A/N: First I'd like to say a warm and heartfelt thank you to all of my reviewers. I appreciate your encouragement. For those hoping for a longer piece of work, I can't promise anything because I've never really been successful in keeping up with multi-chapter fics but this is my gift to you!
Disclaimer: Supernatural and all its affiliates belong to Eric Kripke.
Hell. Enfer. Hölle. Infierno. Ад. Sheol. Gehenna.
To some it was known as the Pit; to others, the place of ultimate suffering and punishment in the afterlife where damned souls were sent to be tortured for all of eternity. However, gradually over time, like so many other words in languages spoken by individuals all scattered around the globe, it lost its position as one those words that were only allowed to be spoken in hushed whispers with plenty of apologies to higher deities afterwards and soon became integrated into everyday life through mainstream pop culture.
The Greeks got it all wrong though, with their concept of the river Lethe and the Underworld guarded by Cerberus and lorded over by some anthropomorphic god named Hades and his wife Persephone. Dante Alighieri was somewhat off the mark too, but there was no way to be truly sure. It was certainly difficult to look for a sign that read "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" or attempt keeping count of the different numbers of circles and bolgias when one was being dragged into the depths of eternal damnation by hellhounds.
First off, everyone always supposed Hell was all fire, brimstone and molten lava whereas those who had remembered their high school literature classes remembered from The Inferno that the deepest level of the abyss was in fact coated over in ice. Dean Winchester supposed that a little bit of both were true. What supposedly educated scholars and religious experts failed to realize was that the rules of physics and everything that dealt with the natures and properties of matter and energy here on earth didn't apply in Hell. Sure he could still see the desolate landscape devoid of anything and everything save for the thousands of wasted, decrepit souls littering every inhabitable corner, unlike the next poor bastard who had nothing but empty sockets in his face. Sure he heard the screams and howls of all those there mingled with the hisses and shrieks of pleasure of the demons that tormented them- sounds that he would take to his (second) grave.
But what he didn't feel was because he simply couldn't. The pain of being flayed to the bone, having his skin peeled off inch by inch and feeling his skin splitting, giving way like water and bones splintering into a thousand tiny pieces before his eyes hardly left any room to calculate whether he felt hot or cold. Occasionally his mind would be able to register the nauseating odor of scorched flesh and coppery blood filling his nostrils before the pain overtook his sense again.
Dean took in a deep breath and tried to collect himself, shaking his head hard to rid his mind of the memory, but still it persisted. A frown creased his brow and he was suddenly aware that his shirt was sticking to his back, soaked in sweat and his surroundings were unusually warm. There was a faint buzzing in his ears and he turned onto his back, reaching for his pillow. I've got to tell Sam to get us a room with an A/C that actually works next time…
He couldn't find his pillow. Or his blanket, for that matter. And what was it about the bed that made it suddenly seem hard as stone? Coughing slightly now as something like smoke tickled the back of his throat, he sat up straight and opened his eyes-
-and was instantly assaulted from all sides by heat, screams of agony, pain, and evil. His jaw fell slack and an odd croaking nose emitted from his throat but Dean was incapable of words. No… there's no way… how the HELL am I back here?!
A trickle of sweat slid down his temple from hairline to chin as he sat up from where he lay on the blackened, solidified molten ground and took in the unsightly environment he had somehow landed himself in. It was no different than what he remembered from his first trip down into the Pit and as much as he wanted to close his eyes to shut out the horrors of where he was, to wish it all away or to suddenly wake up, the crank of the chains on the rack tightening and the cold dread he felt in the bottom of his stomach told him that everything that was happening was very real. No, no, no. Get me out of here!! Sam!
There was a jerking sensation as if someone was throwing a hook around his torso and dragging him forward. Directly in front of him now was a body held up by chains branded by evil, bloodied and torn. Bile rose up in the back of Dean's throat as he recalled how once he was the one turning the crank of the rack, how he'd been ordered to take up the whip or to rip apart souls with his bare hands- and how he had complied, regret chewing him up as he tortured so many nameless, faceless of the damned like himself under the watchful white eyes of Alastair.
Oh God, he could still hear the demon's oily, sickly sweet voice murmuring in his ear: "That's it boy… good, good. Dean, I'm very impressed. Your potential is limitless; you might actually make it here…" Dean clutched his head, hands clasped over his ears and knees nearly buckling as the guilt slammed into his mind, as fresh as those horrible moments past. Cas, I could really use some angelic assistance right about now! Why aren't you here to yank me up from perdition this time around?
Movement in front of him drew his attention back to the poor bastard stretched out upon the rack, completely vulnerable and helpless to the demons that flocked around him. None of them seemed to notice Dean at the present moment and the eldest Winchester was perfectly fine with keeping things that way when something caught his eye and made him halt abruptly in the process of slowly backtracking away from the grisly scene.
It seemed like the demons had been getting creative since he'd last been here, too easily bored with their routine motions of torture. Somehow they'd invented a rack that could turn one hundred and eighty degrees with ease, allowing full frontal and posterior access for the whip and other tools. The rack spun around and came to a stop with a sharp jerk that jostled the spread body and exposed the individual's back. Dean took a slow step forward, both unable and unwilling to believe his eyes. Though the man's skin had been literally cut and hacked into ribbons like a piece of meat upon a butcher's table exposing mutilated flesh and torn muscle underneath, some remnants still hung on his frame like rags. Dean could barely make out the elongated fabric looped around the victim's neck, once blue in color but now completely splattered crimson and it felt like a knife plunging swiftly into his gut.
Rushing forth and nearly tripping over his own two feet in his haste, Dean reached out a hand and jerked the revolving rack to a stop so that the man was facing him. The demons scattered, communicating in low guttural hisses about the intruder but he was beyond caring. Hardly knowing what to do for fear of causing the other more pain, Dean very carefully crooked a finger under the chin, lifting the head and all the while praying to the God that he doubted even existed-
He could've sworn that for one full second, his heart stuttered to a stop for the figure stretched out upon the rack, face grey and bloodless but splattered and flecked with arterial blood spray, cheeks sunken and brow tight with pain was Castiel, angel of the Lord.
"Castiel!" Dean very nearly roared, terrified and filled with horror at the lack of response all at once. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, no! He pulled away and latched onto the manacle encircling the angel's right wrist that was connected to one of the multiple chains holding him in place, panic mounting as the action only earned him muscles straining to their limit and bleeding fingertips. "It's alright," he said aloud although Castiel's head was sunken down so low between the wings of his upraised arms, staying so still that Dean wasn't even sure the angel was aware of his presence. "Stay with me, Cas. I'm gonna get you out of here."
Yeah, right. How? He continued to pull with all his might at the chains, to no avail. Had it been any other time in any other situation, Dean would have had to wonder at the irony of the situation and speculate as to whether or not God really did have a sick, twisted sense of-
He stopped rattling the chain and moved in front of the angel whose chin was no longer touching his chest, exhaustion and pain reflecting clearly in his dark blue eyes that used to be filled with infinite wisdom and compassion. Castiel's voice was weak, raspy and barely audible and Dean could hear the air rattling in the angel's tattered chest as he tried to draw breath. "It's up to you now," were the words that somehow got out past blood-flecked white lips and Dean frowned, half crazed with desperation and confusion.
"What? What's up to me now?"
"To prevent Lucifer from rising."
Suddenly the angel stiffened, eyes growing bright with unshed tears of pain as his jaw clenching tight. His back arched and to Dean's horror, a shaft of hellfire-forged metal burst out of Castiel's chest from where it had been thrust up and in between his shoulder blades from behind. "Cas!" The rack was turning now again and Dean could see the outline of perpetrator who stood there on the other side. Something that wasn't quite lava but wasn't quite ice lancing through his chest and spreading through his entire body, down his arms and into his hands which curled into hard fists. A vein bulged in his forehead. Come on, you son of a bitch. That's it. Face me. The instrument of torture stopped once again with a harsh jolt and Dean was about to leap forward, fist cocked over his left shoulder when the recognition knocked into him like a brick wall and he fell backwards onto his ass.
His younger brother grinned, eyes tinted yellow but didn't respond as he reached out and with a forceful pull, yanked the blade out of Castiel's chest and brought the metal up to his mouth, tongue darting out to lick it clean with a crazed, malevolent grin. The angel's body spasmed horribly, back arching upwards, writhing in pain and all Dean could manage to do was sit there dumbly, staring in utter shock at his baby brother whom he'd sworn to protect and to keep from changing into what he saw before him now.
"Hello, Dean." Sam smirked, voice making the older Winchester shudder. "Here to enjoy the show?" He nodded at someone behind Dean, "Hold him back. Make sure he doesn't interfere." Clawed hands gripped his arms and twisted tightly, pinning his limbs before Dean had the presence of mind to protest or move on his own. …Sammy?
"You still alive, prick?" Sam spat, voice dripping with mockery as he drew his fist back and let it rocket forward, smashing into the side of Castiel's face. Dean flinched as the blow connected but even though the force made the angel's body sway in the chains, Castiel made no sound. Sam's usually tranquil features twisted into an ugly scowl and he brought his fist up sharply to connect with the underside of the angel's face, smashing his head up and backwards. "Not going to talk? Daddy can't hear you now, can he?"
"GET OUT OF MY BROTHER, YOU BASTARD!"
Sam turned, eyebrows raised at the outburst and eyes flashing bright yellow, just like Azazel. Dean struggled fiercely against the claws that held him back, desperate to rush to his brother and shake out whatever was possessing him because surely this wasn't his brother. There was no way.
"He's not possessed, Dean."
He froze, because he recognized the greasy voice that at the moment was filled with pleasure and amusement. Alastair strode forward and patted Sam's shoulder affectionately, very much like a proud father would to his son and Dean's anger burned hot again, expanding in his chest and making it hard to breathe. "You son of a bitch," he hissed angrily, eyes aching from the hot tears he was trying to hold back because he had failed Sam. And he had failed his father.
"That will be enough for now, Sam," Alastair purred, never once taking his eyes off his victim and Sam moved aside, bowing his head once in deference to the older demon and going to stand beside the rack. He caught Dean's anguished, pleading gaze and smirked with nothing short of pure wickedness.
"Watch, Dean," he said smoothly. "The fun's just about to start."
Dean's head whipped back toward Castiel who was still hanging motionless in his bonds as Alastair approached. "I've been watching you," he said softly, mouth right beside the angel's ear. "I've been watching you this entire time and I must say kiddo, once again you impress me. Six days is like sixty years down here so I've been told and not one single scream." His mouth tightened in disapproval. "Not much fun for me though."
The demon's hands came up to encircle Castiel's throat then and Dean was instantly reminded of the time when he witnessed a very similar scene but they hadn't been in Hell but in a barn, it hadn't been the stench of rotting flesh overpowering everything but hay and dust. And certainly Castiel didn't look like a helpless puppet pounded over and over again with a meat tenderizer. "Come on, kiddo," Alastair said in a low, soft voice. "Just one little whimper."
To Dean's horror, he noticed the faint light that had been surrounding Castiel even here in the depths of hell was dimming and he struggled even harder to get to the angel. Cas!
"Yes? No?" The older demon said nonchalantly, keeping one iron grip around the angel's throat and using the other to lash at Castiel's face until Dean heard cartilage snapping, until blood gushed like a torrent. The other demons that surrounded the scene were hooting and hollering in enjoyment at the sight of their holy counterpart, nearly broken.
Growing bored and no doubt frustrated, Alastair planted his feet and drew his free hand backwards. Dean waited with baited breath because as must as he hated himself for it, that was all he could do. As if in slow motion the demon's hand, clawed, scaly and unrecognizable shot forward and plunged into Castiel's chest. "Castiel!" he hollered.
The angel was choking on blood and it snaked down his chin in rivulets as Alastair casually twisted his wrist this way and that, wreaking irreparable damage to his victim. Suddenly, his features lit up in discovery and he shoved his arm in up to the elbow before ripping it out with savage morbidity. There was something glowing bright in the demon's grasp, growing dimmer and dimmer by the moment and with shocking realization, Dean gaped as Castiel's grace grew dark and slipped through Alastair's fingers like water and dissipated like mist.
His head turned sharply like someone had slapped him in the face, horrified eyes fixed upon Castiel. The angel's eyes were rolling skyward, eyelids fluttering, a single agonized groan slipping from his throat. There was no way he was speaking since Alastair had all but torn his lungs to shreds but Castiel's lips moved in a silent whisper and above the screams of the thousands of other souls in the far stretches of hell, Dean heard the one word so full of pain, desperation, and regret. But more than that, a plea for forgiveness.
Castiel's head fell down against his mangled chest and the angel sagged limply against the chains, light fully extinguished.