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The Theory of Silence and Storms

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The sand is soft and rough at the same time. He sinks into it, done, no more to give. His thoughts are straggling, dragging behind him, hanging on to the shattered remains of brutal reality. The heaviness of sand and darkness is tugging at him. I've lost is the last coherent thought that slips through his mind before he gives in to the pleasant, painless night, accompanied by the sound of the crowd going mad.

"Benny! Benny! Benny!"

Then there is no more, nothing but black velvet embracing him gently, shrouding his worries and hurt.

When he comes to, the crowd is still shouting and chanting Benny's name. Somewhere very far away Dean can hear Sam's desperate, "Dean, no! Heaven, no!" The heavy metal grids that make up the fighting cage rattle as the spectators are trying to rip it apart. Blue and red spotlights flash. Dean's head hurts. It's like a buzzing beehive of pain. The honey-slick-and-slow confusion makes it difficult to open his eyes. Maybe he doesn't want to face his defeat. it's easier to stay in the gentle, forgiving darkness. Dean flinches as a hand touches his shoulder. He recognizes the voice, but right now he can't remember to whom it belongs.

"You need to get up, Winchester. You'd want to do this standing."

Yeah. He does. He went into the Cage, proud of his strength. He fought his way through the tournament, twelve months of exhausting fights, eradicating one opponent after another on his road to fame and fortune. He took down all of them. All of them except Benny Lafitte. Tonight, Benny is the one who will be worshiped, adored, admired. Tonight, Benny will become a wealthy man when the Forever-Lords celebrate Benny's win, presenting him with the prize.

Benny's prize. The price that Dean is going to pay.

It was a chance he took willingly, he is all too well aware. It was the road to a better life for him and for Sam. He could have won; he should have won. Only he didn't and his life is no longer his own.

The referee squeezes his shoulder again. There's a soft brush of a damp cloth across Dean's face; a strangely gentle gesture towards someone such as he. Someone without rights.

"Come on, Dean," the referee urges. "You went in proud, now leave in the same manner. Make us all proud. It's only a year. It's over before you know it."

Dean nods, a grave mistake. His head still hurts like a bitch. Dean takes a breath, and another, forcing down nausea and shame. Pride, yes. The referee knows what she's talking about. Miss Masters went through what Dean is going to go through. All the Seconds did. He owes it to the first losers—and to himself— to stand proud, to accept his destiny with dignity. He knew this could happen, his defeat, but he didn't really think it would. Maybe was a bit too prideful, and losing to Benny is simply Fate's way of taking him down a notch. Then again, Dean doesn't believe in fate. He believes in strength. Tonight he wasn't strong enough. It's as simple as that.

Slowly Dean opens his eyes, staring into the high ceiling, at people outside the Cage. There's a camera zooming in on him, broadcasting his bleeding face to millions of viewers. Far up, just underneath the elaborately decorated ceiling of the dome, he can see the boxes. Up there, so very far away from him, far away from the blood-smeared dirt floor they sit, the Forever-Lords, the ones who allow this amazingly cruel form of entertainment. A blue spotlight hits the largest box. Dean knows who it belongs to: the King of America, The High Lord Chuck, him and his queen, Magda.

"I suppose I can't lie here all night," Dean grins at the camera, pulling up his give-'em-hell attitude like a wall between himself and the vultures on the other side of the screen. He is not going to show any weakness. He will not give them the satisfaction. Ignoring Meg's hand, Dean stands. He moves slowly, pushing down the nausea that threatens to send him right back into the sand. He's good at it: pretending he's cool, that he's all right, that it doesn't matter what happens to him.

*

"Really, brother? You believe I'll let you win?" Lucifer, Lord of Ice, stares at Gabriel in disbelief. "Fine. He's yours. But I'll have you know that if the other brother had competed, I would not have been as compliant. Have I mentioned that I do not approve of your appalling double standards, by the way?"

"If it had been the other Winchester, you wouldn't have let me have him at all. So let's discuss double standards again, why don't we, Bro?" Gabriel snorts. Lucifer is incredible. He has taste, though, when it comes to men. Both the Winchester brothers are handsome, but Gabriel is not truly interested in Sam Winchester, not like he is interested in the older brother. Sam Winchester appears to be cultured and intelligent, just the type that Lucifer likes, but Dean is sharp and strong and lean like a switchblade. Gabriel wants something that comes with the risk of getting hurt. Something wild and savage. Dean is like that. Perfect. Dangerous.

Lucifer leans in, his voice soft, but teasing. "If you'd tried to get your hands on Sam Winchester, I would've challenged you to a duel. To the death. Or until you'd have let me him. Luckily he is not for sale which suits me just fine. I want my men to come to me willingly. I'm quite big on consent as you know." There is a derisive tone to Lucifer's taunting.

"Feel free to invite the tall kid to your palace." Gabriel shrugs, indifferent to what Lucifer wants to do with the little brother. "He might say yes, although he's probably not going to accept your invitation if he is as clever as you believe him to be." Lucifer is an ass, but Gabriel loves him. As long as Lucifer is happy, Gabriel supports his older brother, except when it comes to staking a claim to Dean Winchester.

"Oh, he is. Clever." Lucifer smiles as if he knows something Gabriel doesn't.

Gabriel looks down into the Cage, at Dean Winchester. Even tired and bloody, he is one of the most handsome men Gabriel has ever seen. Gabriel tears his eyes away and looks at Lucifer instead. " Consent, yes. As much as we both want the annual fights to cease, anybody who steps into the Cage knows what happens to the Second. As they say, 'second place is the first loser, and he shall have his reward'. It's not that I don't pity him, but Dean knew that too, don't pretend otherwise, Lucifer. He was willing enough when he accepted the terms of the challenge: 'The one who declares his defeat in the finale shall be sold for the benefit of the Champion of the Cage, thus the price of the Second shall be the prize of the First'. Perhaps Dean Winchester doesn't appreciate the rule now, but he didn't walk into the ring blindfolded."

"And you, my dear Tempest Lord, are going to help with the blindfold and the reward?" Lucifer smiles. "I find it peculiar that you are so enamored with this one lowly human. Humans are..." Lucifer wrinkles his nose.

Gabriel lets out a bitter laughter. It's an ongoing discussion between the two of them. Gabriel likes humans, although he doesn't understand them. Lucifer hates them, and yet he uses Gabriel's considerable fortune to save as many of the Seconds as he can, freeing them from a fate worse than... just about everything Gabriel can come up with, and if there's anything Gabriel has, it's imagination. "And Sam Winchester is what, again?" Gabriel asks.

"Mine, if he is interested," Lucifer says. "And human. I know he is. I swear I won't hold it against him."

Gabriel is surprised to see the look on his brother's face. It's uncharacteristically soft.

Lucifer smiles almost dreamily. "I suppose I need to learn to live with the less appealing human aspect? A shame that he isn't one of us, but in this case less will do. Especially when less is as perfect as Sam Winchester, I will tolerate his humanity. It can be shaped. It does not mean I have patience enough for the rest of his brethren, however."

"High Lord, you are such an arrogant dick," Gabriel groans, scooting forward in the comfortable brocade chair, getting ready. They are about to begin, and Gabriel is not going to miss out on this. Not for the world. He's had his eyes on Dean Winchester since the moment he set foot in the fighting cage for the first time, a year ago today. Not since the Cage tournament began has Gabriel been this invested in a purchase.

*

Dean raises his head, looking at the spectators that surround the arena before tilting his head up to glare defiantly at the top boxes, at the distant Forever-Lords and their human entourage, those smart or ruthless enough to have fought their way to the top and to power. Some are former Cage-fighters. Some are all elbows and chainsaws and teeth and nails. Some are men and women that Dean admires, like Robert Singer, Lord of Hearts; he is a close friend of the High Lord and well-respected. Well-loved.

And it is Lord Robert — Lord Bobby — who is called upon each year to officiate. Maybe it is to let his kindness lessen the blow, Dean doesn't know. As the human Forever-Lord steps into the cage, the gates slamming hard behind him, Lord Bobby's eyes are compassionate. His hands are hard, however. Lord Bobby pulls out a torc, a piece of pure platinum, unbreakable and charmed. Once closed around a Second's neck, it unlocks only at the owner's command, or when the bearer's servitude is over. Dean is grateful that the Lord of Hearts shows no mercy, except for a brief look of pity and understanding.

They don't speak. Dean doesn't beg. All he does is to stand tall, his torso bloody and bruised, as Lord Bobby places the torc around his neck and closes it. It makes a soft click and a sharp hum when the magic it's imbued with smooths out the metal: a perfect, unbreakable circle. It is loose enough, but Dean still feels as if he's choking.

Only then does Lord Bobby speak, his voice echoing in the huge dome. "Tonight's item: one servant, perfect in body and mind, minor bruises. Strong, handsome. The Kingdom and the Cage are selling Dean Winchester's one year of servitude. One year without any rights but to serve. The servant must be returned to the Cage at sunset, one year from this date, and without major injuries. A sum of three million dollars shall be granted to the servant or his family as compensation, in case major harm comes to him. Six million dollars if the servant is not returned alive."

Dean's knees are threatening to give in. He is no longer Dean Winchester. He is 'servant', or whatever it suits his owner to name him. Slave. One year. Three-hundred and sixty-five days of slavery and humiliation. High Lord, he should never have set foot in the Cage! He fought for a better life; now everything is lost. Sam will still be poor and uneducated when the year is over. They will still be poor. Dean knows this was his last chance. He's too old for the Cage in a year. He has never been stronger than this day, and it wasn't enough. Next year it is too late.

Dean's eyes stray. Under the ceiling sits Alastair, Lord of Torment, Crowley, Lord of Blood. There is Abaddon, Lady of Pain. Why the High Lord keeps these people at his court, Dean has no idea, but he prays to whatever deities who might listen that none of these sadistic creatures decide that they want to purchase him.

The first bid falls. "Ten." A sigh goes through the audience. The starting bid is startling, removing most of the competition in one harsh blow. Someone is very determined.

"Ten million dollars from Alastair, Lord of Torment." Lord Robert points in the direction of one of the boxes. He can't hide his displeasure and contempt.

Lord Alastair. Dean shudders, trying to appear calm. But who the hell is able to appear calm when the High Lord's chief torturer is trying to lay his disgusting and bloody hands on a defenseless servant? Rumor has it that Alastair's purchases, few as they may be, usually end up dead. They are trying to cover it up, but anyone with a brain has figured it out. Lord Alastair's servants have a tendency to disappear, both the ordinary ones and the Seconds. A three million dollar fine is nothing to a Forever-Lord. Having had an eternity to hoard money, most are rich beyond belief.

*

"You appear very calm, Gabriel." On Gabriel's left side, his youngest brother Castiel looks at him, almost disappointed. "I find this habit of selling the defeated very upsetting. While it might be entertaining for the people, it is barbaric and cruel. If only we could get rid of Alastair and his faction, our father would have discontinued the practice, but..." Castiel sighs, tired.

"Listen to our little Lord Castiel," Lucifer urges. "I find it unsettling, too, that Alastair should ever touch Dean Winchester's flawless skin with his torture implements."

"Alastair is usually your problem, not mine," Gabriel says, eyeing Castiel. His little brother is not Lord of Mercy for nothing. "Except I can't stand the sight of his ugly mug. I'm not the one spending my entire fortune, buying Seconds from under his nose. Not that I mind giving you and Lucy money when you need them, of course; you can have whatever you need. But today I am not letting Alastair or anybody else near my purchase."

"Your purchase? You do understand that is is an actual human being you are so intent on buying?" Castiel sends Gabriel an angry glare. "How can you be so callous? I know that you are not as interested in saving humans as we are, but I hadn't thought that you..." Castiel closes his eyes with a pained expression. "You are so careless, Gabriel."

Gabriel does feel a tiny bit bad. He is trying to save Dean Winchester, sort of. It's clear that Castiel doesn't approve, and Lucifer never approves of anything, the arrogant bastard. Gabriel decides that he shouldn't feel bad about buying Dean. It is his right to make a bid for any Second. He is trying to do good here, to save lives. Just because he is a little selfish, too, he can still do good. Good and selfish are not mutually exclusive if one looks at it with a certain amount of creativity.

"You are actually going to treat him as your personal slave?" Lucifer stares at Gabriel coldly. "I thought I taught you better. Consent, Gabriel. We talked about this. Humans, as unappealing as they are, they are not our playthings. Father doesn't approve. I am fairly sure that he won't like you keeping Dean as your pet."

Gabriel rolls his eyes. "You taught me nothing but tricks. I am, however, not your poodle, so do not attempt to tell me what to do with him. I like the idea of having Dean Winchester on his knees, waiting for my every command, yes. And he did consent to being sold when he signed the tournament contract. I am not an idiot, Lucy. I have one year, and—" Gabriel shuts his mouth. He wants Dean. Dean. Not a slave. Lucifer has got it wrong, but Gabriel hesitates to correct his brother. It makes him vulnerable to be open about who he likes and dislikes, and his fallouts with Lucifer are too frequent for Gabriel to hand out ammunition freely. It is true that he doesn't want Dean as his servant, though. Well, he does, but not in the way that Alastair or Crowley or some of the other bidders might want him, either using him or abusing him.

Oh, no, not like that at all.

Gabriel does not wish to break Dean Winchester, nor does he want to control him. He wants Dean on the floor, all right. He wants him collared and obedient and tied up. He wants Dean on his knees, begging for attention and care and love, and one year is not enough. What Gabriel wants is everything. Dean's every moment, his every breath, his mind, his body, his first heartbeat and his last breath.

All of him. All of it. Gabriel sighs deeply. High Lord, he is such an idiot to want a man he doesn't even know. Gabriel wants Dean to want, and a year is too little time when Gabriel wants Dean to want an eternity. No matter what Lucifer thinks, Gabriel wants Dean to be his. He wants him to come willingly, to submit all he is, all he ever was, into Gabriel's hands, so that he might give it back to him. So that Gabriel can give himself to the proud, strong man he wants so badly.

It's stupid, but Gabriel knew that he was lost the first time Dean stepped into the Cage, all confidence and attitude. And for every fight, every little piece of the puzzle that was added to the fragmented picture of Dean Winchester, cage fighter extraordinaire, Gabriel just got it worse. The way Dean fought, putting his life out there every time. The way he loved, the way he took care of his younger brother in between rounds, comforting him, reassuring him... it made Gabriel want some of that dedication. And after showing how loving he could be, Dean went back into the Cage, a wild animal, a predator, all beauty and strength, to fight like no one had ever fought in the ring before... Oh, to have that under him, to rein in that amazing brutality and turn it into desire and submission...

One hundred years of Cage fights, and this is the first time Gabriel is bidding on a Second for himself, bidding on a servant to serve him, bidding to have instead of to save. High Lord, he needs to tread carefully. Because if he doesn't do this right, Dean will leave him on the last day of the year, never to look back, and all will be lost.

Lucifer has got a point: Gabriel doesn't know how to win a human's heart. He doesn't understand them — hearts or humans. Gabriel doesn't even understand Lord Robert and Lady Ellen at times; they somehow elude him with all their bravery and their powerlessness — although anyone trying to call Lord Bobby powerless to his face won't live to regret it, Gabriel is sure.

The conundrum Dean Winchester? Fighter and brother. He's ruthless and cruel, soft and gentle, proud and weak. He is silence and storms, the calm summer and the wild fall. Gabriel wants that so badly, wants to examine the angles and the depth; he wants to tear Dean open like some of those mechanical human implements that are still left after the climate changes and the Croatoan virus took over the planet. Gabriel's fear is that if he tears Dean open to see what's inside, there will be nothing left that's whole. Yes, he needs to tread carefully because he needs Dean fully, wholly. All of him. Whole.

Must humans be so difficult?

Yeah, Gabriel certainly is lost.

*

"Fifty million dollars." Lord Bobby's one eyebrow goes up in surprise. The sum is unprecedented. Never has any servant been sold for an amount even close to this outrageous bid. "As you all know," Bobby says, smiling into the camera, "The Forever-Lords of America do not condone slavery, except for this time-honored, once-a-year-event. Going in, all the fighters agree that the winner's prize is paid for by the first loser, and Benny Lafitte is going to be a very rich man tonight. Fifty million dollars, viewers! From The Lady Anna!" Lord Bobby smiles. "The servant is indeed very handsome, and The Lady Anna has yet to find herself a husband or wife. Maybe this handsome servant is worth her attention and her fortune?"

Dean doesn't move. Oh, please! Dean would gladly let Lady Anna have him if it was up to him. She is known to be kind, and she is beautiful too. Being her servant can't be that bad? Except being a servant is always bad, and no kindness can undo that.

"Fifty-two!"

Lord Alastair again. Dean wants to puke.

Lord Bobby can't stop himself from smirking, and Dean thinks for a moment that Lord Bobby is amused that he's finally showing some kind of emotion. Not so. "Running out of money, Lord Alastair?"

"Fifty... Fifty-five!" Lord Alastair is leaning over the edge of the balcony. "And I am not amused by your comments, Lord Robert. I assume you would put in a bid yourself if you weren't dirt poor."

"Sixty million." In the box next to Lord Alastair's, Lady Ellen, Lord Bobby's wife, stands. "And every other bloody million you need, Bobby, to keep that lovely young man out of Alastair's grabby hands." She eyes Alastair. "Sit down, shut up, and find someone else to torment. Damn, you're disgusting, Alastair."

The entire dome erupts in cheers. Lady Ellen, with her down-to-earth ways, is immensely popular. Alastair, executioner and torturer, is not. Lady Ellen knows how to make a show for the people. The camera zooms in on Alastair's face, enlarged hundreds of times on the giant screen, and millions of times on the TVs across the globe. Lord Bobby's eyes meet Dean's. Lord Bobby nods, almost imperceptibly.

"Lady Anna?" Bobby looks away and up. Dean doesn't need the screen to see her shake her head.

There's a commotion in one of the other boxes. "Seventy. And five million on top of any other bid that Lady Ellen and Lord Robert make."

The dome falls silent. Someone drops a bottle or a bag, and the sound echoes in the room, making its rounds until everything is silent.

Oh, fuck! The most unpredictable, the most malicious and annoying, the strangest and most unreliable of the Forever-Lords. And he is also one of the richest and most powerful. It's His Royal Highness Prince Gabriel, Lord of Tempests. Dean is fucked, because there is no way that anyone can come up with a sum that big, not that Dean knows for sure. All he knows is that The Lord Gabriel is rich beyond belief, and that he's said to be able to conjure gems and gold from the aftermaths of the storms whose master he is. Lord Gabriel is the tamer of the violent storms that occasionally ravages the planet. He is the golden sun and the raging thunder; he is the rain that drowns cities, and the wind that dries out the land, or so they are told when the media sings his praise. They might not be wrong. Lord Gabriel is said to suffer from mood-swings. He is said to be irresolute and fickle, not exactly traits that bode well in a slave-owner. Dean has to admit that Lord Gabriel is handsome, though. Arrogant, cruel and handsome. No wonder The High Lord Chuck chose The Lord Gabriel to be the ruler of the violent and unpredictable tempests that threaten the American nation: he is exactly like them.

Lord Bobby looks up at his wife. She nods and smiles. It's okay, she seems to say. Maybe it's not that bad, then? Except it is. Because being sold to a Forever-Lord like Lord Gabriel can never be not-bad. It's just a different bad from the bad that goes with people such as Lord Alastair. Slightly less fatal, as far as Dean knows.

"Seventy million dollars. No one else?" Lord Bobby looks around, waiting. Hoping, perhaps. For a moment he turns away from the cameras, casually brushing against Dean as he moves. "Don't worry," is breathed into Dean's ear, no one hearing it except Dean himself. "Lord Gabriel is not a cruel master. You'll be safe with him."

If Dean ever gets the chance, he'll remember to thank Lord Bobby for his kindness.

"Sold!" The word is drowned out by the audience going wild. Behind him, Dean can hear vague sound of Sam, crying, and Benny's "I'm sorry, Sam, I really am."

Dean's mind goes blank. He never thought he would be the one to stand here, a piece of meat for the nobility to feast on. He could fight, flee, but he wouldn't get far. He could cry and beg, to no avail. He has no power, no will. He no longer has anything of his own and it's the most scary thing Dean has ever experienced. His last breath belongs to The Lord Gabriel because Dean knows that the insignificant fine matters little to rulers such as he. Since Lord Gabriel paid seventy million for access to Dean's body for a year, three million dollars, or six, are nothing.

For the first time since Lord Robert announced Dean's status as a servant Dean turns and looks at Sam. Sam is still crying, a rage-filled, desperate sobbing. Clinging to Benny, Sam is shaking. Benny, too, has tears in his eyes. Dean nods, with the slight move of his head telling Benny that he knows that their roles could have been reversed. Benny was just stronger today. It's not Benny's fault that both the People and the Forever-Lords appreciate this kind of inhuman entertainment, nor is it the Forever-Lords' fault that Dean and Benny tried their luck in the Cage.

Dean feels no hatred towards Benny. He can't even muster enough rage to hate the Forever-Lords. Benny and he...they both accepted the conditions of the tournament. "Take care of my brother," Dean mouths, knowing that Benny will honor Dean's request.

Benny nods. It's a promise. They are enemies in the Cage, but outside it they are soldiers, fighters, comrades. Dean would have done the same for Benny; he'd have taken care of Benny's young niece Elizabeth for him, taken care of his wife Andrea and their kids. They're opponents, yes, but they became friends somewhere along the road.

Dean is pulled back to the grim reality that awaits him. Lord Bobby tugs at the torc. "On your knees, servant, for your new master." Lord Bobby hooks a snap and chain into the torc. The silvery chain falls heavily down Dean's chest, rattling sharply. Dean hesitates a moment too long, and Lord Bobby yanks him down, knees slamming into the dirt. "Don't make it worse, Winchester," Lord Bobby growls into his ear. "You can fight him later, don't do it now. He'll punish you if you make him look bad in front of people. You won't like it. Now make a show of thanking me politely. Pretend that you're obedient."

Dean's anger flares. He's a person, dammit! Only he's not and Lord Bobby is right. He is a servant, little more than a slave; in fact nothing but a slave. It will cost him one year of degradation before he is done kneeling for Lord Gabriel. Dean needs to play it safe, to find his footing; he can't rebel just yet. But Dean still has his pride, and Sammy doesn't need to see him humiliated in front of the cameras. Dean bites his lip, reining in his anger. "Thank you, My Lord." Dean nods, almost imperceptible. It's the best he can do without snapping. Dean breathes in, calming intakes of air; slow, relaxing exhales. He can do this, he can. When the cameras move away, Dean touches Lord Bobby's foot to get his attention. "I'm ready," he says so quietly that only Lord Bobby can hear.

It takes everything Dean has not to look up when Lord Gabriel steps into the Cage, holding out his hand for the chain that Lord Robert holds.

The noise dies down. Dean knows what they are waiting for, the vultures. They want him to scream and beg, to throw himself at Lord Gabriel's feet, begging for mercy and freedom. Not gonna happen. Dean will not give them the satisfaction. He stays kneeling, looking at Lord Gabriel's feet. His boots are made of some kind of leather, decorated with an intricate pattern of flowers and leaves, silver and green and brown. They go all the way to his knees, which is where Dean decides to let his eyes rest. He can see the edge of Lord Gabriel's light summer tunic, dark green silk with a silver trim. The ensemble probably costs more than Dean has earned in his entire life. Concentrating on counting the threads in the trim, Dean isn't reacting immediately when Lord Gabriel demands his attention.

"Get up!" Lord Gabriel's voice is cold and low. "Do not make me repeat myself." He yanks the chain once, twice, and Dean chokes, coughing.

So much for good intentions. "I'm not your fucking dog, asshole," Dean sneers, loud enough for a billion viewers to hear. "Bite me." He braces himself for what must come; it can't be worse than taking a beating in the Cage.

He is wrong.

*

The Cage disappears and a wall of heat and wind slams into him. Dizzy, Dean stumbles as he is pulled up and thrown down again, this time on a hard stone floor. He groans, the pain is nothing, but the impact is brutal. "Teleportation?" he gasps, trying to find a way to make the world turn the right way. Dean assumes it's a really, really good idea not to look up. The little shit that bought him clearly doesn't like to be trifled with.

Lord Gabriel snaps his fingers and servants bring him a chair. He sits down, once more making Dean acquainted with the quality work of his boots. "It is up to you how hard we need to make this," Lord Gabriel says. "You are damned stupid, kiddo. You went into the Cage, knowing you could lose. You did. And you are going to lose spectacularly if you think you have the power to challenge me. I bought you, Dean. I. Own. You."

The fuck you do, Dean thinks. He wants to fight, but Lord Bobby's words echo in the back of his mind. He can't fight. He'll just make it worse. He already did. Instead, he does the clever thing. He waits. If he wants to survive this, he needs to know where he stands. Kneels, to be precise.

Maybe Lord Gabriel is a mind reader. "You are my servant. My property. I decide when you sleep. When you eat. When you breathe. If you breathe. Although that'd defy the purpose of buying you in the first place."

The legs in front of Dean shift, one crossing the other, relaxed. "So this is how it goes: you will kiss my boots and apologize for your outburst and your rude attitude and I might grant you the pleasure of sleep and food. A bath, even."

Dean wants to tell Lord Gabriel where he can shove his boots, but he doesn't think his view will be much appreciated. On the other hand, Dean is not going to kiss any footwear, no matter the reward. "No." He glances at Lord Gabriel.

Lord Gabriel simply smirks. He throws Dean's chain on the floor and waves his hand. By some kind of otherworldly magic, the floor rearranges itself and swallows up the end of the chain, tying Dean securely to about a ton of black-and-white-checkered marble. "Make sure he gets water if he's thirsty, and take care of his injuries. Nothing else. You may not speak to him." Lord Gabriel gets up from the chair. "Nobody is allowed in here but you," Lord Gabriel tells the servant, a young boy in a pristine white tunic. "Fetch me when he changes his mind."

It takes six days and some hours before Dean smells the coffee. Not literally, because all he's had since Lord Gabriel chained him to the floor is water and a six feet wide territory. Dean is hungry. He is bored. He smells and so does the floor, because his humiliation is not limited to being left without food: it has a distinct lack of plumbing as well. Also, he has no trouble figuring out that he'll be here until he either dies from starvation or gives in. Well, maybe His Royal Pain in the Ass Lord Gabriel isn't letting him die; after all the Lord of Tempests has paid a fortune for him. And Lord Robert sort of vouched for the jerk, so he might not be an utter douchewad. Dean reserves his opinion until he's either fed or dead. Unfortunately Dean's in good shape. He has heard that hunger strikers are able to survive six weeks or more without food. Maybe he needs to get used to being obedient and pliant; it probably won't be the only time he has to swallow is his damned pride.

It comes up to pride versus food. Pride versus hot water. Pride versus a bed, or at least blankets instead of the cold floor.

Pride is precious, but right now the taste of it doesn't beat the taste of a good meal.

*

Gabriel walks through the airy halls of the Sky Palace, a few of his favorite hounds following him. Perching high on a cliff, the harsh winds cool down the castle, making the hot summer months bearable. He stops for a while, elbows on the edge of the balcony. The palace yard is at its most beautiful. Outside the walls the desert stretches as far as the eye can see, dune upon dune of cream-colored sand, a shimmering sea of dust and heat and rocks. But inside them, protected by white marble and black granite, the palace gardens are blooming. The air smells of sun-warm peaches, and of the roses that Gabriel likes so much. The fountains sprinkle, birds flocking around them to bathe or drink. It's late, the hour before sundown, and the twilight is slowly descending, chasing away the burning heat. But the palace is a peaceful place, and Gabriel stops himself from wondering how it will be to walk between the trees and the flowers with his beautiful new servant, feeding him fresh dates and ripe grapes by hand.

Heaven, Gabriel wishes that he hadn't been so cruel as to punish Dean so severely. Gabriel knows he should have listened to Lucifer. He simply lost his good intentions in favor of mindlessly lusting after Dean Winchester. Not exactly his finest hour. But how in the deepest hell was he supposed to get Dean's consent to come with him when the kid is nothing but aggression and loathing and resistance? Gabriel knows that his impatience made Dean reject him. How is he supposed to penetrate that wall of rejection now, if not by punishment? It has been a week, and Dean is still feisty and angry and arrogant. Gabriel's experience with humans is sorely lacking, and he sort of begins to regrets that he hasn't spent more time with people instead of with his annoying big brother and his sop of a kid bro.

Gabriel stands there, lost in thought, so deep that he doesn't hear Samandriel at first.

"My Lord, he is willing."

Gabriel turns. "Come again?"

"Your servant. He is willing to submit to your wishes. But there are conditions."

Gabriel's laughter echoes across the courtyard and makes a few maids strolling along the balcony on the other side look at him funny. One of the hounds huffs and stares at him with the same curiosity. "Of course there are. I'd be disappointed if there weren't."

Good, so Dean isn't broken. Gabriel knew he would be strong and stubborn. From the first time Gabriel saw him in the Cage, he knew Dean would be worth it. Anyone able to rock Gabriel's world by their mere presence had to be worth it.

"Prepare a bath and a very light meal. Make my bed ready. Then get your ass back to Dean."

Samandriel looks at Gabriel with wide eyes. "My Lord?"

"He needs sleep. Rest. I am not going to rape him. Really, Samandriel?"

"Not that you've done much to make anyone think that you're actually going to treat him right, either, My Lord," Samandriel snipes, his young face contracted in displeasure. "You really don't do empathy well. Lucifer says—"

"That is Lord Lucifer to you, and I know what he says: 'Gabriel does not do humans well. He needs to be careful if he wants Dean Winchester to stay with him.'"

Samandriel looks very tired. "Lord Lucifer says you're a bumbling, obsessed moron who is going to lose what you got if you don't treat him right."

"If I were to treat you right, I'd have you whipped and thrown into the oubliette for a week for your insolence. So just be happy I am crap at doing right." Gabriel swats at Samandriel. "And do try to remember that you're my page boy, not my mother. Not that I can't wait to get rid of you, but your knighthood is a few years ahead, still."

"Apologies, My Lord." Samandriel manages to sound polite for a moment, before he adds a snappy, "And I'm your squire. Not your page. Not that you ever cared to distinguish because all I am to you is your errand boy. I don't think that's what my family intended when they sent me here." He rolls his eyes before he bows slightly and disappears in a flash.

He'll make a decent Lord of Light after his father when he's grown into his powers, Gabriel thinks, trying not to smile at the utter disrespect little Samandriel shows him. Can't take long, the way Squire Samandriel's confidence is progressing.

*

Dean doesn't care to sit upright. He's not sure he's able. He's shaking, and his clothes are so disgusting and sweat-stiff that moving is unbearable, having the soiled remains of his cut-off jeans move against his skin. His hip and shoulders and knees are sore, and he's pretty sure that the stone floor has gnawed its way through fabric and skin right at his left hipbone. He hasn't cared to look.

"Get me some wine," Lord Gabriel demands, holding his hand out for a goblet. A pair of long-legged sighthounds drop down on the rug-covered floor next to Lord Gabriel's throne-like chair. One stares at Dean, the nose vibrating slightly. Samandriel hurries to do as he's told. "Have you prepared?" Lord Gabriel asks his squire.

"Yes, Lord."

"Tell my servant what you have done." He nods in Dean's direction. "Tell him what awaits him if he chooses to submit to me."

"Yes, My Lord. I have made your bed with the softest down mattresses, and with silk sheets and enough pillows to satisfy even the High Lady's demands. I have sent for a meal, chicken broth and freshly baked bread. Apples from the garden of Sodom. Grapes from Eden, wine from Jerusalem, and water from the springs of Iceland. Nothing that might cause your servant distaste or discomfort."

Dean thinks it sounds like heaven, but he still glares angrily at Lord Gabriel. It's all the fight he has left, but as long as he can, he will make sure that Lord Gabriel knows that he is not coming willingly to his hand.

Gabriel nods. "My perfect Squire Samandriel. And the bath?"

"Hot water with bath salts. Rose-scented as you prefer it, My Lord. A shower is ready too. Maids await your servant so that they can tend to his needs."

"Send them away. I will bathe Dean myself. I do not want anyone else to touch my boy." Gabriel stares at Dean, so obviously possessive that it makes Dean startle. "He is mine. Alastair shall never lay hands on what is mine, nor shall anyone else, not without Dean's consent."

Dean doesn't understand. He is merely a pawn in some distorted game between Lord Gabriel and the Lord of Torment? It's not as if Dean preferred to be purchased by Lord Alastair, but it's surprising how into it Lord Gabriel is. Dean knows little about politics, but a lot about fights. And Lord Gabriel and Lord Alastair are definitely fighting. Not a surprise since they are top dogs of each their faction. Maybe he just happens to be the bone they are fighting over? Dean tries to clear his mind, but hunger and lack of sleep make it difficult. Maybe it's just that The Lord Gabriel likes torturing people too? He sure had no quibbles, starving Dean into giving in in exchange for food, a bath, a bed. They are temptations, alluring little promises of luxury and comfort. Comfort for the small price of Dean's pride, that is. And for the use of his body, at least that's what it sounds like, what with all Gabriel's possessive posturing.

If Dean accepts—when he accepts, because what Lord Gabriel offers sounds somewhat better than to die of starvation— he is going to be Lord Gabriel's bed toy?

Falling in bed with Lord Gabriel is better than falling into Lord Alastair cruel hands, Dean has no doubt. On the plus side, Lord Gabriel is handsome, even if he's an asshole. Dean had happily hit that at any other time, except that Lord Gabriel is not just Gabriel, a cute guy Dean met at a bar. He is the Royal Highness Prince Gabriel of America, and Lord of Tempests. Dean is but a lowly commoner with no connections, which is why he entered the Cage in the first place. It's the only way to win money and status in a world that leaves few chances for people such as he. The Cage was nothing but Dean wanting Sam to have the life he deserves. Also the Cage is the only reason Dean has come into spitting distance of any Forever-Lord, so there would have been no hitting on Gabriel in any bars. Ever. Not that it was Dean's intention to get in close proximity of anything but the prize money. Unfortunately he didn't win anything but a holiday chained to a soiled floor, complete with a nobleman dickhead to go with it. All Dean has managed is to make life so much worse for both himself and for Sam.

A slight cough from Gabriel interrupts Dean's jumbled thoughts. Dean jolts—he's in trouble enough as it is and it'll probably be a really good idea to pretend to be a little respectful. He hates it, but he'll try.

"My Lord." It takes effort for Dean to say anything, to get out two small words.

"If it's not too much for you to direct your attention to me, of course." Lord Gabriel says, sarcasm dripping. "You asked Samandriel to send for me. Now, nobody sends for me, except for my father, the High Lord. I am willing, however, to overlook it once, because I understand that you have complied. You are willing to accept your punishment and your destiny?"

"Yes. Yes... My Lord." Dean's voice is rough and unused, and he'd kill for a sip of the cinnamon-spiced wine that Lord Gabriel drinks.

"Let's make it very clear what you are accepting, then," Lord Gabriel says, leaning forward, looking down at Dean with an expression of disgust on his face. "The sooner we can get you cleaned up, the better. You stink."

"I'm willing to repeat myself: I am not your bloody dog," Dean manages to growl with little conviction. Gabriel's dogs probably have it better. "And you chained me here. It's your fault I smell."

Lord Gabriel looks tired. "Dean, you sold yourself. I did not force your hand. I saved you from Alastair. I do not expect any gratitude for it, because nobody forced me to do that. Let me be honest with you; it might make you understand that I did not purchase you to be cruel: I've had my eyes on you from the moment you set foot in the Cage, and I bought you because I want you. I would have bought you no matter who bid on you, and no matter the costs."

Dean's head snaps up? "What?" Dean is nothing, he's a commoner, all he knows is to fight and to hunt. Why the hell would someone like Lord Gabriel look his way? He asks. "Why?"

"Don't be mistaken. I like what I see, and I would like you to agree to come to my bed, not today, but in time, when you are ready. I do not, however, tolerate disobedience. I do not tolerate defiance. I assume you have figured that out by now. If nothing else, then because you're chained to the floor."

Dean frowns, his mouth hanging open. Lord Gabriel can't be serious? "Why?" he repeats, trying to understand what this is about. Sex, clearly. Want. Desire. Control. "But if you want me, then why don't you let me go so we—"

"No. And even if I did, you'd still wear the torc. To the public eye you would be nothing but a servant, a serf. Property. You'd get hurt without my protection. You'd be fair game to anyone. And trust me, there are anyones enough out there who'd like to get their filthy hands on you."

Dean laughs. The laughter feels bitter and raw in his throat. It's true. He'll wear the torc until it opens by itself, a year from now, freeing him from slavery. He fucking hate that necklace already, with the power of a thousand suns. I bet you could take the torc off of me if you tried, Dean thinks. Of course Lord Gabriel can. He owns Dean, so the torc will respond to his orders. "With or without that damned collar, I can fend for myself," Dean argues, not that he thinks that it'll help. Lord Gabriel spent a fortune on him so it's highly unlikely that Lord Gabriel lets him leave.

"You might be right there, Deano. I could remove the torc, but you'd still be outside the law. If I let you go, anyone can pick you up and claim you. You'd end up being thrown in jail for beating someone up for taking what would be their right according to the laws of the Cage." Lord Gabriel's eyes soften. "Look, you are one of the best Cage fighters in the world. Of course you can fend for yourself. Problem for you—and for me—is that it would cost you your life. You should take what little freedom I can offer you. Even if it means that you wear the torc. It is a sign of your loss of personhood, true, but right now it is your protection, too, because most people respect the torc. I can remove it if you insist, but it'd cause you problems. Big ones. Not as big as Alastair, but you'd be biting over more than you can chew. I'm the lesser evil."

Rumor has it that the Forever-Lords can read thoughts. Dean supposes that Lord Gabriel's reply confirms it. Great. Dean knows, though, that Lord Gabriel is right. He'd die before the year is over. Sam could take ownership, but that'd be too much to ask, demanding a year of Sam's life for his protection alone. They'd still be up against the Forever-Lords, because Lord Alastair didn't bid on him for the fun of it, and he'd be on their case the moment he found out that Gabriel let him out of his sight.

"Humans don't read minds," Dean says, "and I'd appreciate it if you stayed out of mine. What is it you want with me? You're not human."

"No, I'm not." Gabriel sighs. "What I am is rich, powerful and eager to get on with this. I am, however, not a rapist, and I am not going to force you into my bedchamber. I will give you a way out, Dean, but not your freedom. I can't. It'd kill you, so you must stay here, in my palace, that's non-negotiable. You can choose to be with me, or not."

"Get on with it, then," Dean snaps. "I don't have all year. All I have is three-hundred and fifty-eight days, to be precise."

Gabriel laughs and Dean sincerely would like very much to stab him in his handsome face.

"Good thing that you still have a sense of humor. I don't like people who bore me," Gabriel says, smiling.

"Then get on with it," Dean demands again, trying to sit without falling over. Shit, he is so exhausted that he can barely stay conscious. "The other suggestion?"

"If you refuse me, I will send you to my master of hounds. You can help him cleaning the kennels, taking care of the pups and bitches. It's not going to be glamorous, but you'll be protected until the torc opens and you have your freedom back. I am being generous, Dean, but don't be mistaken, I am not a humanitarian. If you choose to come to me, to my bed, I want your submission, no holding back. You will be taken care of, pampered. I promise that you will receive the best care anyone can ask for. You will never want for anything."

"Except my freedom." Dean tries to make sense of it. Dogs or submission. He looks at the dogs. They are elegant, aristocratic creatures. He's willing to bet that they aren't submitting to anyone. "You mean... submission, submission? Not just being polite and respectful and crap?" It's not that Dean hasn't played that kind of games before, but this is not a game. This is not a bit of fun in the bed, neat safeword in place, complete with the right to get up and leave if he wants. Or maybe it is that kind of game, except he still can't leave.

"Except for your freedom. I am not unreasonable, you'll come to see that. As I said, I am not a rapist. If you choose me, I will always give you a way out of—you might say that I want to let you earn your place in my bed with your compliance."

"And if I don't comply? If I'm disobedient ?" Dean spits out the word with contempt. "Then I'm back to sleeping in my own piss? Because frankly that doesn't feel very much like hot sex to me." Dean motions towards his soiled clothes.

"Maybe that's because chaining you to the floor was chastisement, Dean, for your rude behavior. The games I want to play with you are not going to include that kind of punishment." Gabriel purses his mouth. "Well, they are, but only the kind you'll like. Consensual punishment. The kind I like to give, and the kind you'll learn to crave."

"Don't be too sure, dude." Okay, so Dean can endure a spanking, if that's what Lord Gabriel wants. Not that he's going to enjoy it much, but that's all right. "Don't be too sure."

"I am sure. I will drive you to your limits, and at times across them, but never without letting you have a say in it."

"Oh, how generous of you. Treat the dogs, or be treated like one? Great opportunities here. I can hardly contain my joy, I'm that happy. Sounds totally awesome."

"If you want a third option you could pay me back my seventy million. That'd do too. Except you'd still be snatched up by the charming Alastair the moment he realizes that I let you go. Freed, you'd be imprisoned in your own home, and your brother with you. If you got that far. My guess is that you'd be on Alastair's rack before the day is over, and dead before Christmas. Sweetheart, you're out of choices. I did not make the rules, and neither did you, so let's make our own and play a game that's so much more interesting than bleeding out under Alastair's whip."

"Oh, I'd love to play by our rules. The ones that allow you to tie me up and leave me without food. Dude, that is so not on!"

Lord Gabriel sighs, but he actually looks a little guilty. "I promise not to do that again, not unless you're committing a crime that truly calls for severe punishment. I made a mistake."

"You're so generous it makes me all warm and fuzzy. So no dungeons or whipping at the pole or torture or shit like that? Unless I try to murder you in your sleep? Wouldn't rule that out, by the way. And what did you mean, earn my place in your bed?" For the first time since his dehumanization Dean feels as if he is in control of his life, at least a little. Lord Gabriel is annoying, but he's neither stupid, nor entirely unreasonable.

"You could always start by calling me by my title and by showing me some respect. You truly are in need of decent manners, and I will look forward to teaching you."

Dean is about to protest and tell Lord Gabriel that he can fuck off because he's going to take the dogs anytime when Lord Gabriel holds up his hand to stop the outburst.

"Quiet. I want you to obey me. If I ask something of you that you are sure that you won't come to enjoy, you may refuse, but it will not be without consequences. If you want to sleep in a bed, you will do your best to please me. If you don't please me, or if you refuse to do something that I ask of you, you will sleep on the floor. It's as simple as that. I am not going to torture you again."

So submission and the use of his body, luxury in exchange for kinky sex with a hot nobleman? Dean is torn. He doesn't want to give in, because that's not how he is. Problem is that Lord Gabriel's arguments make sense. Dean will be safer here, in the palace. At least Lord Gabriel has the courtesy to ask for Dean's consent. He is sure Lord Alastair wouldn't have bothered. Yeah, he'd probably be screaming his lungs out in Alastair's dungeon by now. There really isn't any comparison between the rape and the abuse and torture that the Lord of Torment would have exposed him to, and the rather pleasurable games that Lord Gabriel suggests. Not that Dean is in doubt that he will feel uncomfortable when Lord Gabriel ties him up or spanks him or whatever it is he wants. It's not that Dean has that much experience with power play, but he has enough to know what he's accepting. He used to enjoy that kind of games and Lord Gabriel sounds as if he knows how to play them.

Being offered sex doesn't make Dean less of an slave, but it sweetens the deal. The power to refuse Lord Gabriel makes it acceptable.

"And Sam?" Dean asks. He needs to know. He stepped into the Cage for Sam. If he can land a deal that benefits Sam... yeah, then he'll do it. Benny has sworn that he'll look after him, but one can never have enough allies, especially not since the Winchester family is now on the windy side of Lord Alastair's wrath if what Lord Gabriel says is true.

"Sam?" Lord Gabriel stares at Dean as if he had asked if the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. "What has Sam got to do with it?"

No, Lord Gabriel isn't a humanitarian. But he has brothers, too, so how is it that he doesn't understand Dean's request? "I want you to take care of Sam. I want him set up with a grant so that he can go to law school. I want him safe. Benny promised, and I trust him. I still want a plan B."

"You are aware that you are in no position to negotiate? Why would I pay for your brother's education?"

"Because it'd make me happy and make me choose you over the hounds," Dean says in a cocky tone that does not reflect the angry defiance that makes his stomach churn. Or maybe it's just bile. "As I see it, you'd want to make me happy and compliant because it'll get you laid. Do we have a deal?" If it is true that Gabriel is attracted to him, desire at first sight, then Dean really does have something to bargain with. Otherwise he's fucked in the not-so-pleasant way.

Crossing his arms as he leans back in the chair, Lord Gabriel looks contemplative. "You are too clever for your own good." Lord Gabriel's eyes shine with a sharp, cold cruelty. "Let's get this over, then. First you will crawl to me and kiss my boots like you should have done when I demanded of you in the first place. Take your punishment and I swear it's the last time I treat you without concern for your dignity."

Dean is choking on the urge to rebel, to get up and punch Lord Gabriel in his smug face. Only he can't, because he's still fucking tied to the floor.

"Oh, fuck you!"

"I'm sure we'll get to that." Lord Gabriel smirks. "And when we do, I'll make sure it'll be good. So, what will it be, Dean? Contrary to you, I do have all year."

Dean takes a deep breath and studies his owner's face for some time without saying anything. There is mischief and malice there; judging from Lord Gabriel's many public appearances that is simply how he looks. There is a strange gentleness, too. It is not enough to make Dean trust Lord Gabriel, very far from, but it's enough to at least give him a chance, despite everything that has happened between them. It can't be worse than Lord Alastair's rack.

It doesn't make it more pleasant to crawl for the man, though. Dean sneers at the mere idea.

"Separate the two," Lord Gabriel says quietly. "One part is the punishment for you rudeness, for the spectacle you made at the Cage. You have to admit that you behaved improperly. Anyone would have been punished for such inappropriate behavior. I take no pleasure in seeing you punished for it. The other part... that is the pleasure I will find in your submission. Not the same. You forced my hand. I cannot tolerate disrespect, not from you, not from anyone. The other kind of punishment... that is our agreement, our pleasure. Pay your due debts, and it will be the last time you will suffer indignity, except if and when you have agreed to it."

All right then. Dean's pride won't break entirely because of a kiss. The reward makes it worth it: Sam will be safe. Dean takes another deep breath—a grave mistake, he really stinks—and crawls on sore knees as far as the chain allows him. He can barely reach Lord Gabriel's feet from where he stops, and he has to lie down entirely as to make the most use of what little slack it gives the chain. He wants to get it over with. Quickly he kisses Lord Gabriel's boots, both, to be certain his owner is satisfied.

Lord Gabriel makes an approving sound. "I forgive you, Dean."

Yeah, sure. Dean mouth contracts in a wry, displeased grimace. He wants to spit on the floor, to wipe his lips to get the sensation of expensive leather and sand off his lips. But he can't. The negotiations have cost him everything he had left. He can barely manage to raise his head as Gabriel points at the floor and the chain comes free of whatever magic that held it there.

Lord Gabriel can call it what he likes, sweeten the deal as much as he likes. But nothing truly sweetens being sold. Dean has lost.

Again.

Now time only shows if he actually managed to win something for all his efforts.

"Samandriel!" Lord Gabriel clearly has little patience left. "Help Dean up. Get him a small glass of grape juice, not too much. Take him to the baths and help him undress. Get a stool for him, so that he doesn't have to stand. Prepare, make sure there is enough soap and bath salts, and I'll take over. Serve the food at the pool, then leave us."

*

The warm water pours over his body, removing the smell of piss and the cakes of sweat and shit. It's like heaven after a week of frozen nights and burning hot days. The water pressure is pleasant, hard enough to loosen Dean's tense muscles, soft enough not to hurt his sore skin. Dean is leaning against the wall, exhausted. He's counting the tiles to stay awake. They are blue and yellow. Spanish or Arabic, Dean thinks. Old. Very old. They are exquisite, like everything else he has seen in Lord Gabriel's palace.

Exhausted and half-asleep, Dean has nothing to do but to study the surroundings, indifferent and curious at the same time.The bathroom is unlike any bathroom that Dean has ever used. Bathroom might not even be the right word for it. It's so old that it has to be built before the sand and the tempests ruined most of the planet. It's no bathroom, it's a bath, like the baths in ancient Turkish palaces, in sultans' castles. Hamams. The bath has pools, deep hot-water pools. There are shallow baths too, and the showers are visions of art, water falling from the ceiling with no visible tubes, just a waterfall of light and clear, sweet-scented water.

Right outside the shower, Samandriel is preparing a mix of pleasant-smelling herbs. Dean can sense lavender, aloe and chamomile through the minty taste of toothpaste that he used to scrub his teeth and mouth with. Twice. The scent is calming and he is almost asleep when Samandriel turns to greet their lord with a bow.

"It's ready, My Lord," Samandriel says and steps aside to let Lord Gabriel into the shower cubicle.

The shower is bigger than Dean's old room, the one that was both living room, kitchen and bedroom. Much bigger. Lord Gabriel and his entire entourage of pages, maids and servants can fit in here with Dean, if needed. Dean laughs giddily at the thought. God, he's losing it; he's that exhausted.

Lord Gabriel is naked apart from a towel, slung loosely around his hips. He pulls it off and hands it to Samandriel. "Leave us," Lord Gabriel orders without looking at his squire. "Stay outside. I might need you later."

Samandriel disappears as Lord Gabriel steps closer, the summer-smelling concoction in hand. "Not everyone gets to be served by a lord," Lord Gabriel says. Judging from the smirk on his face, he finds it amusing. "Enjoy it while you can."

"You have talent; you'll make an excellent maid," Dean groans as Lord Gabriel starts cleaning him. With a soft cloth and the soap that Samandriel made, Lord Gabriel cleans every inch of Dean's body. Dean's too tired to protest. "Ever considered changing jobs?" he jokes, yawning as Lord Gabriel's soft hands slide over his back, spreading the lavender soap over his skin with gentle, kneading movements. Dean can't stop himself from letting out a content sigh. His battle-worn body, sore from his final fight and from the stay on the hard stone floor, almost melts as Gabriel continues to loosen up knots, making dirt and tension slide off Dean, finally making him feel relaxed and clean.

"Can you stand?" Lord Gabriel asks when he's done. "I can carry you, but I don't think you'd want to be my damsel in distress, not tonight."

Damned right Lord Gabriel is. Dean will walk if it's the last thing he does.

It's a miracle that he stays upright as Lord Gabriel dresses him in a soft robe.

"No reason to dry you off. The bath is ready for us. Food too."

Gabriel leads him between pillars and palms towards a huge pool. Samandriel has left a tray with fruits and bread, wine and water on the side. There is a beautiful ceramic bowl filled with a delicious-smelling broth. Smells like chicken and mushrooms. Dean can't remember the last time he tasted mushrooms; they are far too rare to have that often. It's not Dean's favorite kind of food, but he knows that he cannot stomach anything heavier than broth and bread. Not yet.

The pool is steaming hot and Dean moans in pleasure as Lord Gabriel helps him down the stairs, into the water. There are steps to sit on, and Dean sinks into the water, enjoying the weightlessness that takes most of the strain off his sore limbs. With a silk pillow under his head, Dean leans back against the edge.

Lord Gabriel pours a goblet full of cold, clear water. "Let me help you, Dean," Lord Gabriel says, and Dean knows it's not up for debate. He's okay with it. If it rocks Lord Gabriel's boat, Dean is okay with it. He is too tired to get truly angry over being treated like a child. At least it's better than being chained like a dog.

Lord Gabriel offers him the goblet, and Dean empties it, enjoying every mouthful of the water. It tastes remarkably good.

"From the mountains of Iceland," Lord Gabriel says. "I never touch anything else. Wine, obviously, but that's different."

"Easy for you. I mean, you don't have to worry about travel expenses," Dean says. "Us, normal people, we don't have a choice. It's either recycled water or cleaned saltwater."

"And now my property wants me to apologize for my lifestyle? The lifestyle, mind, from which said property is going to benefit," Lord Gabriel growls, clearly not in a bad mood. He reaches for the tray. "I suppose you are going to complain about the organic, corn-fed chicken, too?"

"Bite me," Dean says and reaches for the delicious piece of meat that Gabriel holds between his fingers. "Or better, gimme!"

"Ah-ah," Lord Gabriel chides. "You eat when I say you eat. Eating too fast will only make you sick."

The glare Dean sends Lord Gabriel is less than friendly. He debates with himself for a little whether it is worth it, fighting Lord Gabriel right now. He doesn't have the strength. As it is, he'll never have the strength. No ordinary human can stand weaponless against a Forever-Lord and live. Dean lets out an annoyed sigh and sinks back into the hot water.

Lord Gabriel looks down at him, one eyebrow raised.

"Er," Dean starts, unsure of what to do. "Please, may I have food?"

"Good boy." Gabriel offers him the chicken and Dean is too hungry to consider exactly how degrading it feels to beg for something to eat. Gabriel takes another piece. He gets the bowl while Dean chews, offering him a spoonful of the broth when he has swallowed the chicken.

The soup is hot and delicious and unlike anything Dean has ever tasted. His stomach growls and churns, as if it can't decide whether Dean should eat or vomit.

"Slowly," Gabriel says, his voice soft and oddly comforting. "I shouldn't have left you without food. It was cruel. I won't do it again."

Dean shrugs. He should be angry; in fact he is, he just can't be bothered to care right now. He's too tired and Lord Gabriel's words contain the apology he needs. "You saved me from Alastair. It's okay." Dean can be generous.

Lord Gabriel's mouth becomes a tense line. "It's not okay, and I would never let Alastair have you. The man is a sadist, and not in the fun way. There are times when I don't understand why my father keeps him at court. Politics, of course. We'd have Alastair and his entourage of psycho assholes at our throats if he tried to kick them out without good reason. War. So we can't do that, not yet. Unfortunately, a few murders isn't enough to imprison him, not when Alastair paid off the families and witnesses. Don't think we haven't tried." Lord Gabriel actually looks worried. "Alastair would have killed you within a couple of months, you know. If you were lucky. You'd not have wanted to be alive for that long, I suppose. Alastair seemed particularly eager to get you and I am sure he wouldn't have offered you a place in his bed."

Closing his eyes, Dean feels sick. He's not in doubt that Lord Gabriel is right. "And now my current owner expects me to thank him for buying me?" Dean opens his eyes. "Not gonna happen." Lord Gabriel bought access to his body, not to his gratitude.

Lord Gabriel's laughter is as clear and warm as the water. "No, I don't expect you to be grateful. I expect you to be obedient. Pliant. Eat."

A fat, juicy grape is pressed against Dean's lips and he takes it, relishing the ripe sweetness as he chews and swallows. All right, so he's fed and kept, and he can be Lord Gabriel's plaything, because that is all he is now, a thing. Lord Gabriel's thing.

Taking a deep breath, fighting nausea and exhaustion, Dean spreads his legs. He knows what Lord Gabriel wants, and it's not that bad. It might even be good. At least Dean is left with a choice. He can say no, but he's not going to. He agreed to be Gabriel's fuck toy. "Let's get to it, then," Dean says, closing his eyes. If Lord Gabriel wants to fuck him in the ass, better do it now before he falls asleep. Dean is sure that his master won't appreciate it if he dozes off during the act.

Lord Gabriel doesn't move. "Dean?"

Dean opens one eye. "What? If you want any you have to get it yourself; I don't think I'm—"

"Dean!" Lord Gabriel splashes a handful of water at him.

Lord Gabriel is glaring at him when Dean opens his eyes. "Yeah, I know. The floor. Haven't earned a place in your bed. Sorry, don't care."

Gabriel reaches for Dean's face and grabs his jaw, forcing him to look up. "Don't. I am not taking advantage of an exhausted, unwilling man."

"Yeah, you're awesome. Should have thought of that when you bought me and decided to introduce me to slavery by treating me like dirt."

Lord Gabriel looks very, very tired. "What I should have thought of is how much trouble you would be, Winchester. Now shut up and get up so that I can dry you off and drop you in my bed." He holds up a finger, as if to prevent Dean from speaking. "To sleep, Dean. Sleep."

Lord Gabriel turns out to be a man of his word which both surprises Dean and doesn't.

"Up," Lord Gabriel demands, holding out his hand for Dean to take. Dean isn't too proud to take it. He really is exhausted, and the promise of a night in a soft bed holds an incredible allure after a week on a cold stone floor. He is manhandled into a fluffy robe that feels as light as feathers. Dean doesn't protest when Lord Gabriel helps him walk from the baths down a corridor that seems to stretch infinitely into the depths of the castle.

*

The bedroom is gigantic. Heavy curtains keep out the chill night and the hot morning sun. The walls are lined with tapestries, and there is almost no spot on the marble floor that isn't covered with thick rugs. "If I have to sleep on the floor, at least I'm going to lie comfortably," Dean says as he is led across a deep Persian rug to the huge bed. A white canopy crowns the mahogany bed; soft, transparent fabrics create a nice cave underneath it.

"My Lord?"

Somehow Samandriel has followed them discreetly. Dean jerks at the sound of his voice.

Gabriel shakes his head. "Light the candles, then leave us. I won't need you until breakfast. Serve us at nine." He looks at Dean for a few seconds. "No. Ten. Leave fruit and water for Dean at the table if he gets hungry later."

Samandriel opens the bed's curtains and lights the candles next to it. There is a low fire burning in the fireplace. The flames flicker in the slight breeze that is allowed through the closed curtains. Dean is relieved when Gabriel pushes him towards the bed. He can't wait to lie down and sleep.

Pulling back the comforter, Gabriel points at the bed. "Get in. We'll talk about your duties tomorrow. I'll let you know what I expect from you then. Tonight you rest."

It's not a problem. Dean slides into the bed, sinking into a heaven of bouncing mattresses and warm down comforters. The linen is silken-soft — a luxury entirely foreign to Dean who is used to the coarse cheap cotton which is all he can afford. He groans in pleasure as Lord Gabriel covers him up. Damn, it feels great. Dean sort of wishes that he'd had the energy to fight back, just a little, but right that instant he surrenders. He might consider getting on his resistance later, when he's gauged the extent of the consequences of disobedience. Maybe he can manipulate the rules and Lord Gabriel, too. Then again, probably not. Lord Gabriel is frigging annoying and definitely a little crazy, but he is very, very far from stupid.

Dean's situation is exactly as Lord Gabriel has described it. He is fucked no matter what he does or what he chooses. Being fucked by a Forever-Lord might be the best way to get fucked over, and that literally. Dean can be a bed-toy if he needs to be. Still preferable to being tortured by an insane murderer.

The bed dips as Lord Gabriel lies down next to him. It is his bed after all and Dean doesn't even care to open his eyes. A gust of wind rushes through the bedroom and the light disappears, candles blown out. One of the perks of being the master of storms. Dean sighs again and buries himself deeper into the pillows. High Lord, he's so tired.

He barely registers that Gabriel slips his arm around his waist before he falls asleep.