You weren't exactly sure when you realized that you were almost grateful for Alastor.
Alastor was the one constant you had in Hell. He marked the system, set the routine. You were torn down and came back together, torn down and came back together, over and over again. Sometimes the cycle was as little as once, sometimes three times, sometimes ten before your torturer would leave, and Alastor would come, bringing his offer that you always refused. He would leave and a new torturer would enter and proceed to rip you to pieces in countless different ways. Alastor was the only thing in Hell you could rely on to remain the same.
Even the Hellfire shifted and changed. It always burned, but parts of it moved, traveled around the pit as if it were alive. The pain of the damned was the fuel that fed the flames; the more you hurt the more it burned, and the more it burned the more you screamed in agony. Sometimes it would burn so hot and so tall that the added pain from those carving into you wasn't necessary. Of course, that didn't stop them.
One of them would bring razors, slicing off your skin piece by bloody piece. The next would bring acid, boiling your skin and eyes, pouring into your ears, eating away at you until you you'd been reduced to dust. But even though your body was gone, your nerve endings long since disintegrated, whatever particles were left still felt the acid eating away.
There was no passing out or falling asleep in Hell, no loss of consciousness. No matter how many pieces you had been chopped into, there was never a loss of feeling.
One of them would bring fire, and the next would bring ice, and you realized that ice burned more than fire did, because you never grew numb in Hell.
You felt everything, every cut, every burn, all the time. It was a never ending cycle of those who would torment you, and Alastor.
He showed up in between one who liked scalpels and another one who liked hammers. Most of them had black eyes, but not all. Some of them were men, some were women, and some were so disfigured that you couldn't recognize what gender they were, or if they had ever even been human. Some were more vicious than others, and every single one found a new way to dismantle you.
You never knew what to expect from them, but you always knew exactly what to expect from Alastor. Even though you hated him, even though his presence made you want to gag, you appreciated his visits because it was the only familiar thing you had down in the pit. The only time the pain would stop for a few precious minutes was when Alastor came to call.
Sometimes, right before he would make you the offer he made with every appearance, he would let you know just how long you'd been on the rack, how long you'd been bleeding out your soul.
One time he said, "It's been one year. Are you ready to come off the rack yet?"
One time he said, "Thirteen years, now. All of you have to do is exactly what's been done to you, and all this will stop. What'll it be?"
One time he said, "Can you believe it's been twenty-seven years, Dean? You ready to try the other side of the rack now?"
He showed up like clockwork, and he not only became the only being in Hell that never let you down, but he also became the only measure of time you had.
* * *
One time it was Sam who came to you after Alastor left. You knew it wasn't really Sam, but the resemblance alone was the start of your torture, sending pangs straight to your gut, running deeper than homesickness. Your pain seeped out of you, and the Hellfire surrounding you flared up higher than it ever had before. NotSam ignored the flames and started from the bottom, with your feet. He tore out your toenails and broke every bone one by one. He worked his way up, making sure to leave your eyes alone, ensuring you could see NotSam's face as he grinned at the sound of your skin tearing apart.
It didn't make the usual physical hurt any worse, but it gave you a different type of pain, an ache, and you realized just how much you missed your brother. But it also reminded you that the real Sam was still up on earth, fighting the good fight, and you wouldn't let yourself become the very thing Sammy was still fighting against. What you hoped he was still fighting against.
After NotSam left, you didn't even let Alastor finish making his offer before you interrupted. You said, "Fuck, no," and spit in his face.
He tore the jaw from your face to punish you for your rudeness.
* * *
One time they used pitchforks, and somehow through the endless stabbing the cliché amused you. It didn't make the pain any easier.
One time, even though you never ate anything in Hell, you suffered from prolonged hunger that turned into starvation, although it was a thousand times faster than what it would have taken when you were alive. You felt your skin stick to your ribs, your stomach shrinking. You remembered hamburgers, craved them for the first time in a long while just before you became whole again.
One time all of your bones were torn from your body, but your mind remained in your flesh which hung from the rack like a forgotten old coat.
* * *
One time Alastor himself was your torturer, and you felt disappointed in him for the momentary lapse in reliability. The pain was more intense than it had ever been; it ate at your gut, deeper and slower than it usually did, and you felt as if you were turning inside-out.
Alastor showed you parts of your body that you didn't know you had. He held up the insides of your insides, waved them around in front of your face, strung them around your neck with your intestines and veins as if they were medals.
He made you the offer and for the first time since your arrival, you hesitated before you said "no."
* * *
One time you drowned in boiling oil, burning you inside and outside at the same time.
One time was regeneration. It was the usual torture, but in reverse, starting at the end and working the way back to the beginning. You were nothing but a pile of blood, organs, and bones, and slowly, parts of your body came back to you. Divots and wounds in your stomach disappeared, and your organs realigned themselves before your ribcage closed down on top of them. Your skin came back in ribbons, pressing itself to your muscles, open cuts closing. The pain that time didn't hurt any less. It just hurt differently.
One time you decomposed, maggots ate away at your liver, your flesh fell away from your bones, and you felt the whole thing.
One time they tore off pieces of you and forced you to eat yourself. When they made a hole, a tunnel, leading into your stomach, they pulled those pieces back out and fed them to you again.
One time Alastor whispered to you and let you know just how long it had been. You thought about Sam again, and you thought about how long you'd been gone, and you doubted that your brother was still alive, still fighting. The Hellfire surrounding you flared up, burned so bright that it was nearly blinding. When it finally died down and the offer came as it always did, you said "yes."
* * *
Alastor looked at you while you looked at your intended victim, and the girl looked right back at you.
"Anytime now, Dean," Alastor said. "Do you want me to suggest a place to start?"
"No," you said, a little too quickly. You gripped a carving knife in your fist, but you left it by your side.
"Well, you must start somewhere. You can't just say you'll punish souls to get yourself off the rack and then not follow through. That's not fair to anyone," Alastor said. "There are only two ways you can be strapped back on. Refusing to inflict torment is the easiest."
You didn't respond, and the girl's eyes stared at you in a silent plea, while you felt Alastor's bore into you from behind.
Alastor finally sighed. "For you, Dean. I took pity on you. I don't do that with many of the souls down here. I've given you an easy one to start with."
"Easy?" you spat, spinning on your heel to face the demon. "How could this ever be easy?"
Alastor grinned at you. "Don't you remember? Look at her."
You turned back around and looked at the girl until you finally saw her. Years had passed since you had last seen her, but you knew her.
She was the one who had sliced your tongue into threads, letting it hang out of your mouth like spaghetti.
She was the one who had tied parts of your skin into elaborate bows, decorating you like a gruesome flower arrangement.
You recognized her, finally made the connection, and she seemed to shrink back into herself, knowing that you knew the truth. Your arm swung in a dangerous arc and the blade landed in her stomach, sliding in easily like the flesh was nothing but butter. The fire burning at her feet grew until it reached her kneecaps.
You did it again. And again. Over and over until the screams stopped, until there was nothing left, and the fire died down.
You stepped back and the knife fell from your hands. You felt Alastor's hand grip your shoulder, felt him lean down over you. "Very good," he whispered.
You stared down at the blood that covered your body, and suppressed a shiver. You desperately reminded yourself that you hadn't wanted to hurt anyone, but that you needed to. You had made your choice, and you needed to follow through.
You blinked, and your skin was suddenly clean, the bloodstains gone, and the same girl was back in front of you, still chained to the rack but unmarked. Alastor pressed something hot into your hands, and you lifted it up to see the orange glow of a branding iron. "Again, Dean. Do it differently this time."
You swallowed, hesitated, but then remembered how the girl had cut into your eyes with a pair of scissors.
Instead of the stomach, you went for the shoulder and it sizzled, and the scent of burning flesh didn't make you gag like it had when you were the one being burnt. The hot iron criss-crossed her body for what felt like ages, until her body resembled a burnt piece of meat.
You couldn't tear your gaze away from her, and in an instant the girl was whole and new again.
"Do you know why she is back on the rack, Dean?" Alastor asked, stepping forward to stand at your side.
You shook your head, and took a deep, unnecessary breath. It was a habit you had leftover from when you were alive, and the Hellfire no longer burned your lungs now that you were off the rack.
"She was careless, and she was dull. She had few methods, and never came up with anything new." Alastor took the iron from your hands and set a rope in it's place. He grabbed you and turned you towards him, grasped your chin and forced you to meet his eyes as he spoke. "You have an advantage over every soul here: you were a hunter in life, and I know you've seen things most of these souls could never imagine." His fingers slowly drifted from your chin to your shoulder. "Any tool you desire will be yours. Anything you are physically unable to do you will be able to accomplish just by thinking it. You have no limits down here, and you are expected to go above and beyond."
You glanced down, lifted your hand to peer at the rope he had given you, and you noticed the glint of silver and saw the hook tied to the end. You looked back up at Alastor, and he smiled.
"The second way to go back on the rack is to not use your full capabilities," Alastor said before he turned away from you, walking away. "Be creative, Dean. I've been down here a very long time, and I doubt you will ever show me something I've never seen; but I fully expect you to show every soul you're given a new way to make them pay for their sins. You can do anything here, and you are always to be thinking, finding new ways to make souls suffer. The more I see come from you, the less likely you are to get thrown back on the rack."
Then he was gone. You clenched the rope in your hands.
You knew you didn't have to want to inflict pain, you just had to inflict it. You couldn't go back on that rack.
You looked back towards the girl, who was looking at you again. You lifted the hook in your hand and tried not to hesitate.
You went for the ear that time.
* * *
Hellfire still licked the soles of your feet, but it no longer hurt. It kept you warm, served as a light to let you see the souls you tortured, and helped you gauge just how much pain you caused.
Every soul had a different face, was in the pit for a different reason, and you gave each one of them a new kind of pain to feel.
The only thing that remained the same was Alastor; every time you finished with one soul but before you moved onto another, he would come to call.
* * *
One time you used a meat tenderizer, pounding hard until the black and blue gave way to red.
One time you used a flamethrower, but started burning from the inside going out.
One time you used set of dull, rusty knives, stabbing them in and leaving them in the gut, the torso, the breast. You stuck in hundreds until the soul was nothing but a sick mockery of a pincushion. Then you pulled every blade out, every single one all at once, straight up, and the gore fell to the ground in pieces. Alastor laughed at that one.
One time you got selfish and aimed for the vocal chords first, just so you wouldn't have to hear the screams.
* * *
One time, after you started becoming more aware of exactly what happened in the pit, after listening to Alastor with every soul you had just finished torturing, you realized something. You sat on your revelation for a few more souls, observing, confirming it, before you finally said it out loud.
"Alastor, you don't make everyone an offer."
The demon turned and grinned at you. "You noticed."
You paused before asking, "Why not?"
Alastor chuckled. "If I made the same offer to everyone, we would have no souls left to torment."
Your questions didn't seem to be irritating Alastor, so you pressed on. "Did you make the offer to my father?"
Alastor's grin widened. "No."
You took a deep breath and opened your mouth to speak, but Alastor interrupted you before you could ask your last question.
"Do you really want to know the answer to that?"
You supposed you didn't, so you didn't ask.
You really didn't want to know why you were chosen to torture others instead of merely being tortured yourself.
* * *
One time you surrounded your victim with the blast of a nuclear bomb, and watched their skin shrivel and burn from the radiation.
One time you used a gun, craving the familiar weight of the weapon in your hand.
One time you pulled your arm out of the gut of a young man, and you noticed how the Hellfire reflected in the glistening blood that was slick on your skin. You held your arm up, suddenly fascinated with how the black red seemed to glow in the flickering light.
* * *
One time Alastor walked up beside you while you were cracking a ribcage open.
"I'd like to show you something," he said, and Alastor showed you what he considered the finer points of torture.
He taught you accuracy, how to aim for a specific bone on the back of the neck, the lowest of the seven vertebra, rather than just the neck itself.
He taught you measure, how to apply just a small amount of pressure before inflicting the true misery.
He taught you timing, how the when could matter just as much as the where, how building anticipation could be just as painful as the real thing.
He taught you art, how to look at each unmarked soul as a fresh canvas, waiting to be covered with red.
You absorbed it all, soaked up his words.
When he left, you applied your lessons without his guidance.
* * *
One time you wondered if your eyes were black yet, and if they were, just how long it had been since they'd gone dark.
One time Alastor made the offer to the soul you had just finished with, and he accepted. Alastor congratulated you and decided that you would only be assigned those that had been in your place; those that were deemed worthy of getting the offer. Your success rate, Alastor told you, was one of the highest he'd ever seen.
One time you nearly decided to not care anymore. You knew how much simpler that would make everything, but you also knew that you weren't ready to take that final step just yet. You knew that time was coming soon, but you would hold on as long as you could.
One time you realized it had started getting easier.
* * *
One time, as you were tearing out a girl's teeth, a flash of light surrounded you, and a searing pain started at your shoulder and raced through your body.
Your screams for help, for Alastor, were drowned out by a howling sound.
You were terrified that you hadn't pleased him, that your creativity wasn't enough. You had tried your hardest, and yet you were getting thrown back onto the rack. You squeezed your eyes shut, and waited for the Hellfire's flame to rise up and start burning you again.
The howling suddenly stopped and the warmth you'd felt for ten years was missing. Instead of burning heat you felt a chill run through your body, and when you opened your eyes, the fire was gone.
All you saw was darkness.