Actions

Work Header

Just a Puppet on a Lonely String

Chapter Text

“Would you stop doing that?”

Jensen blinks. “Stop doing what?”

“That,” Jared points at Jensen’s knee, bouncing up and down like it’s been doing for the past ten, maybe fifteen minutes. “It’s driving me crazy.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Not two minutes later, Jensen's knee is bouncing again, and Jared feels like banging his head against the wall.

Jensen’s been acting weird ever since they left the City, although it started out subtle and only grew into this over the course of the past week and a half.

When they were still traveling through the Empire, Jensen was just taciturn and withdrawn, which Jared attributed to Jensen missing his sister and worrying about her. Then came several days of unnatural stillness. When they entered the Northern Province – the Empire’s second latest conquest – that stillness became edginess, with Jensen twitchy, constantly gnawing on his lip and looking around with spooked eyes. And now that they’re approaching the borders of the Northmost Province, Jensen’s become nearly insufferable. Wriggling in his seat, unable to keep still, to keep his nervousness to himself.

Jared thinks he’s never seen him more upset – not when Jensen and his last troops surrendered to the Imperial army almost six months ago, not when Jensen stood bound and naked on that platform to be sold to the highest bidder, not even before Jared fucked him for the first time.

Not that Jared blames him. Jensen is in a most unenviable situation – coming home to the country that once was his, the country that he protected with all he had but ultimately failed. Coming home as a slave of those who subjugated his nation and murdered his family, and he’s returning with the task of helping complete that subjugation.

Jared definitely wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.

That’s why he’s been so patient and understanding so far, even trying to offer words of comfort and encouragement several times, attempting to calm Jensen down at least a bit. Partly because to his surprise, Jared doesn’t really like seeing Jensen so far out of his element, and partly because Jensen’s anxiety is highly contagious.

Because, let’s face it, it’s not going to be a walk in the park for Jared either. This is the first assignment given to him that isn’t strictly military, so it’s a completely new territory – and what’s even worse, for the first time in his life he doesn’t have Chad there with him to watch his back and make sure he doesn’t screw up. And that’s just it: Jared absolutely can’t screw this up. He can’t afford any display of weakness or uncertainty; no hesitation, no mistake, not even the smallest slip-up.

Which means he has to prevent Jensen from becoming a complete nervous wreck before he turns into one too.

The problem is that outside of dealing with his men, Jared isn’t particularly good at comforting people, and he definitely isn’t good at comforting Jensen. Hell, most of the time they spent together, he’s been trying to put him off his stride, take him out of his comfort zone.

Still, no one can fault him for lack of trying.

As expected, making conversation isn’t a particularly successful way of distracting Jensen. Physical activity helps though, so they spend a lot of time in the saddle and run or spar whenever they can. Another thing that seems to do the trick is treating Jensen like a fellow soldier on the eve of battle – when Jared puts on his stern face and uses his commanding voice to bark orders like “Get a grip!” or “I need you to stay focused now”, Jensen reacts on instinct, snapping to attention. But even then, the forced calmness never lasts long.

Ironically, what works the best at putting Jensen at ease is the same thing Jared used to do to achieve the exact opposite – sex. Jensen seems to welcome it every time Jared hints at it; sometimes he even initiates it himself, eagerly getting to his knees or dropping his pants any chance they get. If Jared didn’t know it was all just a means for Jensen to forget, the enthusiasm would be downright flattering.

“Hey,” he nudges Jensen in the shin with the tip of his boot, “instead of biting your lips bloody, why don’t you put that mouth to better use?”

Jensen is sliding off his seat and settling between Jared’s legs before Jared even finishes the sentence, opening the front of Jared’s pants with fingers that are slightly shaky but grow surer as they go.

Jared is soft when Jensen takes him out – this is their third time today, and Jared’s only human – but he starts to fill up soon under Jensen’s skillful touch. “Take your time,” he orders, and when the carriage bumps on the unevenly paved road, he hastens to add, “Watch the teeth.”

Jensen shoots him an annoyed glance that says I know what I’m doing and then his full attention is back on Jared’s cock, like it’s the only thing in the universe and there’s nothing on Jensen’s mind except getting Jared off.

He’s come a long way from the inexperienced man who gave Jared those first clumsy, tentative blowjobs, and Jared wonders whether Jensen is aware of that change, and what he must think of it. What he must think of himself.

 

***

 

Early in the afternoon on the fourteenth day of the journey, they reach the mountain pass that serves as south entrance to the former Ackles kingdom.

As soon as they cross the borders, Jensen’s demeanor changes completely – snap of the fingers quick, like magic. Gone is the tension and edginess, gone are the hunched shoulders and bowed head, gone is the fidgeting. Jensen sits up straight, leaning out of the window and watching the landscape like a hawk. Cataloguing, taking stock of damages done to his motherland, eyes roving around, jumping from one spot to another. Assessing, memorizing, thinking. Plotting.

And Jared knows Jensen hasn’t given up on his country yet, not by a long shot; actually, he’s come to accept that Jensen might never fully give up. Yet the fact that he has the audacity to show it so openly, without making even the slightest effort to hide it, is a little bit disconcerting.

As is the fact that to Jared, the sight of Jensen’s reinvigorated fighting spirit, the fire rekindled and burning bright in Jensen’s eyes, still inspires delight and excitement more than anything else.

*

Last time Jared was here, it was in the middle of a raging war and he didn’t pay much attention to his surroundings, his mind in soldier mode, all thoughts directed to matters of strategy, provisions or transport and none spared to beauty. He gets to fix that now, finally having the chance to appreciate the country he helped conquer.

The first thing he notices is that nothing is as extreme here as in the Empire: no great mountains or rivers so wide you can barely see the other side, no deserts so vast that they could swallow entire armies. Everything is smaller, more down to the human scale. Cozy, one would be tempted to say.

Also, unlike the Empire, where you could ride for days and the scenery would still remain the same, the Northmost Province is much more diverse. Aside from the long but not very impressive mountain range (only few peaks are covered in snow all year round) that runs around the entire country, there aren’t many mountains further inland, but the landscape is incredibly varied, different nearly every time Jared opens his eyes after dozing off.

A patchwork of golden fields of ripening corn separated by balks of shrubs and bushes. The brown of beaten pathways connecting the tight clutches of one-story thatched houses that form small, tidy villages. A spatter of sheep and cattle at the base of grass-covered, gently rolling hills. Rapid brooks of clear water and calm, mirror-like surfaces of fishponds with reeds growing along the banks, shivering in the breeze. Majestic forests of beeches and oaks, their thick branches reaching towards the skies like the vault ribbing of the old temples that decorate most squares in the wall-enclosed towns with crooked narrow streets and tall half-timbered buildings with shingled roofs.

It would be peaceful, almost picturesque, if it weren’t for the corpses of men hanged as rebels lining the roads, if it weren’t for the occasional burnt fields and abandoned, run-down houses where people used to live before the war.

Jensen’s expression darkens every time he sees one of those silent witnesses of what his country and his people had to go through, but all in all, his mood is steadily improving. If he was wilting and withering before, now that he’s back on native soil he’s flourishing again, blooming with new life and energy that lights him up from the inside.

He’s full of intent and purpose, and there are moments when Jared almost worries Jensen might actually attempt to escape after all. But he never does. Besides, even if he did, even if he managed to escape and join the resistance movement, it wouldn’t really change anything in the grander scheme of things. The war is already won and there’s nothing the rebels could do to change the outcome – there’s too few of them, and they're at a major disadvantage. Alone, without support from the neighboring countries, the Ackles kingdom is too weak to liberate itself from the domination of a realm as powerful as the Empire.

 

***

 

Jensen also talks more. A lot more. He wastes no opportunity to point out every place of interest that they pass, gesticulating animatedly as he explains why exactly this or that is important or noteworthy, all but beaming with patriotic pride, and Jared finds himself an ardent listener, enthralled by Jensen’s enthusiasm.

He listens, learning more about the country and about Jensen than he has ever before.

*

“That’s Alteburg. Our first ruling dynasty had their seat of power there,” Jensen points a finger at a robust-looking castle rising on a promontory overlooking the river below, and proceeds to spend the next hour or so teaching Jared about the early history of the Ackles kingdom.

*

“Silabar used to be just a small village when my father was young,” Jensen says, nodding towards the large town on the horizon, where temple towers as well as multi-story stone houses rise towards the sky, the picture somewhat spoiled by the unsightly slag heaps and general dirtiness of the town’s vicinity. “Then they struck silver, and now it’s the third largest city in the country.” A lecture on mining in the kingdom follows, accompanied by notes on the evolution of currency and mintage.

*

“You smell that?” Jensen closes his eyes, inhaling deeply as their carriage bumps along the road leading right through the middle of a hop field. “We make the best beer in the world.” He continues by explaining the process of brewing beer in exhaustive detail, like he’s describing something sacred.

*

“That’s Grandfather,” Jensen gives Jared a withering look when Jared pokes fun at the shape of a hill on the horizon. It looks like a scoop of green ice cream. “Legend has it that the first people who came into our land climbed that hill, looked around the country and when they saw its beauty, they decided to stay.” A vivid recounting of some of the local tales and legends keeps Jensen occupied for the next two hours.

*

“This entire region is renowned for its porcelain manufactories,” Jensen remarks.

“And?” Jared prompts.

“And what?”

“You’re not gonna give me a lecture on porcelain making?”

“Oh.” Jensen suddenly appears self-conscious and more than a little lost as he scratches the top of his head, looking anywhere but at Jared. He mutters something unintelligible.

“What was that?”

Jensen huffs. “I never really paid attention to that kind of stuff, okay? Come on, I’m a guy, and it’s chinaware!”

And Jared can’t help it – he bursts into laughter.

“Shut up,” Jensen grumbles, feigning annoyance. But the crinkles around his eyes tell a different story.

 

***

 

There’s a soft knock – the timid, respectful kind that only a properly trained slave can manage.

“Come in,” Jared calls out but then remembers he latched the door after he finally fought off the affectedly obliging innkeeper. Feeling lazy, he adds, “Jensen, would you mind taking care of it?”

Jensen, being Jensen, gives an if I have to shrug and unhurriedly makes his way across the room, walking just the tiniest bit slower than would be strictly acceptable, taking his sweet time before he lets the comer in.

It’s Jared’s personal slave, the only one he took with him besides Jensen. He gives an exemplary bow before stepping towards Jared, holding two sealed envelopes. Mail from the City has arrived.

Jared takes both envelopes, waving them at Jensen. “Look, letters from home are here.”

He starts opening Jensen's first to check that it's safe, and he's just about to dismiss the slave when something occurs to him. “Uh, you… what’s your name?” For as long as he can remember, the slave’s always been there, waiting, ready to serve, always anticipating Jared’s wishes, so Jared's never felt the need to use his name.

The slave just stares at him, bright blue eyes wide and uncomprehending.

Jared sighs impatiently. Is the slave mute? He doesn’t think so, but realizes he also doesn’t recall the man ever talking. A good personal slave gets by without having to talk, Jared’s grandfather liked to say. “I said, what’s your name?”

The slave licks his lips, eyes jumping nervously from Jared to Jensen as if he’s looking for help there. Jensen gives him an encouraging nod and the slave finally speaks: “My name is Misha, Master.”

“Misha,” Jared repeats. He’s not really sure why he asks the next question. “So tell me, Misha, do you have someone in the City? Someone you hold dear?”

Again, Misha is completely at loss for a few moments before he answers. “Yes, Master. My wife and two children.”

Apart from feeling lazy tonight, Jared’s apparently also feeling very generous. “You can write to your family too, if you want. Stay in touch with them.”

“That’s a pretty decent gesture,” Jensen steps in, a hint of honest surprise in his voice. “But not very practical.” When Jared raises a questioning eyebrow, Jensen explains, “Misha can’t read, and neither can Vicki. His wife.”

“Oh. Well,” Jared looks from Jensen, who is watching him expectantly, back to Misha, who just stands there. “Jensen could write the letters for you and his sister could read them to your family, how about that?”

Misha gives a low bow, head down and eyes downcast when he mumbles, “Thank you, Master. Thank you,” as he backs out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Jensen begins to pace in what appears to be agitation.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just…  Kenzie and I already offered to write letters for Misha. But he wouldn’t hear of it, because he didn’t have your permission.”

Such loyalty is not at all surprising, but it’s amusing to see that Jensen still can’t wrap his head around it. “He was right to do so. Maybe you should follow his example.”

Jensen completely glosses over that, grimacing as he plops down on the bed. “Seriously, I don’t see what the big deal would be if Mackenzie and I helped Misha stay in touch with his family. Or do you honestly think Misha’s son learning to use the potty is the kind of crucial information that could bring the Empire to its knees?”

Despite himself, Jared chuckles. “No, not really.” He clears his throat and gives Jensen a stern look. “But that’s beside the point. You shouldn’t even think about doing something without my explicit permission.”

“Oh. You know, you never gave me explicit permission to breathe,” Jensen counters in that flip tone he’s taken to using in the past few days. It’s quickly becoming more than just a nuisance and come to think of it, now might be the right time to put a stop to it.

“Careful. Don’t be cheeky with me.”

“Sorry,” Jensen says, sounding anything but.

His previous laziness and reluctance to move forgotten, Jared sits up so he can look down at Jensen. “Listen, you should really start watching that attitude. It can be entertaining in private,” and he loves how Jensen bristles up at that, “but people are watching us here. So from now on, I don’t want to see any show of disrespect.”

“Why? So you can brag about the mindlessly obedient perfect little slave you’ve turned me into?”

“Yes, there’s that,” Jared agrees, because sure, that is part of the plan. “But I also don’t want Heyerdahl to see you like this. You can bet he’d happily jump at the first chance to punish you for the smallest transgression, and believe me – you don’t want that. Anything you had to go through so far can’t even begin to compare to what he does to those who displease him. He outranks me; I can’t protect you from him.”

Jensen’s eyes narrow angrily and Jared can practically hear the I don’t need your protection Jensen doesn’t say out loud. But luckily it seems that Jensen’s taking this seriously, that he’s aware of what exactly is at stake here. “Alright,” he says finally. “I play my part, stay out of Heyerdahl’s focus, and we do what we came here to do.”

“Exactly.” Jared doubts that he and Jensen share the same idea on what it is they came here to do, but he can work on that later – and it’s going to be a very taxing, very long-term project. “So you’ll be good?”

“I’ll be good,” Jensen promises.

Jared shakes his head. “Try again.”

“I’ll be good, Master.”

“That’s better.”

*

When they stop for lunch on what might be their last day on the road if everything goes as planned, Jared can’t quite hide his growing excitement anymore.

“Someone give the overgrown puppy something to play with,” Manners groans, shaking his head, and Jared resolutely ignores the fact that many of his men are laughing in their sleeves.

Not everyone is so carefree and at ease, though. The matronly innkeeper and her two daughters keep their expressions carefully blank, not a hint of hospitality on their faces as they bring beer and set plates of food on the large wooden table, and all the denizens at the other tables watch them with ill-concealed hostility.

Well, not that Jared expected any different. If the people weren’t causing so much trouble, he wouldn’t be here, after all.

Jared doesn’t let the locals and their cold stares take his appetite away and digs into his stew. He still hasn’t gotten entirely used to the taste of food here – something with the spices, he guesses – but it’s food, and all food is good in Jared’s book, so he’s happy. He’s never been a very demanding guy.

He’s just finishing his second beer – and even though he’s more of a wine person, he has to hand it to Jensen; the beer here is great – when a group of boys rushes past their table, hollering and whooping as they run until they reach the cluster of lime trees just off the road. They’re all holding sticks in their hands and the moment they stop running, the tallest boy shouts “Attack!” and a fight breaks out, sticks clashing with sticks, the boys oblivious to everything around them, lost in the heat of the battle.

Jared sits back and enjoys the show, marveling at the fact that no matter what country you’re in, boys who have some free time on their hands will always end up playing soldiers. The fight is over relatively soon, when the same boy who gave the order to attack fake-runs his ‘sword’ through another boy’s heart with a victorious shout of “Die, you rotten snail! Freedom for the Kingdom!”

The victors then help the ‘dead’ boys to their feet, and a hassle starts over who will play who next.

“How come you always get to play Ackles?” One of the boys whines.

The boy whose position is being challenged grins and shrugs nonchalantly. “’Cause I’m the tallest, and everyone knows Jensen Ackles is the tallest and strongest of all warriors. Don’t ask stupid questions, Johan.”

The kids nod their approval, obviously satisfied with the answer, but Johan isn’t done protesting yet. “Okay, so Timothy is Ackles again. But I don’t want to be Heyerdahl anymore.”

“Fine,” Timothy gives a long-suffering sigh. “You can be the one who led the invasion, that Pada-guy.”

“Hey, look, Captain.” Matt, Jared’s new second-in-command, chuckles as he pokes Jared in the ribs. “You’re famous.”

“Yeah,” Jared nods distractedly, his attention on Jensen who has tensed up beside him, worriedly glancing from the kids to Jared and back again. “Relax, Jensen. I’m not gonna punish them for playing.”

“Thank you,” Jensen mutters, but he only relaxes again when Jared turns his head away from the boys who are already in the middle of another battle. Unsurprisingly, the Kingdom’s forces win again.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jared catches Jensen watching the boys finish up their game and shuffle away in a disorganized huddle, chirping as they go. There’s so much gentleness and warmth in Jensen’s eyes and in the smile on his lips, so much love for these children Jensen’s never seen before, that it causes another serious pang of doubt in Jared’s mind whether taking Jensen with him was really such a bright idea.

The fact that the smile doesn’t slip away from Jensen’s face the moment his gaze shifts from the boys to Jared does absolutely nothing to quell his concern.

Jensen hasn’t forgotten where his true allegiance lies, and if Jared wants to succeed here, he’d better remember that too.

 

***

 

They reach Hengstenfurt just before noon on the eighteenth day of the journey.

There’s a welcoming committee of Heyerdahl’s men waiting in front of the main gate, but Heyerdahl himself isn’t among them, as if to say I’ve got work to do here, I’m important, and removing me from my position is a big mistake.

Jensen slinks back into the shadows of the carriage once they enter the city, not too keen on being seen, since the chance of somebody recognizing him here is much higher than in the countryside. Jared lets him hide for now; the plan is to publicly reveal Jensen’s presence on the day when Heyerdahl ceremonially hands over his position to General Manners.

The carriage bumps along the cobbled streets that weave through the city, and Jared leans out of the window to look outside. From what he can tell at first glance, the townsfolk seem to be quiet, withdrawn, wary. Speaking in hushed tones, never in groups of more than three, and never for more than just a few moments.

It might have something to do with the Imperial soldiers standing at every corner, or with the public notices forbidding the freedom of assembly pasted up on every surface available, or with the pillories and gallows on every square.

The atmosphere here is dreary, oppressing. Even the weather seems to be in foul mood, grey clouds hanging low and heavy over the city, keeping the sun away.

*

Outside, the temple bell strikes two.

Sighing, Jared motions Jensen to refill his glass. At least it’s southern wine from Heyerdahl’s personal collection and not what passes for wine here up north. “He sure likes to keep us waiting.”

“It’s understandable. He has to enjoy the power he holds for as long as he can,” General Manners takes a small sip of his own wine.

Jensen places the decorated cut-glass carafe back on the table and folds himself into the basic kneeling position at Jared’s feet – hands resting palms down on thighs that are slightly apart, back straight, head high but eyes downcast. The ease with which he assumes the position gives false testimony to the amount of practice he’s had at this, and Jared briefly entertains himself by imagining what it would be like if Jensen weren’t merely acting. Oddly enough, the thought doesn’t hold much appeal.

Jared shrugs and sips on his wine.

It takes Heyerdahl another half an hour before he deigns to come, flinging open the double door dramatically. “Gentlemen!” He exclaims, striding towards them energetically, long cloak flying behind him. “Excuse my unpunctuality; there was a matter of vital importance that required my presence.”

Both Jared and Manners stand up to greet the current Governor, exchanging salutes first and then handshakes.

Heyerdahl doesn’t spare a single glance to Jensen’s kneeling figure on the floor. “Shall we sit?” He motions to the table.

Two slaves, male and female, take their positions next to Heyerdahl’s chair. Unlike Jensen, who is wearing a simple linen tunic and pants as protection against the cold of the northern weather, these two are without a stitch on, displaying sickly pale skin covered in ugly bruises and welts, some old and already fading, some new and raw. There is absolutely no life in their eyes, the blankness of their stares a different kind than the one Jared is used to seeing in his own slaves. It’s like there’s absolutely nothing there.

Jensen could’ve been like them, Jared thinks. If it hadn’t been Jared who bought him but Heyerdahl or someone like him, Jensen could have – no, would have – ended up exactly like them. Jared swallows uneasily, feeling sick to his stomach at the mental image of a Jensen who wouldn’t be Jensen anymore.

“…don’t you think, Captain?”

Jared looks up, finding both Manners and Heyerdahl watching him expectantly. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly, offering an apologetic smile. “It’s the long journey – I’m tired and a little distracted.”

“It happens to the best of us,” Heyerdahl concedes with an air of patronage, his tone indicating that no, it never happens to him. “Anyway, I was saying that it’s high time we squashed this ridiculous rebellion once and for all.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” When Heyerdahl doesn’t seem entirely satisfied, Jared knows he has to try harder, and raises his glass. “To the Empire.”

“To crushing victory,” Heyerdahl downs half of his glass.

“To peace,” adds Manners.

“Now, let’s get down to business,” Heyerdahl snaps his fingers and his male slave practically jumps to his feet to fetch a stack of folders, handing them out to all three men around the table and then getting back to his knees, managing all that without making a sound.

Jared opens the folder, staring at the tables and charts inside. “What’s this?”

“A little overview of the current situation. Go on, take a look.”

The feeling of sickness returns when Jared begins to read, skimming through reports of arrests and interrogations, series of confessions and denunciations extorted by intimidation and torture. He’d known what was going on here, but he had no idea it was this bad. “That’s…”

Heyerdahl is smirking. “As you can see, I’ve done a lot of work here.”

“There’s no denying that,” Manners’ tone is carefully neutral. “Just the logistics of handling so many people must be… extremely complex.”

And maybe that’s the reason behind the resistance’s undying conviction – maybe when people realized they can get arrested and convicted regardless of their actual guilt, they decided that they might as well go down swinging.

Manners must’ve been thinking along the same lines. “It poses one question though – if you and your men are so successful, how come there are any resistance fighters left?”

Heyerdahl makes a sour face, but nods as though he was expecting the question. “It’s a bit baffling, isn’t it? I think deep inside, they actually want to be punished. They’re like a dog that wants to be kicked.”

Slightly worried, Jared risks a discreet glance to his left, catching a glimpse of Jensen’s hard clenched jaw.

“I know you don’t approve of my methods,” Heyerdahl is running his fingers through his beard as he speaks. “You think you can achieve by trickery and bribery what I haven’t achieved so far by terror and fear. But mark my words – the only way of dealing with these people is with the help of a long, hard stick.”

By now, Jensen is grinding his teeth, and Jared prays Heyerdahl won’t be able to hear it over the sound of his own voice as he continues his lecture: “They may act all high and mighty and civilized, they may preach about the wrongness of our ways, they may take the moral high ground… But underneath all that, these people are primitives, barbarians. Animals.”

More than slightly worried now, Jared sneaks his left hand to lay it on Jensen’s shoulder, finding tense, coiled muscles there, a testimony to the effort it takes Jensen just to keep still. He squeezes once, hoping the gesture will ground Jensen, help him remember his place. After a while, the vibrating tension underneath Jensen’s skin eases a little, but since Heyerdahl is still rambling on – now comparing the Ackles people to dogs again, explaining that the only way to teach them new tricks is by beating them into submission – Jared keeps his hand on Jensen, just to be sure.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t escape Heyerdahl’s notice. “You seem to be quite fond of that slave of yours,” he cranes his neck to peek at Jensen with new curiosity.

Inwardly cursing himself for not being inconspicuous enough, Jared attempts a nonchalant shrug. “He’s a good one.”

“Is he now?” Heyerdahl stands up, walking over to Jensen and bending forward as if studying a museum exhibit. Jensen is as still as one, too.

“Oh,” Heyerdahl says suddenly, a smirk appearing on his lips as he straightens up. “It’s him, isn’t it? It’s Jensen Ackles.” He laughs shortly. “I had my eye on him too on that auction, you know. I knew I’d have so much fun breaking him. And then you snatched him right from me, Captain.”

“Well, I’m glad I did,” Jared says before he can stop himself, and hastens to clarify, “he might just be the best purchase I’ve ever made.” Heyerdahl doesn’t have to know he got both siblings for free.

“I don’t doubt that.” Heyerdahl leans forward to study Jensen again, and Jared tightens his grip on Jensen’s shoulder in a fit of possessiveness. “So is he well trained? Obedient?”

“Absolutely,” Jared lies through his teeth, and since it’s pretty clear Jensen’s doomed to be at the center of Heyerdahl’s attention now anyway, he can’t resist adding, “I didn’t even have to beat him into submission. A little positive reinforcement was all it took.”

“And you’re hoping to achieve the same with the rest of his people. Interesting,” muses Heyerdahl. “But excuse me if I don’t take your word for it. How about a little demonstration?”

Jared’s heart plummets like a lead weight. Luckily Manners intervenes, rubbing his face with his hands tiredly. “Is this truly necessary, Commander? Don’t we have more pressing issues here?”

Anger flashes over Heyerdahl’s face. “Do I have to remind you that you’re not the Governor yet, General? Or that even though you and your clique back in the City froze me out, the Emperor still considers me a very close friend?”

That much is true, and Manners knows it, signaling his resignation by giving a half-shrug and then ostentatiously turning his head to look away.

“Smart choice. You would do well not to displease me.” Heyerdahl turns back to Jared. “Now, Captain. That demonstration?”

There’s no way around it. “Fine. Jensen, present yourself for inspection,” Jared orders, and prays to every god he knows that Jensen won’t choose this moment to act up. And that he remembers the slave training lessons Jared’s been giving to him with Misha’s help in the past few days.

The gods must be in Jared’s favor today after all, because Jensen plays his role perfectly, getting up and stripping quickly. His face is expressionless as he takes several steps back into open space and assumes the required position: feet shoulder-width apart, fingers laced behind the back of his neck, posture straight. There’s a split second where he keeps his eyes front as if he were standing at attention, but he corrects the mistake before anyone notices, lowering his eyes to the floor.

“So far so good,” Heyerdahl admits as he walks up to Jensen. “I must say he’s a most exquisite specimen.”

Although Jared hates the way Heyerdahl says that – as if there was nothing more to Jensen than his appearance – he has to agree that the position Jensen’s in is ideal for showcasing all of his numerable assets. The long, elegant line of his neck, the breadth of his shoulders, the lean arms and toned torso, the soft cock hanging between powerful, muscled thighs. The broad back, the sinuous curve of where back becomes that deliciously firm ass.

No wonder Heyerdahl is devouring Jensen with his eyes now, drinking in every inch of him. He’s circling Jensen, but coming closer and closer, drawn in by the pull of that indefinable something that makes Jensen so hard to resist.

He finally stops in front of Jensen, looming over him the same way only Jared does, to study Jensen’s face. “Exquisite,” he repeats.

And Jensen is, but something’s missing. It takes Jared a while to realize that it’s the way Jensen’s intelligent eyes hold his challengingly, sometimes narrowed in anger, sometimes sparkling with amusement, sometimes dark with desire. It’s the way Jensen’s lips twist in disapproval or open wide on a pleasured moan. It’s the way Jensen’s alive and unique and Jensen.

None of that is here now though, and Jared feels a ridiculous deal of gratification at the knowledge that Heyerdahl will never get to see any of it.

Meanwhile, Heyerdahl raises his hand to Jensen’s face. “Now let’s see if you really have him so well trained. Let’s see if your dog bites.”

Holding onto the armrests of his chair so tightly that the wood creaks, Jared struggles to swallow the jealous possessiveness, the urge to scream Get your hands off him! that is bubbling up inside him because now Heyerdahl is tracing the contours of Jensen’s face, gripping his chin to tilt his head up and down, even ordering to “Open up” and sticking his damn fingers inside Jensen’s mouth.

It goes on forever, Heyerdahl carrying on with his inspection, all the while providing a commentary that is at the same time lecherous and strangely depersonalized, giving the effect of a prospective buyer examining a horse on the market.

Jared is seeing red just from having to watch it happen, but somehow Jensen endures it without batting an eyelid, not when Heyerdahl digs his nails hard into his nipples, not when Heyerdahl’s fingers are slipping between his ass cheeks, not even when Heyerdahl steps up his game and proceeds to hurl the worst possible insults at Jensen, his family and his country.

“Impressive,” Heyerdahl says when he’s finally – finally! – satisfied, having done just about everything short of sticking his dick into Jensen… not that Jared would allow that. “You weren’t lying, Captain, he is remarkably well disciplined.”

“I told you.” Jared’s regaining his composure now that Heyerdahl is keeping his filthy paws to himself and off Jared’s property. “Jensen, you can put your clothes back on.”

“This is an opportunity we shouldn’t miss.” Seated in his chair again, Heyerdahl watches Jensen take his place at Jared’s feet. “His people must see what’s become of their fearless, uncompromising leader. I think a public demonstration would be appropriate. Show this country who Jensen Ackles belongs to.”

“That would be me,” Jared cards his fingers through Jensen’s hair, the need to touch, reassert his ownership too strong to overcome.

“I know that,” Heyerdahl agrees grudgingly. “But symbolically, he belongs to the Empire. And everyone should see that. So as acting Governor of the Northmost Province and highest representative of the Empire, I should take him. In public.”

“No way.” It comes out as a growl.

“General Manners, then. As the incoming Governor.”

Manners doesn’t dignify that with an answer, just shakes his head. It is common knowledge that he has never shown any interest in pleasure slaves.

“You fuck him then.”

Well, Jared has no objections to that. “I will,” he assures the Governor, unable to keep a smug smirk off his lips. “Oh, I will. But not like that.”

Crossing his arms on his chest, Heyerdahl frowns. “Why?”

“Simple.” Jared’s been considering this himself so he has his arguments ready. “What you’re proposing does make sense, in a way. If the people see their leader’s humiliation, if they see how low he has sunk, they might finally give up, right? But I think we’ve already established that violence and intimidation doesn’t really work here. It would only make them angrier, more determined. So what we’re going to do instead is show them that the Empire is not all about brute force and primitive, straightforward show of domination.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, we finally start acting like the civilized, advanced country we claim to be,” Manners chimes in. “Show the people how much profit they could gain by cooperating, how much we could teach them, improve their standard of living.”

“And, in Jensen’s case,” Jared adds, “show that behaving well pays off. After all, we’re bringing Jensen back to his homeland so he can provide his counsel and advice. It’s a sensible and merciful gesture, and we believe it is the only way to break the people’s resistance.”

“We have the City’s support on this,” Manners reminds Heyerdahl. “You tried it your way, now let us try it our way.” When Heyerdahl scowls, the General smiles conciliatorily. “Now, Commander. You spent almost six months in this country, and you must have gained much experience over this period. Would you be so kind as to enlighten us? I’m sure we have much to learn from you.”

Appeased a little, Heyerdahl starts talking again.

*

“Look, about what happened back there with Heyerdahl,” Jared starts as soon as he and Jensen are alone, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Jensen watches him intently, hands on his hips, chin up, eyes narrowed. He looks decidedly angry. “Are you?”

“Yes.”

Jensen snorts. “Well, and are you sorry about the countless other enslaved men and women who have to go through that, and worse, every day?”

Gods, not this again. “Jensen…”

“No. Don’t make excuses.”

Jared runs a hand through his hair in frustration; he really doesn’t want to argue. What he wants is to find something to eat, get some sleep, and wash away every trace of Heyerdahl’s touch on Jensen’s body with his own. Not necessarily in that order. Actually, sex is starting to sound really good right now - it’s the most effective way of shutting Jensen up.

“You’re always so cute when you get worked up,” he mutters, changing the subject. He steps up to Jensen, grabbing him by the ass and pressing their bodies together. “Gets me all worked up too.”

It doesn’t work. Jensen turns his head to the side, avoiding Jared’s attempt to kiss, and steps back, putting some space between them again. “Seriously? Now?”

“Yes, now,” Jared insists, opening the front of his pants. “Come on, be nice.”

“So you say you’re sorry for what Heyerdahl did to me and now you want this?” Jensen's eyes are wide, disbelieving.

One hand wrapped around his rapidly hardening cock, Jared puts the other on Jensen’s shoulder, pressing. “It’s not the same."

“You sure about that?” Jensen asks as he drops to his knees.

 

***

 

“Ah, this is killing me.” Jared blinks rapidly, then rubs his eyes. “Your country isn’t that big! How can anyone become invisible here?”

“Magic,” Jensen supplies unhelpfully. He’s standing at the window, forehead leaning against the glass, staring outside at the courtyard.

Fresh air. Jared needs some fresh air. “Would you open the window?”

He feels a little better once the late afternoon air reaches him, refreshing and smelling like rain. He takes several long, deep breaths, stretches his limbs, and returns back to the large map of the Northmost Province spread across the table. “So, according to Heyerdahl’s intel, the resistance fighters operate in all the major cities, including Hengstenfurt, but their main headquarters is somewhere in the mountains. That’s probably where Carlson and Manns are hiding, too.”

He pauses, waiting for Jensen to say something, but Jensen remains silent.

“Those mountains aren’t that inhospitable, so it’s possible to survive there just fine,” he continues thinking out loud. It’s easier like that sometimes. “But they have to stay in contact with their people in the country somehow.”

Still no reaction from Jensen.

“Heyerdahl’s troops are guarding every pass, every path in those mountains, and they already caught sight of the rebels a few times, but whenever they followed them, the rebels got away. How?”

“Guess we’re really good,” Jensen explains, stepping away from the window and yawning, arms outstretched above his head, shirt riding up and revealing one sharp hipbone.

Jared has to look away to get his concentration back. “No one is that good. I mean, they couldn’t just disappear off the face of the earth.” But then he remembers one of Jensen’s lectures, the one about early history of mining in the Ackles kingdom. “Unless… unless that’s exactly what they did.”

“Yeah, right,” Jensen rumbles as he struts over to the serving table stacked with various snacks Jared had ordered earlier. He plucks a strawberry from one bowl, dips it into whipped cream and eats it, then proceeds to lick the juice off his fingers slowly, tongue darting out and curling nimbly around the digits.

“You can stop that,” Jared informs him coldly, but he has to shift in his seat as certain parts of his anatomy take interest in what is happening in front of him anyway. “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“Hmm?” Jensen’s looking directly at him now, leaning against the serving table, head tilted back slightly so that his neck is exposed. Crotch thrust out, legs splayed invitingly open. “What am I trying to do, then?”

“You’re trying to distract me.”

“Guilty.” With a provocative grin, Jensen starts walking towards Jared, hips swaying, movements languid. There’s always been a certain seductive quality to the way he moved, but while in the past it was unintentional, now Jensen’s most certainly aware of it, of the power his sexuality gives him, and he’s using it to his best benefit. “I can see it’s working,” he murmurs when he reaches Jared, voice almost a purr, as he crawls into Jared’s lap.

The chair groans under their combined weight, and Jared groans when Jensen’s soft, hot mouth descends on him, licking and nibbling from his collarbone up the column of his throat. Then Jensen’s kissing him aggressively, moaning into his mouth as he grinds into Jared’s hard cock, and there’s no way Jared could resist this. He slides his palms inside Jensen’s pants, kneading the bare flesh of his ass, trying to get Jensen closer.

“Nuh-uh,” Jensen breaks the kiss to shake his head when Jared tries to speed things up. “Patience. Don’t rush it.” His fingers close around Jared’s wrists, taking his hands from where they were trying to open his pants and puts them back on his ass.

Jared whines unhappily, but there’s something really hot about Jensen taking control like this, and when Jensen starts grinding against him again, heavy and purposeful, his hands everywhere and his tongue and teeth ravaging Jared’s mouth, he doesn’t think about protesting anymore.

Fuck, it’s good.

The clothes he’s still wearing are rough on his sensitized skin, and Jensen’s stubble is scratching his cheek, and Jared’s got his teeth on Jensen’s earlobe and his hand down the back of Jensen’s pants again, following the trail of sweat down Jensen’s crack.

Jensen growls and bites Jared’s lip when Jared teases his opening with one fingertip, and Jared’s breath catches in his throat at the way Jensen accepts that fingertip easily, pressing down to take more. And screw patience, he wants to be inside Jensen now.

He ends up fucking Jensen over the table, fast and brutal, collapsing on top of him when he’s done, exhausted. His eyelids are drooping and his limbs feel like jelly, and he’s sweaty where their bodies are touching and Jensen’s shoulder blade is digging into his chest, but all in all falling asleep on top of Jensen sounds kind of nice.

“Jared.” Jensen stirs beneath him, elbow poking into Jared’s side. “Get off me or I’ll throw you off.”

Reluctantly, Jared complies, not doubting the seriousness of Jensen’s threat. “Sleep,” he mumbles, dragging Jensen behind him as he stumbles into the bedroom and into the large four-poster bed there. Jensen joins him, throwing a light blanket over them both.

“Hey,” Jared slurs, sleep tugging at the corners of his mind enticingly, and he’s ready to succumb to its call, there’s just one thing he has to make clear first. “What you did, dist… distracting me… ‘s not gonna work f’rever.”

“Yeah.” There’s a heavy sigh from Jensen, the exhale pleasantly cool on Jared’s heated skin. “Yeah, I know.”