A man once wrote that Hell was the absence of God, and to Castiel he couldn't have been more right. For the first time in his aeons of existence he was alone, and he didn't like it. Angels weren't capable of feeling true fear, their emotions a light breeze, fleeting and ethereal when compared to the vizierial maelstrom of human emotions. Their hearts did not break, they did not get sick with nerves or quake in their boots. They were their Fathers tools, the instruments of his will, they had no need of doubts, no need to question. The constant presence of their Fathers love protected them from such things. To purposely cut ones self off from that love was unthinkable, unconscionable. Yet that is what he had done.
His grace, the physical manifestation of his Fathers love, lay buried deep within him, shielded and dimmed. Hidden. Without it his own body was a stranger to him, he felt jagged and weak. He longed to abandon this mission and return to the comfort of his brothers, to his Father. For in truth he was afraid of this place, for it was indeed Hell,
He had been told nothing of the soul that he had been sent to retrieve save that he would know it when he saw it. A odd statement, he considered, as it seemed to suggest a thing of evident value and he could not imagine what the Lord of Hosts would find of value in a place of such vile degradation and misery. He pitied these dammed souls, for they were once all Gods children, but his pity was muted. They had taken his Fathers gift of free will and by their sins, they had chosen this.
They could not see him as he walked among them, but he could see them and it was a foul sight. The corruption they had forced upon their souls in life only intensifying with each passing year in hell. Most no longer even remembered being human, they certainly no longer carried any trace of humanity in their distorted features. The few who even resembled human were fresh meat, prey for the others, already on their way to becoming full fledged demons themselves.
Castiel moved from room to room, each more horrifying than the last. Tortures the likes of which no living soul could comprehend, much less survive, were practised with impunity. The victims remade at the whim of their tormentors, just to provide a clean canvas for the perfection of their vile art. He continued on moving from corridor to corridor, for Hell truly was labyrinthian, but he found no thing of value to bring to his Father and for the first time in his existence Castiel learnt the feeling of disgust and along with it contempt.
Passing a small side chamber he paused, the scene before him was little different for the countless others he had already witnessed. The torturer was still human in appearance, the damage to its soul showing in the form of physical wounds rather than true corruption. It was that which stopped Castiel. How could one who tortured look so human?
He stopped and looked more closely. The man, if that is what he could still be called, was naked and filthy, dried blood coated him like a second skin and it was clear that not all of it was his. He bent studiously over his work, ignoring the whimpering pleas of his victim as he tighten the straps that held the trembling creature to the large wooden rack. Sharp instruments lay in neat rows on a small surgical table, they were lined up with a precision that would rival any operation theatre.
"Good." The single word, spoken so close to Castiel's left ear that he could feel the breath of it, came close to making the Angel loss his much vaunted composure. Only millennium of training kept his feet attached to the ground and his body still.
The Demon continued on into the room, as yet oblivious to his presences. The creature was human in dimensions but that was where any similarities ended. It was as if it had chosen to maintain that form as a matter of function only, all else had been abandoned or re-sculpted to suit a mind so twisted it was terrifying even to demon kind. Castiel pressed himself further back into the wall, his eyes darting from side to side in a useless attempt to find an alternative exit. This was an upper level demon, a close match in power to himself. The parlour tricks he had thus far employed to hide himself from the Horde would be of little use if its suspicions were to become aroused.
The demon raised it's bulbous head and sniffed the air, clearly sensing something; causing tiny shivers of fear to chase each other down his spine. This was yet another new sensation for the Angel and one he fervently wished to be rid of.
Seemingly mollified, the demons gaze returned to the rack, it's broad mouth pulling into a dagger filled smile. "So much promise." The demon ran a hand through its pets filthy hair, sounding for all the world like a proud father. The smaller creature trembled under its masters touch like a loyal but much beaten dog.
Clawed hands clapped together in obvious glee. "Shall we begin".
Castiel had positioned himself in the corner, bared as he was from the exit by the demons somewhat bulky presence. The creature on the rack screams had long since ceased, giving way to broken sobs, as the demon prince sort to perfect its art. The little creature scuttled back and forth, holding out instruments and cleaning up blood when things got just a little to messy, it even took up a knife its self under its Masters expert tutelage. Its eyes always downcast, never once looking at either demon or its victim as he carried out its task, the perfect servant. Castiels blood boiled with emotions that he barely understood, he hated this Demon with all his soul, but he felt nothing but disgust for the pitiful creature that was its pet.
Finally the Demon dismissed its little helper, sending it scuttling back towards Castiel who had to step to one side as the man thing pressed its self into his corner. Having nothing better to do the Angel turned his gaze to the little imp of Hell huddled at his feet. The imps hands were clenched at its side, as it fought not to bring them up to cover its ears, a look of utter anguish etched on its face as a single tear cut a track down the blood smeared face.
Castiel blinked, taken aback, he had seen tears a plenty in this place of the damned but not this, not a tear shed out of pity for another. The Angel crouched down to get a better look at this strange little creature and instantly doubted what he had just seen. The imps eyes were once more dull and lifeless, it's body still as it patiently waited for its masters next command.
It did not take long for the command to come, the Demon had become bored with its latest project. It reformed its victim a dismissive flip of its wrist and called in a low level demon to drag off the quivering carcass, before leaving itself without sparing its pet a second thought.
The way was now clear for Castiel to leave but he no-longer had any interest in doing so, he stayed crouched against the wall, observing.
The Demons pet was little more than a walking skeleton, pale skin pulled to tight over a boney frame, its body decorated with signs of old and new abuse. It went about its task of cleaning the chamber with careful precision, the knives looking far to comfortable in its hands for Castiels liking. He was more than a little ready to give up on this pointless task, unable to find any redeeming quality in this vile little imp, but duty stopped him. He must leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of his task and this little creature was the closest thing to a stone he had so far come across.
Pushing himself up off the wall, he let a tiny trickle of his Grace, his power, show-forth. The creature screamed. Castiel had hardly expected the sudden appearance of an Angel of the Lord in the midst of Hell to be greeted with universal joy, but he had hadn't expected this either. The little imp dropped the knife it was holding and fell back against the rack, its stick like limps flailing as it tried to crawl under the monstrous devise.
Castiel was in no mood for this, he was exposed now and it would only be a matter of time before the Horde started to sense his presences. Biting down on the disgust he felt at even the thought of touching this thing, the Angel bent down and pulled the creature back out by one boney shoulder. The creature screamed again, but what was one more scream in Hell.
Castiel held the whimpering little creature at arms length, unwilling to get any closer. This was all very strange. The Angel needed answers and he needed them now. Bracing himself for the unpleasant task ahead, he pushed his way into the imps head.
Castiel picked his way through the fractured wasteland which passed for this creatures mind, becoming increasingly certain with each passing moment that this was a dangerous waste of time. He was about to give up entirely when he spotted a small hut in the distance. It took the Angel less than a heart beat to reach the hovel, but when he tried the door he found that it took a surprising amount of force to open it.
He did not expect what he found, once inside.
The wall was flawless, it spread out from where he stood in every direction. Perplexed he pushed at it, it did not budge. He pushed harder but still nothing. Disgruntled he released more of his power and slammed it into the wall, shattering it.
Memories flooded into him, the brush of a women's lips across his forehead as she put him to bed. Large hands covering his smaller ones as he lined up the gun sights on its target for the first time. A little boy grinning up at him with a look of absolute trust in his eyes. The same boy, now a man, standing resolute at his side, ready to face whatever the world might throw at them.
Castiel gasped as his vision finally cleared, everywhere he looked there were walls and defences. Many were cracked from the force of the explosion and memories leaked out; sometimes fully formed but other times nothing more than the memory of a touch or a single word. Words filled with such meaning that it brought Castiel to his knees. BROTHER. SON. HUNTER. PROTECT. Words that defined this strange being. The Angel marvelled at the force of will it must have taken to do this and keep it hidden.
He pressed forward, more carefully this time, as he no-longer wished to bring harm to this strange being, he only wanted to understand. This place was filled with an entire lifetime of memories, nothing had been lost to the ravages of Hell. Castiel did not understand this. Surely it would have been far less painful to give these memories up, to simply become the creature he appeared to be on the outside? There was no hope of salvation, here in Hell, no reason to endure.
And yet here was Castiel, an angel of the Lord.
The Angel unfurled its wings and flew, heading towards the centre, the brightest part of this strange domain. Memories battered at him as he flew, bringing with them understanding. This boy, for he really was little more than a child, young even by the standards of his own people, was a hunter. Castiel understood that, there had been hunters when he last walked the earth. They had been allies against the dark. Fierce and proud warriors.
He now also knew the reason for the boy's presence in this place. It was the price paid for his brothers life; a price paid willingly. Even now the child considered his deal a selfish act, rather than one of noble sacrifice. It was a price he would pay again without a second thought, even knowing what he did now.
Castiel pressed on, the need to understand over riding all else, but when understanding came, as so much in this place already had, it came as a surprise. The Angel stood at the centre of the child's being, bathed in light, at the mercy of the turbulent forces which shaped the boys every action, and he exulted. He had found it! This was the soul he had been looking for, the precious jewel he would lay at his Fathers feet.
Castiel had not meant to drop the boy when he returned to himself, he had simply forgotten that he held him. More proof, he thought, if any was needed, of how badly Hell was affecting him. The child dropped the short distance to the ground, his weakened limps unable to stop him tumbling into the wall. The Angels face scrunched up in confusion as the child pulled its hands up to protect his head, continuing to mutter his endless litany of apologies.
Castiel new that as first impressions went the one he had made on this child was hardly the best, a fact he now deeply regretted, but surely he must understand that the appearance of an angel could mean nothing but good for him. The Angel thought on this for a moment, going back over the memories he had gathered on his strange trip. No, he supposed, the boy would not see his presence as a sign of hope. In his own mind he believed himself irredeemably damned. He had tortured and given aid to demons, and in doing so had gone against everything he believed in. He had become what he hated the most. To him it would appeared far more likely that the Lord would dispatch an angel all the way to the bowels of Hell just to confirm that damnation, than to rescue him.
Never-mind that he had endured decades of torture before he had been brought to this point. Never-mind that he had never taken an ounce of pleasure from any of his actions here in Hell, or that in life he had devoted every fibre of his being to the protection of others. That he had given his life, his very soul, to protect those he loved. No it seemed that Gods forgiveness would be much easier to come by than his own for this flawed and broken child of Adam.
The Angel squatted down on his heels in front of the trembling man, not a particularly dignified position for an angel, he always ended up stepping on his wings somehow, and addressed his new charge.
"Do not be afraid." He had not said those words in over two thousand year, and had all but forgotten the reason the why they had had to be said in the first place. Angels, as the soldiers of God, were not exactly fluffy. Which may be the reason why his charge did not seem to believe him. He tried again.
"Dean." It was the first time he had used the boys name and it felt strange in his mouth, but it seemed to have no more effect on the child than his previous words had. The Angel supposed that no one had called him by name in a very long time
"Dean, I've come to take you home." This got a response, although not the one had been expecting.
"I don't have a home." The answer was quiet, barely above a murmur. Part of Castiel rejoiced at the first rational words spoken by his young charge even as his heart broke at the weight of them, for he knew the boy was speaking nothing but the truth.
"Then I'll take you back to those who love you." The Angel promised gently.
Moss green eyes peered at him from between folded arms. The boy looked so sad.
It took Castiel a moment to understand the meaning behind this statement but when he did he was quick to try and reassure the child.
"No, Dean. They live. Very little time has passed on the surface while you have been down here."
The boy seemed to digest this for a moment before speaking again.
"They won't want me." The thin form pulled himself into a tighter knot against the wall. "Not now."
The Angel ran a hand over it face, a habit he seemed to have inadvertently picked up from the boys own mind. Did the child really think anyone would blame him for his actions down here? Where did this boy get such a low opinion of himself?
Sighing in frustration the Angel glanced towards the door, each additional moment they stayed here increased their danger, but God had given Man free will for a reason and it could not be overturned, not even to rescue a soul as stubborn and bone headed as this one. The child must choose to come with him.
Changing tack, the Angel spoke again, this time in a much firmer tone.
"I have a task for you Dean Winchester." The man was a solider, like himself after all, perhaps he just needed to address him as one.
The boy uncurled a little, listening. Castiel smiled.
"A war is coming, the likes of which has never been seen. I am offering you the chance to fight in it. To protect those who need protecting. To protect those you love."
"To protect Sammy?" Came the quite question, the boy was looking at him full in the face now, his green eyes searching for answers.
"Yes. To protect Sammy." Confirmed Castiel. He should have guessed. He had seen it after all, hidden at the very core of Deans being, the force that drove him to be the man he was. This boy loved without question, never asking for or expecting anything in return. Hell hadn't changed that.
Dean nodded his ascent and struggled to his feet trying his best to look brave and unafraid.
Castiel gazed at him sadly unable to draw his eyes away from the angry red burn, on the boys shoulder. He had caused this. His actions had been needlessly cruel and would still have been cruel even if Dean had turned out to be nothing more than he had first appeared.
Dean shifted under his gaze, clearly misinterpreting it.
Smiling sadly the Angel raised his hand he pressed two fingers to the boy's forehead.
"Sleep" He commanded, nudging the child's mind into the first truly restful sleep it had enjoyed in decades. The Angel catch the limp form before it had the chance to hit the ground. He no-longer felt disgust at the thought of touching the boy, his heart was to full of compassion for that.
Gathering the sleeping child to his chest, he wrapped his wings around the both of them. Freely giving what little comfort and protection they may offer.
Gathering his power around him and the Angel whispered softly to his charge.
"Time to go home Dean."
Understanding now that to Dean home was a person not a place.