Title: Storming The Pit
Summary: Dean didn't believe he deserved to be saved, but Castiel knew that wasn't true from the moment he first saw him. What exactly happened when Castiel pulled Dean from Hell?
It's taken them forty years to get this far. They've stormed the gates of Hell, battled past demons and hellhounds and other monsters to try and reach the man who could break the first seal if they don't get there in time. Now Castiel is the one who gets through first. He can hear the fighting still raging outside as the garrison fends off Alastair's guards, but he somehow manages to slip past and enter the torture chamber.
As Castiel steps inside he can feel the heat of hellfire scorching his wings, its incandescent light bathing the chamber in a menacing red glow as he walks through. The acrid stench of sulfur rises up to meet him, flooding his nostrils as the agonised screams of things no longer human echo in his ears. Ignoring them, Castiel continues on. His eyes dart round, taking in the mangled forms of souls chained to racks, twisted and mutilated almost beyond recognition. But he's looking for one in particular. Of all the damned souls down here, there's only one he's been instructed to save.
He doesn't quite know how long it takes him, but when his gaze finally lands on the man he's looking for, he knows immediately it's too late.
Dean isn't chained up, like many of the others, but instead he's kneeling on the floor, staring vacantly at the space before him and with a knife gripped in his hand. Blood is drenching his arms up to the elbows, and plenty more is spattered across his face and torso. In front of him Castiel sees the empty rack, and he knows it can't have been long since the last victim was dragged from it.
At that point a sense of despair threatens to take him, just for a moment, as he realises the angels weren't fast enough to stop it. Forty years of fighting and bloodshed, only to find that Dean Winchester wasn't strong enough to hold out that long. But then he realises that doesn't matter. Not all is lost yet, because even though he's looking at the hollow wreck of a man tormented until he finally agreed to turn torturer himself, Castiel can see past the blood. He can see past the stains and the soot of hellfire, see past even the scars that Alastair's instruments have left, and look past that to the soul underneath. The beauty of it surprises even him.
He's seen souls before. As an angel, the appearance and power of a human soul is nothing new to him, but he can't remember ever encountering one quite like this. They'd been told that Dean was important, different from the others down here, but that still hadn't quite prepared Castiel for the sight that now meets him. The souls in the Pit were supposed to be tarnished and blackened: the souls of bad men who'd done bad things for selfish purposes or to harm others. But here… here was a man who couldn't be further from that. A man who'd condemned himself to an eternity in Hell to save his brother's life, who'd given up every chance of happiness for himself in the pursuit of fighting evil. A soul like that, even damaged and mutilated as it was, was dazzling.
And as Castiel looks at Dean, he knows he's still worth saving. This may be the Righteous Man who began the countdown to the apocalypse, but Castiel still knows this is also the man capable of stopping it.
The angel takes a step forward and leans down to look at Dean's face. His eyes – still a stunning shade of green – are vacant and unfocussed, but it's not much more than a fragile mask. Numbness may be the only way for him to cope in the aftermath of the atrocities he commits each day, but even so Dean isn't beyond hope yet. Castiel knows he can still be rescued, healed, maybe even redeemed. And after all, he has to be, because the fate of the world depends on it.
Castiel begins to reach out his fingers to touch him, but just then he hears a smug, mocking voice speak behind him.
"You're too late."
Pausing, Castiel turns to see the hideous face of Alastair leering at him through the red glow of the flames.
"He's already cracked," the demon continues, enjoying taunting the angel. "You put too much faith in this one, Castiel. Didn't last even half the time his father did."
Castiel doesn't speak, but pure fury at what this demon has done courses through him. Alastair opens his mouth again, perhaps to mock him further, but Castiel unfurls his wings and stretches out his hand to the demon. An intense ray of light radiates from his palm, fuelled by the anger he feels, and Alastair is suddenly thrown backwards as the angel's power hits him. The torturer collides roughly with a table of instruments, and a cry escapes him as he feels what it's like to be cut by his own blades.
Not wasting any more time, Castiel reaches down to grasp Dean's shoulder, his own hand still burning, and grips on tight. Then he lifts him, wings beating as he begins to fly away out of Hell, leading the garrison in a retreat. They have what they came for, and it doesn't matter how late they were, or how broken and damaged Dean already is. This man deserves to be saved, and Castiel isn't going to leave without him.
As the heat of the flames fades into the distance a faint moan escapes Dean's lips, although whether it's in pain, fear or relief, Castiel can't tell. Most likely all three, and more.
The angel wraps his arms tight around the broken soul he's carrying and doesn't let go until they've flown far, far from Hell. Even when they've reached Dean's grave Castiel still stays a while longer than he needs to, holding on for some time after remaking and resurrecting Dean's body. He knows Dean won't remember this when he wakes, and part of him hopes that perhaps Dean won't ever have to remember what he went through while in Hell, but he also knows that now Dean has another purpose to serve. So at length, Castiel finally draws his hand away, his fingers leaving lingering marks on the hunter's newly formed skin as the angel flies away into the sunrise.