ear. The doves were a constant presence on his balcony—whenever Cassian had to pay a visit to the doctor's room, he could hear the chirps of doves just behind the closed glass doors. He had to admit that sometimes the sight of Jizabel by his birds was breath-taking to behold, but by God he was no homosexual. It was merely awe at the holiness of the image. Pure awe, for the view of the doctor, clothed in something resembling silky bathrobes, with his blond hair falling around him in waves and surrounded by pure white doves, elicited a response in him that he definitely did not want to think of as something other than awe.

His reports to the Cardmaster became more frequent and more malicious after that. He didn't fully understand what was to befall the doctor as a consequence of his action, but he knew that it was something unpleasant, and that was enough to appease him. The boy needed to be knocked down a notch or two; it could only be a good thing, and even better if he were the one to bring it about. That is, until one night, unable to contain his curiosity, he had pressed his little body against the door to Alexis' chamber and listened stone still to the solitary sound of leather against flesh, eyes closed in something akin to guilt and shame. The sound turned wetter as if the leather was drenched in some kind of liquid, and he could almost feel the whip striking his own back, ripping on his own flesh, and he unthinkingly traced an old scar curving on the side of his body. It might as well be my arm swinging down that whip.

He tried to rationalize it to himself, but he couldn't. And when Jizabel stumbled out the door, blood-speckled coat hanging precariously off his thin frame, Cassian saw not the man he hated but a horrifically abused child with matted hair and a glassy stare. He looks like a walking corpse, Cassian noted, numb with horror. He looks even worse that I did back then. Back then, at least I was alive.

The doctor caught his gaze and flinched away, his limp becoming more pronounced as he tried to flee to his own chamber. Cassian had confronted him, and after a good dose of threats and pleas, had managed to get the young man to acquiesce to Cassian's taking care of the wounds. As he dabbed the oozing lacerations with a vodka-soaked washcloth, he remarked dully that Jizabel didn't even flinch, didn't show a single sign that he was in excruciating pain or that he was even in the world at all. I caused this. I caused this.

A secret understanding existed between them from that day, and it was as if the great wall separating them had been broken the moment Cassian first touched that bloodied, battered form with gentleness—probably the first signs of kindness the boy has received since childhood, if ever.

His conscience would not allow him to achieve his original goal of rising up Delilah's rank and using his station to acquire a grown-up body anymore, not at the cost of constant reminders of his horrific time at the circus. But still, he couldn't allow himself to be stuck in a stunted child's frame any longer. He was going to have to devise another plan, and since Jizabel was so obviously starved for love…. It could only work out for the best: if Jizabel were to fall in love with him, no doubt he would devise a way to give Cassian the appearance of a grown-up man, and in return Cassian would provide him with human company up to that day. It was a perfect plan and a fair trade.

Except it wasn't. In his attempt to court Jizabel, it was he who was seduced; it was he who fell in love, deeply and irrevocably. It was he who, after glimpsing the raw beauty of the doctor in one of his rare lucid moments, had silently pledged the rest of his life to serve this wondrously mad creature with the purity of an angel and the conscience of Beelzebub.

It was truly a pity that Jizabel would never be able to fall in love with him. The younger man no longer had any to give.

-x-
Cassian never liked The Moon very much. The girl has always seemed so rigid that sometimes he wondered if she was real or just some twisted experiment that resulted from Delilah's work. Staring into her eyes was like running face-first into impenetrable glaciers, and the sound of her voice, while beautiful, gave him an inexplicable sense of dread that he always hated. So when she suddenly appeared in his room at an ungodly hour in the middle of the night, it was understandable that he was a little frightened.

"You've been reassigned," the girl's voice rang out imperiously, sharp and crisp, and Cassian could swear that the mild autumn night just turned a bit chillier. "You're now working for Doctor Zenopia, effective right now," she paused, and a hint of something resembling a smile ghosted over her expression, "Eight of Swords."

"I… reassigned? Eight of Swords? I've been promoted? Why? What about Doctor Disraeli? Why can't I be his assistant anymore?" Cassian demanded, taking a step forward and staring up at The Moon—she was at least a head taller than he was, much to his annoyance.

Ida seemed faintly amused. It was a strange look for her; he couldn't remember her ever displayed any emotion other than disdain. "You ask a lot of questions, Minor Arcana. The Cardmaster has been pleased with your services, and he feels that it's time you join the actual ranks of Delilah—you've been an unnamed card for, what, six years now? One would have thought you would be more pleased than this."

"No, no, I am pleased!" Cassian hastily amended. "I was just… I wasn't expecting it is all." His mind was reeling: a promotion? Why? He hasn't done anything recently that would have warranted a promotion, and if he wasn't mistaken, the Eight of Swords rank was rather high up on the Minor Arcana hierarchy. He should have been happy—after all, with his new rank, he was in a much better position to wheedle Zenopia into giving him the adult body he has always desired. But something seemed wrong, and it frustrated him that he couldn't put his finger on it.

The girl seemed satisfied with his response and made as if to leave the room. He called out, "Wait! You didn't answer my question about Death! What happened to him?"

"He is rather… unavailable right now, and certainly in no state to require an assistant anytime soon." Her tone froze a path down his back. "In fact, you might as well forget about him. It seems that Death has met quite a fitting end to his name."
-x-

"Beg for it," the larger man growled, "I want to hear you pleading for my cock. Tell me you want it. Tell me you can't live without it."

Jizabel bit down hard on his lower lip to keep himself from complying with the other's order, and the metallic tang of blood in his mouth caused a wave of nausea to come over him. His body hurt all over, a mixture of deep ache and burning pain that stretched him to his very limit. He was still bound securely to the bedposts, and for all his struggles he had only succeeded in tearing some new lines on his wrists, and each time his body jerked in response to Cassandra's touch he could feel his bare flesh chafe against the silky restraints—the skin had long ago rubbed off. He imagined that the pain would lessen after a while, but if possible it had only been heightened. It was almost enough to draw his attention away from the foul demon poised at his entrance, its member erect and nudging teasingly at his puckered hole. Almost.

Cassandra seemed to be losing his patience, for he delivered a smarting spank to the doctor's inner thigh, barely missing Jizabel's own rather erect organ. "Stubborn fool," he hissed, his eyes narrowing to bare slivers of brown-turned-golden in the candlelight. "One would think the Cardmaster's son would have more sense than to martyr himself senselessly like this."

Jizabel stiffened and ceased his struggles momentarily. Truth be told, he wanted this. For all of his self-righteous indignations about sins and perversion, he was nearly at his breaking point—there was only so much he could deny himself. Cassandra's hands on him were a mockery of gentleness, but even that was a far cry from the loneliness that, everyday, threatened to engulf him. He could almost imagine that Gladstone's lips on his neck were his father's kisses, that the warmth radiating from the other man's body was the love long denied him, that the hot breath ghosting over his left ear was love incarnated from his father. But even more importantly, his body wanted this, craved this closeness, this intimate flush of human skin against human skin, and in a frightening twist, he knew that he wanted Cassandra. Never mind that the man repulsed him more than any human being had before; never mind that just the thought of touching another person made him nauseous beyond beliefs. Right then, he was completely lost in the older man's consuming heat, and without knowing when or how, he heard himself crying out for more; he thrust his hips backward, feeling unyielding hardness prodding at his entrance, and welcomed it with desperate abandon, forgetting for that moment about Cain, about Cassian, even about his father. For a while, there was only Cassandra and Jizabel, two grown men united by passion and lust, and the warmth of Cassandra's body spread through his like a forest fire, dangerous and beautiful and altogether too much to behold.

From behind him came deep, satisfied chuckles.

He finally let himself succumb to sensations. Twenty-six years of solitude, and to think that it was Cassandra Gladstone who had claimed him at last.

-x-

A/N: Confused? Me, too! Don't worry, things will work out, eventually. Poor Jizabel and Cassian, never a moment of rest, I fear. Also, I don't know if I gave the wrong impression or not, but I LOVE Cassandra as a character! :)

Stay tuned for the next chapter! I'm on Spring Break (whoooooot!), so it should be out before March 17th! Sorry for the long wait!

On the Coldest Winter Night - Chapter 2

Summary: The Cardmaster, tired of Jizabel's tendency to disrupt his plans, gave his eldest son over to Head Priest Cassandra to do as the latter saw fit. Abused, injured, and left for death at the Hargreaves' mansion's gates, Jizabel discovered his true family.

Standard Disclaimer: Not mine; everything is Kaori Yuki's.

Warning for this chapter: Mention of abuse, some blood, some other forms of violence, Jizabel's rambling thoughts. Cassian/Jizabel if you squint (for now).

Another note: In Godchild, Kaori Yuki used "trump cards" to mean the lowest ranking members, Minor Arcana as the second-tier, and Major Arcana as the elites. However, I'm an amateur tarot card readers, and trump cards actually are the same as the Major Arcana, so I will refer to the lowest rank of Delilah as either third-tier or suit cards, and the second tier Minor Arcana will be referred to as Court cards (which makes sense if you look at it, there are four Court cards in each suit, so a Court card has more power and is more elite than the rest of the suit).


On the Coldest Winter Night


Chapter Two


Shattered shards of sounds could reach deeper than one tended to realize, Jizabel learned. He came to awareness quickly enough, though all he could feel was a deep-set sort of confusion. His head scintillated between extreme heaviness and feathery weightlessness. There was a piercing pain hovering on the back of his head, and as he attempted to open his eyes, he found that his lashes had crusted over, signifying that he has been out of it for quite long. His body ached. There was a cramp in his left hand that he hadn't figured out how to get rid of—he experimentally twitched his wrist only to let it chafe against large scratchy sisal ropes. The bastard demon had bound him, and most likely it had left him alone while it entertained several more unfortunate souls. He could hear bits and pieces of laughters drifting through the slits on the wooden door; there were tinkering bell-like giggles sounding like they belonged to a twelve year old rose bud, and there, deeper than the rest, was a low, rumbling chuckle, drenched with seduction and authority. He could recognize it anytime, so deeply has that sound been embedded in his head—just as deeply as a certain other part of the bastard in his body.

He groaned, the sound rough and rusty, so different from his usual melodious tenor. His attempt to stretch his sore limbs was immediately struck down: the ropes were too tight on his raw-red skin, stretching each of his limb to its very limit. Through his limited vision he could make out the tautness of the length of rope binding his left arm to one of the elaborate bed posts, and he imagined that similar treatments were done with his other limbs. The sheet underneath him was wet; he could almost see its delicate embroidered white flowers blooming crimson with the blood seeping out from the back of his head.

He couldn't remember what had happened after the demon had violated him. His last memory was of an enraged handsome face covered in spittle, and he briefly remembered a flash of something very solid flying toward him, and then nothingness. He figured he must have blacked out from the attack, and even the incomplete memory of his act of defiance brought him a deep sense of gratification. At least he had done something, he reasoned. At least he hadn't given that demon the satisfaction of taking him willingly.

It must have been ages as he laid there awake and quietly assessed his—admittedly few—injuries, eyes boring holes into the beautiful golden canopy partially obscuring a painstakingly hand-painted tromp d'oeil of small, mischievous Cupids looking down from their puffy white heaven. The walls were a deep velvety red, accented with curling golden candle holders that blazed with a comforting warmth. The ceiling was a light gold made ever more golden by the warm fire from the marble fireplace on the other side of the room, and the bed itself, probably a masterpiece of some old, sought-after carpenter, was a vision in twisting mahogany wood and snowy white Oriental silk sheets. The room was fit for a king and his queen, he mused, and relaxed fractionally as he felt the tensions in his limbs ebbing away.

He knew why Cassandra was keeping him here. No doubt the Head Priest wished to lull him into a sense of false comfort so that he would be compliant whenever Cassandra wanted to take away his dignity, he thought, disgusted with the very idea of seeing the other man's lewd smile again. He knew Cassandra desired his body, though he couldn't fathom why—he was just another callous, dirty human being, whose cruelty and desire to live had wiped all traces of compassion to his fellow creatures from his conscience. All humans are despicable beings, and he was no difference. Perhaps he was the only one to have ever realized this, though what good did that do for him? All he gained from the knowledge was the lost of love from his father—and Snark, his mind whispered, though he refused to dwell too long on the thought. It was best if childhood memories were buried; he was no longer a child, after all.

Surprisingly enough, the violation of his body hadn't cost him the clarity of his thoughts. He felt unnaturally calm, spread-eagle as he was on the luxurious bed, empty of fear or dread or anxiety and strangely detached from everything; the only reminder of earlier events was the dull ache in his backside and the persistent pain in his head that had already receded somewhat compared to when he just woke. The brief flashes of hot pain from his days-old, unhealed lacerations burned, but he had long learned to tune them out; these particular ones he cherished, for they were the last gifts his father had given him before he was handed over to Lord Gladstone.

His mind slowly strayed from observing the beautiful room—like a golden cage for an ugly beast—to what he had left behind when he was taken away from his work. Zenopia would have to take over his research on the deadly dolls, then, he mused, and he felt slightly sorry for the old man. Poor Zenopia held no such interest; he was more concerned with breathing back life to cadavers and gifting them with extraordinary abilities, though none of the old man's creations had worked correctly yet. Immortality and a chance to be a god. The old man was quite ambitious. He had promised to look into Zenopia's research and give his opinion, but he hadn't had the chance yet. What a pity, too; he was quite interested in the subject, and he had never minded working with Zenopia. The old man had no delusions about a possible friendship with him, but the two had come to an understanding of sort and were quite amiable colleagues together.

No doubt right now Zenopia was dissecting yet another corpse, probably only recently deceased with the flesh still warm and soft. Cassian always picked the best cadavers. He didn't know how the other man managed to find fresh bodies all the times, but he could hazard a good guess. The small man was ruthless and matter-of-fact when it came to business, a trait that he admired and also possessed. It was one of the requirements to be a member of Delilah, after all. The Cardmaster had seen to that. He suppressed a shudder, not wanting to remember his own initiation ceremony—not the one crowning him as Death, but the first one, the one that admitted him into Delilah's ranks at the beginning. If he were not disgusted with human beings before, the initiation had made sure of it by the end; never, in his sickest fantasies, could he have imagined the things that he was made to do. He could still recall the blood coating his hair, a warm, still beating infant's heart in his trembling hands, and his father...

But Cassian, the man was a mystery to him. When his father had first brought Cassian to him, he had barely turned twenty-one and just finished with his schooling at Cambridge. He was in the middle of a rather engrossing operation involving giving a congenitally blind girl a new pair of eyes—purely to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity and not out of any altruistic motive, and the experiment had failed anyway, leaving the poor girl dead, Jizabel vaguely discouraged, and Zenopia utterly crushed. Cassian had entered the room then, a young boy with wild dark hair and large, disturbingly old green eyes blazing with something that he couldn't quite place. Cassian had looked about the laboratory with a barely masked desperate, hungry countenance, and Jizabel—graying ash-blond hair done in a braid that had long since fallen out, white surgical coat and face splattered with the girl's blood and brain matter—had scoffed then, dismissing the boy as yet another opportunistic lackey wanting to advance through Delilah's ranks at all cost. His father had imperiously informed him that the boy was to be his new assistant, a move that had caused no small amount of discontent amongst the whole of Delilah; Jizabel was but a Court card at the time, and it was undoubtedly a clear display of favoritism for the Cardmaster to supply his bastard child with a personal assistant.

He didn't care much for the boy back then, though he was grateful for the special favor from his father. Still, he had inwardly sneered at the child he was sent; what could a child who hasn't yet hit puberty do for him? The boy was nothing but a burden, and he was most likely squeamish about blood and body parts, and to be completely honest Jizabel wasn't totally comfortable with the thought of allowing a child to dabble in his line of work. He didn't need a useless tagalong; he was at Delilah as a research scientist, not a babysitter for charity cases.

Cassian had proven to be a capable assistant, though: close-mouthed, professional, and speedy in his work. He had followed Jizabel to all sorts of unsavory places without much protestations, and although they did not exchange many words, the boy always seemed to know exactly just what type of victim Jizabel needed. The two fell into their roles of mad genius and helpful lackey and passed several months in an almost companionable silence, and Jizabel had almost grown used to the boy's quiet company. He could tell that Cassian held no special love for his job, and he couldn't really understand while the boy was in Delilah's services. Cassian was much too young to be associating with such an organization as he couldn't have been older than thirteen, or fourteen at the most. Jizabel had wondered how it was that his father came to happen upon the boy.

Their relationship had changed subtly, but irrevocably, after Cassian first witnessed one of Jizabel's numerous punishments by the Cardmaster. It was about one year after Cassian had come into Delilah. Jizabel couldn't recall exactly what it was that caused his father's displeasure—but then again, Alexis didn't really need an excuse to punish his son. Jizabel had just been back from an excursion to gather some information about a new strain of the plague that was threatening to ravage Europe, and as he was entering the headquarter, his father's bodyguard, the Moon, had quickly detained him and brought him, bewildered and barely able to uphold his composure, before his father.

Unbeknownst to them, Cassian had taken it upon himself to tag along, hiding his small, nimble body among the many alcoves along the corridor leading to Alexis' private room. He had stood outside and, ear pressed against the freezing stone floor, carefully listened to the sole rhythmic sound of a leather whip flying through cold, crisp air to land on something soft and solid. He was still there, an hour later, when Jizabel limped out of the room, clothes bloodied and rumpled and hair long fallen in disarray around his pale, pinched face. The boy had silently offered him a hand, and he remembered staring at it in incomprehension. It felt like a few hours that he had stood there, eyes gazing unseeingly at the outstretched, scarred hand, but it was only a few seconds. He had turned away and strode resolutely toward his own chamber, eyes burning with the knowledge that his subordinate had seen him at his most vulnerable, most cherished moments, and he had wished fervently to any god that might listen that Cassian would have enough sense to never speak of this again.

His prayers went unanswered. As he shuffled out of his father's private quarter after another beating session, arms gathering his disheveled clothes around him like shreds of dignity and shivering as the cold night air brushed over the open wounds on his back, he spied a small figure nestled next to the door, its expression inscrutable and serious. "Why didn't you make a sound?" Cassian had demanded, catching up to him effortlessly. "Why didn't you fight back?" The boy's voice shook with anger, though Jizabel could not place whether that anger was directed toward his father or himself. "Why do you give him the satisfaction of subverting you?"

How could he possibly answer those questions? Because I love him, because this is the only way I can receive attention from him, because this is all I've ever known, because... "Leave it, Cassian," he finally managed, walking faster to shake the boy off, though the extra effort brought a new wave of agonizing pain down his back. He bit through his lower lip to keep from crying out and blinked rapidly, grateful that his room was just around the corner. Just a few more steps and he wouldn't have to put up with Cassian's troubling presence anymore, and he willed himself to move, his limp getting more pronounced the more he tried to conceal it. His father had been a little too enthusiastic with the whip this time, striking even lower on his back than he normally did; the whip had curved around his buttocks and thighs, tearing through his trousers to strike the pale flesh.

Cassian would have none of his silence, and the boy had roughly grabbed his shoulder and pushed him up against the wall; the sharp edge of the peeling wallpaper dug into his bloody welts. Already disoriented from the blood loss, he could do nothing but gave a shocked gasp as the wind was knocked out of him by a small, angry blur of black hair and black clothes.

"You disgust me," hissed Cassian. "This has been going on for a long time, hasn't it? You're a grown man, aren't you, Doctor? Why are you acting like such a pathetic child?"

"I don't doubt that you know exactly what it's like to be a pathetic child," he sneered. "You don't understand anything. It's not what you think it is; this is between the Cardmaster and me. Now, if you will kindly unhand me, I will not report this to him tomorrow."

Cassian had shoved him back with force and took a step back, to shake his head disgustedly. "I understand much more than you think, Doctor. You feel like you deserve to be punished, don't you? You think this is the only way it could ever be, that you would be lost without being beaten on a regular basis. You're so accustomed to this sort of behavior that you don't even question the reason why he does it anymore." He sighed, all of the anger seemingly evaporating from his voice and eyes, and he looked at Jizabel with no small amount of pity in his eyes. "You remind me of myself back then, kid."

He paused, taking in Jizabel's skittish, wary look and the taut way he held his posture. "I won't tell anyone else of this, on one condition."

Jizabel had wanted to protest, and he had already opened his mouth, ready with a rough-edged rebuttal when Cassian's hand clasped over his mouth, the small hand cold and hard over the doctor's clammy skin.

"No, you have to listen to me now, unless you want the rest of Delilah to hear about this," Cassian warned, green eyes boring into stunned ones the exact color of an English iris. "Let me clean you up afterward. Please, this is for your own goods as well as mine." He hesitated a little, eyes averted before continuing, "I know just a little too well what it feels like to come back to an empty room to try and patch yourself up. Please, let me do it, Jizabel."

Jizabel had nodded then, mind still spinning over Cassian's acute analysis of him that he didn't comment on the insubordination shown by his inferior. He had allowed Cassian to help him back to his room that night, and he had sat numbly on the edge of his bed, upperbody fully exposed as the boy's surprisingly gentle hands brought a hot washcloth to wipe away the sticky crimson mess from his skin and hair. He bore the pain quietly when it was time to disinfect the wounds, and he didn't make a sound as Cassian's face, faintly red, appeared in his line of vision, gestured toward his torn trousers. Jizabel only shook his head mutely, and the boy had enough sense to leave it alone and set about wrapping his torso in soft white gauze.

When the angry lines on his back were completely hidden under a thick layer of white, Jizabel was hanging precariously on the edge between unconsciousness and the wakeful world. Cassian seemed to have notice it, and he had gently slid off of the bed and allowed Jizabel to fall back into the mattress still warm with the lower card's body heat. Cassian drew the plush cover over the doctor's thin, battered body, and before the Jizabel completely lost consciousness, he could have sworn that he felt the boy's hand smoothing out the tangles in his pale hair.

True to his words, Cassian had shown up in front of the Cardmaster's door every time that Jizabel was ungraciously summoned for an impromptu private meeting with his father, and the boy always wordlessly helped the doctor back to his quarter and took care of his injuries afterward. Jizabel had allowed it not only because he feared that Cassian would go through with his blackmail threat, but he had also grown to take comfort in being administered by the increasingly skilled small hands of his assistant. Sharing the evidence of his father's love with an outsider was jarring at first, but the addition of a new kind of affection—for he had no doubt that Cassian felt a certain sort of affection toward him, not unlike the sort that a dog would feel toward its master—was certainly welcomed.

He knew that he was harming the boy that way, but he couldn't help himself. Surely the kid was no innocent if he had come to work for Delilah, not to mention how skilled he was with a blade and the uncanny way he could drag back three, if not four corpses a night undetected for Jizabel's and Zenopia's needs, but the kid was still young, still had time to leave the organization and settle down for a quiet life somewhere. Not that he liked kids or was even able to tolerate them besides putting their carcasses to good use, but Cassian was a little more special than most in ways that he could't fully explain. He knew that he could help smuggle Cassian away if he wanted, but that was the problem: he didn't want to.

Jizabel didn't know that it was possible, but over the months and subsequent years he had grown fond of the boy and started to look forward to his presence. He didn't protest when Cassian started loitering in his quarter in the latter's spare time; it was tolerable, even the slightest bit nice, to have a non-threatening, living presence in his room late at night so that he wasn't tempted to make conversations with the jars and jars of his family preserved in formaldehyde. Cassian knew not to step out of his boundary as well, and Jizabel was accustomed to the soft, almost inaudible click of the door at a quarter after one, followed by a muffled "Goodnight, Doctor" that he probably wasn't mean to hear anyway. He was tempted to reply a few times but always decided against it. Between them, such words weren't needed.

Every couple of weeks, Jizabel would find a new, freshly carved wooden dove on his nightstand, and the little figurines began to accumulate so much that he had taken it upon himself to purchase a new shelf to display the birds, all done in various poses of rest and flight. Cassian had beamed with pride when he had first seen the shelf, and Jizabel had allowed himself a small smile as well. His assistant was certainly skilled, and yet again he felt a vague sense of what he believed was guilt when he thought of the life that the boy could have led if he weren't involved in Delilah; but then, he reasoned, Cassian would just grow up to be a disgusting human adult with a repugnant sense of righteousness while still knee-deep in sins, and he felt the guilt subsided.

That is, until Cassian had started nagging incessantly for the doctor to eat more than the meager amount he was used to for years. Honestly, he didn't see anything amiss with eating one meal a day, and he told the boy as such along with a firm reminder to their apparent age difference; he, as an adult, did not have to listen to a wee pre-pubescent brat. Cassian had only scoffed, shaken his head, and walked right out of the room, and Jizabel had snarled and hurled the dining set laden with high tea sandwiches and confections that the boy had brought in at the shutting door. Cassian never brought the issue up again, but Jizabel would catch the boy's disapproving stare sometimes while the blond picked idly at his dinner of roasted vegetables and plain bread. He always dissected his corpses with a manic glee—and precision—afterward, sometimes imagining that it was the boy's eyes that he was scooping out, that it was his chest that the scalpel had sunken into. He found that was a better alternative than to lash out at Cassian himself.

It wasn't until three Decembers later that he realized the reason why Cassian was with the organization, when he noted the changes of Cassian's boyish body and voice—or rather, the lack thereof. A quick conversation with Zenopia had confirmed his suspicion. He could have slapped himself for not asking before, for not noticing the truth in those old, old forest green eyes. It was a shock to find out that Cassian was a full ten years older than him, and he was slightly mortified to face the boy—not a boy, certainly not a boy—again after his talk with Zenopia, and he let himself fumble for a proper way to address the dwarf before giving up and settling on "Cassian." Cassian gave him a long, slightly befuddled look, but the small man just dismissed it and rambled on about the stupidity of his fellow suits—the lowest ranked amongst Delilah—while Jizabel didn't even bother to appear interested, the doctor's eyes faraway and almost opaque beneath the thin-rimmed spectacles.

He didn't know why, but Jizabel had started and hidden his research on dwarfism from Cassian. He gave the bulk of the information he obtained to Zenopia, and the old man served as the frontman whenever Cassian sneaked into the laboratory when he wasn't needed to ask about the progress. It seemed important to Jizabel to keep his involvement private; later, he would reason that he didn't want to be the object of Cassian's disappointment if he were to fail to find a cure. The dwarf was too useful to let him turn against his superior, Jizabel told himself.

But where was Cassian now? Now that Jizabel had fallen out of favor with his father, his rank of Death and his belonging to Delilah at all were severely compromised. For all he knew, Cassian might have been dead or severely wounded by now as a punishment for his laxness in keeping an eye on Jizabel—he had long found out that was Cassian's real function, a babysitter imposed on him by his father, though the dwarf never actually reported anything of use to Alexis from what Jizabel could overhear from the conversations he had eavesdropped in.

He could only hope for Cassian to be reassigned to another card, preferably Zenopia. At least Zenopia would keep the other man safe, as he knew that the Hermit was quite fond of the dwarf as well. Zenopia was boring and ambitious, but the old man was kind enough for a high ranking member of Delilah and wouldn't mistreat his assistant. Maybe it was for the best, Jizabel thought; Cassian deserved so much more than him.

The door to the room slammed open, startling him from his reveries. "Sleeping beauty has awaken, I see," purred a voice that he had come to detest, the very sound soaking his fuzzy mind with the reality of what was done to him by the damnable demon. He felt his limbs grown stiff and leaden with dread, and the blood coursing through his veins seemed to have come to a halt, frozen with the deepest fear that he had ever experienced in his twenty-six years of life. The wall of pleasant memories that he had carefully constructed around himself crumpled at once like a precarious house of cards come tumbling down from a stray winter breeze.

"My, my, Jizabel, you are even more... captivating when you're being rebellious." Cassandra's face loomed over him, the man's greasy locks of hair hanging about his—admittedly handsome—face ominously. "I hope you've had a nice slumber, darling. I dare say that the physical activities I have planned for us might be a little more..." the Head Priest paused, an eerie smirk gracing his lips, "ah, a little more strenuous than what you're accustomed to."



A/N: Ahh, cliffhangers, how I hate them when I read other people's fanfiction...

On the Coldest Winter Night - Chapter 1

Summary: The Cardmaster, tired of Jizabel's tendency to disrupt his plans, gave his eldest son over to Head Priest Cassandra to do as the latter saw fit. Abused, injured, and left for death at the Hargreaves' mansion's gates, Jizabel discovered his true family.

Standard Disclaimer: Not mine; everything is Kaori Yuki's.

Warning: Graphic homosexual non-con, other graphic sexual situations, blood, gore, and general violence. Not for the young.



On the Coldest Winter Night



Chapter One



"Riff, get my coat. Mary Weather is waiting for us. Lady Isabel, I must take my leave; do excuse me." He bent down to kiss her hand, sharp golden-green eyes fluttering almost shyly.

The lady wore the prettiest blush upon her fair cheeks, and she quickly stammered out a goodbye before leaning heavily against the wall. The Earl's presence was overwhelming, rendering her unable to intelligibly converse. Finally able to regain her composure as she watched his retreating back, she straightened the skirt of her gown and re-entered the lavish mansion, ready to boast to her friends about her encounter with the infamously beautiful Earl.

-x-

As the carriage rolled forward, Cain huffed, face scrunching into an expression of displeasure. "I'm tired of these mindless parties, Riff," he complained, "the girls are all the same. I dread the day I must marry one of them."

"Marry, Master Cain?"

"You don't expect me to remain a bachelor my whole life, do you?" Cain replied, obviously amused. "You think me that unpopular that I cannot make a good match?"

His manservant, Riff, was quick to reassure him otherwise. "Ah, of course not, Master. I just… never realized that you would think about marriage already is all." After all, you're but a boy, he could almost hear Riff silently add.

At seventeen, well, yes, he was young, as most of London's high society was quick to remind him. It still stung a little to have his most trusted steward treating him like he was still that little boy in the garden all those years ago.

"We're stopping by the toy shop, Riff," he announced imperiously, "I promised Mary I would get her a new stuffed bear."

"But my lord, you just bought her one last week!" Riff exclaimed. "Are you sure Miss Mary would like another bear?" after she threw her last one at your head, he silently added. "Wouldn't it be best to get her another kind of toy, or perhaps a new dress? Or…." He paused, lips pursing in thoughts. "Perhaps a live pet?"

That wasn't a bad idea, Cain grudgingly admitted. He knew that his gifts of stuffed bears and dolls were getting tedious to his beloved little sister, but he didn't know what else he could give her. She was his angel, his most beloved little sister. She couldn't want for anything. But perhaps she had wanted some company, and since he couldn't always be with her….

"Alright," he said with no small amount of resignation. A pet in the house… it was difficult enough already with a ten year old girl and an irresponsible guest that always overstayed his welcome. "We're bringing home a friend with us, it seems."

-x-
It wasn't that he minded the pain. He was used to it: the cadence of the whip flying across his bare back was almost relieving, the blood dripping onto the frigid tiled floor cleansing, the sharp sting of pain cathartic. He was no innocent. Every whistle of leather through air was well deserved; there was no other way that he could survive without spilling his sins out to the world. His frail body was just that—too frail, too delicate to bear the weight of his crimes. He had long learned that these whipping sessions were for his own good. His father, the only one who loved him in this world, had always helped him to atone for his sins, and he had always been grateful. Each whip from his father was a caress from God himself, firmly absolving him of all transgressions—though of course he was still no innocent. He couldn't be; father had given him away because the sight of his sinful body was becoming too much for Alexis to bear, and he couldn't blame his father. After all, the wicked needed their punishments.

"He's yours now, Cassandra," his father voice reverberated in his head, authoritative and cold. But surely that was just a mask to cover his father's pain and disappointment in him. He had wronged his father again; his attempt to prolong Riff's alternate personality had succeeded at the cost of his own father's love. He wasn't so sure if it was worth it, in the end. But there was something in Riff's and Cain's bond that ignited something within him, perhaps hatred, or perhaps some other unnamed emotion that he hadn't been able to sort out yet. That bond—idiotic beyond belief, of course—held such innocence, such purity; he wasn't able to stop himself from giving them just a little more time.

Just a little more time and Cain wouldn't turn out like him, because one of them in the world was one too many.

He didn't fear the pain at all. Pain was a constant in his life, one that he almost welcomed. No, it wasn't the pain that had his head buried into the soft white pillow to hide from the world, it wasn't fear of being further tormented by the ever-cracking whip that had his body curled up as much as it could under the constraint of the Scavenger's Daughter, and it definitely wasn't his reluctance to repent that caused him to bite through his lower lip to stop from crying out loud. It was the presence of a most vile demon behind him, one of its hands entangled in his silver tresses, the other cupping the round firmness of his nude buttocks, its breath hot against the nape of his neck as it trailed liquid sins down his scarred back. There was no pain, only the dull ache of his limbs being locked into place for too long and the solid weight of the demon's body pressed against his, its crotch tight and full of lust rubbing against his unprotected backside.

He wished for the pain to come. He understood pain well. This foreign situation was baffling to him, and for the first time in ages he felt an acute wave of fear washing over him. The demon wrapped its body around him in a mockery of the loving embraces that his father used to give him, its arms curling around the iron cast that trapped his form, cruel fingers pinching the rosy nipples mercilessly until he could not help but to utter a wanton moan. All the guilt and shame in the world could not ground him when the demon reached for his member and ever so gently stroked him to hardness. His lips were a bloody mess, his teeth stained crimson, and yet all of his efforts went to waste as the demon's hand deftly moved up and down his shaft, thumb brushing over the sensitive tip to gather the single drop of clear fluid, earning a wispy gasp of guilty pleasure from him. The hand moved toward his backside, and he bit down on a scream as the wetness swiped across his puckered opening, and, concentrating not to make another humiliating sound, he vaguely felt one finger, then two entered the tight hole, and he almost sighed with relief as he felt the sharp pain—ah, he was back in familiar territory now. The fingers stretched him as well as they could, and as swiftly as they left, another, thicker intrusion replaced them in one swift thrusting of hip.

Pain blossomed in front of his amethyst eyes, and his mouth involuntarily opened in a shriek. His hazy vision could make out the outline of the mahogany bedpost on the other side of the bed—his glasses had long been disposed of—and he tried his best to concentrate on the swirling, majestic pattern, anything to distract him from the feel of the demon's body. His inside felt unimaginably tight, almost as if he were filled to the brim with the sins that they were committing. The demon moved within him, slowly at first, and then it quickened its pace, no doubt eager for its release within him. His hardness was still nimbly stroked by slender aristocratic fingers, and through the haze of pain he could feel the first appearance of the most deniable sort of pleasure vibrating through his body, through his head. The demon shifted his position, pushing him even further into the plush bedding, chafing his wrists against the metal shackles as the combined weight of both bodies threatened to cut off the circulation in his arms.

He gasped aloud as the demon's member slammed against a part of his body that he was never aware of; sure, he knew about its existence in medical terms, but never had he experienced the intense pleasure for which it was often touted. He squeezed his eyes shut, shameful drops of tears leaking from wet lashes from the intensity of the various sensations. The demon's chest rumbled against his back, its moans loud and wanton, and as he finally reached his climax under its administration, the demon found its own release through the involuntary clenching of his butt cheeks, its seeds buried deep into him as if to hide the evidence of this crime against God. It cried out his name and bit into the soft, blemished skin of his shoulder; he sobbed—not through any particular religious zeal as he had never been able to bring himself to believe in any god, but the very thought of how disappointed his father would be at him if the truth were to be exposed.

Never mind that his father had given him to the demon to do as it would see fit; his father had stressed the uncleanliness of sodomy extensively. Why was he so helpless as to accept the demon's touches passively? He was no different from those filthy prostitutes on the street corners. The demon rolled off of him, its face a perfect picture of satisfied pride, and it chuckled as it slowly unlocked his confines, its fingers dipping into the cooling puddle of his semen on the luxurious red bed sheet. It raised a finger coated in come to his lips, coaxing them to open. Its eyes were almost playful, clearly still ensnared by the post-coital bliss.

He turned back his head as soon as the metal frame of the Scavenger's Daughter slid off of him, and, tears still streaming down his porcelain skin, he spat directly into its face.

-x-

Riff's headaches had all but disappeared ever since the doctor accosted him in that alleyway and injected a mysterious drug into his arm, though his confusion had not been abated. As someone with medical training, it baffled him that he could not identify the growing weakness in his body, the headaches, and the spells of dizziness that sometimes overcame his determination to appear strong in front of his master. He had briefly wandered if it could possibly be consumption, but soon dismissed the notion. His lungs felt fine. He hadn't had a cough, and he certainly wasn't hacking up pieces of lungs; surely he would notice if that were the case. Perhaps it was just a simple flu that he had caught—it was nearing winter after all.

He still didn't understand why the doctor had helped him, not after the many attempts on his and his master's life. He knew the doctor wasn't a nice person. It came as no surprise to him that the doctor would figure out exactly what his ailment was; he could never deny that the man was a genius, albeit an obviously insane and immoral one. But still, he was grateful. The fainting spells had dampened his ability to serve his master, and of course he didn't want to trouble his master with such triviality as his failing health. So be it if the only reason he could be by Cain's side would be through the doctor's strange inclination for absurdity.

"Riff?"his master called, head poking into his room sheepishly. There was a fluffy blanket around his pajamas-clothed shoulders, and his hair was mussed adorably, no doubt from endless turning and tossing. "I hope I didn't wake you up, but I couldn't sleep," he admitted.

Riff hurriedly stood up and buttoned up his white nightshirt to hide his bare chest from view—it would be most improper for his master to gaze upon his scarred, naked flesh. "Would you like me to make you some hot chocolate, Master Cain? It should help with your insomnia," he said gently, crossing the room to stand expectantly at his master's side.

Cain gave an indulgent smile and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. "No, I don't think that would be necessary. What are you still doing up?"

It never ceased to amaze Riff at how noble, how elegant his master could be even in sleeping attire. He felt keenly the lost of radiating warmth from his master as Cain moved toward his freshly lain bed, and his eyebrows raised minutely as his master plopped down on the bed without a care as to the impropriety of it. "I was just… thinking, Master. I couldn't sleep either. I don't feel so tired." It wasn't an entire lie; he wasn't tired enough to fall asleep, which is the only way he could sleep these days. Insomnia had invaded this mansion, it seemed. "Is there anything I can do to help you fall asleep?"

Cain—only in the privacy of his mind would he dare to think of his master by name alone—bit his lower lip lightly, a small blush alighting his cheeks. "Will you sleep with me tonight, Riff? Like how we used to, when I was young. I keep thinking about Delilah and my father, about what he's planning to do next, about what my older brother is scheming for us, about the things they could do to you, to Mary…." He took a deep breath and continued in a slightly shaky voice. "Each time I close my eyes, I see your dead faces staring back at me… I… Riff…."

His poor master. If he could take away all of Cain's worries and pain and burn in hell for it, he would. Still so strong, his master, even after all that life had thrown at him. Still so pure, so untouched by the insanity that had engulfed his family; it was Riff's duty to guard that innocence from the malicious hands of Death and the Cardmaster, even if it meant breaking all societal rules and be forever branded as a sinner under God's judgment. "Master Cain, my bed isn't much, but if being here would help you sleep, then…" he hesitated, "I'll be glad to keep you company tonight, Master. I'll go get the spare cot then; would Master like to be tucked in first?"

"No! No, that's not what I meant at all," Cain hurriedly amended. "I want you to sleep in the same bed as I. Like you used to… back then."He let the rest of his sentence hang; both of them knew full well what "back then" entailed.

"Ah… Master, isn't that a little… improper?" Riff managed to choke the words out, his heart pounding frantically in his chest. Why did this simple request from Cain put him into such a state? They had done this before, though it had been a while since he had heard such a request again. Back then, Cain had been so lost and sad. Riff thought that the situation had gotten better, and yet….

Cain huffed, arms crossing in front of his chest petulantly; Riff was suddenly reminded of how truly young his master was. "Are you seriously implying that we care much for propriety around here? Just get on the bed, Riff."

Gingerly, Riff placed himself on the side of the bed, though he was more supported by his grounded feet than by the soft mattress under him. It's a totally innocent request, he told himself, though a tiny part of him wished it wasn't. "If you're sure, Master Cain. I'll turn off the light now?"

"Don't," Cain murmured, his golden-green eyes half covered by long lashes darkened with sleepiness. "Leave it on." He yanked Riff's nightshirt closer to him, forcing Riff to shift over on the bed before pulling the cover up over both of them. He inhaled Riff's crisp scent, head nestled on Riff's shoulder, and a smile crossed his face as Riff tentatively placed an arm around him and fractionally relaxed. His butler could be so rigid at times. "Good night, Riff."

"Good night, Master Cain," Riff replied, though his eyes refused to close. The situation was almost surreal. Cain was no longer a child; this was no longer the innocent comfort that he had offered Cain long ago. If only Cain knew the demon lurking within his mind, wanting things it shouldn't want, wanting C….

Cain would never know because Riff would never allow such a thing to take place. He couldn't; it was his duty to protect Cain from harm at all cost. As Cain snuggled closer to him and his breathing eased into the gentleness of sleep, Riff briefly tightened his hold on the boy—no, no longer a boy, a young man—and promised himself that Cain would never again be hurt and broken by anything. Not even if he need to kill a part of himself to make it possible.

That night, he dreamt of smiles on a face more beautiful than Raphael could ever paint, of laughter as clear as Avignon's summer sky, and of a pair of golden green eyes crinkled in a sort of happiness so pure, it was as if he were looking directly at the sun.

-x-

"Dr. Zenopia? Have you seen Dr. Jizabel lately?" A boyish voice, forever stalled at the cusp of puberty, rang out in the quiet room. The corpses displayed prominently on the pristine steel tables were drained dry of blood, their faces peaceful and shallow in death. No doubt they were better company than most of the cards in this building; it was little wonder that Jizabel would prefer to spend his time secluded here with The Hermit. "I haven't seen him in days…. Usually he would call on me several times a day to help him dispose of the carcasses. Not that I'm worried!" he hurriedly added, a quick blush rising to his cheeks. "I just don't want the Cardmaster to be on my case about losing my superior, that's all!" Of course, the Cardmaster would be most displeased to lose his favorite whipping post. That's all he cared about, the cruel king in his throne who would break an angel's wings just to see how long it would take him to fall.

Dr. Zenopia, the Hermit, a short, stout man long past his prime, pushed up his monocle with a gloved hand, glanced disinterestedly at the lower card at his door, and turned his attention back to the barely cooling corpse of a young blond with half of his face covered in fresh burns. "You should really not worry about such things, Cassian," he grunted good-naturedly. "I'm sure Dr. Jizabel is fine. The last time the Cardmaster came here, he was talking about Jizabel's initiation into the Major Arcana. They're probably just off somewhere celebrating still; after all, he is the Cardmaster's son."

Zenopia's own initiation into the Major Arcana had been rather unusual, as he was one of the first members recruited by the Cardmaster. He imagined that the initiation was some sort of rite being recited, perhaps a duel between the initiated and a veteran member… in all, nothing too strenuous for Dr. Jizabel, that was sure. But then again, the Cardmaster was known for his cruelty to his offspring; Jizabel might even be recuperating from his strenuous ordeal as they speak. Still, Cassian worried too much sometimes, bless his stunted little body. Zenopia shook his head exasperatedly, forgetting for a moment that the younger man was still in the room. "I just hope that he isn't spending too much time with Head Priest Cassandra. That man unsettles me."

"Cassandra? Why would Dr. Jizabel associate with him?" Cassian demanded heatedly.

Dr. Zenopia shrugged and started to make a long incision on the corpse's chest, the scalpel tearing through flesh as easily as pudding. "Mind your language, Cassian. He's your superior," he chided, though in all honesty he had no desire to address Cassandra formally either. "Lately Death has been seen in his company quite often. It seems the two have taken a liking to each other." His eyebrows rose in mirth. "They do make quite a pretty pair, don't you agree?"

The room fell deadly silent. He chanced a glance backward and was not surprised to find Cassian already gone. It was expected. He wasn't blind enough to ignore the obvious affection the stunted man felt for his direct superior; as much as Cassian would deny it, he cared deeply for Jizabel. It was evident in how he would follow the Doctor's every step even when he was not required to, how he would express genuine concern whenever Jizabel's sickly body was acting up or when the wounds in his back—oh yes, Zenopia knew—would ooze blood and pus and torment Jizabel. Being the Hermit had some perks; he was often left to himself and his research, but his solitude had honed his perception exponentially. There wasn't much that he didn't notice.

Later, he would curse himself for not noticing that something was terribly wrong.




Author's Notes: That's it for this chapter! I have a pretty good idea of how this story will progress, and I'm in the process of writing the second chapter; I'll post it immediately once it's finished. I'm also looking for a good beta-reader; please contact me if you're interested! Thank you for reading.