4.10 Heaven and Hell tag

The Rack

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." - Maria Robinson

Chapter One – The Journey Starts at the Beginning

It was almost as if they placed a clock on the rack, turned back the hands, and again set the pendulum in motion. Time moves differently in Hell, but this? It was as if time itself had reversed, like it was his first soul. He remembered every single moment, the flutter of apprehension in his gut, the nervous twitch in the muscle right beneath his left eye, the determined clench of his jaw as he gasped in a free breath of air… how he couldn't believe this was him. Dean Winchester wouldn't do this… couldn't do this, but there he was, knife in hand.

Sam would be so disappointed, so disgusted. He knew that, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to care. He tried not to think about it, but in the end it was all he could think about. His own pain miraculously vanquished; his mangled body magically pieced back together with the blood staining his trembling flesh gone… back beneath his skin as it should be, pumping through his veins as if he were still alive.

He had never felt more cold and dead inside… worthless. He caught a glimpse of himself in the slick, cool metal of the blade when he tightened his grip and he didn't recognize this new him, the face impersonal, jaw rigid, eyes fixed, ice cold determination rising up in the sweltering heat of this place made only for torture, his body frigid with no trace of concern. He quickly turned away from the image, raising the knife, poised to make the first cut.

He stared into the eyes of the man laid out before him, a strong man back in the real world, cocky and sure, defiant. That won't last long, at least he hoped not. It was easier to admit your limits early on, to accept defeat and let go of any pretense. No one got out of Hell alive, unscathed. No one got out period.

This man had already lost the battle… he was here. The demons always won… always, it was written in the rule book. Written by the blood of those who came before.

This fool didn't realize it, but it was only a matter of time until he accepted the truth like all the others.

Only a matter of time…

Thirty years… thirty years.., more than a lifetime, at least more than his.

Dean's hand started to shake as the blade neared its target, his legs trembling and threatening to buckle, locked in place by sheer will. He sucked in a ragged breath, his throat constricting from the tension; lips shivering from the cold, empty tomb he'd fallen into, his bottom lip pulled in and clenched between his teeth to still the tremors until blood filtered into his mouth reminding him of why he was here, what was expected.

Before he arrived in this hellhole he thought he'd endured pain back on earth, in his life and through his losses. What had he possibly known about true agony back then, a lifetime ago? He'd never experienced Hell… that is until now. He had to ask himself why he suffered through the torture for thirty years. He honestly couldn't remember anymore, not one single reason that made a lick of sense. Why hadn't he said, "Yes," that first day? He could have saved himself all the blood and tears, all the rips of his flesh and the ravages to his soul. He could have made it easier… so much easier.

The end result would still be the same. No difference… except…

His eyes threatened to tear up and he quickly bit into his lip harder, more blood filling his mouth and focusing his mind. Blood had a way of doing that, bringing clarity as the red spread out, saturating his thoughts with the painful truth. His green eyes steadied, all moisture removed by the heat of the flames and his own stoic determination, the realization strong that this was all there was to hope for.., to bring the pain instead of enduring it.

It was the fool's quest to think any differently.

Endlessly reliving his mistakes, his misplaced heroics offered no answers, only serving to dredge up the pain; pain he barely survived the first time. His mind snapped back to the task at hand as he repeated his question to the man, "Why are you here?"

The man laid out on the rack hid his fear well. He tried to offer his torturer a smile, tense and uncertain, his lips turning up in a tremulous sneer as he started to waver before he fixed his grit and refused to yield, falling into that trap that only a few are brave or foolish enough to depend upon; that pathetic, wayward attempt to appear strong, to hold on to who they once were. "Why are we all here? We're sinners," he snarled.

Dean stepped closer to the rack, the glint in his eye flickering back in all its glory while a smirk found its way to his lips, a bold façade hiding what lie buried deep beneath the surface as his stomach lurched and twisted sideways and his mind took him back to the beginning. He forced himself to take another step, to face the wooden plank and the heavy metal chains. He was upright, standing beside the rack, not on it. He was in control here, or at least in as much control as you could possibly find here in Hell. No longer a victim howling through the empty caverns as the demons sliced and carved their way through his trembling flesh.

He tentatively reached out, placing his hand on the rough wood of the rack, feeling the wide grain of the wood and the splinters that had pricked his body with that familiar sensation every time he'd moved when he'd been the one stretched out as a sacrifice. He could smell the blood that saturated the wood, feel the fear that lingered, brushing against his senses and threatening to undo him. "What were your sins?" he demanded; his voice cold as his hollow heart, void of any hint of fear. Fear was a target on your back, calling the hellhounds to their feast. Once he stepped off the rack he bottled up all his fear and cast it off into the fires to be consumed. He closed off that part of his life and focused on this… now… the coming torture.., torture to be inflicted by his own hand.

With a casual lilt in his voice the man answered the question, "A little of this… a little of that," unaware of how stupid it was to resist, how that cocky façade would soon melt from the heat of the flames and the burn of the knife. How he'd soon be stripped of all his courage and left whimpering like a wounded animal, trapped quite literally in his own private hell, inconsolable and lost in the pain the pit promised.

Hell was never one to fall short of expectations.

Dean bristled at the audacity of this man. He found it quite different being on the receiving end; he was most used to dishing out the witty retorts, not listening to the inane comments and acting like he cared. He was long past caring and sharing, long past caring period. Caring only made you weak, and you can't show weakness… not here. "Quit being a smartass. Do you know where you are?" he shouted, brutal and fierce, his tone conveying his irritation and harsh enough to garner respect or fear, most often viewed the same here in Hell. The dumb ass didn't even realize how precarious his situation was, how annoying your torturer wasn't exactly your best move. Something Dean had himself learned the hard way.

Oblivious to the danger, the fool continued the charade. "You mean, Hell? Yeah, I know."

"And?"

"And what? You want me to beg? Cry? Not happening, pal."

A sick smirk emerged on Dean's face, it was all so familiar, so déjà vu. This would be freaking hilarious if it wasn't so damn tragic, if he was capable of feeling anything again. His left brow arched as he confidently responded in a cool and steady voice, "You're wrong about that, tough guy."

It figured they'd give him someone made from the same mettle, a man who thought he was unbreakable. He'd soon learn, just like Dean had. That was his sole purpose now, to make sure of it. He had never before failed in a job once he took it on. This would be no different.

Everyone breaks… you just have to know where to apply the pressure. It only took the older Winchester thirty years to admit to it, but then, he never was known as the smart one. That would be his kid brother.

He didn't want to think about Sammy. How Sam would fare in this place. Nothing could make him think about that… but with nothing else of substance surrounding him; it was all he thought of. And he couldn't bear to picture Sammy laid out on the rack, but the image had been placed there. Cast into his mind like a stone-cold prophecy, a deadly promise if he refused to listen to reason.

Pressure… there is always a means.

He blinked back his tears, denying them even as they wetted his cheeks. You don't show emotion down here, not if you want to survive until the next day with some semblance of a body. He turned back to the man awaiting him, not much else the man could do, chained to the rack as he was. The waiting never lasted, too much blood demanding to be released, screams longing to be heard.

The demons had their time tables, their routines. The proper order the torture would take was scheduled, day after day, week after week, until time stretched on with no end in sight, years and decades soon passing.

In spite of everything, the man held on to his bravado. "Ah, yeah? How am I wrong?"

Dean sighed, the words he now spoke the same words he heard on his first day, a freaking record stuck on skip and played out over and over throughout his time on the rack, a new mantra to replace the old: the one true purpose he'd always held tight to, to protect his kid brother… to protect Sammy. He had protected his brother, brazenly stolen him back from death itself and this was the price he'd been forced to pay… he'd willingly paid. He shook out his shoulders and tried to bury the memories as they rumbled in his gut. He didn't want to think about the past and how he came to be here, it didn't change a damn thing. His other life no longer existed, burnt black and bled out of him. He would never regret his actions then… only his actions now.

He didn't have a choice. He told himself that lie a million times and still he couldn't believe it… but he also couldn't bring himself to care, all concern ripped from him like his screams had been.

Empty and cold, he focused on the man before him, his words a deadly promise. "You will beg… and you'll cry and piss your pants… I can promise you that." He leaned in with the expected menace, his hand tightening on the hilt of the knife as it inched closer to the man's chest, finally coming to rest laid flat against his trembling skin. Every breath the man took making the metal rise and fall along with his pale chest shivering within the terror. "You'll do things you never imagined you'd be driven to do."

"Why? Because of you?"

"Me? No… I'm just the hammer. You will do these things because this is Hell." Dean leaned in, his words a whisper against the man's ear, "Hell demands it."

The voice hitched… finally. Realization slipped within his consciousness, hijacking his fierce determination and turning him into a born-again believer. "What are you going to do?" he rasped out, brown eyes wild like a frantic rabbit caught in the headlights of a pack of motorcycles as they circled, moments from being run into the ground as the roar of the engines and the spin of the wheels surged forward.

The man's voice on the verge of cracking, imperceptible unless you knew what to listen for. Dean had experience with men of this ilk, men who seemed remarkably similar to him. It was like holding up a cracked mirror, and witnessing his own initiation into hell. His gut clenched even tighter and he felt like he was going to throw up, spasms randomly rolling through in waves that reached up into his throat and lodged there. There was no food to expel, no meals since before he first came here, only his terrors and despair left within, threatening to erupt to the surface.

He was still in a tenuous situation, perched between damnation and survival, leaning heavily toward his promised eternal damnation if he faltered. Assured of it if he succeeded. Alastair had been intently watching him since he got off the rack, gauging if he could follow his orders, commit to his duty, or whether he was faking and deserved to be deposited right back onto the rack.

He'd do what he had to do… He wasn't going back on the rack… not ever again. He couldn't… he just couldn't.

He found his voice, ragged and rough, raw and still hoarse from his own desperate screams; his steel determination flashed within his eyes fueling what little courage he'd managed to grasp hold of. He repeated the cruel words, just as he'd heard them, the same threat ever present unless you lived up to their expectations, their sick, twisted demands. "What am I going to do? Things you can't even imagine…" He then quietly assumed the role of educator, cluing the man in to what was coming, if he was smart enough to listen. "Do you have any idea how much blood fills a man?"

The man set his jaw, just like he had… locked his eyes upon him, the same damn defiance, and his smart mouth let loose with a stupid, insane comment that was totally inappropriate, like so many that spilled from his own mouth, "Look, buddy… I'm not gonna talk all day. If you're gonna do somethin', just do it. Don't talk me to death."

He almost smiled at the memory. How good it had felt to show no fear, even if his gut was twisted beyond any parameters he'd ever known of terror, so far beyond the horror he couldn't even imagine what was coming. He was Dean Winchester, after all, and if there was one thing he knew, it was how to hide your true feelings, how to put on the mask and play the part. This man was in for a rough time of it, just like him…

Alastair and his kind took special interest in the ones who defied them, and the more resolute you appeared, the greater their interest. It was more fun to see fierce men finally tremble and break. Most souls failed to offer much of a challenge, quickly dissolving into a blathering mass of terror when faced with the stark reality of Hell, so the demons took special delight in the few who stood their ground and offered resistance.

Face it, down here, in the depths of Hell, it was all about the challenge, about exerting their power and forcefully taking what was denied, the conquerors enjoying the spoils of war.

"You're already dead… so I wouldn't rush things," Dean reminded the man. "Death offers no release… not here. You'll scream, and you'll beg." As torturer he stated the facts in a clear and detached manner, just like they'd been presented to him. "There will be tears and pleas… promises and lies. But know this, there is no salvation… not here… not until…" His voice trailed off, the memories rising up again, a lump forming in his throat as he tried to push them back down… deep within his gut, twisted and pained.

The man's eyes widened, suddenly feeling that first wave of fear, that first inkling of the horrors to come. "What?" he croaked out.

Dean resolutely stared at the man, determined to shake off his own apprehension. His sensitive, pained eyes struggling to regain their fixed, vacant, emotionless emptiness, finally managing to slam the shutters down and retreat within, back to the safety of denial; left only with the base need to survive, to stave off his own torture and the pain he could no longer face. "Trust me, you don't want to know. It's better that way. You… you hold on to your defiance… as long as you can, but know this… it won't last, not here. Sooner or later you'll break. They all do."

It wasn't an idle threat, it was a fact of life, or death here in Hell. Everyone breaks… sooner or later.

TBC

Thanks for reading, reviews would be lovely if you would care to click the button. This was originally going to be a three chapter story, but I think it will stretch into four chapters. I am currently working on the last chapters. Take care, B.J.