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Just a Puppet on a Lonely String

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Once their duties for the day are done, Mackenzie and the other two seamstresses, Alona and Samantha, have supper in the communal dining room together with several other slaves whose work is also finished.

They don’t talk much while they eat, but it’s not the heavy, tense silence that hung over their shared meals back when Mackenzie and Jensen first came here, back when the other slaves still didn’t know what to think of them, how to treat them, whether to trust them. This now is different, the silence friendly and companionable as they all huddle around the simple wooden table, bent over their bowls of chicken and vegetable broth, savoring every warm spoonful.

The others are going to stay here to talk and maybe play some games or tell stories like they usually do when their work is over and they have some free time to spare, but Mackenzie excuses herself as soon as she’s finished eating. Nobody bothers trying to persuade her to stay now; they already know she wants to use this short window of opportunity to be with her brother before he has to go fulfill his… other duties.

Of course, it’s also perfectly possible that he’s still outside, working on whatever task he’s been given for the day. Sometimes he comes back sooner than Mackenzie but sometimes he works so late that he barely has time to wash up and change before he has to go to Jared, and there’s no telling which one it’s going to be.

Just as soon as Mackenzie enters their room and closes the door, she hears soft footsteps behind her, approaching silently. She begins to turn around but isn’t fast enough, and then there are strong, muscled arms wrapped around her and she’s pulled back against the tall, hard body of her assailant, feeling his hot breath on her neck.

Recalling what Jensen’s taught her about self-defense, she doesn’t attempt to wriggle free out of the bear hug and instead drops her weight, sliding down and driving her elbow into the general direction of the assailant’s groin.

She’s rewarded with a surprised, pained yelp and takes the chance to move away, out of his reach, and only then does she look at him. “Jensen?

Her brother doesn’t respond, bent over and clutching at his crotch, looking absolutely wretched and making small, miserable noises.

Mackenzie comes closer but doesn’t reach out to touch him, not sure what the right procedure for this is, and so she just kind of hovers near him and waits. “Jensen?”

After a while of more loud, pained breathing, he rests his hands on his knees and raises his head a bit to blink at her through his tears. “Shit, Kenzie,” he wheezes, “you really pull no punches.”

“I’m sorry…”

Pushing her hand away when she tries to help him, Jensen hobbles towards one of the chairs and sits down heavily. “Don’t be, you did good. Pretty fast reaction.” He straightens up and takes a deep breath, and Mackenzie watches as color slowly returns to his face. “If this was a real situation though, you should’ve followed up with grabbing my head and smashing it into your knee while I was still out of it.”

Encouraged now that she can see she didn't cause any permanent damage and Jensen is getting better, Mackenzie takes the other chair. “I thought you said as soon as I get free I’m supposed to run?”

“Yeah, but that only works if there’s somewhere you can run to,” he waves his hand around the small room with one narrow window. “Not really applicable here. The only exit is through the door, and I was standing in front of it, so you needed to take me out in order to get away.”

It makes sense, but Mackenzie isn’t sure she’d be able to take all that into consideration and act accordingly quickly enough, even after the weeks of training Jensen’s tried to drill into her. But at least she’s past listening to her first instinct to flail and struggle mindlessly, which – as Jensen’s demonstrated to her repeatedly – doesn’t really work that well.

Some of the disappointment and insecurity must show on her face because Jensen’s slightly reproachful expression immediately softens. “Hey, it’s perfectly normal that it takes time before your reactions become fully automatic and instinctual. And I’m not exactly the best teacher either,” he adds self-critically.

“Yes, you are.” And he is, considering that he’s practically as new to this as Mackenzie is. Jensen’s been trained for hand-to-hand combat between men, between soldiers, so trying to come up with the best self-defense moves for a girl can’t be easy for him. “So why don't we just say we’re both doing pretty good and leave it at that, huh?”

He raises one eyebrow. “Are you getting cocky on me, sis?”

“Well, I got you, didn’t I?”

He nods, smiling. “You sure did.”

She loves seeing that smile – it’s one of those small, sweet, almost shy smiles that show mainly in the crinkles around his eyes, one that almost nobody gets to see. Come to think of it, now that everyone Jensen’s ever loved is gone, Mackenzie is probably the only one who gets to see it, and just like that she feels her own smile disappear.

Jensen doesn’t miss the mood swing but he doesn’t comment on it, just reaches out to cover Mackenzie’s hand with his own. They’re both already used to this – one moment they’re fine, all worries and troubles forgotten, and the next moment something reminds them of where they are, who they are now, and all the misery rushes right back.

“So, how was your day?” Jensen asks in a painfully obvious attempt at distraction which Mackenzie nevertheless accepts gratefully, describing today’s events in great detail even though every day is the same for her, nothing ever changes. Jensen listens attentively and with much more interest than anyone in their right mind should show in needlework and embroidery. Then it’s his turn to tell her about the slow, laborious process of digging a new well in the courtyard, and Mackenzie listens just as closely as he did.

They continue talking, but as it gets darker outside, night falling upon the City, a subtle yet detectable change occurs in Jensen’s behavior – it’s like watching the life seeping out of him, drop by drop. He still talks and listens, smiles and nods, but behind all that he’s closing off, steeling himself for what’s to come. Mackenzie isn’t sure he’s even aware of doing it, but he does it every night as the time for him to go to Jared approaches.

When that time comes – signaled by a slave guardsman walking in, informing Jensen that Master Jared will see him now – it’s almost a relief, for both Jensen and Mackenzie.

Once she’s left alone though, it becomes much harder to ignore the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere of the small, darkened room; the grim thoughts that Mackenzie manages to keep at bay during the day creeping out of the shadowy corners like hyenas. She can’t face them like this, alone, so she does the same thing she does every night – she returns back to the dining room, now full of slaves, laughing and chatting, some of them singing, some playing dice or cards, but all of them welcoming her with sincere, hearty kindness.

It still amazes Mackenzie how warm and friendly they turned out to be once they accepted her and Jensen into their tight-knit community. Gone is the robotic, indifferent behavior that these men and women show to the outside world. They may act like mindless, obedient tools in public, but here and now they're people, and just the fact that they haven't entirely forgotten their humanity as Mackenzie originally presumed gives her hope that not all is lost, even if she and Jensen never manage to free themselves again. Which is a possibility she's slowly coming to terms with, although she hasn't mentioned it to Jensen yet.

“Mackenzie! Come sit with us,” Alona calls her over cheerfully, patting the empty space on the bench next to her, and just as soon as Mackenzie sits down, she’s pulled into a hug by the tiny blonde.

“What’s up with her?” Another blonde woman, Mackenzie recalls her name is Katherine, asks. She’s one of the pleasure slaves so Mackenzie hasn’t really gotten to know her as well as those who work with her on a daily basis.

Alona rubs Mackenzie's back comfortingly. “She still feels bad every night when her brother goes to service Master Jared.”

Katherine’s expression remains uncomprehending. “Why?”

“Why?” Now it’s Mackenzie’s turn to be baffled. “What do you mean, why? How can you even ask that?”

Katherine shrugs, unfazed by Mackenzie’s little outburst. “Master Jared takes pride in being a passionate, attentive lover; he likes to give pleasure as much as he likes to receive it. The only reason anyone should be upset about this is jealousy. I mean, ever since that pretty brother of yours got here, I haven’t been asked to attend to Master Jared’s needs, not once.” Her nose scrunches up as she scowls. “And I used to be one of his favorites.”

Gasping for breath in surprise at what she’s hearing, Mackenzie turns to Alona and Samantha, looking for some kind of support, but all she sees on their faces is honest confusion. “You seriously think this is alright? That someone can get away with treating you like that? Like you're a... a banquet and Jared can just choose whatever he wants, whenever he wants it?”

"Our Master can treat us any way he wants," Alona says. “We’re slaves.”

“Yes, but don’t you wish you were free?”

“We’re slaves,” Alona repeats patiently as if that explains everything, Samantha and Katherine nodding in agreement.

Mackenzie could try to argue with them, but frankly she doesn’t have the heart to bring them out of their blissful ignorance, they seem content as they are. Besides, they probably wouldn’t understand her standpoint anyway. How do you explain freedom to someone who doesn’t even know they’re behind bars? “Just… forget it.”

They shrug and move to other, safer topics. It’s a far cry from the witty conversations Mackenzie used to engage in back home at the royal court, but she lets herself get lost in the chatter anyway, the jokes and gossips and songs keeping the hyenas away.

*

Jensen returns to their room maybe half an hour after Mackenzie does, which is a bit unusual because normally he’s back sooner than that, but she doesn’t ask why that is. He wouldn’t give her an answer, and she’s not sure she’d want to hear it even if he did.

“You alright?”

“Yeah. You?”

“I’m fine.”

Now that their customary post-Jared conversation is over, Mackenzie lifts up the covers and waits for Jensen to slide into the bed next to her. He always washes himself before coming here so he’s still a bit cold to touch, but he never stays cold for long, and soon after she lays her head on his shoulder, the sounds of Jensen’s even, regular breathing lull her to sleep.

  

***

 

Unlike the slaves’ quarters, which are on the first floor and poorly lit, the workroom is on the southern side of the building, up on the topmost floor, with large windows so enough light can pour in and Mackenzie, Samantha and Alona can see what they’re doing.

The abundance of light is mostly welcome, but as the day progresses and heat starts rising off the paved streets below, the air inside gets extremely dry and hot.

Completely absorbed in her work and momentarily forgetting her place, Mackenzie licks her slightly chapped lips and opens her parched mouth to tell one of her handmaidens to go fetch her a glass of cool water. Luckily she stops herself from saying it out loud at the last moment and saves herself the embarrassment. The last time she did something like that, Alona kept making fun of her and calling her Your Highness for days.

It’s funny, how old habits die hard.

She grimaces and continues working.

“We’re almost out of golden thread,” Samantha points out a while after that, holding up a nearly empty spool.

“Green too,” Alona adds.

Mackenzie puts down her needle and thread, standing up. “I’ll go get them. Anything else we need?”

“Chalk,” Alona says after looking over the various tools and supplies laid out on the desk before her. Currently, they’re embroidering large, ruby red banners with the Padalecki family coat of arms for the big parade that’s coming in a few weeks, as one of the slaves working at the butler’s office overheard yesterday. “Beeswax. You know where they are?”

“You showed me the last time.”

Mackenzie slips outside the workroom and hurries through the corridor, past the ever-present guards that watch her with bored expressions, and down the narrow flight of stairs that leads to the storerooms. She quickly throws the supplies into a hand basket and then she’s hurrying back. She needed a bit of time alone, but she doesn’t want Alona and Samantha to think she’s slacking off. She's not some delicate, pampered princess. Not anymore, anyway.

When she reaches the base of the staircase, she nearly runs into a man she doesn’t recognize. Offering a muttered apology, she tries to go around him, but he steps to the side, blocking her way. “What’s the rush, darling?”

Mackenzie freezes, contemplates her options. Is he a threat? Should she run?

The man chuckles. It doesn’t sound particularly ominous. “Cat got your tongue?”

Flicking her eyes towards the guardsman who stands a little further down the hallway, looking unworried, Mackenzie decides that this means this man – whoever he is – is not an intruder here, so she takes a moment to inspect him more closely.

She doesn’t need to look at his tattoo-less neck to know that he’s a free, rich man – the quality of his attire speaks for itself. But there’s something else about him, something markedly familiar. It’s the way he holds himself, tall and proud, taking up more space than he should, an air of confident authority around him, that reminds her of Jensen, or Jared. This man is a soldier, an officer.

He studies her curiously, probably waiting for her to drop a curtsy. Well, unless he outright tells her to do it, he’s going to have to wait a long time.

The trouble is, he seems to be just fine with that, judging by the way he just stands there patiently, watching her.

“Can I help you? You seem a bit lost.” She asks in a polite tone, but the question itself is more of a provocation – this part of the Padalecki mansion is used by slaves only, so there’s practically no way he could’ve just accidentally strayed so far from the representative wing. If he’s here, he wanted to be here.

He doesn’t look offended, though. Actually, he winks at her, slow and deliberate. “Well, I sure am lost now... Lost in your beauty.”

That must be one of the cheesiest, lamest attempts at a compliment Mackenzie’s ever heard – and being the single daughter of a king, she’s heard plenty – so she doesn’t quite manage to conceal her amusement.

He huffs softly. “Come on, it wasn’t that bad!”

At loss as to how to respond, Mackenzie just shrugs.

“Huh. You’re not that good at being a properly respectful slave, are you?”

Mackenzie knows what she’s expected to say to that, and she knows what she’d like to say, but since the first choice sticks in her throat and the second might put her throat in danger, she opts for silence.

He leans towards her, his intelligent blue eyes boring into hers. “I asked you a question, and I’d like to hear your answer. And feel free to speak your mind.”

If he wanted to report her for her behavior, he could’ve done it already, so she decides to answer honestly. “Well, I have no problem with showing respect. But see, respect can’t be bought, and it can't be born out of fear; it has to be earned. You haven’t exactly done anything to earn mine so far.”

The man’s reaction catches her completely off-guard: he bursts into laughter. It’s strangely contagious and she finds herself smiling, the corners of her lips curving upwards of their own volition.

“Oh, Mackenzie Ackles,” he sighs when he’s done laughing as he runs one hand through his spiky blond hair and then down his scruffy face to compose himself. “You really are a handful.”  He gives her another mischievous wink and accompanies it with a perfectly executed low bow, complete with one hand laid over his heart. “And you’ve certainly earned my respect.”

With that, he leaves, striding through the narrow corridor leading to the representative wing, his footsteps echoing loudly in the silence and his laughter echoing in Mackenzie’s head long after he’s gone.

And how did he know who she was?

 

***

 

“Master Jared will dine with both of you tonight,” the guard intones flatly that night, addressing both Jensen and Mackenzie without actually looking at either of them.

They exchange surprised, disconcerted looks; Jared hasn’t asked to see Mackenzie since that one time almost a month ago and the fact that he wants to now can’t possibly mean anything good. Still, they don’t really have any other choice but to do as they’re told, so Jensen shrugs and heads out, Mackenzie following right behind him.

As they walk, Jensen looks over his shoulder to give Mackenzie an encouraging smile of the I won’t let anything bad happen to you variety, and he actually manages to make it rather convincing; the only thing undermining the reliability of his claim is the anticipatory tension in his shoulders. He’s already expecting trouble and he’s getting ready for another battle. Hopefully that battle will never come.

Jared is waiting for them in the hallway outside the large dining room, leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe, long legs crossed and thumbs hooked in the loops of his belt. When he sees them coming, he pushes himself off the wall and goes to meet them halfway. “Ah, here you are,” he welcomes them warmly, as if they were friends that he invited for dinner. “Good, it would be a shame to let the food get cold.”

Mackenzie does her best not to react when Jared wraps one arm around Jensen’s waist to pull him closer, keeping his hand low on his hip as they cover the rest of the distance into the spacious dining room. But it’s so difficult for her to watch, especially since Jensen lets Jared maneuver him so obediently, nothing except one very brief flash of irritation showing that he is anything less than a willing participant in the seemingly casual – yet surely completely deliberate – show of affection.

“Please, sit,” Jared tells them and gives Jensen a push towards one of the chairs.

They don’t speak while they eat. Mackenzie keeps her head down, focusing strictly on the food on her plate. It’s delicious, reminding her of the sumptuous dinners back home, but despite that she feels horribly out of place. She and Jensen should be downstairs in the slaves’ dining room, sitting on the wooden bench and eating oatmeal or mashed potatoes with the others, not here in the cushioned seats, eating a six-course meal and drinking excellent wine.

For some reason, Jared’s not treating them like furniture like he does with all other slaves, but like actual people, even though his approach is still highly questionable to say the least. In any case, it’s completely unfair to the others and Mackenzie feels like a traitor for being given such privileges when there are countless others who fare so much worse.

“Is something wrong, Mackenzie?” Jared’s voice brings her out of her thoughts and she looks up, flinching when she sees that while she was lost in thought contemplating the matters of relativity and inequity, Jared’s moved his chair so that he’s sitting right next to Jensen. He keeps one arm slung over Jensen’s shoulders as he forks various pieces of food, sometimes bringing his fork to Jensen’s mouth instead, and every time he does that, Jensen glares at the offending piece of cutlery but dutifully opens his mouth and eats every bite.

“Mackenzie?” Jared prompts, regarding her expectantly, a knowing smirk playing on his lips.

He asked her a question, she remembers. “No, nothing’s wrong,” she replies, keeping her gaze firmly locked with his so she doesn’t have to watch Jared’s hand sliding underneath the open collar of Jensen’s shirt, so she doesn’t have to watch Jensen going rigid and tense as that hand does something she doesn’t even want to identify. But she's still acutely aware of it happening, and so she finds it impossible to resist adding caustically, “I mean, why would I even think something’s wrong, right?”

It seems that her cheekiness is very popular today, because Jared’s smirk grows into a wide, dimpled grin that would be absolutely charming on anyone else. “I knew you’d say something like that. You and your brother just never disappoint.” He says it almost fondly, like he’s proud of them. “In fact, that’s kind of why I wanted to see you tonight.”

“Yes, I figured this wasn’t just a friendly chat.” Mackenzie can’t help growing agitated despite Jared’s charming smile. Or maybe because of it. “After all, you need friends for those, not slaves.”

Jared’s smile disappears, his expression hardening, but at least he finally takes his hand off Jensen. “Careful. My indulgence has its limits.”

Jensen snorts at that. He looks a bit less like a statue now that Jared isn’t touching him anymore, sitting a little straighter. “Just tell us what you want from us.”

Taking a sip of his wine, Jared turns his attention to Mackenzie. “This actually concerns mainly you.”

Although Jared doesn’t say it in a threatening manner at all, cold trepidation immediately settles in Mackenzie’s bones and she can see the same emotion written all over Jensen’s face. He’s never been good at hiding concern or fear when it comes to those he loves. It’s his greatest weakness, it makes him vulnerable, and Jared’s been using that vulnerability against him right from the beginning.

“What do you want from her?” Jensen asks, taking over the conversation in Mackenzie’s place, protective big brother back in full swing.

Jared puts down his wine glass. “A good friend of mine has expressed interest in meeting her.”

The implications of that simple statement haven’t even sunk in yet for Mackenzie but Jensen’s already reacting. He knocks his chair down as he stands abruptly, and his fist is flying through the air, connecting with Jared’s jaw and sending the man sprawling to the ground. “You fucking liar! You promised you’d leave her alone!” He lands one more solid, hard punch and then Jared starts fighting back at the same time as two guardsmen run into the room, their swords drawn.

“Get her!” Jared orders and they do, so Mackenzie can only watch as Jared kicks out with his legs, hitting Jensen in the knee and eliciting a pained grunt. Then he jumps to his feet, blocking all of Jensen’s blows but not attempting to hand out any of his own. “Jensen! That’s enough!”

Out of his mind with fury, Jensen only drops his fighting stance when Mackenzie calls his name and he sees the blade of a sword pressing against her neck. He raises his hands above his head instantly, palms out, eyes jumping from Mackenzie to Jared. “Alright, fine, I’m calm now.” When that brigs no improvement, he speaks again, urgency creeping into his voice. “I get it, alright? I’ll be good.”

“Let her go,” Jared orders the guards, holding Jensen’s gaze. Mackenzie relaxes slightly when the blade is taken off her neck, but she’s shaking all over, heart hammering loudly in her chest even though she’s still sitting in her chair, not having moved at all.

Jared speaks again, addressing the guards. “Leave us alone.”

They go, closing the door behind them. Jared brings up one hand to his lips and looks at the blood that stains his fingers. “You really shouldn’t have done that.”

“You shouldn’t have broken your word.” Jensen practically radiates furious, barely contained energy, still looking like he’s only a hair’s breadth away from exploding again, but all three of them know that he won’t.

“And what makes you think I have?”

Some of the hatred on Jensen’s face is replaced with confusion. “Huh?”

“Why do you think I asked you to be here? I’m not doing this behind your back, Jensen. I wanted to tell you–“

“That you’re gonna let one of your sick buddies rape my sister,” Jensen sneers. “Well, excuse me for not bubbling with joy.”

From where she’s sitting, Mackenzie can see both men only in profile, but even like this she could swear that Jared looks almost hurt by Jensen’s scorn. “I wasn’t going to say anything like that. Chad asked me to let him spend some time with your sister, nothing more, and I was going to tell you both so you knew about it in advance.” He pauses, licks his bleeding lip, shakes his head. “You and I had a deal, Jensen, and I was going to honor it. But now you’ve gone and broken it yourself, in the worst way possible. Laying your hand on your master, drawing blood…” He clucks his tongue. “Aside from murder, this is the gravest crime a slave can commit.”

Just like before, Jensen comprehends the implications of that statement before Mackenzie does. “Whatever the punishment, I’ll take it,” he says hastily, throwing one quick glance at her and then turning back to Jared. “Just leave her out of it. Please. Please.”

“Yes, I could do that,” Jared agrees. “The suitable punishment would be five hundred lashes and cutting off the hand that spilled my blood.”

Mackenzie feels like fainting just from hearing the words and she opens her mouth to protest, to beg and plead for Jared’s mercy if need be, but no sound comes out and she just watches, paralyzed with dread, as Jensen gives a short, accepting nod. This can’t be happening.

“But then, what would I do with a mutilated, disfigured pleasure slave?” Jared continues, his tone contemplative. He bends to pick up his overturned chair and sits down, facing Jensen and keeping the table and Mackenzie to his right. “It would be a shame to let something as beautiful as you go to waste, especially since I'm not done with you yet, not nearly. So, I’m willing to let this… incident pass, pretend this didn’t happen. I’ll even keep honoring our deal, because unlike you I am a man of my word.”

That kind of generosity doesn’t make any sense, and the siblings wait for the “but” that must inevitably come, some kind of a condition that will turn this seemingly kind offer into a nightmare.

“You look shocked,” Jared observes and gives a strangely bitter laugh. “Frankly, even I am a little surprised by my own benevolence. Maybe I’m not the heartless barbarian you take me for. Maybe I understand that the desire to protect those you love can cloud your judgment, and maybe I can relate to that, even respect it. That’s why I’ll let this go. But don’t expect any more favors from me. The next time either of you displeases me I will show no mercy.”

Jensen studies Jared’s face carefully, looking for any sign of foul play, but he must’ve found none because after a long stretch of silence, he bows his head low. “I… Thank you.”

Even as she feels shame burning hot in her cheeks, Mackenzie follows suit with her own words of thanks. Saying this was a close call would be a colossal understatement, and even though she still can’t figure out Jared’s reasons for being so forgiving, this is not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Jared laughs. “Just when I thought I’d never hear those words from you two. I don’t think words will do in this case though, not after I just did you such a great favor. Jensen, why don’t you use your mouth to thank me properly?” He spreads his legs wide, leaving no doubt as to what he has in mind. So this is the catch they've been waiting for.

Jensen’s eyes flick to Mackenzie. “Now?”

“Yes, now.” Jared’s voice is hard, uncompromising. “Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning on doing this, but I think this might prove to be very useful and educational for all of us. It’s time to finally make things perfectly clear between us, make sure everyone knows their place in this.”

“But–“

Jensen. I said now.”

The quick look Jensen gives Mackenzie says I’m sorry and forgive me and there’s no other choice all at once, and right after that his face shuts down, becomes completely unreadable, and then he’s moving forwards and down, kneeling at Jared’s feet.

“Good boy,” Jared runs one hand through Jensen’s hair as he turns to Mackenzie. “Come closer, Mackenzie. I want you to have a good view of what’s happening.”

She feels like walking to the gallows as she pushes herself to weak, wobbly legs and goes around the table. She’s shaking so hard she has to support herself with one hand on the table edge so she doesn’t fall down.

“That’s good, stay there,” Jared stops her. “And don’t you dare look away, I won’t tolerate any disobedience. You understand?” She nods, not daring to anger him further, and he gives a satisfied smile. “Good. Now Jensen, show your sister how a good slave treats his master.”

Nausea swells in Mackenzie’s stomach as she watches her brother undo Jared’s pants and take out his cock. It’s not hard like she expected, which might support Jared’s claim that he really wasn’t intending to do this, that he's really only doing it as some kind of a twisted lesson about dominance and power. Not that it matters.

It gets even worse when Jensen bends down to lick a long stripe up Jared’s rapidly hardening flesh. Mackenzie’s not supposed to see this. Jensen’s not supposed to be seen like this. It’s not even supposed to be happening at all. She wants to look away but she knows she can’t, she’ll have to stay here, gripping the tabletop behind her so her knees don’t give under her, and watch whatever Jared wants to show her.

Once she realizes that, something in her brain snaps, or maybe switches off, and she watches the events unfold before her without feeling a thing, her mind fully present but her emotions gone. She’s like a detached, uninterested observer, taking note of the things she sees without differentiating between them. The information that Jared’s erection is extremely long and thick, stretching Jensen’s lips wide, holds the same value as the information that there’s a missing button on Jensen’s shirt that needs fixing or the information that Jared’s belt buckle has the same coat of arms engraved on it as the one Mackenzie was embroidering earlier today.

Minutes tick by and Jared becomes more enthusiastic, grabbing Jensen’s head and holding it in place with large hands as he snaps his hips up, forcing his cock deep into Jensen’s mouth with increasing pace and roughness, Jensen breathing loudly through his nose but taking it without choking, without betraying any discomfort. They must’ve done this many times for him to get so accustomed to having something that big in his mouth, Mackenzie wonders distantly and follows that thought with a quick calculation of how many nights Jared and Jensen spent together so far, how many opportunities Jensen’s had to practice.

When Jared’s movements get even more forceful and erratic and his grunts grow louder and unrestrained, Mackenzie knows he’s going to climax soon, and a few moments later he does, pulling out of Jensen’s mouth right in time to let thick, long ropes of semen land all over his upturned face. Jared sinks back into his chair after that with a deep, long sigh, his posture loose and relaxed, watching Jensen with a satisfied smile.

“Good boy,” he praises Jensen again, like he’d praise a dog for a executing a difficult trick, and for some reason that’s the moment when the switch in Mackenzie’s head flips again and suddenly her emotions are back. Not disgust or despair or anguish though, not yet, although those will definitely come later – but now there’s only ice-cold, concentrated rage that she manages to control just barely, and just so Jensen’s sacrifice doesn’t go in vain.

Jared glances at her to make sure that she’s still watching and his smirk takes a devious turn as he brings up the fingers of one hand to Jensen’s face, running them through the pearly come and scooping it up. “Lick,” he orders and Jensen opens his mouth and sticks out his tongue, laps the fluid up dutifully like the well-trained dog Jared apparently wants him to be. The action is repeated until Jensen’s face is clean, and Jared gives him a pat on the cheek. “Get up.”

While Jensen rises to his feet, Jared tucks himself back into his pants, still sprawled in the chair and all attention on Jensen. “It may not feel like it right now, but I let you get off very lightly, Jensen. I want you to remember that.”

Jensen swallows uneasily and bows his head once more, and when Jared directs his gaze to Mackenzie next, she ignores the loud protesting voice in her head and follows her brother’s example. There's no point in making this any worse than it already is.

“I don’t think any of us feel like finishing the dinner right now. You can go,” Jared waves his hand towards the door, but speaks again before they can actually leave. “And Mackenzie, you’re still going to meet my friend Chad. Tomorrow afternoon. I expect you to behave. Both of you.”

Jensen tenses but doesn’t respond, so Mackenzie quickly speaks for both of them, pride forcing her to keep her voice strong and unwavering: “We will.” Because this isn’t over, this isn’t defeat. Just like Jensen repeatedly said to her during their training, it isn’t over as long as you’re still fighting.

“Excellent. Now go.”

They go.

They pass through the palace in silence, which would be perfectly understandable if Jensen at least looked at Mackenzie once to see if she’s okay, to show her that he’s okay. But he doesn’t; he just walks stiffly and stares straight ahead with dead eyes, still the same lifeless mechanical doll that took Jared’s abuse without a twitch, without a single sign of protest.

When they get back to the slaves’ quarters, Jensen doesn’t take the turn that leads to their room, instead walking right on by.

“Jensen?” Mackenzie calls out, relieved when he stops and turns to look at her, the first indication he’s given that he’s even aware of her presence. “Where are you going?”

“I need to…” He pauses, a muscle jumping in his jaw as he clenches his teeth. He doesn’t speak again, just waves his hand, pointing down the corridor where the bathrooms are, and Mackenzie wants to smack herself for being so slow-witted.

“Oh. Sure, of course,” she says quickly and he averts his gaze, hiding back in the shadows where the light of the oil lamps can’t reach his face, but not before she catches a glimpse of wetness glimmering in his eyes. And even the convenient gloom can’t conceal the tremble in his lower lip, the slouch of his normally squared shoulders, the way he’s digging his fingernails into the meat of his palms.

He’s managed to maintain his distance from what's been done to him throughout the whole debasing act, probably by disassociating himself from it just like Mackenzie did, but now that it’s over and they’re alone, it’s suddenly strikingly clear that he’s starting to fall apart. Mackenzie can practically hear the seams that hold him together popping one by one, and there's no doubt things are going to get really bad once the last one pops.

She wants to be there for Jensen when that moment comes, but she understand that he can’t let her see it, he has to hold onto that last shred of dignity he still has. Whatever he has to do to rebuild his walls once they crumble, he has to do it alone, on his own, without her watching.

“I’ll just… wait in our room,” she blurts out and as soon as he nods and starts walking again, she turns around and walks the other way.

Once inside, she sits down on the bed, cold, shaky hands folded in her lap, and concentrates on her breathing, in and out, slow and steady, just keep it together, girl.

Jensen’s back sooner than she expected, slipping inside room but staying by the door, like he’s not sure he’s allowed to come in.

“Jensen?”

“I’m sorry,” he says, barely a broken whisper but still so much emotion. “Kenzie, I’m so sorry.”

She wants to yell at him, tell him that he has nothing to be sorry about, that he shouldn’t apologize for protecting her at all cost, for being so strong and keeping her safe. He won’t believe her though, not now. He thinks he’s failed her, he surely thinks he disgusts her too after what she’s seen; he probably thinks she’d be better off without him.

Mackenzie only comes up with one way to fix that, to show him how completely wrong he is – she lets the night’s events get to her, opens her mind and heart to them and lets them hit her full force, let the tears and loud, uncontrollable sobs come. And just like she knew he would, Jensen is by her side in an instant, pulling her into a hug, arms tightly wound around her in a protective, warm embrace, rocking her gently and whispering words of comfort into her ear.

She lets him take care of her, lets him hold her long after all her sobs die down and her eyes run dry, lets herself be weak for him so he can be strong for her.

And if Jensen clutches onto Mackenzie a little tighter than he usually does once they lie down to sleep, nestled together on the one bed... Well, it can be their little secret.