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The Catch

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Summary: Meg has a plot to drag both Dean and Sam back to Hell, where not all is as it seems. AU as of 6.04.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Non-BtVS/AtS StoriesMoragMacPhersonFR1818,741105755 Dec 105 Dec 10Yes
Main Story Banner for The Catch by dollarformyname
Fandom/Genre: Supernatural, action/ adventure, horror, Hell!fic
Pairings: Gen, with one sexual act and background Dean/Lisa
Rating: Hard R
Beta: Idhren
Contents include: Language, graphic depictions of Hell including on-screen physical and mental torture, sexual menacing, & non-consensual sexual contact.
Disclaimer: All characters contained herein are the property of Eric Kripke, the CW, and their associated corporate identities.
Author's NotesThis story is truly the product of a collaboration. Not just thanks but full credit is due to the artist, dollarformyname, a fabulous cheerleader whose art is worth well more than a thousand words. Don't miss the art post - I wish I could include all of Dollar's spectacular hard work here, but it's getting crowded! Additional credit and thanks need to also be given to idhren, my partner in crime and meta, whose beta work identified themes before I even realized I had written them.

~*~

The demon knew that names were powerful, especially in Hell. To name something was to know it; to know something was to have power over it. Now, with Azazel, Lilith, Alastair, and her brother all dead, only Lucifer himself could make that claim on her.

Over the centuries she'd been called many things - most of Hell knew her as Queen of the Spiders - but whenever she dealt with the Winchesters even she started thinking of herself as Meg. It hadn't been a particularly special meatsuit, though the owner had been wonderfully horrified throughout her possession. But there was something about how the Winchester brothers said the name, a mixed note of hatred and fear, that tickled Meg to her very core. She smiled at the thought of hearing that sound again.

Her smile widened when Dean Winchester pulled out his phone as he walked out of Tino's Bar and Grill and started walking down the dark, deserted main street of this insignificant small town. He was ahead of schedule and practically gift-wrapping himself. The Winchesters went through life so oblivious - that's why she had to move quickly now: couldn't trust the morons occupying the Vessels to survive much longer on their own. Eager as she was, she still raised her hand and two fingers to hold the minions back, waiting those key extra seconds to make certain the circumstances were just right.

"Hey, it's me... A couple of signs, here and there. But I don't think anything's going down tonight. You?" Meg resisted the urge to run up and throttle Dean during the long pause; there'd be plenty of chances to do that soon enough. Dean grunted then said the magic words, "Dammit, Sammy, I thought I told you to wait!" As soon as Dean uttered his brother's name, Meg brought her hand down and unleashed the band of loyal demons she'd brought along as her retrieval team. She'd chosen well: the demons appeared to form out of the shadows and to her delight, had Dean surrounded on all sides. "What the hell?" is all Dean managed to say before Choronzon knocked the phone out of his hand as he punched Winchester in the face.

The phone flew backwards and landed at Meg's feet and she bent down to retrieve it, a tinny imitation of Sam's voice shouting "Dean!" over and over on the other end of the line. When Meg looked up Choronzon and Kimaris were writhing on the ground but Decarabia had pinned Dean up against the wall, his hand around the man's neck. Decarabia checked over his shoulder and Meg nodded. He pulled a rag out of his pocket and used it to cover the man's mouth and nose, squeezed Dean's throat until his mouth opened and pushed the rag down and in. Dean's face had already gone red from holding his breath and it didn't take long for his eyes to roll back. Meg stepped forward, slipped her hand underneath her underling's, felt Dean's slowing pulse. His body had gone limp, head slumping forward, but still Meg kept up the pressure. This had to be just right. With her other hand she raised his phone to her ear.

"Dean? If you can hear me, I'm coming to get you. Just hold them off!"

"Too late, Sammy. Only place you'll see Dean ever again is in Hell."

"What-" but Meg snapped the phone shut and pulled the rag out of Dean's mouth. He was just on the cusp of death, only the thinnest of ties binding his soul to his meat: close enough to fool the Gates of Bone and Flesh. She pulled his body close and murmured an incantation not used for millenia.

A moment later Dean's phone vibrated on the ground, but there wasn't anyone there to notice. Illustration
Dean had a bad feeling in the darkness. His head felt muddled and his throat ached and he couldn't move his arms or legs: never a good sign. He figured out where he was before the blindfold came off. He knew the voice belonging to the hands lightly touching his face to remove it; not to mention the vague stench of char and sulfur lingering in the background.

"Hello, Dean," she said. Dean blinked at the light then squinted, trying to focus his eyes. He might have only met this body a couple of times before but there was no mistaking that smirk.

Dean swallowed, didn't bother to test the bonds tying him down to the chill metal rack, and arched his eyebrows as he drawled, "Hi, Meg." She continued to smirk as he looked around and scanned the room, mental clarity rapidly returning as he confirmed his suspicion: he was in Hell. A damp, mildewy corner of Hell where they didn't know how to mix concrete properly, from the looks of the cracks and crumbles on the walls. He decided to ignore the splatters of gore and the shining blades lined up neatly on the worm-eaten table next to him for now and returned his focus to Meg. His head was unrestrained, allowing him to control what he looked at and that was an amateur mistake. It was like figuring out a magic show: if he kept his eyes where the magician didn't want him to look, the effect was ruined. "Nice place you've got here. I see you've been concentrating on interior design since you didn't get your apocalypse. I've always suspected the Home and Garden Network was part of some demonic plot. Nothing human could be so cheerfully empty yet so addictive."

She shook her head with a chuckle and picked up a long, curved blade. "That might pass for funny topside, Dean, but you of all people should know that we have a different concept of funny down here." She waved the small scythe in the air, light glinting off the blade in the corner of his eye. "It involves less sarcasm, more showing you the balloon animals we can make out of your small intestine."

Dean tipped his head back, flicking his tongue out as he scraped it against his teeth, acrid chemical taste still clinging to it. "That's right. I seem to remember you were still having trouble with poodles last time." He leaned forward and looked her straight on. She was keeping her eyes brown and human rather than beetle black, an intriguing choice. "That why you brought me back? Wanted to show me that you finally got it down?"

She ran her fingers through his hair. "What makes you think I brought you back?" Now she shoved his head back, knocking it into the metal of the rack. The resulting dull metallic 'clunk' resonated in his bones. "You're hardly a saint, Dean. How do you know you aren't dead and damned?"

Dean laughed. "You forget, Meg, I've got friends in high places now, they got me a reservation at their place." She shrugged and set the scythe back down, making a show of picking a different knife. "Plus, and you probably don't remember this, there's nothing quite like the feeling of the meatsuit you grew up in. I'm still in mine." Meg grunted, all the confirmation he could expect, so he continued. "Getting my body into Hell, though: that's a new trick, which means it can't have been easy to pull off. I'm flattered."

She spun towards him, now holding a scalpel up to his cheek. "Don't be." Meg pulled away, slicing slowly down his chest, through his shirt as she did. "As per usual, it's not you that we want."

Dean bit back his yelp by turning it into a cough, waiting for her to lift the knife before saying, "And yet here I am." She'd barely broken the skin but it stung like a foot-long paper cut. Not a bad opening: as in so many arenas in life, the best torture came with a lot of foreplay. He plastered a condescending smile on his face and lowered his voice, keeping it even. "If you really like Sam so much more, you should have saved yourself the hassle and just nabbed him." She continued to methodically shred his shirt and jeans, slicing into his skin only in maddeningly unpredictable moments. "I mean-" and he gasped as she pushed just a bit deeper, concealed his tell with a shaky laugh, "I hate to admit it, he's my brother and all - but with him you could have just walked up and asked if your hankie smelled like chloroform. Kid falls for it every time."

Meg looked genuinely amused, setting her left hand on his shoulder as she cut, covering Castiel's handprint. "It's true that he's predictable: it's a charming family trait. Goes with that whole 'vigilante-martyr' complex you all seem to share." Warm fingers squeezed the clammy skin of his upper arm in what might be mistaken for a comforting gesture anywhere else. "You know how it is: if we kidnap and torture Sam, he'll just hunker down and take it, like your Dad." Meg straightened up and stared Dean down. "Or maybe he'll break after a couple of decades, like you," she said while stroking one side of his jaw with her fingers and scraping at the stubble on the other side with the razor-sharp blade. It felt intimate and he had to give her points for making his skin crawl, keeping up the contact just a little bit too long. She smiled and pulled back. "But Lucifer's got me on a tight schedule, and if there's one thing I've learned about your brother, it's that he'll do anything to save you." Meg turned from him to select a new instrument, giving him precious evil time to anticipate her choice. Dean kept his eyes straight forward, refusing to watch. "It's a win-win situation for me: I get to torture you and in return, Sam will put the Apocalypse back on track."

Dean put together the hints she'd allowed him. "Again: I'm flattered, but my brother's not going to bust Lucifer out just to spare me a couple of boo-boos." Meg snickered, the bitch fucking snickered, and Dean scowled. "He's got this crazy hang-up about ending the world."

And then she was in his face again and that Bowie knife was enormous. "Are you so sure about that?" she snapped in his ear, whispered as a temptation, body and breasts pressed against him, eyebrows arched.

Deans eyes darted over to look into hers and he had to keep his voice down or he'd push his Adam's apple right into the blade. "Yeah, this is one of those situations where 'no' really means 'no,' Meg."

Her teeth grazed the shell of his ear as she exhaled, gloating. "So he's not coming to save you?"

The Bowie knife hadn't moved but her other clever hand pressed insinuating fingers down hard against his collarbone and it took every ounce of will he had not to duck his head down, cut his own throat. He knew she could see the sweat on his forehead, hoped it made the trickle of moisture from the corners of his eyes less obvious. He let out his breath to lower his chest, away from the pain. "It does sound like the sort of stupid stunt he'd pull without me around to stop him," he hissed out.

"That's right." On his admission, Meg relented, stepped away and Dean took the opportunity to suck in several rounds of panic breaths. "And it just so happens, we're practically in the heart of Hell. It'll take him a good long while to get into this Citadel, plenty of time for Hell to wear off on him. This place, just being here, it changes people." For just a second her eyes flipped beetle-black, a reminder. "Changed you into a torture specialist. And little Sammy, he's already got a streak of demon in him." She returned to his side, knife pressed between his ribs just below his armpit. It sort of tickled as she murmured in a sing-song voice, "As short as his last stay was, you noticed the changes, didn't you?"

Of course he noticed the changes, he wanted to shout but didn't. The unspoken words twisted in his guts because those changes didn't mean a fucking thing, just part and parcel of spending time in Hell and no one could blame Sam for that, but - shit. He couldn't look at her any longer, screwed his eyes shut to block her out so he could focus again and that's when she pushed the knife in, between the ribs, straight into his left lung and his eyes shot open as he screamed.

"Mmm-hmm." Meg smiled and pulled the knife out so that only a fraction of an inch stayed in the wound. "If he isn't already over that silly little hang-up by the time he gets here, I'll still have you to push him the rest of the way. Once again, Dean, you're nothing more than leverage. A tool. Bait!" He didn't bother to spit the blood bubbling up in his throat at her, so she pouted and drew the knife down his side, so sharp he didn't feel the cut, just the blood spreading over his skin. "If you're lucky, maybe we'll let you stick around when we're done. Like a pet. A pet who gets flayed on a regular basis.

"You've convinced me, this place needs some sprucing up." The knife proceeded down his hips and thighs, cutting deeper as she knelt down, hitting the nerves now, giving him a red silhouette that burned. "I'm thinking hand-tooled leather wallpaper made out of your skin." She rose back up and pressed herself into him, cupped his chin again, tip of the knife hovering against his cheek. "With these adorable freckles of yours," and she pointed out a few with the blade, wild grin on her face, and she kept her eyes human but they weren't, there was no humanity in them, "why, the final pattern will be such a delightful surprise!"

Dean coughed, could feel his left lung crumpling in his chest. "Fuck off, Meg"

She tutted her tongue. "Aww, out of snappy comebacks, Dean? Having trouble finding your words? Let me take care of that problem for you." As she forced his jaw down and damn near surgically sliced his tongue away, Dean had to admit she'd learned a few tricks since he'd left. But now he had no tongue and he still had to scream.
Illustration
Sam hadn't bothered to try Dean's phone again. If that voice was who he thought it was, there wasn't any point. Instead he called Castiel. And whatever Meg had done must have caught Heaven's attention because for once the angel picked up. "Cas!"

"Where's Dean?"

"Demons got him. Can you get Lisa and Ben, meet me at Bobby's?"

"Yes."

The line immediately went dead but that wasn't cause for panic, just Castiel's way, and it left Sam free to pick up the call that rang a second later. He answered without checking the I.D. "Hello?"

"Sam, do you have any idea what the hell is going on?"

Sam rubbed his eyes. "I think Hell's the right word, Crowley."

Crowley snorted. "When did you go and develop brains? Never mind - where are you?"

"Just outside of Beulah, Wyoming, on my way to Bobby's, meet us there." Then Sam stepped back because Crowley had appeared at the intersection outside the motel and was running towards Dean's car.

"If you're here, it means your brother's in Hell, Sam, we don't have time for that. Get out here, now." Sam snapped his phone shut, grabbed the bags, and ran.

Within a minute Crowley had the Impala rolling up Bobby's driveway. "King of the Crossroads," was all the explanation he provided.

"So you noticed whatever it was Meg did. That mean you were in on it?" asked Sam.

Crowley did a double take as they pulled up to Bobby's house. "Lucifer's errand girl and I don't get along, and there was no way for me not to notice, Sam. This kind of thing hasn't happened in thousands of years," he explained as they got out of the car and headed inside, not a moment or motion wasted.

Bobby opened the door for them. "I've got Castiel, Lisa, and Ben in my panic room, so what the hell kind of thing is it?" he asked.

"Do either of you have any idea how difficult it is to bring a human body physically into Hell-proper? I'll tell you: in most cases, you have to have the apocalypse first," shouted Crowley.

Castiel had appeared in the study. "The demon is telling the truth."

Sam held up a finger. "You said 'most cases'."

Crowley bobbed his head, pulled at his hair. "There's supposedly a way, if you've got enough power and you're desperate, legends and rumors of a spell you can use to fool the Gates of Bone and Flesh, get a barely-alive body through along with the soul," he said, shaking his head like he still couldn't believe anyone would be crazy enough to do it. "Meg, if that's what you're going to call her, she'd have had to sacrifice a lot of lesser demons to do it, which would explain why I haven't heard from a couple of my mates lately, but it can be done. But the Queen of Spiders had to know about the catch," he muttered.

Sam ignored the epithet. "What's the catch?"

Crowley waved his hand in the air. "It triggers what we call the Orpheus Clause. Gets forgotten most of the time because there's plenty of bureaucracy in both Heaven and Hell to make sure it never comes into effect." Castiel nodded to confirm the story. "But if a mortal goes to Hell and there's evidence he doesn't belong there - and with a live body down in Hell, there's no denying that he doesn't belong there - the Orpheus Clause allows a single human entrance to Hell so that they can petition for the soul's release in person."

Bobby looked skeptical. "Petition?"

Crowley shrugged. "Petitioners can't be killed on their mission and they can turn back at any time, but they have to make the petition at Court, in the Citadel." He shook his head. "Seeing as Meg would have to be the effective ruler of Hell in order to even get this far, it's more likely that Sam will have to fight his way into the Citadel. And, once Sam's there, she can delay granting the petition as long as she likes, and Dean will be vulnerable the entire trip out."

No one questioned Crowley's assumption of who the petitioner would be. "So she knows I'm coming?" asked Sam, his voice soft and cold.

Castiel and Crowley shared a look. "Undoubtedly," said Castiel. "Unfortunately, the runes on Dean's ribs prevent me from locating him in Hell and extracting him neatly. Also, my presence will be a beacon if I accompany you, but I can go to Heaven and rally the loyal garrisons." He placed a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Perhaps the garrisons alone would be sufficient."

Sam shook Castiel's hand off. "No, I'm leaving right now and Crowley's taking me." He cut off the others by raising his hand and voice. "Time passes faster in Hell! Dean doesn't have time for us to argue up here. Crowley, petitions always need a sponsor and you can rant at me once we're down there. Cas, Meg's probably expecting the angelic invasion too, be prepared and keep in touch. Bobby, you need to hold the fort on Earth, keep Lisa and Ben safe. I've got to grab a couple of things out of the car." Without another word, Sam turned and strode out the door.

"The daft fool does realize this is exactly what she wants? All three vessels are going to be in Hell!" said Crowley but Castiel was already gone.

Bobby simply grunted and headed to the stairs to go explain to Lisa and Ben what was going on. He paused at the door. "Try and keep him out of trouble, would ya?" he said, not waiting for an answer.

Crowley scowled. "That's right, give me the easy job!" he shouted at no one in particular before going after Sam.
Illustration
Dean woke up in his cell on the seventh night to discover that he had a tongue again. After the first day, Meg had allowed a number of other demons to take their turns with him, and though none of them were quite as talented as her, Dean still had a couple of things to get off his chest now that he had the necessary equipment.

"Fuckshitpisssonovabitchfuckingbastardassholesonsofwhores..." and he continued without repetition save for variations of 'fuck' until he ran out of things to say and they must have fixed his lungs too because it only took three breaths to get it all out.

After he'd exhausted his extensive cursing vocabulary, Dean took a few minutes to check the rest of himself out. Under the threadbare clothes he kept waking up in and smears of caked-on blood that lingered, his body was a fresh canvas, carrying only the scars he'd brought with him. In addition to his tongue, he'd gotten his left eye and all of his toes back. He'd been curious whether they could restore his actual body like they did with souls - before today he'd woken up bandaged and patched up but not healed - and now he had an answer. On the plus side, he'd missed these body parts; on the negative side, this meant the demons could indulge their every vile whim without fear of losing their hostage.

Fuck.

Downtime in Hell took advantage of humanity's seemingly endless capacity for creative sadism. Left to anticipate the next day's torture, human souls would imagine torments beyond any demon's wildest dreams. These thoughts were harvested and implemented by the demonic bureaucracy. But Dean already knows the trick to this part: keep your mind in the present. He knows how to tamp his thoughts down so that the downtime becomes a test of his tolerance for tedium. It gives him time to do the math in his head. Figure out when the present is. Simple arithmetic: he's always been good at that, if he can keep track of the damn decimal point.

Forty years in the Pit had passed in one hundred thirty-nine days back on Earth. That translates into roughly ten years a month, or one year every three and a half days or so, maybe a little less. Now he's going to need that fucking decimal point, so he uses a link on his chains to scratch into the dirt. Divide that three and a half by three-hundred sixty-five and he gets... something really fucking small. Call it a hundredth. He checks the math again to make sure he hasn't messed up the decimal and gets the same ratio. At least that would make the last part easy. Sixty minutes in an hour times twenty-four of those in a day came out to one thousand four hundred forty minutes in a day. Now it's just a matter of bumping that stupid dot over two places but the final figure still makes Dean feel a little nauseous.

Every agonizing day here amounts to not quite fifteen minutes up there: on Earth he's been missing for a just over an hour and a half. At least Lisa hasn't had long to worry. He sighs and tries to get as comfortable as he can while sticky-slick with his own blood sitting on a damp wooden bench with heavy chains cuffed to his wrists, neck, and ankles. Despite the smell of char (and sulfur, always sulfur), the air feels humid and just a little too cold for comfort. His stomach gurgles, empty, though he doesn't feel particularly hungry or thirsty. Still: the cavalry had better show some hustle, get here quick.

Dean leaned back and watched the hellfire flicker through the high, illusory window. Every cell had one, none of them were real. He'd discovered the truth behind the 'windows' the hard way during his last stint. The windows gave souls the illusion of possible escape, created false hope that crumbled and set you on the path to true despair if you let it.

Dean had.

He wondered what it said about him that now he found the image comforting. It alleviated the boredom: the patterns had always reminded him of a lava lamp, random flares and licks endlessly fascinating. "Home, sweet home," he murmured with his restored tongue.

Meg had a point about this place changing people.

Dean adjusted his priorities accordingly. He could roll with the punches a little longer; better that Sam delay the cavalry hustle in favor of showing up in Hell more prepared. Dean's brother was one stubborn sonovabitch. Once he got down here, he'd get that bitchy look on his face and charge on in, no way to change his mind once he'd got it set, damn the consequences...

... Meg was right about that too.

Fuck.

Dean put those useless thoughts aside. Has to keep his mind in the present in Hell, he reminds himself. Don't anticipate the future; don't dwell on wounds that would disappear anyway. Stay in the present, the one point where he knows exactly what he needs to do:

Be Dean Winchester.

In the present, Dean grins. The demons have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.
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Sam thought he'd suffered in the Cage. The torture had been indescribable, in part because the experience had overwhelmed Sam's mere mortal senses almost immediately. The Cage had been specifically engineered to both contain and torture Lucifer, one of God's most powerful and brilliant creations, for all of eternity. During Sam's brief tenure, judging by Lucifer's howls and rage, it had been making up for its temporary lapse in the first task by demonstrating its perfection in regards to the second.

Exactly how it did that, though, Sam couldn't say: his memories of it were impressions more than anything. The Cage meant perfect isolation - Sam still had no idea what had happened to Michael and Adam - the Cage trapped him, rendered him powerless and immobile. And he'd been in constant agony - or at least Lucifer had - but Sam didn't remember, perhaps had never known, the source of the pain, and so he'd been able to distance himself from it emotionally. He'd hurt, he'd wished it would end, it had ended. Dean kept giving him these odd looks, but all in all, Sam felt that he'd long since moved past the whole experience without any serious scars. A little extra caution wasn't a bad thing for a hunter.

Meanwhile, outside of the Cage, the rest of Hell had perfected one torture that the Cage could never provide: politics. After a mere two weeks of negotiations, Sam conceded to Sartre's point about hell and other people. The brimstone, the flames, the torture chambers: those were all just window-dressing for the demons' power struggles. His life made a lot more sense now: with time stretched out by two orders of magnitude so they could practice against each other, of course Azazel and Lilith and Ruby had all been able to play him and his family like virtuosos.

If he didn't have a mission, Sam might have been tempted to stick around for a while to learn a few things. But he did have a mission. Dean remained locked in the Citadel and Meg hadn't been shy about spreading the news that she had a Winchester waiting on the rack for any demon with a bone to pick. Sam tried not to think too hard about her choice of words.

Of course, almost every demon in Hell had a bone to pick with the Winchesters.

"... paid lip service to Lucifer, but why Azazel felt the need to break the bastard angel out, I never understood. Then again, you remember Azazel, always such a sure hand, a consummate professional. If he had a plan I had to go along with it, you understand. He'd ruled Hell for half a million years, it was hard to argue with him..."

Sam started to zone out again as their host continued praising the demon who'd destroyed Sam's family and ruined their lives. Crowley caught his eyes and glared, so Sam shook his head and tried to focus again. The speaker's name was Count Halphas, which Crowley had instructed Sam to use only once, in private, when they'd first arrived. Since then, Sam has called him Pelargo - 'him', of course, being a relative term, as demons could apparently appear as any meatsuit they'd worn on Earth, so long as that meatsuit's soul hadn't since moved on to heaven. Sam had asked about Crowley's original body when they'd first arrived and received a snort and a muttered reply about the relative quality of British dentistry over the last several hundred years. Against all evidence, Sam was left to conclude it had improved.

"... but I can't say that I've been unhappy with the recent turmoil..."

Something Crowley hadn't told Sam before they'd come charging down here: while averting the apocalypse, Sam and Dean had completely destroyed the existing hierarchy of power in Hell, plunging it into a civil war of such unprecedented violence that it reset the Pit's sliding scale. Pelargo, Hell's finest arms dealer, was one of very few demons who'd actually profited from Sam's swan dive. Which was why Sam was here, listening to the demon natter on into eternity. Sam needed his help. There weren't many other gates in Hell open to him: just the ones of Bone and Flesh, but those weren't an option until Sam got to the Citadel, where Dean was still on the rack, while these two insisted on rehashing the same information over and over. Beneath the table, Sam clenched his fists and hoped the leather squeak of his gloves hadn't given him away.

"... as surprised as anyone when the Queen of Spiders emerged as the victor. Of course, she had Lucifer's backing, but for obvious reasons that lacks the currency it once held. And then she stunned us all at the convocation and not even Lord Lepus could explain how she managed that..."

More double-speak: in order to work the spell that brought Dean here, Meg had needed an ocean of demon blood. After her initial victory twenty-five years ago, she'd invited every peer of the realm to send a delegation to a convocation at the Citadel. Many of the peers had arrived in person, every delegation had arrived with legions of lesser demons - it being Hell, some had been there to attack - but they'd all shown up. Meg then murdered them all in the matter of minutes - in Hell, Crowley had explained, demons were vulnerable to each other, especially to any demon with more power, and no one had realized up until that moment just how much power Meg already had. It had been a coup even for Hell.

Now Crowley was speaking. "... just proof that she's as mad as they've always said. She'd never have survived this long if Azazel hadn't found her useful. She won't be able to retain power long."

Pelargo sniffed and took a sip of wine. "I'm not so certain. Her stunt eliminated most of the obvious challengers, and now she can count Chaos and that winged scoundrel as her lackeys."

"But not you or the Grand Architect?" Sam didn't roll his eyes at the title. This time.

The Grand Architect, Pelargo's longtime lover and partner in an environment which encouraged neither, also known as Princess Malphas - and the fact that their true names rhymed was too precious for Sam to cope with down here - appeared the moment Crowley mentioned her, despite earlier protests about urgent business. "Lord Bocian and I have different priorities. Earth does not concern us, save for the occasional holiday. We had the loveliest time in Campuchea when we last visited; charming people, the Khmers, it was so terribly rustic but that just meant we had to be creative..."

Crowley's glares became more urgent and Sam tried to give him a reassuring look. Sam understood: there was no way they could get into the Citadel and get to Dean without these two as allies, and to gain their support, Sam had to play the game. Respect their grandiose titles, eat the dreadful imitation nouvelle cuisine and vinegary wine they offered him (after being guaranteed that there wasn't any such thing as a 'Persephone Clause'), and look past their genocidal hobbies, even when the Architect offered to go dig up their vacation slides. This is all he's done since arriving in Hell, hasn't made a single step towards the Citadel since the second day and it's driving him just a little insane. Dean's on the rack and all Sam has done is sit and watch and listen to these miserable self-important hellspawn wear fake smiles while playing their petty games, with no retreat but his own thoughts. The Cage had been an abstract agony where time held no meaning because the pain was constant, unyielding, and unchanging; but here Sam could act, could stop Dean's pain, if only he didn't have to deal with all of this futile feudal bullshit. This is personal. The Cage had been nothing: this is Hell.

And it was then, during his fourteenth day in Hell, that Sam Winchester had a new thought. It was a clever thought that took all of his observations into account and transformed them into a single, elegant conclusion. Like many epiphanies it struck suddenly, almost as if it wasn't even his own idea, but belonged to someone else who also had access to the contents of his head.

Sam Winchester, who had learned the hard way that he needed to be cautious when dealing with demons, took two more nights to act on the thought. He tested it in secret and discovered that the idea didn't merely explain the situation: it also presented a new and exciting solution. In his head, Sam thought things all the way through to the end. He nurtured the idea from a simple concept into a complete plan. This plan introduced some new risks but Sam felt confident that he could manage them and the old plan couldn't compete with this one's payoff. But Sam still had his doubts. He wished he could check it over with Dean; wished he could share it with anyone, but other than Dean there wasn't anyone in Hell that Sam could trust but himself. Sam prayed for Dean's understanding and forgiveness and took the time to make the right decision.

Alone in Hell, Sam Winchester decided to change plans. Now that he was here, with all of this new information, this one made more sense. He hadn't felt this confident in years.

On the seventeenth night, Sam sat at the table and listened to the same conversation he heard there every night. Once again, Malphas had been driven to distraction by work and wouldn't make it to dinner. But tonight Sam could read the demons as easily as he could scan the blurb on the back of a paperback. And that wasn't all he could do...

He shifted in his seat; saw Crowley's automatic glare; but this time he also saw Halphas. The black of his eyes flickered every time Sam moved. When Crowley brought Malphas into the conversation, the black flickered a different way, to the door where she appeared a moment later. Sam knew this would happen before it did and smiled to see his suspicions confirmed.

Halphas' fake smile changed from brittle to anxious and Sam realized how careful he'd have to be from now on. Especially the next step; this had to be done right. Delicately, to preserve their precious, fragile pride. Sam still needed these demons as his allies and he couldn't afford to alienate Crowley. Crowley knew everyone, and it didn't matter that most of them had offered standing rewards for proof of the Crossroad King's final death, because Crowley didn't just know demons, he knew their names. Malphas' strained smile said what her pride didn't allow her: she really was too busy to be here. Between the apocalypse, the civil war, Meg's spell, and defending the whole place against Castiel's heavenly onslaught, there were barely enough demons left in Hell to run the place.

But no one said anything. Demons couldn't admit weakness in front of each other: they might as well sign their own death warrant. Right now Malphas was saying so little that it felt like she was actively sucking conversation out of the room. But that was okay because the secret to understanding demons in Hell was to listen to the things they didn't say.

Specifically, Malphas wasn't mentioning that Crowley had summoned her to the conversation - and that because he knew her true name, she'd had no choice but to appear. Halphas had used many, many words in order not to say that this was the one of the tricks Meg used to set up her massacre, and both were utterly mum about how they'd only escaped because their names were among the few Meg didn't know. Before Crowley had shown up with Sam Winchester in tow, they'd had a pretty good chance at setting up an independent fiefdom, and now...

Ah, but that's why other demons hated Crowley, why they'd all been so happy to give the smug prick vast powers that conveniently kept him on Earth and out of their business. The power of names didn't make the demons he summoned loyal or even friendly - if Sam hadn't been here, Crowley would probably already be dead. But he'd brought Sam to Hell, and that changed everything. Meg had lured Sam here because she needed Lucifer's Vessel. But she hadn't thought about Sam's other name; the one her own Father had given him; the one he'd denied until now.

And with that mistake he'd make sure she'd pay for every other one of her sins.

Sam held up a single gloved hand and watched his hosts freeze in place. Perhaps it hadn't been a complete waste of time, all those days of sitting silent and bored, giving nothing away, letting Crowley do the talking. Now his actions came as a surprise, which made the demons nervous. Nervous was useful, but not what he wanted, not what he needed in order to get to Dean and the Citadel and bring this horrible cycle to a final end.

Sam could do it. Here. The Boy King had the power to do it here.

In Hell, every wrong Sam ever suffered turned to his advantage. He wasn't bound by his infamous name because as the Boy King he'd arrived in the flesh, Azazel's own blood flowing through his veins. His life was doubly protected by the provisions of the Orpheus Clause and by fear of Lucifer and Meg's wrath if anyone dared to harm the True Vessel. Here, whatever Sam wanted was his for the taking.

Even Crowley wasn't asking the next question, but no matter. Sam wouldn't have answered the demon even if he had the balls to ask. He'd figure it out eventually. Meanwhile, Sam knew exactly what he wanted, and it was time to start taking it.

Sam stood. This was a momentous occasion, worth standing for. The demons followed suit after a beat of silence. "Lordship, your Highness." The Boy King inclined his head. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you less than happy with the Queen of Spiders' leadership?"

The demons didn't say anything. Sam smiled. "Allow me to offer you an alternative. Please follow me." They followed without a word; even Crowley's everlasting gob stopped. Sam led them up to the battlements; Malphas was an excellent architect, if not terribly inspired, and Halphas' blood money bought them a fine vista of crater ridden mountains that rose above the sulfur flats to jagged icy peaks. In the distance you could even see demons flinging the miserable frostbitten acrophobic damned off the edge.

Sam could see them because he was concentrating, focusing his thoughts on the mountain. He had to remember that only two beings mattered in Hell - the only two things that had matter in Hell - were Dean and himself. Nothing else mattered; nothing else had matter; everything else was energy. Energy was power, and in the confines of Hell, the Boy King was all-powerful.

The Boy King unfurled his gloved fingers like the petals of a flower and behind him three peers of Hell watched as the mountains crumbled onto the plains. If there'd been anyone to say it to, Sam might have mentioned that he'd felt strangely removed from the experience, almost disembodied. But he couldn't say that to a demon, so instead he said, "I come to humble the exalted and exalt the humble," which he figured was the sort of pseudo-Biblical gibberish that impressed self-important demons. The Boy King finished his debut performance with a turn, a smile, and an excellent question. "Which would you rather be?"
Illustration
The Queen of Spiders' web of spies stretched across the entirety of Hell and it never took long for their reports to reach the Citadel, even from the loneliest outskirts of the dimension. But even without knowing the details of what had occurred inside the Grand Architect's stronghold - which Meg did - she could have guessed at what had happened. Crushing a mountain wasn't exactly a subtle sign. Sammy had taken on his title as the Boy King of Hell.

It was about fucking time.

While formulating her original plan with Lucifer there'd been no guarantee that Sam would ever come around to embracing his powers - he was a stubborn soul if nothing else - and so until now Meg had been proceeding as if he never would. Now that he had, however, she would react accordingly and in such a way that to all observers it appeared that she'd had no idea this was coming. As such, she spent a week dispatching new orders and rearranging her pieces on the board.

During that week more information trickled in and Meg continued to adapt her plans. After his shocking entrance put the rest of Hell on notice that the Boy King would be a powerful new player in their games, Sam had stepped back into the shadows. It was a little disappointing that Sam hadn't simply come charging into the heart of Hell, drunk on his newfound powers; but then again, victory was so much sweeter when it came over a worthy opponent, and for his part, Sam was displaying an unprecedented degree of political savvy in Hell. She definitely hadn't anticipated that, he was still a Winchester after all; but her plan was, as ever, adaptable. Envoys had been dispatched from the Grand Architect's territory to a number of other lords and ladies. The list wasn't a surprise to Meg: she had no illusions about her own popularity and despite her best efforts, she knew that Crowley's network of informants persisted in rivaling her own. He would know which demons had been biding their time since the convocation, waiting for a chance to challenge her again. She'd keep her eyes on this new rebellion as it developed but as yet it wasn't anything she couldn't handle.

Meanwhile she had to decide how she could best use the advent of the Boy King to manipulate Dean. Unlike Sam, Dean's progress wasn't proceeding at all to her satisfaction. While Meg was having no trouble finding volunteers to torture the elder Winchester, Dean had proven remarkably resilient against their ministrations.

She poked her head into the chamber where Choronzon was busy with his branding irons. The room stank of cooked meat and the walls rang with Dean's shrieks as Choronzon completed a complex geometric pattern on Dean's upper thigh. The scene looked promising until Choronzon pulled the brand away from Dean's flesh and the shriek shifted, became deeper and throatier and then Dean was laughing. "Y'know," he coughed, his voice wrecked and raspy, "Alastair had a real gift for this. You, on the other hand..." and he trailed off, shaking his head and laughing again.

Choronzon swung the iron and lunged forward, pressing the bar up into Dean's throat. "Let's see you laugh like this," he hissed, but around his gagging Dean really was still laughing.

Meg was forced to step forward and pull her minion back. "That's quite enough, Dust Devil. I'll take over from here; you will go and speak to the Finder, she has a task for you."

Choronzon stomped out of the room with a final growl in Dean's direction, but Dean just smiled and waved. "Better luck with that, buddy!" he said with a sneer on his face, and the fact that half of his teeth were broken didn't lessen the effect. At least those wide eyes of his still narrowed slightly and flashed with fear when he remembered that Meg had said she'd take over. "Hello, Meg," he said, a moment too late to cover his slip.

While in principle Meg was delighted that Dean feared her alone among all the demons in Hell, in practice it was enormously inconvenient. When Sam finally arrived, Meg needed for Dean to be at least somewhat broken. And Meg needed to be able to delegate Dean's torture; she had too many other things to do. But Dean's uniquely carnal nature here in Hell had caused unforeseen complications. The flexible reality of the Pit that enabled demons to execute more intellectual torments simply didn't apply to Dean - in his meatsuit he could always sense the elaborate illusions. Any Hell-reproduction more complicated than recreating the effects of sulfuric acid would prompt him to start asking for popcorn and whether or not they could get Guillermo del Toro to direct the next one. 'Because this Eli Roth shit's getting old. Did Kubrick wind up down here? Maybe you could ask him for a couple of pointers.'

Meg stepped forward and knelt down to admire Choronzon's work. "It's nice to see you're enjoying your stay with us, Dean." She ran her thumb over the skin next to the welts, smooth, chill and soothing she knew; nonetheless Dean's whole leg convulsed with a shiver.

"Yeesh, woman, your hands are cold," he blustered. "At least your little minion boy warmed things up first."

"Yes, I can see down here that you must be feeling a bit cold," said Meg, not shying away from that expanse of skin either, cupping him in her hand to disappointingly little effect.

After a moment he coughed. "Afraid torture just doesn't put me in the mood, Meg, so if you wouldn't mind taking your mitts off that, all you're doing is reminding me that I need to use the bathroom."

Meg looked up and Dean was pointedly staring across the room as he said this, which gave her an idea. She gripped a little tighter and enjoyed his gasp. "Come on, I know you're the type that likes a little bit of pain mixed in with his pleasure, Alastair told us all about it."

Dean grunted. "Thanks for the reminder, Meg, now I don't just need to piss but also kind of want to puke a little before I scrub every inch of my body clean."

"Oh, that doesn't sound like a good idea at all." Meg released the flaccid appendage and scraped her nails over his thigh causing him to yelp. "I think you might want to hold off on that plan for a little while."

She rose to her feet as he did that panic breathing cycle of his a couple of times. "I'll bear that in mind," he said after the last cycle. "This how we're going to spend the rest of the afternoon? 'Course, if you want me to braid your hair, you're going to have to untie my arms first."

Meg leaned up against the mantel of the fireplace and crossed her arms. "As much fun as that sounds like, no. I'm just here to bring you some updates on what your would-be rescuers are up to."

Dean's face schooled itself into a blank mask. "Well, I'm still here, so I know what they're not doing."

"Rescuing you," Meg finished for him. "Alas, the angelic invasion forces have been completely stymied by the Gates of Fear and Blood. One or two have gotten through the Gates of Bone and Flesh, but they haven't gotten far. A little birdy friend of mine will be returning here with Raziel's wings as his trophy."

"Never met him. He was probably a dick. Most angels are," said Dean, his face still blank.

Meg clucked her tongue. "So ungrateful. He did give his eternal life for you, it's such poor taste to speak ill of the annihilated like that." Dean didn't reply but kept staring at a point just past her shoulder. "The Boy King-"

"Don't call him that," barked Dean.

Meg clasped her hand to her chest. "I'm so sorry, Dean, but the fact is, that's what Sam's calling himself these days." Dean swallowed, his throat working as his neck unconsciously twisted to shake his head 'no'. "I thought you'd get a kick out of that." She stepped forward again, this time trailing her fingers along the pulsing veins in his neck, the straining tendons in his shoulders, past the collar of brands that now decorated the deep red, blistered skin below his clavicle. "Half my dispatches lately are updates about the Boy King's rebellion. Would you like some excerpts? I've been committing them to memory."

Dean's jagged teeth were going to bite right through his pouty lips at this rate. Meg stood on her tip toes and leaned her clothed body flush against his naked front, rested her chin on his shoulder so she could whisper in his ear. "The Boy King can change the landscape of Hell without the power of any other soul to amplify his own. The Boy King has come to claim Hell as is his birthright. The Boy King will lay siege to the Citadel, slaughter me and my minions, and reclaim his brother." She stepped back to admire her own handiwork and was pleased to note that almost all of Dean had gone completely rigid. "So sweet that your codependence is strong enough to survive his turn to the darkside, isn't it?"

Dean looked down with half-hooded eyes. "Sam can't have gone too darkside if he's still coming here to slaughter you," he said under his breath. "And if he's set on being the Boy King, how exactly does that jive with your plan to let Lucifer ride him? I think you've got him wrong, Meg, I think this is all going wrong for you."

Meg shrugged. "Maybe." She smiled. "I doubt it." She turned away from Dean and walked towards the door. "I'll have to chat with the Boy King, see if he and I have more in common than I did with Sam Winchester." She turned back to Dean as she opened the door. "I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I think you've had enough fun for today. Someone will be along shortly to take you back to your cell." Dean remained stoic, an observation that had Meg practically whistling as she headed down the corridor on the way to begin the next stage of her plan.

The End

You have reached the end of "The Catch". This story is complete.

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