Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognise; the original concept of this story was inspired by 'To Hell & Back' by EventRider87, but I've added my own spin to things and have received EventRider87's permission to use their idea for this
Feedback: Much appreciated
AN: Bonus points to anyone who can trace the origin of Bela's moment of recollection during the séance…
AN 2: No guarantees when the next chapter will be up; I just REALLY wanted to introduce my favourite character…
The Corrupted Innocent
Dean had to hand it to Bobby; when it came to contacts in the hunting and supernatural community, he always managed to get the interesting ones.
The trip of the hotel to this place could have been more comfortable if Bela hadn't been in the back seat of the Impala the whole way, but Dean understood why that wasn't practical; until they'd straightened out whatever had brought him and Bela back, there wasn't any point taking the risk to see what would happen if they were separated from each other or something screwy like that.
Besides, with her decision to catch a rest while they were driving, it had given him and Sam a chance to talk, beginning with Dean removing that stupid iPod thing from his baby- even if he hadn't wanted to start playing any music in case their passenger woke up-, and going on to discuss what else Sam had been up to over the summer. The question of how he had gotten away from Lilith after their last bout raised some questions, but at least they didn't have to worry about whatever agenda Ruby had going on any more, and Sam's freaky powers were dormant and staying that way…
Dean's thoughts were ended when the door of the house in front of them opened, revealing an attractive brunette, maybe a few years older than Dean, with long brown hair and a warm smile, grinning at the three hunters and Bela Talbot.
"Bobby!" the woman who had to be the psychic said, giving the older man an enthusiastic hug, lifting him briefly off the ground in a move that surprised both Winchesters and Bela.
"You're a sight for sore eyes," Bobby said, smiling at the woman after she released him.
"So," Pamela said, stepping back to appraisingly study Dean and Sam with her arms folded, "these the boys?"
"And Bela Talbot," Bela said, nodding briefly at the woman; apparently her rest hadn't done much to improve her mood.
"Sam, Dean, Bela," Bobby said, indicating the woman before them. "This is Pamela Barnes, best damn psychic in the state."
"Hey," Dean said, smiling warmly at Pamela, ignoring Sam's awkward greeting; after everything he'd been through, nobody would begrudge him an opportunity like this, right?"
"Mmm-mmm-mmm," Pamela said, looking him over appraisingly. "Dean Winchester, out of the fire and back in the frying pan, huh? Makes you a rare individual."
"If you say so," Dean said; he was trying not to think too much about that part of what had happened to him…
"Come on in," Pamela said, ushering them into her house before she shut the door behind Bela, the house revealing a simple but comfortable style.
"So, you hear anything?" Bobby asked.
"Well, I Oujia'd my way through a dozen spirits," Pamela replied. "No one seems to know who broke these two out, or why?"
"So what's next?" Bobby asked.
"A séance, I think," Pamela replied. "See if we can see who did the deed."
"You're not gonna… summon the damn thing here?" Bobby asked, his expression apprehensive as he looked at her.
"No," Pamela replied reassuringly. "I just want to get a sneak peek at it, like a crystal ball without the crystal."
"I'm game," Dean said with a grin.
"Well… fine," Bela said after a moment's thought, evidently wishing she could offer a better alternative.
A few minutes later, the five of them were sitting around a black table, the tablecloth covered in symbols that did little to comfort Bela; after the way that symbols had failed her before her death, she wasn't comfortable with something that relied on them again…
To take her mind off the symbols, Bela tried to look at something else, only for her eyes to fall on Dean as he gazed at where Pamela was squatting in front of a cabinet, revealing a distinctive tattoo on her back that apparently gave Dean something else to think about.
"Who's Jesse?" he asked, prompting a laugh from the psychic.
"Well," she said as she looked back at him, "it wasn't forever."
"His loss," Dean said, leaving Bela glaring at him for a moment before she realised what she was doing; what Dean Winchester did in his own time wasn't her business…
"Might be your gain," Pamela said, smiling at him as she stood up with various candles in her hands before she turned her attention back to the séance, Dean saying something to Sam in a low voice that Bela already knew she didn't want to hear.
God, how could people who'd defeated Azazel and everything else she'd heard about the Winchesters over the years be so… crude?
Moments like that left her wondering how the Winchesters had become so good at what they did; their approach to hunting seemed so… relaxed at times…
The start of the séance at least gave her something else to focus on, her discomfort at having to hold Bobby's hand after so many indirect threats about the possibility of them shooting her forgotten in favour of the need to get answers about whatever brought her back.
"And," Pamela said, after issuing the instruction about holding hands, "I need to touch something our mystery monster touched."
"Whoa," Dean said, suddenly jumping in his seat. "Well, he didn't touch me there."
Bela might not have been able to see Pamela's hand under the table, but it didn't take a genius to work out what Pamela had been reaching towards even without Dean's reaction. As Dean shrugged off his outer shirt to reveal the handprint, Bela sighed and removed her own jacket before rolling up her sleeve to reveal her own handprint.
"OK," Pamela said, laying her hands on the two prints as the five around the table closed their eyes. "I invoke, conjure, and command you, appear unto me before this circle."
For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of Pamela's voice as she repeated that command, until the sound of static reached Bela's ears as though something had turned on.
"I invoke, conjure, and command…" Pamela began, before she halted as though she'd just heard something. "Castiel? No, sorry, Castiel, I don't scare easily."
"Castiel?" Dean said (Now that Bela heard it, she thought that sounded familiar; where had she heard it before…?)
"Its name," Pamela clarified. "It's whispering to me, warning me to turn back."
As the static continued and the table began to shake, Pamela continued to repeat the same words, over and over; "I conjure and command you, show me your face."
"Maybe we should stop-" Bobby said, as the rattling become more violent.
"I almost got it!" Pamela said, her tone sharp before she continued her earlier chant. "I command you, show me your face! Show me your face now!"
With that word, there was a sudden sense of heat, Bela opening her eyes in time to see the candles flare up in front of her before a scream from Pamela drew her attention to the psychic. Bela only had time to register that Pamela's eyes had suddenly filled with what she could only describe as white flame before the psychic collapsed, the flames and other effects vanishing all at once.
Oh God… Bela thought to herself, staring in shock at the fallen psychic as the Winchesters and Bobby raced to help her, her eyelids covered with blood and sunken in in a manner that made it clear there was nothing behind them any more.
If whatever had brought her and Dean out of Hell could do that to someone just when they were trying to look at it…
Sitting in the diner, Dean almost wished that he hadn't seen the shaken look on Bela's face when they'd registered what had happened to Pamela.
It was easy to think of Bela as the heartless bitch who'd killed her parents and would happily screw over everyone else in the name of a quick buck; seeing her show that kind of shock and fear for someone else…
Damnit; here he was, about to enjoy his first bit of good food in months or however long it had been in Hell- something he'd read suggested that time went a bit faster in Hell than it did here, or was he just thinking of that Buffy episode he'd seen once?-, and all he could think about was that Bela Talbot had actually shown some sign of concern for someone else…
"What'd Bobby say?" he asked his brother as Sam sat down opposite him.
"Pam's stable, and out of ICU," Sam said.
"And blind, because of us," Dean said grimly (He was not paying attention to the fact that Bela looked upset about that either; she was just upset because they didn't have any answers…).
"And we still have no clue who we're dealing with," Sam said grimly.
"Aside from the name," Bela put in, sipping at her drink (She hadn't ordered any food; probably thought whatever was on the menu here wasn't good enough for her tastes or something like that).
"Exactly; Castiel," Dean said. "We've got the name; with the right mumbo-jumbo we could summon him, bring him right to us."
"Excuse me?" Sam said, looking at his brother in surprise. "Pam took a peek at him and her eyes burned out of her skull, and you want to have a face to face?"
"You got a better idea?" Dean asked. "After what he did, we need to know-"
"So how about trying to track down those demons I followed here?" Sam pointed out. "They have to know something."
A part of Dean was tempted to admit that Sam made a point, but further conversation was brought to a halt as the waitress they'd spoken to earlier appeared with the ordered pieces of pie, putting them down in front of the brothers before sitting down herself.
"Is this some attempt to ask for a tip?" Bela asked, glaring at the other woman.
"I'm sorry," the waitress said, as her eyes went black. "Thought you were looking for us."
A glance at their surroundings confirmed Dean's worst fears; the diner's other two current residents also showed the black eyes that were a clear sign of demonic possession.
Any other day, he would have commented that at least they didn't have to look very far, but after just getting out of Hell hours ago, this was the last thing he needed…
"Dean Winchester and Bela Talbot," the waitress said, her eyes reverting to normal as a demon in uniform walked over to the door and locked it. "To Hell and back. Aren't you both lucky?"
"We try," Dean said with a shrug.
"So you get to just stroll out of the pit, huh?" the demon-waitress said. "Tell me, what makes you two so special?"
"If you've been doing anything, you'd know that we're still working on that," Bela said, glaring at the demon. "We still don't know what we're dealing with here-"
"Except for the fact that it's above your paygrade and you can't do anything about it," Dean said, looking at the demon with a satisfied smile.
"Excuse me?" she said, looking sharply at Dean. "Mind your tone, boy, or I'll drag you back to Hell myself-"
"Except you can't," Dean retorted with a smile.
"No?" the waitress said, looking pointedly back at him.
"No," Dean confirmed. "See, Flo, if you're not enlightening us, that means you don't know who cut us loose, which means that you need answers just as much as we do."
"Which," Bela continued, looking at the demon with a smile as she continued Dean's point, "means that whatever did this is significantly higher up the demonic hierarchy than you are, which means that they're a lot stronger than you, and therefore almost certainly have something in mind that you don't know about."
"So go ahead," Dean said, picking up the explanation once again as the demon swallowed slightly apprehensively. "Send us back. Just don't come crawling to me when they show up on your front doorstep with some Vaseline and a fire hose."
"I'm going to reach down your throat and rip out your lungs," the demon said, glaring solemnly at him.
In response, Dean leaned over towards the woman, and then lashed out with a couple of right hooks, which the demon facing them merely sat and took; it was a risky move to make, but after his earlier theory had met with a distinctive lack of denial, he felt comfortable taking the chance.
"That's what I thought," Dean said, grinning as he took in her response to his 'attack'; a hostile glare, but with just enough anxiety behind it to make her reluctant to actually do anything about it, coupled with a distinctive lack of anything else. "Let's go, Sam, Bela."
With that, the three of them stood up and walked out of the diner, the demon unable to do anything but sit and watch as they walked away.
It had been a closer call than Dean usually liked, but they'd survived; that was the main thing.
He'd have preferred it if they'd survived and come out of it with new information, but with things the way they were, he'd take what he could get and chalk it up as a win…
Bela couldn't believe she was going along with this; they were dealing with some unknown entity powerful enough to intimidate three demons into backing down when they didn't know anything about their unknown 'benefactor's' motives or abilities, and after some strange incident involving the glass in her and Dean's motel rooms breaking as the result of some high-pitched shriek, Dean's response was to try and summon it?
Actually, she could believe that of him- considering the circumstances that had led to his deal, Dean wasn't one to give things much thought-; what really surprised her was that she was going along with the plan, which basically consisted of hanging around a warehouse covered in protection symbols with an arsenal including every anti-supernatural weapon they could find- with the exception of the Colt, which Dean had avoided bringing up apart from a brief glare as they spread out the guns on a table-, and try and shoot whatever it was when it showed up.
She'd gone from trying to hunt the creature that had made her deal to buying and selling supernatural items in the hopes of finding something useful because it was safer- to say nothing of more comfortable, and now she was helping Dean and Bobby summon something that scared other demons and nearly killed you if you tried to look at it?
She might be stuck for options, but had she really become this desperate…?
The worst part was that she knew she was.
She'd only just escaped her last deal; if something else had a hold over her now, she was going to cut it off before it could make her do anything against her will.
If only it would actually get here…
"You sure you did the ritual right?" Dean asked as he looked up at Bobby, voicing Bela's own thoughts even if she was grateful he'd done it; Bobby was more likely to take that kind of thing from Dean rather than her.
As it was, Dean's apology had just concluded when the walls of the warehouse started shaking as what sounded like wind blew around the building, the two men arming themselves with shotguns and taking up position at the end of the warehouse opposite the doors while Bela drew her chosen pistol.
"Wishful thinking," Dean said as he glanced over at Bobby, "but maybe it's just the wind."
Bela was saved from having to comment on that statement when the lightbulbs above them suddenly exploded, followed by the doors of the warehouse swinging open and a figure walking through him, his pace calm and casual despite the weapons facing him. Bela briefly noted his somewhat dishevelled appearance- unlike most demons, who always dressed to impress, his top shirt button was undone and his tie hung loosely around his neck-, but the fact that he had odd choice in clothing didn't change what he was. Following Bobby and Dean's cue, Bela attempted to fire at the figure as he approached, casually passing thought multiple devils' traps as though they were nothing, never responding to the shotgun blasts that tore holes in his coat, until he came to a halt as Dean moved over to the table where he had been sitting earlier, his gaze fixed on the new arrival.
"Who are you?" Dean asked.
"I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition," the figure said, its voice a hoarse tone as though the man had been a chain smoker.
"Yeah?" Dean said. "Thanks for that."
With that statement, he lunged towards the figure and plunged a knife into its chest- Bela had noted him express a particular interest in that knife, but he hadn't explained why and she hadn't been able to find the right way to ask-, only for the figure to show no signs that he was bothered by the blade sticking out of his chest, looking nonchalantly down at the blade before reaching up to pull it out.
In a moment of uncharacteristic panic, Bela raised her gun and fired a shot at the figure's head, only for the man to turn to face her as the gun fired, before opening his mouth to reveal the bullet held between his teeth. Bobby, evidently stuck for any better ideas, charged onwards the figure with what looked like an iron bar, only for the figure to grab the bar without turning around before he moved to face Bobby, raising his free hand to touch Bobby's forehead and sending the older man crumpling to the ground.
"Dean Winchester, Bela Talbot," the figure said, looking at them both with a brief nod, clearly unconcerned about Bobby now that he had been dealt with. "We need to talk."
"You… you know us?" Bela said, looking uncertainly at the figure as Dean crouched down to examine Bobby (She only realised how stupid that statement was after she'd said it, but panic could make people do foolish things).
"I do," the figure said, nodding at Bela before he looked at Dean. "Your friend is alive."
"Who are you?" Dean asked, looking back up at the figure, obviously unwilling to just accept the situation facing them.
"Castiel," the figure replied.
"Yeah, I figured that," Dean retorted. "I meant, what are you?"
"I'm an angel of the lord," the now-named Castiel said, looking at them both in a solemn manner.
Bela's eyes widened incredulously.
She'd heard a few rumours that they existed, of course- she recalled one time she'd found a box of what were labelled as angel feathers when clearing out some old storehouse-, but the thought that she was facing one…
"Get the hell out of here," Dean said, standing up from his examination of Bobby, glaring at the creature that Bela was just now reminding herself couldn't be an angel as angels didn't exist any more even if they ever had. "There's no such thing."
"This is your problem, Dean," Castiel said, looking solemnly at him. "You have no faith."
As he moved into a position in the centre of the warehouse, Bela briefly tensed for something to happen, but then lightning flashed from outside, revealing…
Bela's jaw dropped.
The shadows of two massive, feathered wings spread out from Castiel's shoulders, perfectly fitting the image of angels that had so dominated so many cultures…
Oh God… Bela thought, torn between screaming in rage at the being in front of her and falling to the ground in prayers of thanks.
She had been saved from Hell by an angel…
"Some angel you are," Dean said, his tone grim as he looked at the man (Bela thought about chipping in, but right now she was content to let Dean ask the questions; as much as she hated to admit it to him directly, he wouldn't have gone to Hell on his own, but she certainly would have, and the last thing she wanted was for the angel to pay too much attention to her and realise she wasn't worth it). "You burned out that poor woman's eyes."
"I warned her not to spy on my true form," Castiel said; to his credit, he actually seemed slightly apologetic about the reminder of what he had done to Pam. "It can be… overwhelming to humans. So can my real voice, but you already knew that."
"You mean the gas station and the motel… That was you talking?" Dean said, Castiel nodding in response. "Buddy, next time, lower the volume."
"That was my mistake," Castiel said, a slightly thoughtful expression on his face as though contemplating Dean's earlier suggestion. "Certain people, special people, can perceive my true visage. I thought you would be one of them. I was wrong."
"And what… 'visage' are you in now, huh?" Dean asked, glancing over the body in the battered trenchcoat. "What, holy tax accountant?"
"This?" Castiel said, looking at his coat with a slight smile. "This is, uh, a Vessel."
"You're possessing someone?" Bela cried, the words slipping out before she could stop herself.
"He's a devout man," Castiel said, apparently ignorant of the full reason for her shock as he looked over at her. "He actually prayed for this."
"Oh," Bela said, instantly regretting her reaction; her instinctive shock at the hint that demons and angels had something in common had overridden her previous plan to stay silent, but now that she'd been told that there wasn't anything to worry about…
"You know," Dean added, "it might have been easier to show up like this the first time instead of all that 'burning bush' crap."
"I had to recuperate in Heaven after my time in the Pit," Castiel explained, before he glanced over at Bela. "My Vessel is durable, but my Grace needed time to heal after protecting your soul while leaving Hell-"
"Hold on; her soul?" Dean said, looking at Castiel sharply. "Why were you protecting her soul specifically?"
"I was only sent into the Pit to retrieve you, Dean; the recovery of Bela Talbot was an… impulsive decision," Castiel explained.
"Wait…" Bela said, her plan to stay silent completely forgotten now as she walked forward to look at Castiel. "You mean… you just… chose to save me? On your own?"
"I did," Castiel said. "I had been temporarily provided with the power to return Dean's soul to his body at a distance so that I could ensure that he would not be recaptured by demons as I attempted to take him back to Earth, but that power was for a single use; I was required to… carry you through Hell myself and return you to your body personally-"
Bela wasn't sure how it happened, but she suddenly found herself with her arms wrapped around Castiel, sobbing in relief as she held on to the angel.
"Thank you…" she said, her voice barely audible through her tears of relief. "Thank you… thank you…"
From his position behind Bela, Dean was treated to a view of Castiel's face at the hug, and he was almost tempted to smile; for a guy who'd just been through Hell and back, he seemed to be at a complete loss as to what to do when a woman started sobbing over him…
Then Bela pulled away from Castiel, her initial sobs under control, and Dean spoke again.
"Look, pal," the eldest surviving Winchester said firmly, moving forward to position himself in front of Bela in a gesture so quick that it almost seemed automatic, "I'm not buying what you're selling even if she is, so who are you really?"
"I told you," Castiel said, frowning in confusion at Dean.
"Right…" Dean said, a bitter tone to his voice as he looked at the angel. "And why would an angel rescue me from Hell, and grab Bela as a bonus prize?"
"Good things do happen, Dean," Castiel said solemnly, looking at them both with was probably meant to be a comforting manner.
"Not in my experience," Dean said, Bela only able to stand silently beside him while fighting the urge to burst into tears at the memory of how the world had taught her that lesson…
"What's the matter?" Castiel said, looking assessingly at them for a moment before inspiration dawned on him. "You don't think you deserve to be saved."
"Why'd you do it?" Dean asked (Bela was going to owe him a great deal for helping with this mess; she was already feeling uncomfortable about the fact that she'd just hugged an angel while sobbing into his shoulder).
"Because God commanded it," Castiel said, looking solemnly at Dean. "We have work for you, Dean; work where I felt that the aid that Bela Talbot could provide would be of great use to you."
Bela had no idea what to say to that.
An angel had saved her from Hell… because he thought that she could help Dean complete God's work?
She might have given up on religion as anything other than a tool years ago, but when an angel saved you from Hell while acting on orders from God, that was definitely cause to think about what you were going to do next…
But what could Dean be needed for that she could help with?
And why would any angel give her this kind of chance in particular?
She was unbelievably grateful, but she just felt like there was something Castiel wasn't telling them…