The sound thundered in Dean's head as he brought the manacle closed over the struggling wrist. It was but a small sound compared to the screaming, pleading, and misery being echoed by hundreds of voices all at once in the vast room, but it might as well have been the only one. This one was of his doing. This one spoke of the choice he'd made once more to put another on the rack to save himself from its pain. And it felt good.
Guilt and pleasure moved hand in hand inside him as the scent of primal fear perfumed the air. Things didn't work here as they did in the living world. Absence could be an ever greater bliss or horror than having something. For him, glory came with the absence of pain. An absence made ever more acute as he inflicted it on others as it had once been so mercilessly inflicted on him.
"What's the holdup…Dean?"
The rasping voice sent shivers up his Hell made flesh, dread and want pumping through his veins in the fake bodies they wore here, but he didn't cringe from it though he wanted nothing more than to run screaming in terror while at the same time fawn at the demon's feet. This was the being who'd made his soothing pleasure possible – Alastair. He was hate and love wrapped together as things could only manage to be in Hell. Yet it was best never to show any weakness or emotion, good or bad. They were the two things Alastair craved more than anything. And though he adored, despised him, it was never wise to give Alastair anything he wanted. He'd pry it open, twist it, and change you with it, forcing you to walk yet another step further from humanity and closer to becoming what he was.
"No hold up. Just letting him stew a bit." Absence at its worst. "You in a hurry?" Dean clamped his mouth shut, wondering if today would be the day he went too far. His mouth had always had a propensity for getting him in trouble, the more so the more he got pushed or frightened. The fact his soul was lost and rotting here didn't seem to have changed much as far as his lip was concerned. His eyes betrayed him though, flickering to the side to try to catch a glimpse of the demon's face -- his mentor, his keeper, his master.
He trembled as amused laughter gurgled into his ear. The demon was standing close behind him, so close Dean could feel the heat of his body despite that which already filled the ambient air. He almost screamed when the scaled claw patted him gently on the shoulder.
"Too true, my pupil." A forked tongue flicked his ear. "We have all the time we'll ever need here, you and I. Keep up the good work."
Dean nodded wishing the skin would rot off his shoulder where his teacher had touched it or that he could somehow enshrine it forever. Praise from that bastard made his insides clench and want to vomit, while also causing him to shiver in almost ecstatic bliss.
His first waking moments in Hell had found him suspended over an endless shaft of strung chains, surrounded by the stench of sulfur, his body pierced by hooks and stretched taught over endless emptiness. He'd dangled there for hours, days, the pain tearing at him, any vibration increasing the agony as the chains responded to the pull and sway of the air as thunder eternally rang around him. He was alone there, as if his were the only soul in the entirety of Hell. The continuous thunder and utter emptiness had nibbled at him, cutting him, worrying him, trying to drive him mad until he'd not been able to take it anymore and screamed out for help, for Sam, for anyone, just so there was a human voice, a sound to fill the endless, horrid space. He called out until his throat was raw and then some. And was rewarded with nothing but more ear splitting booms and painful reverberations.
Eventually though Alastair had come. Wide bat like wings had brought him effortlessly from nowhere, his grotesque body of scales, horns, and teeth as ugly as the glimpses he'd caught of demons hiding inside human bodies upstairs. The demon had grabbed one of the chains hooked into Dean's flesh and hung from it, exerting untold pressure on his already gouged and bleeding shoulder.
Dean had gritted his teeth and taken it, making sure no sound escaped his lips. There was no way he'd give the demon the satisfaction.
"You must be Dean Winchester."
His mouth came to the rescue as usual, even as his insides shrieked with fear. "And you're effing ugly, so what?"
It was the first time Dean heard that horrid sweet laugh. "Lilith said I might find you interesting. An idiot full of spunk." He gurgled with pleasure. "Guess she was right."
Terror jolted through him at the familiar name sending a shot of adrenaline through his already abused system. Lilith, the demon who'd held his contract, who'd sicked her hellhound on him, laughing as it tore him apart and killed him. Sammy had been left all alone with her -- with no one to help him. He had no idea if his brother was alive or dead.
"You and I are going to become very good friends."
Then with a snap of his fingers the chains holding Dean up and disappeared. He fell, desperately trying to grab onto the other chains strung across the abyss as he zoomed past. He swished through the choking glowing green clouds until an eternity later he'd splattered onto the spiked ground below, his body totally broken yet somehow still alive.
Alastair had come for him himself and dragged his bleeding pieces to where he was now. He personally stripped him of all his former possessions and clamped Dean onto a blood soaked rack while explaining in horrid detail what he would do to him each time before doing it. How he would make him sing.
Dean had looked fondly back upon his time on the chains before the day was through.
And then, as he had every day after an endless battery of torture and detailed explanations, Alastair told him he had a choice. He could avoid the rack if he would just put another in his place. The flush of satisfaction as he spat in the demon's face and told him where he could stick it, almost made up for the pain still thrumming in his bones.
So it had gone for a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times, until one day…he had broken. Or seen the darkness – depending on whom you asked. The humiliation of it still stung like acid yet also rang with pride. Now he was free of the rack and others were being made to take his place. He wasn't helpless, the one being made to suffer, but instead held power and free will, the will to instill suffering in others. And it ate him from the inside, a pain almost as fierce as being on the rack again, yet of his own choosing, not theirs, and therefore under his control. Even thinking about going back on the rack gave him the shakes and would paralyze even his runaway mouth – which made the lack of pain after all the sweeter. This was living!
Staring at the coarse ground beneath his bare feet, he reached for the ebony knife on the stand beside the rack, a light thrill traveling through his hand as he touched the cold, smooth stone. For not only did he willingly trade places with someone on the apparatus each day to escape it, he must also be the one to give them a taste of what they could expect beneath the hands of those more experienced than he. He must prove to his mentor he had paid attention during their long sessions when he had been the one strapped to the rack instead.
"Please! Please don't do this. Please! I'll do anything you want, give you anything you want. Please!"
Dean paid no heed to the panicked pleas even as guilt, shame, and rousing expectation suffused him from head to toe. He couldn't afford to show any of it however, and so did not. He kept his hand and the knife steady though he shook with both titillating horror and delight.
I'm sorry, please scream, I'm sorry, please scream, I'm sorry, please scream, I'm sorry.
His spirit cried out in ecstasy as the knife touched flesh and made the first perfect incision into the skin. The faceless person before him shrieked, muscles tight, veins and tissue becoming extended, warm blood splashing on his knife and fingers then oozing slowly over the taught flesh to find its way to the obsidian floor. It was but the first step of his growing work, of making his own imprint on this flickering soul forever.
Dean had tried to commit suicide once, using the very knife he held now, but there was no way to die here. He was already dead. He'd only felt the pain of it and the rotting of the body as the cycle went round and then healed instantly when it came time to start a new day. It ended up only providing sport for everyone else, a distraction from the norm, and that was all. Even Alastair had been amused and laughed in his paralyzed dead face when he saw him then gave him commentary on how Dean could have made the death quicker, more painful, or last longer. He even encouraged him to try again.
Dean started in on a parallel cut to the first on the victim's inner thigh, the blood gushing over the pale skin. The screaming above him reached new heights sending bumps of pleasure over his flesh. Alastair called all their combined cries his symphony of pain – one which he was always striving to perfect. His afterlife's calling. Something Dean was proud, eager and sickened to help him try to achieve.
The clothes and items his mind had brought with him to the pit, to give him a sense of identity or self, had been stripped away and destroyed. For the rack you came as the day you were born – naked, exposed, vulnerable.
No longer on the rack, he wore blood for clothing, layers and layers of it draped over him as he went about his work, badges of honor, proof of his compliance, of his status. A thin loincloth in Alastair's maroon color showed he was no longer just meat but under apprenticeship. It made no sense to him, but it impacted the psyche anyway. Clothes meant civilization, control, nakedness the opposite or so they'd have one believe. And believe they did.
He'd been disgusted more than once by those who gave in with open arms and embraced this role before they were truly ready -- those who lavished pain on others without thought if not growing glee, the possible heights of their pleasure stunted by their eagerness. They gave away pieces of their soul too quickly and so were changing. He'd noticed bits of scales on some, extra growths of skin on others. It didn't take a genius to figure out how demons eventually came to look as ugly as they did. But why rush into it when you had all of eternity to enjoy the road of getting there?
Here he was in the minority. One of the few who'd come to this place through a demon deal -- knowing exactly what it meant and doing it willingly rather than being tricked into it or being one of those who'd forged a path here with how they lived their lives and got a free ticket in, knowingly or not. It made him special.
As long as he had been here, after all the years, he was sure he would have taken the short road, like some had, long ago if not for one thing – Sam – the one person who meant everything to him, the one bright thing in his life, the one person who was not here and who he wanted to wait for. But who was also the one person who might never come. Sam was the kindest of them, the most pure – and what an utter delight it would be to get to corrupt and bring him to their way of thinking.
Dean forced himself to believe his brother was still alive, that he'd somehow survived being left alone with Lilith, that he was still up there, fighting the good fight, doing everything in his power to keep these sorry bastards from doing whatever they wanted. It was his one hope, his one shining beacon. Because when Sam fell, and fall he would, it would make it oh so much sweeter.
Though sometimes he despaired that in the end it would not be enough.
His father had been here a lot longer than him, and Dean had no idea how he'd kept his identity, his soul intact. Dean wasn't his father. He was weak. Had always been weak. Without him or Sam, he'd been rudderless, useless. If Heaven existed, he'd not been worthy to go there before, and he would definitely never be worthy to go there now. No pity would be visited on him, no mercy. He would remain here in this pit until the end of days. But if he couldn't escape it, maybe someday, he would rule it instead.
Sammy, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I love you. Come let me show you what I've become. What you too could be someday.
His face broke into grimaced smile.
He half turned around, not knowing where the odd disquieting voice had come from or who was calling him. His fake heart fluttered in his chest, though he could not say why. There had just been something so…
For no reason, he looked up. Though the vast room was always covered in gloom, the air grew brighter. Something about it screamed that it did not belong, that it was not from here. He didn't know how he knew, but he did and it made him glad as he trembled with fear. He didn't know what it was or why it was, but he was glad. Tears gathered in his eyes. It hurt to look at it was so bright.
Screams filled the room again yet not from those being tortured but from their demon masters instead. They were angry screams, frightened screams. And it filled Dean with awe and amazement that anything could do that to them in their own domain. He wanted more of it.
Black wings sprang upwards. The light seemed at first to back away, but then he realized it was actually gathering together, growing brighter and brighter like a small sun. It washed over him, over all of them, and made him feel strangely split in two, the mesh of his opposing feelings splitting apart, making him strangely alert as if up to now he had been drowning.
Suddenly a beam shot down and came straight at him. He didn't even have time to truly realize this before it hit him on the left shoulder. Blinding pain shot through him, but also calm, a balm of soothing peace.
Maybe he could die down here and find freedom after all.