Author's Note: I'm playing a little fast and loose with the years here, both in Hell and out. I figured it wouldn't be too weird that Hell is a bit timey-wimey. R&R, s'il vous plait, and enjoy.
When he was moved in, Dean didn't take much notice of him. Just another soul, another set of screams and curses. Dean had his own problems. It didn't help to feel sorry for other people. It didn't ease his suffering, or theirs. And this one wasn't as pathetic as some of the others. He must have been at least Dean's size, broad-shouldered and muscular. Everything about him said he wasn't someone to be messed with. And given the state of him, he wasn't a new arrival. Wherever he'd been before just hadn't been good enough, and it was Alastair's turn to have a go at him.
But when the days ticked by and the man never did scream once, never said anything, never made a sound, Dean noticed.
Alastair was getting frustrated, Dean could tell. None of his usual tricks were working. The man barely winced as he was carved up day after day. Alastair loved the screams, and this man was denying him.
He took it out on Dean.
After one particularly brutal session, Dean hung panting and glared at the silent man. "Would it kill you to give him a whimper?" he growled. The man looked at him impassively. "He's taking it out of my ass, man. Every time you don't cry for him. What's it gonna hurt?"
The man said nothing, but his dark eyes didn't leave Dean's face. Dean looked away first.
It was three years before Dean heard him speak.
"If you're trying to get something out of me, you'll have to try harder than that."
Alastair stared at the man, freezing in the midst of placing him back on the hooks. The man had the barest hint of a smirk on his face. The demon recovered quickly. "It's only been a century, Angelus. I know you. You'll break. I mean, look...you're talking already."
Dean shuddered. A hundred years. He'd only even begun make sound after a hundred years of torture.
The man shrugged, or shrugged as best he could past the hooks. "You're sloppy, Alastair. You're used to these soft humans."
Alastair took the man's face in his hand. The man just smiled. "You forget you're a human soul now, Angelus. Or perhaps I should say Liam," the demon said softly. "Whatever strength your demon gave you is gone."
Angelus shook his head. "It's about endurance," he said. "Being Angelus taught me endurance."
"Hell is all about invention," Alastair said. "I have all the time in the world to figure out how to hurt you."
Dean watched Angelus as Alastair left, and the man closed his eyes. For all the world it looked like he was taking a nap as he relaxed into the hooks that held him suspended.
In another five years, Angelus had grown bold.
"It's the placement you're getting wrong," he said to Alastair, his voice conversational. "Of the pokers. My musculature is a little different because of my dysfunctional circulatory system. It's a little confusing."
"I'll tear your tongue out if you don't shut up," Alastair shouted, his eyes flipping white.
Angelus laughed. "Please. Don't make threats you won't live up to. You're waiting to hear me beg."
"I will hear it from you, too," Alastair promised. He glanced at Dean, who went cold. "Or him," the demon said, as though the thought had just occurred to him.
Angelus tried to turn to him, and didn't even flinch against the hooks as they stopped his progress. "Leave the kid out of this," he growled. "This is about you and me."
"Please," Alastair scoffed. "You're just jealous. Like you wouldn't have loved to have the boy on a rack yourself, days gone by."
"If that's how you're phrasing the offer today, then my answer remains go fuck yourself," Angelus spat. "And like you keep telling me. My demon is gone."
Alastair walked up to Dean while keeping his eyes on Angelus. He touched Dean's face. "Maybe the Hell you need is Angel's Hell," he said. "A Hell where people are hurt for you, because of you."
Angelus gave a roar and struggled against the hooks. Dean winced as he saw them tear into the man's flesh. Alastair laughed, slapping Dean on the face affectionately. "A hundred years is a long time, Angelus," he said. "Nobody will blame you for starting to snap." He smiled a terrible little smile at Angelus, and left.
When he was gone, Dean looked over at Angelus with effort. The man was just settling down, still breathing heavily. "So," Dean said. "One hundred years."
The other man made a soft sound that sounded almost like a laugh. "Yeah," he said. He turned and saw Dean's horrified, sympathetic expression, and shook his head. "Don't. I've done things that would make you vomit."
"I got a strong stomach," Dean muttered.
A real laugh, then. "I bet," Angelus said. "What about you, kid?"
What are you in for? "Sold my soul," Dean replied. No point in lying in Hell. "To save my kid brother."
Angelus studied him. "You don't deserve to be here," he stated.
Dean smiled humorlessly. "Yeah, well, I didn't live too clean back topside, either way."
"What's your name?" Angelus asked.
That stopped Angelus. He blinked. "Really. John's kid?"
Dean tensed, then sucked in a breath as the hooks pulled at him. "You knew my dad?" he hissed through the pain.
"You could say," Angelus said. "Look, you can beat this. You're here on a deal. You're not dead as in dead. And you hero types...you tend to beat this kind of thing."
Dean took a moment to let the fiery pain in his shoulder fade. "What do you mean, dead as in dead?" he asked finally. "And what do you mean, hero type?"
Angelus' eyes began to close, and he seemed to struggle to keep them open. "There are...shades of dead," he murmured. "Listen to me. Don't give up. The Powers...they've got things planned for people like you. They won't let you stay here. I don't—"
And he was gone.
Dean stared at the place where he had been until Alastair came back in for Dean's next round. The demon stopped short.
"Where did he go?" Alastair screamed.
Dean said nothing, but continued to stare.
Alastair grabbed him, and despite the searing pain from the hooks, Dean barely glanced at him. "Where is he?" Alastair demanded. "I will flay it out of you, Dean Winchester!"
"I don't know," Dean said softly. "He just...disappeared. He's just gone."
Dean didn't really listen to Alastair as the demon ranted, something about "one of the Righteous Men", something about Acathla, something about That Rosenberg Bitch. All he could think was that if Angelus could get out, maybe he could, too.
And when he did, decades later, the first thoughts that crossed his mind were I need to find Sammy. I need to find Bobby.
And I need to find Angelus.
The coast was different.
Dean was used to the heartland, the flyover states. Los Angeles was crowded, claustrophobic. There were way too many people, and way too many not-people. Dean's skin crawled with the sense of them, but the crowds were too large for him to be able to pinpoint where the wrongness came from.
Bobby had told him not to come. Like it would stop him.
"It couldn't have been Angelus," Bobby had said. "Not the way you describe him. Angelus was a bastard of the old school. Baby-killin', virgin-rapin', Hunter-torturin' son of a bitch extraordinaire. And anyway he disappeared in the 1800's. Must've gotten ganked by somebody."
Dean knew what he knew.
Sam had told him not to come. Sam had begged him not to come.
"I just got you back, man," he said. "Let me come with you, at least."
But this wasn't a conversation he could have with Sam around. He didn't need a babysitter. He needed...something.
As he walked up to the address Bobby had grudgingly found for him, he wondered what it was that he needed. Comfort? Understanding? Confirmation that what happened to him actually happened? He didn't know. He just knew that whatever it was, he needed it.
He knocked on the door to the office. He waited patiently until the door opened, revealing a pretty young brunette woman.
With an impressively large machete in her right hand.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
Dean cleared his throat. "I'm—I'm looking for Angelus," he said. The woman's eyes went cold and she gripped the machete tight.
"He's definitely not here," she said. Then she narrowed her eyes and looked Dean up and down. "Hang on. You're not a demon, and you're not a vampire. What are you?"
"Human," Dean replied. "Just...original recipe."
The woman snorted. "Yeah, right. What kind of psycho suicidal human comes knocking on doors asking for Angelus?" she scoffed.
The question took Dean aback, though it shouldn't have. It was what Bobby said. He racked his brains for the other names Alastair called Angelus in the Pit. "Maybe...Angel?" he ventured.
The woman's grip on the machete relaxed the smallest amount. "Different story," she said. "Still. What do you want with Angel?"
"Who is it, Cordy?"
Dean straightened at that voice. After one conversation in the forty years he spent in Hell, he'd never forget it. Cordy turned, and opened the door a little wider. Angelus stood in the sitting room, his face expressionless. "I don't know, Angel, but he asked for Angelus," Cordy was saying, but Angelus didn't seem to be listening.
"Dean Winchester," he said quietly.
"I—I guess it's not Angelus," Dean remarked.
Angelus shook his head. "I know it's what Alastair called me. But my friends call me Angel. Come in, please."
Dean walked through the door, glancing nervously at Cordy and her machete. "You know this guy?" she asked, gesturing to Dean with the weapon.
Angelus—Angel nodded. "We go a long way back," he said.
Cordy's face transformed and she graced Dean with the sunniest smile he'd perhaps ever seen. She extended her machete-free hand, and Dean took it warily. "Then nice to meet you! I'm Cordelia Chase, Angel's business partner. Sorry about the machete."
"'S okay," Dean said.
He met Angel's eyes, and the man nodded. "Cordy, could you give us a minute?" he asked.
Cordelia looked unhappy, but nodded. "Sure. But if things get fighty I'm coming back with the machete." She walked off, and Dean couldn't help but watch as she did. Something about the combination of the tight pants and the heavy weaponry.
He snapped out of it and faced Angel. "You got out," Angel said.
"You did, too," Dean replied. "How?"
Angel shook his head. "I don't know. All of a sudden I was just...back. What about you?"
Dean laughed. "Funny enough, an angel, lowercase-A," he said. "Name of Castiel. Says he brought me back because God has plans for me."
Angel nodded as though that made sense. "I said the Powers wouldn't let you rot in there," he said.
Dean shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets. Angel didn't press him, but led him over to a sofa. There was enough room for them to sit a little bit apart, Angel giving Dean his space. Dean sat heavily, leaning with his elbows on his legs.
Finally it became too much to bear, and he cried, "How do you do it?"
Angel took a moment before asking, "Do what?"
"Any of it," Dean said. "Live. Cope. Talk to your family, your friends. How do you go on with all of it in your head?"
Angel leaned back, looking thoughtful. "How long have you been back?" he asked.
"Couple months," Dean replied.
Angel smiled bitterly. "It took me longer than that to speak again," he said. "When I came back I was...a beast. Feral. A friend took care of me until I came back to my senses, but it took a long time." He glanced at Dean. "You're not broken, Dean. What you're doing is healing."
"I close my eyes and every time, I see Hell," Dean muttered. "The back of my eyelids are red. And I can't tell them, I can't."
Angel took a deep breath. "Yeah," he said. "I get that. No one knows what happened to me. Down there."
The two men sat in silence for a while, but it was a more comfortable silence than Dean had experienced since his return. Nothing was expected. It was a moment to collect himself, and Angel needed that moment, too. "Your brother okay?" Angel asked.
Dean looked up and nodded. "Yeah. Sammy's good. Which makes it. You know."
"Worth it," Angel supplied. Dean shrugged. "It's a good reason to suffer, Dean. For your family. So they don't have to."
"Why were you down there?" Dean asked.
Angel's eyes lost their sympathy, their friendliness, their...everything. He stared blankly ahead of him as he said, "I tried to open a portal to a hell dimension. My girlfriend killed me to close it—she shoved me in. It was the only way to prevent Hell on Earth."
Dean was very still. "Why...did you try to do that?"
Angel turned to him, fixing him with an appraising gaze. "You're not stupid, Dean. You know what I am. You didn't come here without doing your research."
"Bobby told me you're a vampire," he said. "But that...it can't be the whole story. Not the way you treated me down there."
Angel ran his hands through his hair. "Vampires are...complicated," he said. "Our demons...they're entwined in us. I got my soul back in the late 1800's, but it didn't expel my demon. Angelus is still in here. And he got free."
Whatever strength your demon gave you is gone. Alastair's words echoed in Dean's mind. "Then why wasn't it...Angelus, down there with me?" Dean asked.
Angel sighed. "Got my soul back just in time to watch my girl run me through," he said. "Just in time that she had to do it to me, and not him." He met Dean's eyes, and Dean recognized the look in them. He'd seen it in the mirror. "The Powers put their Champions through Hell, Dean. Literally and figuratively. I went to the Pit. Buffy had to stay up here with what she'd had to do."
"Champions," Dean scoffed. Angel gave him a quizzical glance. "Do you seriously believe that stuff? Powers and fate and destiny?"
Angel looked thoughtful. "I don't know," he admitted. "I know things happen that are beyond our control. But I think what you do with what you're given is your own. I mean, did you want to be raised a Hunter?"
"Of course not," Dean retorted.
"I didn't want to be turned into a vampire," Angel returned. "And now I don't want to have to spend the rest of my life trying to make amends for things that can't be forgiven. But I make do. So do you."
Dean sighed, rubbing his face vigorously. "I guess," the Hunter said.
"You do," Angel insisted. "I saw you in Hell, Dean. Just like you saw me. You didn't listen to your friend or, if my guess is right, your brother, when they said not to come find me. Because you knew who I was. I know who you are. And you're one of us. You're a Champion. And that means you're gonna have shit piled on shit thrown at you. But it means you're gonna rise above it because that is what we do."
Dean got the feeling that that was a speech of considerable length for Angel, because the vampire looked a little worn out after. Vampire. It was weird to think about him that way. "You said one of us," Dean said.
Angel looked surprised. "Did you think you were alone?" he asked. When Dean said nothing, Angel shook his head in disbelief. "You did. You thought it was your family against...all of it."
"Never saw any evidence otherwise," Dean muttered, embarrassed by Angel's incredulity. Like it was something stupid to assume. Like anybody had ever come to their rescue.
"We're out there," Angel said emphatically. "Slayers. Watchers. Wicca. A handful of us demon and vampire turncoats. It's not all on you, Dean."
Dean let that sink in. Not alone. He thought for a moment about the implications. If they had been as alone as he'd assumed they were, they'd probably be more screwed than they were on a regular basis anyway. It didn't mean that life was gonna get easier for them, knowing this. Not in terms of their workload, for lack of a better term. But he felt a lightness that he'd never felt before. There was somebody else. Hell, just somebody to get a beer with, to talk shop with, who wasn't his family.
"It gets easier."
Dean was broken out of his reverie by Angel's quiet words. He turned to the vampire, who wasn't looking at him. He'd picked up a wooden stake, Dean didn't know from where, and turned it over in his hands. "Eventually, you get used to not hurting."
Dean stifled a choked laugh of amazement. "Nobody else gets it," he said, his voice thick. "The waiting."
"Not being able to believe it's not coming," Angel added.
"Waking up with your shoulder still aching."
"The weirdness of breathing air that doesn't taste like sulphur." Dean gave Angel an odd glance, and the vampire clarified, "I do breathe. I just don't have to."
Dean took a deep breath. He didn't want to say it, not now that he knew that Angel understood perfectly. If the vampire hated him after, he wouldn't blame him. But somebody had to know. And he couldn't tell Sammy or Bobby. Not ever. "Angel, I did things in Hell."
Angel cut him off with a subtle gesture. "Alastair's offer," he said, and Dean nodded, averting his eyes. "Dean, it's not your fault."
"I made my choice, and Angel, damn it, I enjoyed it," Dean pressed, realizing that his hands were trembling but unable to do anything about it. "You made it a century without giving in. I broke in thirty years."
Angel burst out laughing at that, and Dean felt the trembling fade as his hands curled into fists. "What's so damn funny?" he demanded.
Angel shook his head, staring at the ceiling. "If you want me to be appalled that you tortured people, you are gonna be disappointed. I didn't give in to Alastair because it's my trigger, Dean. I was suffering in Hell, but my greatest suffering comes from the memories I have of hurting people. Alastair offered it to you as a temptation. He taunted me with it."
Dean didn't have a good come-back to that. "I still did it."
"You did," Angel replied. "And now you live with it."
"How?" Dean asked. Pleaded.
"One day at a time," Angel said softly. He hesitated for a moment, then said, "I tried to kill myself. When I came back."
Dean said nothing.
"And my friend, the one who took care of me, she told me that being strong...is fighting. She said it's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day." Angel smiled sadly. "She was right. She usually is."
"It doesn't end," Dean said. "For me and Sammy. It doesn't stop. I keep pushing myself but I just, I feel like I'll break. I feel like I came back empty. Like I left everything I had to give back down there."
"You did." Dean stared at Angel. "You left it all down there. So did I. We build something new now. If you give up, the last thing you'll have done will be what you did down there."
"What do you fill the spaces with?"
Angel glanced down the hall where Cordelia had disappeared. Dean understood. "She keeps me sane," he said. "She and Doyle. I fill the spaces with them. You'll fill the spaces with your brother and your friend Bobby. And sooner or later, those years will become just one more scar."
Dean stood up after a silence, and Angel followed suit. "I've taken up enough of your time," Dean said, a touch apologetically. "I ought to go."
He turned, but stopped when he felt Angel's hand on his shoulder. Angel walked in front of him and handed him a small business card with what appeared to be a lobster on it. "It's an angel," the vampire explained with a shrug. "Cordy designed them. That's my cell phone number. I almost have the hang of them."
Dean studied the card, then looked at Angel. "What's this for?" he asked. He knew. But he asked so he'd hear it from Angel.
"Call me," Angel said. "When you need to talk. Because you'll need to talk."
"I'm not much of a talker," Dean said.
"I'm not either," Angel replied. "Not usually. You will be, when you have to."
Dean didn't know what to say, as this was turning into a chick-flick moment, so he just flashed Angel an appreciative grin and turned to go.
The door opened before he got to it, and in walked a man, maybe a few years older than Dean, with bright green eyes and a mess of dark hair. "Angel," the man said by way of greeting, and then stopped to look at Dean. "Oh, I've seen you," he said, his accent musical and Irish. "Big things ahead for you, boyo. Very exciting. Seeing you required three Excedrin." The man smiled broadly and then walked past them into the back. "Cordy! Got any coffee on?"
Dean turned to Angel for explanation, and the vampire shrugged. "He's got precognition," Angel said.
"Great," Dean remarked. "What I need in my life is more freaky dudes with visions."
"What you need in your life is people," Angel said. "And you have that. Don't lose it." He opened the door for Dean, who shook his hand and left the office.
When he got into the Impala, he tucked the business card into the glove box. The only place he knew he wouldn't lose it.
Because he would need to talk.