Title: Pomegranate has nothing to do with it
Pairing: Dean/Castiel, Dean/Lucifer
Summary: Like Persephone, Dean has to return to Hell for a time each year
It's been a year since he was dragged down into the pit, kicking and screaming like a little girl. He still had nightmares, probably always would, and he'd never be able to go down to the local butcher shop Last time he had, shortly after getting rehymenated, he had vivid flashbacks of Alistair and ended up on the floor, screaming bloody murder until Sam showed up to see what was taking him so long. Large ships were to be avoided, too, what with the large hooks and chains they had lying about.
But other than a few hiccups, Dean felt pretty sure that he was (mostly) over his experience. He was alive, Sammy was alive, and they were both killing evil sons of bitches. Sure, there was the whole 'demons versus angels' thing, but to be able to breathe without his lungs burning, to go even five minutes without unimaginable pain? He'd kill Cthulhu itself to keep that.
The week before the anniversary of his death, a sharp pain began to build in his chest. It was small, almost unnoticeable, but only after a couple of days it was nearly unbearable and Dean laid as still as he could on a motel bed, trying to avoid jostling his body and sending his nerve endings into a frenzy. Sam hovered over him like a mother bear, angry and worried and the most annoying he'd ever been.
"Seriously, Dean, I think you might have been cursed! Who did you piss off?"
Dean groaned as the pain elevated a notch. "We haven't exactly been around too many people to piss off lately, Sam. It's been all Wendigos and werewolves and angry spirits the past month, remember? Not to mention the occasional demon or angel we run across."
"Well it has to be something! You can barely move!"
"He hasn't been cursed."
Both brothers were long used to Castiel showing up at any random moment, but they were so involved in their argument that they hadn't noticed the flutter of wings that heralded his arrival. Sam jumped and pulled Ruby's blade as he turned, and Dean jerked his head quickly to the side. Seeing it was only Cas, Sam tucked the blade away and stepped forward to grip the lapels of his trench coat.
"Cas, what do you mean he's not cursed? What's wrong with him then?"
"Every action has a balance. I was able to pull Dean from Hell because it was His Will, but Dean's deal still stands and he must finish his time."
Dean sucked in a pained breath and Sam's stomach sank to his shoes. "What?"
"I tried to keep the pull from affecting him, but now that I'm cut off from the Host, I no longer possess the power to do so. Unfortunately Dean's soul will return to Hell on the anniversary of his death." If the angel didn't look so uncharacteristically stricken by the news, Sam would've punched him in a fit of rage. Instead, Sam gripped him harder and slammed him against the wall.
"Why didn't you tell us before? We could've found a was out of it if you told us earlier!"
If Castiel had been human he would have been wheezing in an effort to gather enough air, but he wasn't so he remained unaffected by the force exerted on his chest. "There is no way to back out, Sam. The deal must be fulfilled."
When his brother had slammed Cas against the wall, Dean had fought against the pain in his chest and sat up, ready to try to pull the to of them apart should things get really nasty. At Cas's denial, his shoulder's slumped. "Well, I guess it's been a nice vacation, at least. I don't suppose you could pull me out and give me another year, huh Cas?"
"No, Dean. Even if He commanded it, I don't have enough grace left to get through the gate, let alone raise you again. But you will not be there for long, relatively speaking. I managed to twist the deal so that you only need to be present in Hell for exactly one day, every year on the anniversary of your death. It will last until it's your time to give up life for good, but if all goes well in the fight against Lucifer, your soul may be allowed into Heaven instead of damned to Perdition."
Sam wanted to scream, unable to picture Dean back in Hell even for just one day a year, but he pushed down the urge to argue. It was the best they could hope for considering the circumstances, and he was grateful that Castiel was able to manage it. He eased away from the angel and sat down on the other bed. "So we've got a couple of days before Dean's dragged back. Is there anything we can do about the pain until then?"
"I'm fine, Sammy. I'm not a whiney little girl like you are when you get a paper cut."
"Shut up, Dean. Cas? Anything you can do?"
Castiel hesitated, then nodded. "I can remove his pain."
"But?" Sam knew it wasn't that easy.
"But when the time comes for his soul to be taken, there is nothing I can do. He must suffer through it. I'm sorry."
"No problem, Cas. Just mojo me, huh? Getting kind of sick of laying in bed." The angel gently placed two fingers against' Dean's forehead and Sam watched his brother take a deep breath before standing up quickly. "Man, that feels great! So, what do you say we go kill something before I gotta go?" Dean avoided their eyes as he fled outside, most likely to brood in the Impala. Sam nodded to Castiel and turned to his laptop. He wasn't willing to give up looking for a way to get Dean out of this until he'd exhausted every source.
Sam wasn't able to find anything before the day came. When midnight struck, Dean let out an agonized scream and fell to the floor, convulsing and shrieking wildly. As soon as it started, it was over and Dean lay deathly still on the dirty carpet. Sam, who had stood up with gun in hand as soon as his brother started screaming, rushed to Dean and placed a finger to his neck. Castiel stayed where he was, in a rickety chair underneath the only window in the room. The angel's eyes were closed, but he opened them when Sam spoke.
"He's dead. I thought his soul only left his body, why doesn't he have a pulse?"
"When a human dies, usually their soul sits in limbo until a reaper can send them off, either to Heaven or to Hell. In Dean's case, his soul was dragged directly to Hell, where he will stay for twenty four hours. Then his soul will return to his body and he will breathe once more. Do not worry, Sam, he will be back."
"Don't worry? Don't worry? Cas, Dean's in Hell! Why wouldn't I worry?"
"Unlike before, when Dean was destined to suffer in Hell, and he retained all of his memories of his experience, I will remove his memory of the past twenty four hours. It's the least I can do for being unable to free him from his punishment."
Silently, Sam selfishly agreed that Castiel had failed to protect Dean, but he kept his mouth shut and carefully lifted Dean's body onto the bed. He gathered the keys to the Impala and shrugged on his jacket as he headed for the door. "Watch out for him while I'm gone."
"Where are you going?"
"Out. I need a drink. I'll only be gone for a few hours. Keep him safe, Cas."
Castiel didn't miss the "or else" silently tacked onto the end of that sentence. Sam shut the door firmly behind himself and Castiel listened as the Impala roared to life and pulled away from the motel. As the silence in the room grew thicker and more oppressive, he turned to Dean's body, sadness aching in his chest like a hot rock. He'd begged and pleaded with his Father, with any brothers and sisters that didn't try to kill him on sight, even a few crossroads demons, to help him break Dean free of his suffering. He'd even offered himself in Dean's place, but none would aid him. Castiel slowly stood and stepped over to Dean. His face was twisted from the pain that had 'killed' him and Castiel smoothed out his features with his hand. Without really thinking about it, Castiel bent down and placed his lips against his forehead.
Dean opened his eyes after what felt like an eternity of pain, only to squeeze them shut as a red hot blade sunk into his side.
"Hello, Dean. It's so good to see you again. I was starting to miss you, you know."
It was one of Alistair's minions, one who's name he's never learned, but it looked like he was the new 'head interrogator'.
"What can I say, I enjoyed my last stay so well."
"Cute, Dean, but what Alistair did to you for thirty years will seem like a cake walk compared to what I'm going to do. After all, I've only got twenty four human hours to work with, don't I?"
After that, everything was a blur of heat and pain and dark red blood staining the floor. This demon was merciless, didn't even stop to taunt him as he carved into Dean like a Thanksgiving turkey. He was pretty sure he'd started screaming at one point, endlessly and uselessly, but after a while his vocal cords gave out and all he could do was suffer silently.
It seemed like forever since it started, but as if a switch had been flipped, he was hanging from the racks in one piece, healed and ready for round two. The demon working on him was no where to be found, though, and Dean looked around nervously. He'd hated it when they started fucking with him, starting in on him when they were out of his range of vision. He tensed, waiting for his back to be opened on a sharp blade, but only the warm weight of a hand on his shoulder touched him. Dean flinched, waiting for the action to inflict itself on him, but instead, the chains that kept him immobile loosened and he dropped to the floor.
"Hello, Dean. Sorry I'm late."
Dean crab walked away from the voice and flailed around until he saw who spoke. It was someone he'd never met before, but he was sure it wasn't a demon, with the lack of strange-colored eyes. The guy wasn't human though, held himself too differently, like he'd been stuffed into a suit when he was used to jeans and a t-shirt, and his face was too free from emotions. An angel, maybe?
"Who the fuck are you?"
The guy smiled and crouched down before him, reached out a long arm and snagged his collar. Dean fought, but couldn't help but be dragged closer, close enough that he could feel his breath bounce off the other's face.
Unbidden, he leaned forward and kissed Dean gently, and Dean felt a bolt of something shoot through him. He yanked himself free and scuttled a safe distance away. "What the fuck, man?"
"You may call my Lucifer, Dean. Sam may be my vessel, but when you reside in Hell, you belong to me. Your time is up this year, but tell my brother Castiel that he will never be able to do anything about my claim while you are here. I'm sure he will understand what I mean."
Dean had scooted back farther when Lucifer introduced himself, and sat precariously close to the edge of an abyss that more than likely lead to the lower levels of Hell. Lucifer raise a hand toward him and something invisible grabbed a hold of him and pulled him up, away from the racks and past many others who were suffering like he had. The demons torturing him ignored his ascent, but the souls who saw him reach out for him, begging to be saved as well. Lucifer's smile was the last thing he saw before everything went dark.
When he could see again, he was back in the motel and Cas' face hovered closely over him.
"Welcome back, Dean." And then the angel lifted two fingers to his head and Dean forgot everything.