There's no distance in Hell.
Bela figures out fast that the place isn't keen on constants of any kind. Even the pain isn't constant - oh, it's always there, but sometimes it eases up a little, probably to make sure she really feels it when it gets worse again. But nothing in Hell is static. There are a few landmarks she comes to recognize, sometimes close by, sometimes out of sight - a jagged spike of rock, a dark hole, a river of blood. She's can't tell how much of her shifting surroundings is real and how much is just in her mind.
There's no time in Hell, either. She can only measure its passing in pain and screaming, so all she knows is that she's been there long enough to have learned to think through the lowest levels of torment when she first sees Dean Winchester.
She blinks blood out of her eyes and looks at him. He's newly arrived, she can tell that much - still screaming his brother's name, begging Sam to come and save him. He'll give up on that soon enough, she knows. There's no hope in Hell.
She doesn't think he sees her, and she's too hoarse from screaming to call out to him. Besides, she remembers what it was like when she first arrived in Hell. It'll be a while before he's aware of anything but the torment.
The hook carving into her chest blazes white-hot, and she loses sight of him, swallowed up again by her own pain.
She doesn't know how long it's been. Long enough that his t-shirt is gone, rotted or ripped away, or maybe just abandoned by whatever part of his subconscious conjured it up. Long enough that when he raises his head at the sound of his name there's no hope left in the movement, just a weariness she knows only too well.
It takes a moment for him to recognize her, and she tells herself it's because he's in pain, not because she's unrecognizable with the hook driven into her cheek.
"In the flesh," she says. "So to speak."
The corner of his mouth quirks up at that, and she feels a flash of something she can't put a name to, because Hell hasn't beaten him down completely yet. And if she can come that close to making him smile, then she's not as far gone as she thought after all.
It's worth it, even when her chains tighten and tug her away sickeningly in the next moment, spinning her away from him before either of them can say anything else.
"This isn't exactly how I pictured it," Dean says, the next time they find themselves near each other and they're both lucid at the same time.
"You were expecting flames too, were you?" Bela asks drily.
"And pitchforks," Dean says. "I feel cheated."
"Don't give them any ideas," Bela says, and feels the humor slip away from her. It's hard to hold on to anything positive here for long, and she's thinking more of that than the chains when she murmurs, "Flames or not, this place is bad enough."
"We'll get out," Dean tells her, and the statement is ridiculous enough to make her jerk her head round to look at him, ignoring the pain it causes as the hooks tear into her.
"You've got to be joking."
"Sam'll find a way," Dean says. "And hey, I'll let you tag along too. Even though you stole my car that one time."
Bela knows there's no chance. She spent ten years searching, and if there was a way, she'd have found it. But she doesn't argue with him. The thin veneer of bravado feels like defiance, feels like a triumph in its own right, and that counts for something.
There's no respite in Hell. She'd had ten years to imagine what the Pit would be like, and she'd always assumed that she would probably pass out from the pain at times, even though sleep wouldn't be an option. She'd wondered if she would go mad, and how long it would take, and whether it would seem like a blessing by then. But there's no refuge, not in sleep and not in insanity: awareness is a curse she can't escape, even when the agony is too overwhelming for her to be able to take in her surroundings.
The times when the pain eases up come as a relief, but they're hard in a different way. She's always bracing herself for the torment resuming, and though the waiting isn't worse - not even close - it's not exactly fun. Mostly she spends the wait counting - counting demons, the damned souls around her, the links in her chains.
The demons don't bother with the damned much, but they make an exception for Dean. She can see them in the distance, crowding round him. Dean's responsible for sending a good number of demons back down here, she knows. A lot of them want to pay him a visit now that he's here too.
She can pick out the pitch of his screaming among the cries of the other damned souls, even from this far away.
"Cracking this easily?" she asks.
Her voice is a shadow of what it used to be, but she manages to inject just enough contempt into her tone to achieve the desired effect. Dean blinks and turns his head slowly in her direction. He doesn't say anything, though, and she doesn't think it's just because he's still trying to catch his breath.
She supposes this is why Hell lets them see each other from time to time: so they can watch each other slipping and changing, see each other being defeated.
"Thought you were more of a man than that, Dean," she says.
"Go to hell," he whispers, his voice cracked. It's still the sweetest sound she's heard in a while.
"I always wondered if you'd scream in the sack."
Bela forces her eyes open. Dean looks - well, knowing that it's not really his body doesn't make it any easier to see the way the skin has been flayed away right across his shoulder, exposing raw flesh around the hook. She can still remember, just about, the way he looked in a tux, the games she'd wanted to play then. Now -
- well, it's not like she looks her best right now either.
"Don't think you could have made me scream," she chokes out.
It's comforting that he can still manage to be completely inappropriate, even in Hell. Bela tries to hold on to that, but she's screaming again before she can hear his reply.
He stops screaming Sam's name, after a while. Now he just screams. Bela's already seen a hundred damned souls go through the same process: it happens to them all.
"Eternity," she says at some point. "I never really understood what the word meant until now."
"Not going to be here for eternity," Dean says.
Bela sighs. It's been a while since he's said anything like that, promised her that Sam will find a way to get him out, that he won't leave her here, that he'll come back for her. She'd thought Hell had finally managed to snuff out the spark of faith in his brother that Dean kept holding on to. She can't figure out if she's irritated or reassured that it hasn't. "If you say so."
"I guess they let us out of the chains when we turn into demons," Dean says, and she belatedly realizes there was no hope in his voice. "Or maybe the power to bust out of them comes as a package deal with the black eyes."
Bela looks at him. "You mean -?"
"This is how demons are made," Dean tells her. "That's what we're going to become, sooner or later." It's not just an absence of hope in his voice now: it's despair.
Bela thinks about it, and wonders whether she'd prefer it to happen sooner or later.
There's no light in Hell.
Despite that, she can see, at least most of the time. There are shades of darkness, flashes of red and grey. And she supposes that since she's not really seeing with her eyes, she doesn't need light to make out what's around her anyway.
When the white light appears in the distance, far above, Bela cries out, and hears every damned soul do the same.
It's almost like a star, shining so brightly that she thinks she would be blinded if it was really her eyes she was seeing it with. It's falling into the darkness with such slow, elegant grace that Bela knows that in reality it's moving incredibly fast, just across an immense distance.
The demons are crying out now too, fear and rage in their voices.
Bela's chains snap taut, pulling her as far away as possible, and she can see the other damned souls being dragged with her, all of them pressed closer than ever before. Hell is rearranging itself, recoiling as if it fears the light.
But the light moves faster, and she realizes it's heading straight for the damned souls. There's no hope in Hell, but Bela holds her breath anyway.
Instead of coming to her, the light plunges down nearby, reaching out, and Bela hears a cry of shocked pain.
She would know Dean Winchester's voice anywhere.
Then the light is rising again. All around her the damned souls are wailing, begging; the demons are screaming, though none of them seem to dare to attack the light. Bela watches in silence. The light is too bright for her to make out more than the faint outline of Dean clutched inside it, and a hint of something that might be wings.
Then it's gone, and Hell seems even darker than before. Bela stares at the point where the light disappeared, and thinks of how Dean used to promise her they'd escape.
There's no hope in Hell, but she thinks knowing that Dean Winchester is back on earth might be the next best thing.