Author's Note: So I was going to post this in These Wicked Precious Things, but decided to leave it on it's own. I do what I want.

Historian's Note: AU, takes place after 8x08.

"We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us."

— Winston Churchill

There is the putrid stench of sweat and blood in the decayed, underground quarters. Screams linger heavy on the air, echoing through the stone halls and nestling against the spines of every inhabitant in a kiss of ice. The promise of death haunts every soul, but inconceivable torments overshadow the light of any hope for escape.

Every surface is discolored with rust and the color of blood, with black putrefaction. The ceilings are rotting, leaking fouled water onto the floors and whatever inhabitants found themselves unfortunate enough to be trapped there.

In the center of this room is a table and various instruments of torture. There is a chair, and two occupants. One is standing, the other seated and bound.

"Do you know how complicated it is to capture an angel?"

Arduous, is the word he really wants to use. The low voice cuts condescendingly through the utter silence, because there are no screams in this room. Only the unyielding quiet of a lost cause.

"Another brain twister for you," Crowley goes on, impeccable in a suit. He circles the prisoner, confidence heightening his form as a wisp of smoke curls from the heavenly blade in his hand. There is blood on its razor edge. "Do you know how effortless it was… to capture an angel… so consumed with self-loathing, he's borderline suicidal?" Leaning in, the King of Hell bends his head to his captive's ear. His lips curl, his appreciation of the situation evident. "We're approaching Easy Bake Oven territory here, Cas."

The angel lifts his dark head a little from its permanently bowed position. Jaw set, he offers no response. He is without the customary trenchcoat and suit jacket, and there is no necktie around his bared throat—only the sullied white starch of his shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, bloodied and torn. Lesions of every shape and depth litter his upper body, and there is very little of him that remains unscarred.

Crowley lifts one shoulder in a shrug, and slips away. He arcs back around to meet the angel's eyes. "Shame I haven't gotten you to scream, though. Would've thought you'd at least be begging me for more punishment." The demon's eyes glaze over in contemplation. "Castiel…" There is benediction and aching sorrow in that word. But it's a mockery. "You must be so alone. Your place isn't with them anymore, is it, cupcake? Why you're here, I suppose. Because you deserve it?" A chuckle. "You're a real piece of work. No complaints, no annoying cries for mercy. A bit boring, to be honest."

True, that while he's had very little control lately over the workings of his vessel's emotions, Castiel has not found it in himself to scream. Neither to provide the demon before him with the satisfaction, nor to allow himself the relief of the outlet.

The binds on his arms and across his ribs are scored with a variation of sigils, keeping him in place. He thinks that maybe Crowley was a little disappointed by his lack of effort to break free, but that's inconsequential because what is the point, really?

A sliver of white splits the darkness across from him in a Cheshire smile. "You know who did scream, though?"

He doesn't care, he tells himself. He hasn't been listening to whatever the demon's been spewing for some time; focusing instead on the clarity of the pain. The altruistic desire to be branded in such a way that will perhaps ease the burden that's hung so onerously on his shoulders for so long. He wonders, briefly, if the demon will kill him.

Castiel knows he's never been that lucky, and that luck isn't likely to change now.

But then something happens.

"Your little whore."

The words shoot straight through him, rousing whatever dying resolve remains inside him. Castiel reacts instantly, body going tight as a ripcord as his chest tightens.

"You remember her, don't you?" The demon tilts his head, amused. "Just how many rules did she get you to break, I wonder. How many sins? Where did you think she crawled off to, huh? Did you think she left you? Abandoned you? Like everyone else?" The last is said with a whisper, and it stings with false and absolute Truth.

Blue eyes, clear and sharp as the sea at the brink of a storm, rise to meet the errant darkness of the opposing stare.

"Oh, she screamed, Sparkles. Did she ever scream." Crowley offers the angel a nasty sneer, voice dropping. "Begged, pleaded. Does it make you angry, angel?"

It's said with a challenge, and that is the demon's second mistake. The first had been mistaking the angel's indifference for powerlessness.

There is a creak of leather and the inevitable snapping of the bonds holding Castiel in place. He shoots forward in his seat, Crowley gripped in a stranglehold as he rises. The lights around them sputter dangerously, and an ominous ringing permeates the air in a sharp blast.

"She would never scream for you, stain," the angel growls out, wounds closing over as his eyes blaze menacingly into Crowley. The fierce, dark penetrative quality of his presence now is stifling; and his voice—icy and guttural, like a glacier grinding over rocks—cuts into his opposition like a blade all its own. The King of Hell, startled at the turn of events, writhes in his grasp and is fighting to break free. His own eyes burn red in retaliation, the force of his darkness colliding with the angel's awakened grace. The room around them quakes.

Castiel's breaths come in harsh rasps, slow and controlled, and he recognizes the first stirrings of real fear overshadowing the annoyance in his enemy's eyes.

"You will tell me where she is."

The two square off in a baleful collision of power.

The room smells now of scorched ozone and feathers; dust being shaken off of stagnant grace.

"You're not strong enough," Crowley chokes out, even though he knows he is wrong to say it.

The lights around them burst into an ocean of sparks and the ceiling shakes as an intense rumble guts through the foundations of the structure. There is a blinding flash of wings and the lick of imminent flames.

In the end, the King has more inclinations towards self-preservation than pride.

Crowley is full of misjudgments that day. Castiel, while void of any desire to save himself, realizes that there are people he has, had thought he'd lost, that he would fight for in a heartbeat.

Having reclaimed his usual armor, the angel glides swiftly through the corridors and rooms, with more determination than he's felt in ages at his back. Castiel passes by a room and suddenly his head shoots up, eyes narrowing. He turns, and the double doors shatter as he throws up a hand, bursting them off their hinges.

He crosses the threshold and sees her.

She is a limp, tragedy of limbs, huddled in the center and chained to the earth. He sees the marks all over her skin, the dirt and the blood and the way her body trembles in an all too human way. He sees her eyes lift at the intrusion, sees the way her lips twist into a bitter smile.

"Back for more, huh?"

This confuses him, temporarily, because he doesn't know.

Castiel doesn't know that Crowley had used his image to torture and manipulate her day after day. That it had been his cruel smile and punishing hands to keep her company from the first hour to the last.

"Meg," he says.

And, with another look, she can tell the difference between this Castiel and The Other. She watches, numbly, as he appears before her and crouches to break the chains. Her eyes lift to meet his, quietly stunned. He sees the colors of the earth in her gaze, remembers the thorns in all their beauty, and exhales. She is real and shivering in front of him, and he doesn't know which of them is more damaged. Castiel reaches out, palm lingering on her bruised cheek over the dirt, fingers lost in the matted curls behind her ear. She flinches at first, but feels the calm weight of the angel's solid presence fall on her like a shroud.

"Big damn hero," she whispers.

Her eyes flutter shut and she shakes her head.

Castiel gathers the tiny demon into his arms, lifting her effortlessly. "I've got you," he murmurs.

With a brush of his hand, she is clean. Enveloped in his arms, the majority of her injuries vanish.

They sit together on the bus, idly watching the scenery as it drags by. Castiel doesn't know where to go, nor where to take her, so he lets chance decide. As long as it is safe, he isn't particular. She isn't either. Still weakened significantly by the elements she'd been exposed to over the last year and many months, she is little more than a slight weight against him, head tucked securely beneath his chin. Her fingers are curled loosely around his tie, eyelashes brushing at pale cheeks in rest.

He listens to her breathing, focusing on the steady assurance and repetition.

"For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" is playing on the radio over the crackly speaker system. He catches the lyrics here and there, but isn't really paying attention.

"I prayed to you," Meg murmurs against his idyllic warmth. She'll never understand why he goes out of his way to save her, but the honesty in the confession surprises even her. The long waves of her hair curtains the broken voice within the confines, and Castiel dips his chin, lips brushing against her forehead.

He says nothing. He doesn't tell her that every night, in Purgatory, it was her name he spoke to the starless sky. To the reflectionless waters, to the inside of his hands. He'd mourned her in silence since returning topside, indeed assuming she had somehow perished or—what was most painful—deserted him. He chides himself for the error in judgment, but miraculously is able to allow himself the mistake. It is too easy to forget the past in her presence.

"Rest, Meg," he says finally, tightening his hold. Castiel feels the demon relax into the gentle pressure of his arms, unspoken trust evident in the gesture of both. She nuzzles into him, in a rare moment of dependence, and shudders until his warmth seeps into her.

He has something he must live for now.

Author's Note: Someone stop all this angsting. While you're at it... review please, if you're willing! :D