The vehicle they were riding in hit a bump, throwing Castiel to one side, sending him practically into the lap of the demon next to him, both of them unable to catch themselves because of the chains locked tight around their wrists and ankles.
"I hate you," Castiel seethed.
"For the last time, you cannot blame me solely for this," Crowley growled back, shouldering Castiel's aside so that the angel was not invading his personal space quite so much. "You were the one who attacked first."
"You were the one who said your contact was to be trusted."
"I said I trusted his information, not him, there's a difference. I'm not in the habit of trusting anyone." Crowley rolled his eyes. "I'm usually better at getting out of these situations unless I'm attached at the hip to a feathered idiot who has decided the best tactic is shoot first ask questions later."
"So you're blaming me now?" Castiel demanded.
"I'm just stating the facts, darling," Crowley shrugged.
Castiel rolled his eyes and slumped back against the side of the van. "I hate you," he muttered again. It sounded more petulant than anything, but he couldn't be bothered to care at the moment.
This whole day had just gone from bad to worse. Castiel had been working with Crowley for weeks now, tracking down Lucifer. That was enough to make anyone want to smite themselves, but the fact that Crowley wanted to make this a 'buddy comedy' as Dean said, instead of just a business relationship made it even worse. The demon would simply not shut up. Whenever Castiel tried to get a few minutes alone to gather himself or check in with Sam and Dean, Crowley was right there at his elbow. It was getting infuriating.
And this had been the last straw. Crowley had gotten word through his channels of information that a contact of his knew where Lucifer was hiding out. Castiel had been wary, but they had no other leads and Rowena hadn't been able to find anything either, so they had to take the chance.
And it had turned out just as bad as Castiel expected. Not two minutes into the meeting, the contact had sent his lackeys out to secure Castiel and Crowley. Castiel was done playing games and simply attacked the contact before he or his men could take Castiel and Crowley out.
However, that had backfired heavily, leading to the lackeys taking precautions and Castiel and Crowley flat on the floor in sigiled handcuffs, blades pointed threateningly at them if they made a move. Crowley blamed Castiel for the preemptive move, but really, Castiel had just delayed the inevitable. The contact had been too quick on the draw to not have planned the trap from the beginning. Crowley should understand that you couldn't always just talk your way out of something—or disappear when that failed to work.
So now that led them to their current predicament. Someone had showed up soon after their capture to load them into this vehicle and drive them off to who knows where. Castiel feared that it would be to Lucifer himself. That would just be their luck.
The vehicle came to a stop and Castiel glanced over at Crowley, seeing the demon do the same.
"Well, for the record, it was nice knowing you," Crowley said as the back of the vehicle was opened and light flooded in.
Castiel tensed, hating feeling so vulnerable. One of the men—a demon—climbed in and grabbed Castiel by the shoulder.
"Get up. And don't make any funny moves or you'll regret it," he snarled.
Castiel glowered at the demon but had little choice but to move forward and stumble out of the vehicle. It was better than being dragged out and landing on his face.
Crowley came next, growling. "Watch the suit, it's Armani!" he snapped.
"That will be the least of your troubles soon," said another of their captors before they were sandwiched on either side and ushered into the building the vehicle had parked next to.
As they were hauled inside, Castiel looked around warily. The place looked like it might have once been a warehouse or factory but as they were taken further, Castiel began to feel warding pressing down on him, more than just from his cuffs. He began to have even worse feelings about this situation than he already had.
His fears were proven to be appropriate as they were taken down a flight of stairs and came out into a large room that had cages lined up in rows covering the whole area. In most of the cages, there were men and women, crouched, some hollow-eyed and dejected, and others snarling and furious.
But not just men and women, Castiel realized. All of them were supernatural creatures of some kind. Vampires, werewolves, djinn, witches, even a few other demons. The only sure thing was that there was not a human in the bunch.
"Bloody hell," Crowley murmured.
Castiel was shoved roughly in the back, not having realized he'd stopped to stare, but he stumbled forward and the men continued dragging him and Crowley through the room, between the cages.
The prisoners hissed and rattled their bars as they saw them, most sneering in derision that someone else was likely about to share their fate, and others crying out for help. Castiel glanced down and saw a young girl, a werewolf, he thought, reaching through the bars toward him, a pleading look on her face.
He forced himself to look away as he was dragged forward. There was nothing he could do in his current situation.
There was a door at the other side of the room that led to an office and a guard standing there. He nodded to the escort guards and opened the door as Crowley and Castiel were pushed inside.
In the office, a man sat behind a desk, talking to another man, writing something in a ledger, but he looked up as the captives were brought in and nodded to the men.
"These the new acquisitions?" he asked.
Crowley's cheeks puffed in fury. "Acquisitions? Do you know who I am? I'm—"
One of the guards flanking him whipped out a stick that looked like some kind of cattle prod and jabbed it into Crowley's lower back. The demon cried out and staggered forward a step, nearly collapsing.
"You speak when spoken too," the man said, standing up and straightening his suit. He was tall and broad and towered over Castiel and Crowley both. He was a demon too, like the guards, but Castiel noticed that the other man in the office was a vampire. He frowned. It seemed he might be wrong about this being connected to Lucifer after all, as this demon was obviously in authority here. So if this wasn't about Lucifer, then what was it?
"What do you want with us?" Castiel demanded.
One of the men flanking him had a stick like the one Crowley had been shocked with and he shifted angrily. Castiel braced for the pain but the man in charge waved the other demon off.
"You'll find out in good time." He stepped forward and looked Castiel up and down, making him uncomfortable. The demon's eyes widened slightly. "An angel. Well, this is a surprise. A rare find. Odd to find one hanging around such company, but then I suppose the King of Hell never did discriminate from the filth."
Crowley opened his mouth to retort but Castiel shot him a look. It was best not to make this worse than it already was until they found out what was really going on.
The demon leader stepped over to Crowley and gripped his chin, wrenching his head back and forth. "The deposed, disgraced King of Hell isn't worth much, granted. But someone may pay something to have him as a novelty item."
"Novelty item? Excuse me?" Crowley practically shrieked.
The demon backhanded him across the face, a smug smile appearing on his lips, obviously enjoying the situation. "You'll learn your place. Until then remember that you're my property now." He turned to Castiel and the angel met his eyes darkly. The demon tried to stare him down, then nodded to his guards who each grabbed Castiel's arms, holding him tight.
"The angel on the other hand…you'll fetch a pretty price, sure enough. Your kind are much sought after by our clients but you're hard to get ahold of. Last angel came through here got me more than the rest of the sales combined." He smirked and reached out to grip Castiel's chin, wrenching his head up. "And you're prettier than the last one too."
Castiel's lip curled and he pulled out of the demon's grasp. The demon seemed to be done with them though, turning around and returning to his desk. "Get them settled in. We only have until tonight and the clients will start showing up in a few hours." He glanced over his shoulder at one of his men. "Oh, and make sure they know what will happen if they try anything foolish."
Castiel and Crowley were hauled from the office and toward another door. Castiel still didn't know what to make of this. They were obviously to be sold, but why? Who was in the market for supernatural creatures?
They were taken to another room, this one stark and mostly unfurnished. Castiel and Crowley were shoved to one side and their manacles were unlocked briefly. They were stripped to only their shirts and trousers—Crowley protested enough to be shocked again—and the guards did another, more thorough, search for hidden weaponry. Their manacles were then looped around a solid bar attached to the wall and locked once more, their hands now in front of them as they faced the concrete wall.
"Bastards," Crowley muttered under his breath.
Castiel was inclined to agree.
The guards stood off to one side as another man approached them. A vampire, Castiel noticed, who grabbed Castiel by the chin and wrenched his head around like the demon had. Castiel was getting really tired of being manhandled. An assistant came over with a clipboard and pen, ready to write things down.
"Angel?" the vampire asked, raising an eyebrow as he poked and prodded Castiel, inspecting his muscles. "Nice specimen. Good meatsuit." He pried the angel's jaw open and looked at his teeth. Castiel pulled back, furious, and the vampire pressed his lips together into a flat line. "Spirited. But that's nothing that can't be fixed."
He nodded to his assistant who had been jotting notes this whole time and the man handed him a small metal disc. The vampire stepped back over to Castiel and grabbed his chin again. Castiel tried to struggle as the vampire brought the small disc toward him, but he was unable to stop it from being pressed to the side of his neck. Castiel felt something pierce his skin and he inhaled sharply as the metal disc adhered to his flesh. He could feel sigils activating on it, tamping down his grace just like the manacles were doing.
"Now let's see those wings, angel," the vampire said.
Castiel stiffened, furious. "Bite me," he growled.
The vampire pulled out a small remote from his pocket and pressed a button. The metal disc in Castiel's neck burned and sent a shock through his entire body, making him weak at the knees. He slumped against the wall, panting. The vampire pressed the button again and Castiel was unable to keep from screaming.
The vampire finally stopped the torment and reached out to yank open Castiel's shirt, shoving it down his shoulders to hang at his elbows. "I said show me your wings." He commanded.
Castiel gritted his teeth but refused. Another shock tore through him and it was everything he could do to keep his feet.
"Do as I say, angel or your demonic friend will get the same treatment," the vampire said.
Castiel huffed and glanced over at Crowley. He would be amused they were assumed to be friends, if their situation wasn't so dire.
"For Hell's sake, Castiel, stop being so damn proud," Crowley snapped.
Castiel sneered but Crowley was actually right. He'd either bite his pride or end up unconscious on the floor and he couldn't afford that, not when they needed to look for any chance to escape. He bit his lip and straightened up, closing his eyes as he forced his wings out of the ethereal plane.
He ignored Crowley's interested staring, and flinched as the vampire gripped one of his wings, moving it around, opening it completely. Castiel bit back a groan of pain. His wings weren't exactly in the best condition considering everything he'd gone through in the last few years and touching them hurt.
"Wings could be in better condition. Make note of that—it's certainly not going to please a collector."
Castiel seethed at this and forced himself to endure the unwanted touching until the vampire finally released his wings and stepped over to Crowley. Castiel made his wings invisible again and slumped against the wall, trembling with the residual shock to his nerves from the device in his neck.
The vampire 'inspected' Crowley much the same and attached one of the metal discs to his neck too.
Once that was over the vampire nodded to the guards. "We're done here. Secure them."
Castiel and Crowley were unlocked from the pole and led back out into the large room with all the cages. They were dragged down one of the rows until empty cages appeared and then those were opened and they were shoved inside. The guards at least unlocked their manacles first but Castiel didn't think this meant much, especially when one of the guards stepped forward with a cruel smile on his face.
"And just in case you two are thinking of trying to escape. Don't." Castiel just then realized he had one of those remotes in his hand and he pressed the button.
Both Castiel and Crowley cried out, dropping to the ground as the electricity tore through them. The guard held the button for what seemed like an eternity before it stopped and he walked off, chucking with the other guards.
Castiel panted, forcing himself into a sitting position and leaning back against one side of the small cage. There wasn't enough room to stand up or lie down, and the floor underneath was dirty with stains he'd rather not think about.
He tugged his shirt back around him, buttoning it with trembling hands as Crowley rattled the door to his cage a couple times before giving up.
"I should have known teaming up with you would be a bad idea," the demon muttered. "When I work on my own, I'm fine, but you, Castiel, you have a way of attracting trouble."
Castiel rolled his eyes. "You can hardly blame me for this since it was your contact." He sighed and leaned against the bars. "I suppose it could be worse. It could have been Lucifer who captured us."
"Oh yes, 'all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds'?" Crowley quipped.
Castiel squinted, confused.
Crowley rolled his eyes. "Voltaire, darling."
Castiel shook his head, looking around the room. "Did you know about this…business… at all?"
Crowley glowered, looking offended. "Did I know about it? No! I'm more into loyal subjects than slavery, Castiel, give me at least a little credit. What we do know is that it has nothing to do with Lucifer so we're, once again, wasting our time, and now it looks like the only way we're getting out of here is being sold like prize stallions! And you are so much more an old gelding."
"Well, we can't do anything about it now, so we should just try and concentrate on finding a way to escape." Castiel looked around as he said it, searching for anything in or near his cage that he could use to pick the lock. He would have to do it the hard way since his grace was completely locked down, but Dean had taught him the fundamentals and he thought that he could manage well enough.
"This is utterly ridiculous," Crowley grumbled. "I'm the bloody King of Hell!"
Castiel rolled his eyes again. "I think they've given up caring about that a long time ago. It's certainly not going to help you here."
"If you're laboring under the delusion that your plaid-wearing boyfriends are going to come save the day then you're wrong."
Castiel grunted. "I don't need Sam and Dean to save me."
Crowley raised an eyebrow. "Oh? History tells differently."
"Shut up," Castiel growled. "I didn't choose to be stuck here with you either, but that's just how it happened. The least you can do is help me figure out how to get out of here. Without using your 'position' and 'power' to do so."
"I sense heavy sarcasm, Cas. I thought we were besties."
Castiel sighed heavily and lowered his face into his hands, just wishing the demon would—or could—go away. He never should have teamed up with Crowley. If he hadn't he wouldn't have been in this mess.
The hours dragged by, however, and Castiel got no further in figuring out a possible way to escape. Crowley was no help either, simply sitting and sulking in one corner of his cage. Castiel suppressed a sigh. It's not that he would wish this situation on the Winchesters—in fact, he was glad that for once they hadn't been roped into one of his own problems—but he would be lying if he said he wouldn't much prefer the company of his friends in a situation like this. At least they would be actively trying to figure out an escape plan.
He still hadn't figured anything out by the time the doors opened into the large room again and guards started to come in and open the cages, dragging the occupants from them. Castiel and Crowley edged closer to the side of their own cages to watch.
"What are they doing?" Castiel asked.
Crowley shook his head. "Haven't the foggiest. Let's just hope we're not next."
It seemed that they still wouldn't have any manner of luck however, because no sooner had Crowley said that then several guards strode toward them. A couple of the cages around them were opened and then guards stopped in front of Castiel and Crowley's prisons.
"Don't try anything funny, you won't get far," one of the guards grunted, another standing off to one side with a remote that activated the discs attached to them.
Castiel glowered at them as the door to his cage was opened and the guard motioned impatiently for him to get out. Castiel rose cautiously and more manacles were secured around his wrists, this time in front of him. Crowley spat several protests, and got a punch to the stomach for his trouble before the manacles were snapped around his own wrists. They were then marched out of the large room with the other freed captives and into a smaller, darker room where the demon who Castiel had assumed was the head of the operation earlier stood with his assistant.
"That should be enough," he called to the guards after they brought Castiel and Crowley in. "We've got a good batch tonight, boys." He looked at his watch and motioned to his assistant. "It's time, let's go greet the crowd."
The assistant followed him out of the room and the guards started getting the captives into a line. Castiel noticed there was a theme: first in line were werewolves, then vampires, then a couple demons, and other assorted supernatural creatures. He and Crowley however, were at the back. Castiel wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
He looked around the room, seeing if there was a possibility of escape, but there were guards flanking both him and Crowley. One of them may be able to escape if the other distracted the guards, but…well, Castiel had told Crowley he would be the demon's partner on this mission. And as much as the King of Hell annoyed him, he also had a sense of loyalty that he could not quite shake. He wasn't going to get out of here without the demon in tow.
The vampire assistant appeared at the door and motioned to the guards. They ushered the werewolves out the door and it shut again. The same was repeated with the vampires, and then the rest of the captives until it was only Castiel and Crowley left.
"Well, they did save the best for last," the demon muttered to him as they stood there awkwardly, glancing around them. "Don't suppose you want to make a run for it?"
Castiel bit his lip, considering it, until the assistant reappeared and nodded to the guards. "Bring the final two."
The guards seized Castiel and Crowley by the arms and hustled them out the door. Castiel stumbled out onto some kind of platform, the guard giving him a firm shove in the back.
At first he couldn't see anything, there were lights shining directly at them, obscuring the rest of the room but as he raised his manacled hands to shield them, he saw a crowd of people waiting eagerly, straining to see what had just showed up, the murmur of interested voices washing over them.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the final lot of the night, but we've saved the best for last," the demon in charge said, stepping out to where Castiel could see him, hands spread. "We have here for you…an angel!"
Exclamations burst over the crowd, sounding too excited for Castiel's liking. He tried to shrink back, but there was a guard behind him.
"And another rare gem…the former King of Hell!"
Shock and jeers exploded from the crowd and Crowley fumed. The demon in charge laughed and held up his hands.
"Okay, okay, and now to business. Let's open the bidding!"
The crowd cheered and Castiel's eyes widened, full realization of what was going on here finally hitting him.
"Bollocks," Crowley muttered.
Castiel thought, for once, he had to agree.
"We'll start off the bidding with the former King of Hell."
Castiel and Crowley met eyes briefly as one of the guards shoved the demon to the front of the stage and the demon in charge stepped forward and grabbed Crowley by the shoulder.
"House slave, yard slave, museum piece, whatever you want to do with him," the demon said with a grin. "I'm sure he'll be compliant when he gets off his high horse and then the lucky owner will have the honor of breaking the King of Hell." He glanced out at the audience. "Let's start the bidding at one thousand."
Crowley sputtered. "One thousand?! I'm worth ten times that!"
The guard gave him a small zap with the remote, making Crowley tense. Castiel glanced around the stage while the focus was off of him, looking for some exit. But there was a guard at his back and others on all sides of the raised platform. He might have been able to take them out normally, but with his powers dampened already and the fact that he wouldn't get two feet before they used the shocking devise on him, he didn't think he had a good chance. Panic began to set in as the bidding for Crowley started.
"Twenty thousand, do I hear twenty-five? This is the King of Hell, after all," the demon goaded, jostling Crowley who glowered at him.
The crowd laughed and the bidding continued.
"Fifty—fifty-three? Fifty-five over here to the lady! Ah, what's that, sir? Seventy-five? Going once, going twice…" The demon pointed to one of the men in the crowd. "Sold to the gentleman in green up front."
Crowley squawked as he was instantly hustled from the stage, leaving Castiel feeling suddenly very alone. He met Crowley's eyes as the demon was dragged away but there was nothing they could do. He'd welcome even Crowley's company at this point.
The demon finally turned to him and dragged him to the front of the stage.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen. Our final item of the night, the angel Castiel."
Eager shouts sounded from the crowd, and Castiel squared his shoulders, setting his jaw defiantly.
"He's strong enough for any work you want done—good looking enough to be a consort." The crowd chuckled and some wolf whistled as Castiel blanched, fists clenching in fury. "Real rebellious streak, but the new owner can have the enjoyment of breaking him out of that." The demon turned to Castiel and grabbed his chin. "Show them your wings."
Castiel jerked away, shaking his head. The guard stepped up and grabbed his arm.
"Don't embarrass yourself," the demon growled low. "They'll still buy you if you're lying here in an unconscious heap. An unbroken angel is a lot more fun so I'll still get a good price for you."
Castiel glowered but he was already being turned to face the back of the stage and his shirt yanked open again and pulled down to expose his back. Everything in him rebelled against this but again, he knew it was better to bite his pride. There was a possibility that he could find a chance to escape when he was being transferred to his 'buyer'.
Angrily, he brought his wings from the ethereal plane and the ooh's and ah's and jeers started up behind him. The demon and one of the guards each grabbed one of his wings and stretched them out, causing Castiel to bite the inside of his mouth to bleeding at the pain and the humiliation.
"Not the best example of angel wings on this one, but still impressive. Let's start the bidding at twenty thousand."
Castiel was allowed to put his wings back and he buttoned his shirt again with shaking hands, furious at the situation as the bids came in fast, up to one hundred thousand before he knew it. It was sickening.
He didn't even pay attention to who got the winning bid. After all, it didn't matter in the long run.
He was hustled off the stage into a back room where all the other captives were pressed tightly together. The guard shoved him over to one side of the room.
"You're with him," the guard grunted.
Castiel looked up and saw Crowley. He sighed, but at this point, he wasn't sure whether it was all exasperation or a little relief mixed in there as well.
"Well, together again," Crowley said sullenly.
"Shut up," Castiel grunted.
"At least you're actually worth something to these plebeians," Crowley grumbled. "Cheer up, Cas, maybe a powerful supernatural entity will want you as their consort."
"Maybe they'll want you," Castiel shot back.
The head demon came in then and one by one the winning bidders came in, paid the money, and took their 'purchases' away. Finally, a tall, thin man with long black hair tied at the nape of his neck, wearing a dark green suit walked into the room and handed a bag of cash to the demon.
"Pleasure doing business as always," he said and turned toward Castiel and Crowley. He strode over to them and began inspecting them himself. "I'm sure his majesty will be most pleased."
Castiel frowned. His majesty? Surely this man couldn't mean Lucifer…Castiel studied him more closely then, trying to figure out what he was. He was getting a strong energy signal off of him but couldn't quite place it. Not with the cuffs locking down his grace. He was just certain this man was neither demon or angel. Castiel saw Crowley frowning, obviously also trying to figure out just who their captor was, and then the demon inhaled sharply, eyes widening with recognition.
"Faeries," he hissed.
The man in green backhanded him across the face.
"That's a nasty word, which you won't use again," he snapped before turning to the guards. "I have my own men waiting by our vehicle, but if you can help me get these two out there, I would be obliged."
The guards nodded and grabbed Castiel and Crowley, hustling them from the room. Castiel glanced over at Crowley who was shaking his head.
"This is bad, Cas," he murmured. "I've spent my life purposefully trying not to get caught up in the affairs of faeries and now I bloody belong to one!"
"I didn't think faeries usually left their own realm," Castiel said. Admittedly, he didn't know much about the Fae courts, but he did know enough to know they were better left alone.
"They don't except at specific times of the year when the veils between the worlds are thin. And it's almost Midwinter, Castiel. That's when the Winter Court, the Unseelie, are most powerful. They love to show off their power, by parading around, kidnapping humans, and causing havoc for the other court who are at their least powerful. It's no wonder they bought us, we're a show of force."
Castiel closed his eyes wearily. "We don't have time for this, we have to find Lucifer."
"Then we'll have to work fast. Midwinter is in only a few days and I for one am not eager to find out what will happen then."
They were loaded into another van and transferred to the care of the faery guards who were all similar in appearance to the man who had been bidding at the auction. It wasn't long before they were on the road and Castiel and Crowley sat in sullen silence. Castiel only hoped that they would get a chance to escape wherever they were going, but he couldn't help but feel like their situation was getting more and more bleak.
He didn't feel any better about it when he caught sight of their new residence.
The van stopped at a huge set of gates that were then opened, allowing the vehicle through to drive down a long, cobbled road toward a huge mansion. Castiel's eyes widened as he took in the vast property, guards standing all around the house and along the high walls that seemed to surround the whole place.
The van drove around the mansion and finally parked in a garage before the guards got up and hauled Castiel and Crowley out of the vehicle and into the dimly lit space. It was late, after midnight by Castiel's reckoning, and the grounds seemed to be silent, empty except for the guards. Castiel noticed that all the faeries now actually looked like faeries. Pointed ears, sharper, more delicate, features. They must have been masking themselves until they got back to their own property.
The man, or faery, who had purchased them got out of the passenger seat and came around the van to speak with the guards. "Take them to Aiden, he'll see them sorted. Make sure he knows to get them fit to be presented to the king tomorrow."
The guards nodded and grabbed Castiel and Crowley, leading them inside through the garage and down several dimly lit corridors until they came to a room at the end of the hall and knocked on the door.
A tall, broad-shouldered, vaguely disgruntled faery opened the door and glowered out at them.
"Yes? Is this all Lord Calen brought back from the auction?"
One of the guards nodded. "Yes. He says he wants them ready to present to the king tomorrow first thing in the morning."
"Tell him they'll be ready," the faery grunted. "Show them to their quarters."
The guards shoved Castiel and Crowley in the back and forced them back down the hall to a large door on one side of the corridor. The faery they had met up with, presumably Aiden, stepped forward with a key and unlocked the door.
"You'll be bunking together," he said as they were pushed inside, followed by the guards. "Don't want you in the slave barracks until you're broken in in case you try anything stupid. Which you'll learn quickly not to do."
Crowley put his foot down, turning to glower at the faery. "I don't know what you little popinjays think you're up to here, but I'm the bloody King of Hell! If you think I'm going to serve some puffed up faery, think again!"
Aiden whipped something from the back of his belt and lashed out at Crowley, hitting the demon across the face. Castiel realized it was a wooden baton with runework carved into it. Whatever it was, it sent the demon reeling.
"That's a warning, demon! Backtalk gets you one count." He struck him again just as Crowley was straightening up. "Using the F-word gets you another."
Crowley squawked indignantly but Castiel stepped on his foot hard to get him to hopefully stay quiet for the moment.
"Take them to the showers to get cleaned up while I get their new uniforms." Aiden left the room and the guards ushered Castiel and Crowley out an instant later, down the hall to another room.
This one was all tile and stark white. There were bathroom stalls on one side and showers on the other. The guards shoved them toward the showers.
"Strip," one said, unable to hide a grin.
"I beg your pardon," Crowley growled, but ducked slightly when one of the guards raised a baton like the one Aiden had used.
"Do it or we'll do it for you," the guard sneered.
"Crowley, it's not worth it," Castiel murmured to the demon. Yes, it was humiliating, but it probably wasn't the worst thing that was going to happen to them while they were captive here.
Crowley snarled at him and looked like he was about to retort but the guard moved in with the baton again and he angrily started to undress.
Castiel did the same, stripping out of his clothes as quickly as possible and turning on the shower. It was cold, and didn't seem like it was going to get any warmer, but it could be worse.
He wondered when he would have to stop saying that.
He washed himself as quickly as possible, accepted the towel one of the guards threw at him and dried off, fastening the towel around his waist to give himself a little dignity. Their clothes had already been whisked away, probably never to be seen again.
Once Crowley had also dried off, they were led back to the room.
A moment later, Aiden came in with a bundle of clothes. Castiel was relived until he saw what sat on top of the bundle. It looked like two collars.
"Get dressed," Aiden told them, throwing the pile of clothes onto one of the cots. Castiel turned to the clothing and sorted through it. Black pants and loose-fitting shirt, obviously meant to be buckled around the middle in mediaeval fashion. Not terrible over all, though Crowley turned up his nose at it, probably because it wasn't designer.
As soon as he had finished dressing, the guards grabbed him by the arm and Aiden held up one of the collars. Castiel couldn't help but blanch. He pulled against the guards' grip and they only held onto him tighter.
"Don't make trouble, angel, you'll see soon enough that that will get you nowhere." Aiden stepped forward to fasten the collar around Castiel's neck, but the angel jerked back instinctively, everything in him rebelling at the thought of being collared.
The guards forced him to his knees, and one grabbed his head, holding him steady.
"No, don't," he ground out as Aiden slung the collar around his neck and fastened it.
The surge of power took Castiel's breath. It was a numbing feeling, latching onto his grace and squeezing. He had to remind himself to actually breathe, the power feeling claustrophobic. It wasn't like wearing the grace-blocking cuffs, this was like some kind of magic literally suppressing his powers.
"Not so tough now, are you angel?" Aiden said, moving on to put the other collar on Crowley. The look on the demon's face told Castiel that it was affecting him much the same. Aiden unlocked the cuffs from around their wrists but didn't give them time to even think of fighting back before he twisted his hand in a flourish and pain tore through Castiel's body, the collar around his throat burning.
He didn't realize he was screaming until he came to an undetermined time later, laying on the floor next to Crowley who was also writing in pain. They both slumped limply, panting as Aiden walked over and crouched down to look at them.
"And that is what you have to look forward to if you try anything," he said. "We run a tight ship around here. You will do as you are told and obey orders directly. You will not talk back—you will not speak at all unless directly asked a question. You will learn your place and accept that you are now slaves, only living to serve your new master. Any failure to comply…" he twisted his hand again and sent them into another bout of agony. "…will be punished instantly."
He stood, nodding to the guards and all of them left, leaving Castiel and Crowley to sit up, shaking from the agony.
"What was that?" Castiel asked.
"Faery magic," Crowley spat. "Too powerful for their own good. Especially now. I can't believe you got me into this!"
Castiel spun around toward him indignantly. "Me? For the last time, it was your contact!"
Crowley rolled his eyes and shook his head, staggering to his feet as he went to sit on one of the cots. "It doesn't matter anyway. Not anymore. It's too late now."
Castiel shook his head, also climbing to his feet and sitting on the other cot. "We'll find a way out of here."
Crowley snorted. "If we're lucky."
Castiel looked around the small room. The door itself probably wouldn't be too hard to get through with the right leverage. But getting out of the mansion and across the yard with all the guards, past the gate… it would be a feat.
"Who is the king they keep talking about?" he asked, mostly for the sake of conversation.
"I'm guessing the Unseelie King," Crowley said. "Winter Court, like I mentioned before. Bad news. Well…all faeries are bad news, but the Winter Court and it's king is notoriously bad. Possibly worse than me. Less businessman, more old-world despot."
Castiel snorted. "Of course."
"Seems like the Winchesters' penchant for worst case scenario has rubbed off on you," Crowley quipped.
Castiel sighed. Sam and Dean did have a problem with getting into the worst trouble they possibly could, but they always seemed to be able to get out of it somehow too. He could use a little of their ingenuity right about now.
Crowley lay down on the cot with a cringe. "Don't worry, feathers, maybe they'll come to our rescue. If they even realize we're missing."
Castiel bit his lip. He didn't want to feel the need to call upon the Winchesters whenever he ran into trouble, but he had to admit that they would be a welcome sight if they did show up. They didn't have time to be captured. Not with Lucifer on the loose, creating all kinds of havoc.
"What about Rowena?" Castiel mused.
"Mother?" Crowley snorted. "She'll let us rot."
Castiel pressed his lips together. That was probably true.
"Looks like we'll be finding our own way out of here then," Castiel said.
"Fantastic." The King of Hell closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.
Castiel crossed his legs, sat back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling. Nothing about this boded well for them.
He was only sure of one thing and that was that it would most likely only get worse from there.
Castiel spent the night wandering the small cell, fiddling with the locked door and searching inward to try and see if he could figure out exactly how the faery magic was dampening his grace, hoping there might be some way to counteract it. All of his attempts got him nothing, and eventually he slumped back onto his cot, staring balefully at the demon snoozing across the small room from him.
If he wanted to be petty, he could say that he still blamed Crowley for their current position, but in reality, Castiel knew it was probably both of their faults at best. After all, maybe he had been too eager to attack Crowley's contact. He had been a little too eager to attack anyone these days. Dean had even admonished him a couple of times, which must mean that Castiel was being a little too quick to draw his blade. But the truth was he was tired of standing back and watching the world fall apart around him. He had been the one to let Lucifer out of the Cage and then fail to contain him long enough to be put back in. It was his fault that Lucifer was free, roaming the earth dressed as a rock star and killing innocent people for no other reason than that he wanted to. Castiel was getting more and more tense the longer Lucifer was free, knowing that soon he would move from just killing and terrorizing individuals to bigger things—Lucifer always did, and it was their job to stop him before he got to that point.
Besides, Castiel would never be able to forgive himself if Sam and Dean got caught in the crossfire. Sam had already suffered so much at the fallen archangel's hands, Castiel wished that the younger Winchester never had to set eyes on Lucifer again. Another reason he had taken Crowley up on his offer to be partners in this. Castiel didn't want the Winchesters anywhere near Lucifer.
His dark thoughts were cut into by the sounds of footsteps coming down the hallway and stopping outside their door.
"Crowley," he murmured and got to his feet, wanting to meet whatever came in head on.
The demon started slightly and opened his eyes. "What?" he demanded as the door was unlocked and two guards came in, accompanied by Aiden and the tall, thin faery who had bought them at the auction.
"On your feet!" Aiden barked and Crowley stared at him lazily before he climbed to his feet to stand beside Castiel, hands casually in his pockets. Aiden snarled at him and clapped the baton he seemed to be perpetually holding into his palm in warning.
"Are you pleased, my lord?" Aiden asked.
The tall faery strode forward and plucked at Castiel and Crowley's shirts, adjusting the collars and then grabbed Castiel by the chin, tilting his head back and forth. "They cleaned up all right and they look smart enough. Not subordinate enough, but that is only to be expected from new slaves and will be cured soon, I expect."
"In your dreams, darling," Crowley snorted.
The tall faery's face looked like he had sucked a lemon and he flicked his fingers toward Crowley with a small spark from the tips and the demon choked, crying out as he doubled over. Castiel saw for the first time—now that it wasn't being used on him—that the collar lit up with strange runes when the magic was activated.
"Lessons will continue to be taught until they are learned," the tall faery lord said blandly. "Now I expect you to be on your best behavior. We are going to meet your new sovereign, the King of the Unseelie. You now serve him and he will be sure to put you in your place properly if you do anything to displease him." He jerked his chin toward the guards and they grabbed Castiel and Crowley, pulling them from the room.
"You want the cuffs, my lord?" Aiden asked.
The tall faery shook his head. "No. I will handle them well enough as they are. If they choose to disobey they will just have to learn the consequences the hard way."
Castiel shot a look at Crowley as they were taken down the hallway and left waiting in a small antechamber as the faery lord swept out into the main room.
"Your Majesty, I bring you two new slaves that I acquired in your name." He motioned through the curtains and the guards pushed Castiel and Crowley through to a huge room with marble floors and a raised dais at one end, which held a throne.
On top of the throne sat an unearthly being. He was tall even sitting, taller than Sam, Castiel thought, and had long, silver hair the color of moonlight that hung long and loose down past his shoulders. His eyes were black, looking darker because of his pale skin and his black robes of otherworldly fabric draped over the edge of the seat and onto the floor below.
"Bloody hell," Crowley hissed.
The guards were shoving them in the back and they were forced to their knees in front of the dais.
"Your majesty will be pleased, I think," the faery lord said, motioning to the two captives. "I bring you the former King of Hell—bowed low to your much greater excellence…" Castiel heard Crowley snort and shot him a warning look. "…and an angel."
The faery king's head perked up, studying the two captives with new interest. "Indeed? The so-called 'king of hell' and an angel? My, Lord Calen, you have outdone yourself this time."
The dark-haired faery bowed, a small, smug smile on his face. "I think having such lofty slaves will send a fierce message to Her Majesty of the Seelie Court. That you can tame even fallen kings and angels."
"Indeed," the faery king mused, seeming pleased. He stood from his throne then and everyone bowed, staying low as he strode slowly down the steps of the dais to stand in front of the prisoners.
"I assume they are not yet broken in. Make sure they know who they belong to now." He nodded to one of the guards who went over to one side of the throne to retrieve something. It looked like a long metal rod, but Castiel saw the end was flat and had something carved into it almost like a brand.
He blanched at that realization and shifted, glancing around as the guard put the item into Lord Calen's hand then returned to stand behind Castiel, the other guard looming even further over Crowley.
"To prove that you belong only to the King of the Unseelie and his court now, you will be branded with his crest," the faery lord said with a deep satisfaction.
The guard at Castiel's back grabbed him, one arm slung around his neck as he reached forward and gripped his right wrist tightly. Castiel struggled in the guard's grip, but with his grace suppressed the faery was far stronger than he was and being on his knees, he was already in a more vulnerable position.
Lord Calen stepped forward and the brand started to glow. He grabbed Castiel's sleeve and yanked it up to expose his forearm.
"No!" Castiel shouted, then cried out as the brand landed on the skin of his inner wrist, burning into his flesh. He saw white from the pain and slumped back as soon as the brand was taken away. Seconds later, Crowley's cry echoed his and he swayed on his knees, cradling his arm, looking down at the bright red brand seared into his skin.
It showed a stag with a crescent moon resting between its antlers, surrounded by an intricate pattern of hoarfrost. The Unseelie royal crest, Castiel assumed.
Either way, it was burned into his vessel now, and he couldn't heal himself. He ignored Crowley making disgruntled, pained noises and chanced a look up at the faery king, meeting the being's unearthly eyes.
"Whether I wear the brand or not, I don't belong to you," he said before he could stop himself. Being branded for some reason reminded him too much of serving under Zachariah, under Naomi. Of being property. He had gotten too used to having free will; he certainly wasn't about to be put into servitude again.
The faery king stepped toward him and leaned down, only inches from his face. "Oh, but you do, angel. And you'll learn that. Eventually."
Castiel wouldn't but the king didn't need to know that. He'd already said enough so he forced himself to look down and allowed the guards to drag him back to his feet.
They had to find a way out of here.
The brand burned on Castiel's arm, rubbing against the cuff of his sleeve as he and Crowley were taken back to their cell. He hoped they might be left alone, as much as he hated being locked in a small room with the demon, but apparently, they wouldn't even get that luxury. Aiden came in as the guards left and motioned to them.
"Your training starts now. There's a very important summit happening on Midwinter in just a few days and you two will be part of the serving staff so his majesty can show you off properly You'll be serving at the banquet and making sure the guests have everything they need. I'm sure even unbroken slaves can manage that."
Crowley straightened indignantly, but thankfully didn't say anything. Castiel sighed. This whole thing was already wearing on him. He may be good at following orders, but he didn't like it. Especially when he was a captive and he had better things to do.
Apparently Crowley couldn't keep his mouth shut forever and seemed to be of the same mind as Castiel. "Do you have any idea what you're doing here? We were trying to stop Lucifer! Lucifer, who is going to destroy everything if he's not thrown back into the Cage! I don't have time to play some faery's bellhop!"
He yelped as Aiden sent a shock through his collar again. "I warned you about using that word. And besides, the Sidhe don't care about Lucifer. He's not our problem. By the time he tries anything we'll be back in our own realm, away from you demons and angels and all your baggage. Perhaps you should have made more of an effort to keep your kingdom and its prisoners secure, your majesty."
Crowley's cheeks puffed out in anger, but Aiden was already talking again. "Now put those jackets on. I'm taking you to the kitchen where you will start to learn your duties."
Castiel glanced over at his cot which had a folded coat on it. It was black like the rest of his clothes with silver embroidery along the collar and down the sleeves. He picked it up and tugged it on, wincing at it scraped over the fresh brand on his arm, and fastening it in the front. Crowley dressed as well with some grumbling and then they followed Aiden down the corridor.
Castiel finally caught sight of more of the slaves. They were all dressed in the same outfits as he and Crowley were, though the women wore skirts. Most of them were humans, probably ones who had wandered into Faery years ago and gotten enchanted, never able to leave the other realm. Others however, were supernatural creatures. Some vampires, some djinn, and others. It looked like some were even other faeries though perhaps from rival clans, taken in battle.
Castiel was sure that the faery king saw each slave as a personal achievement. A conquered being. Castiel made a promise to himself then that he would not show the same dull, glassy look of inevitability in his eyes as he saw in the other slaves. He would get out of here before then.
Aiden eventually brought them to the large kitchens where much activity was taking place and handed them over to another faery who seemed to be in charge.
"Sean, these are the new slaves. Make sure they are trained up before the Solstice. His Majesty will want them front and center, on display for all our guests to see so they'll need to know their jobs."
"Don't worry, they'll learn it or pay the consequences," the faery said, a hard look on his face as he glanced at Castiel and Crowley shrewdly before jerking his chin at them. "Come on then; no time to waste."
Castiel and Crowley glanced at each other balefully and trudged after the faery.
Thus began their first day as slaves of the King of the Unseelie.
Perhaps it wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to Castiel, but it was not the nicest either. The 'training' was grueling, and Sean took every opportunity to send small zaps through his and Crowley's collars when they didn't do something just right. He didn't know there was a 'proper' way to hold a tray or serve a drink or food. When he accidently dropped something, he ended up on his hands and knees, crying out from the shock tearing through him before Sean forced him to clean up everything.
By the end of the day, Castiel felt the weight of all the insults and the jabs he'd endured on his shoulders. He felt like he could do nothing right and it wore on him, making him weary.
The next day was no better. They were led around the mansion, forced to learn the layout so they would be able to help the guests with luggage and such. And then they were expected to serve the king that night at supper.
Castiel's nerves were taut as a rope, standing with the other slaves against the wall, holding a tray of wine. He was terrified of making a mistake. He didn't really know why, it's not like it mattered—it seemed like the conditioning was already going to his head.
He glanced over at Crowley, startled at the demon's sudden speech. "What?" he hissed.
"Poison," Crowley murmured. "We could poison the king and his court."
"How would we even get ingredients to make something, let alone something that will hurt a faery?" Castiel demanded.
"I'm sure there's something lying around," Crowley mused. "Besides I'm resourceful—son of a witch, remember?"
Castiel shook his head in exasperation. He'd get them killed is that he'd do.
Crowley jabbed Castiel with his elbow, nearly causing the angel to drop the tray. "That's your cue."
Castiel rushed forward with his tray and stopped at the faery king's side. He sat at the head of the table with his lords flanking him, all dressed in shades of black and grey with some purple or green mixed in. He didn't look at Castiel as he held up his goblet. Castiel took it and refilled it with wine before setting it back on the table.
He felt the jug of wine on his tray tip and jerked instinctively to save it, but that only made it worse.
The jug fell off the tray and crashed to the floor with a red splash. Silence fell on the crowd, a few tuts from the gathered diners.
Castiel stared at the mess, caught Crowley out of the corner of his eye and saw the demon's eyes closed in either exasperation or inevitability—probably both.
Then he turned to look at the faery king who was staring at him with a blank, baleful expression.
"Well," he said. "Clean it up, angel."
Castiel sank to his knees quickly, chest tight, expecting a strike at any moment, but the faery king only watched him with his eerie black eyes as he quickly plucked all the shards of the jug from the mess and put them on the tray. Once all of those were picked up, he reached to his belt for a cloth he had tucked there, but a weight settled between his shoulder blades and he halted.
"No," the king said firmly, his foot against Castiel's back, pressing him forward. "Use your tongue. Lap it up like a dog. Perhaps then you will think twice about making such a mess again."
Shame burned through Castiel and defiance filled his chest. He felt Crowley's eyes—everyone's eyes—on him and he wanted to say no, wanted to fight back, but what good would it do? His pride again, getting in the way. Castiel bit his lip and glanced at Crowley who was watching him in silence. Castiel had expected some amusement on his face, but the expression the demon carried was unreadable.
Castiel turned and glanced up at the faery king, meeting his eyes. The king's eyes narrowed slightly at the obvious show of defiance and flicked his finger just slightly.
The shock from the collar stabbed through him and Castiel bit back a cry, hands clenching into fists. When it stopped, the faery king was lounging back in his chair again.
"Get to work, angel," was all he said.
Castiel clenched his hands so hard his fingernails bit into his palms. It took everything in him to lean forward and lower himself to lick the spilled wine.
Chuckles were heard around the table, cruel quips, and Castiel shuddered in anger, furious at himself and furious at his situation.
"See?" the faery king said. "I can make an angel clean wine off the floor with his tongue. The Summer Court will have no power here."
Cheers rang out and Castiel bit back the bile rising in his throat in disgust, continuing with the humiliating cleaning. The king made sure every spot was gone before he was allowed to stop.
Castiel wearily dragged a basket of kitchen scraps out the back door and closed his eyes against the biting night air. He was sure his face still burned with humiliation. He couldn't think of anything he'd gone through more humiliating in his life.
He slowly made his way over to the scrap bin, not wanting to go back inside yet. He set the basket down and glanced up at the sky. Stars blinked overhead but they had never seemed so far away.
He glanced at the wall that went around the property. The kitchen backed up only a few yards from it, and the waste bin was set up against it. Castiel frowned as he studied it. It didn't come up past his waist and the wall was high, but if he was able to stand on it, maybe he could jump…
Castiel set his hands against the lid of the bin and started to pull himself up when a voice spoke behind him.
"Escaping without me?"
Castiel startled, slipping and sprawling on the ground before he scrambled up, turning around the glare at Crowley.
"And here I thought we were besties," the demon quipped.
Castiel grunted, rolling his eyes. "Just looking for options."
"What happened at dinner…"
"I don't want to talk about it," Castiel snapped. "I want to get out of here."
"Testy," Crowley muttered. "I know it was humiliating but you'll get over it. I did."
"You vowed vengeance on Lucifer for what he did to you."
"Exactly, get angry, don't mope, it really doesn't suit you, Cas." Crowley strode forward, glancing around. "There's no way we're getting out this way."
"Maybe not you, you're short, but I might be able to reach the top of the wall if I jump," Castiel told him, already climbing up on top of the waste bin again.
Crowley stood back, annoyingly sure of himself, arms crossed over his chest as he watched. "Fine. Try it."
Castiel huffed and stood on top of the bin, stepping up toward the wall. He set a hand against it, looking up to judge the height.
But as soon as he touched the stone, a paralyzing agony struck him. He saw the flare of the runes on his collar in the dark night and he was unable to bite back the cry that escaped his throat. He fell back and Crowley sighed as he watched the angel shuddering in residual agony.
"I did try to warn you," he said.
Shouts and footsteps sounded out then and Castiel panicked, trying to push himself upright. "Crow—Crowley…" he croaked, but as he finally raised his head and looked around, the demon was nowhere the be seen, the kitchen door slipping shut the instant several guards showed up on the scene. Typical.
Castiel was dragged upright, his legs still jelly. One of them grabbed his collar and yanked his head forward.
"You. You've proven to be too much trouble already, angel." the faery snarled. "It looks like you're going to have to learn your lesson the hard way."
They dragged him back inside and Castiel cast one last look up at the stars. They were even farther away now than they had been before.
Castiel was dragged back through the mansion toward the slaves' quarters. He staggered between the guards, his legs still shaky from the major shock he'd received from touching the wall. He was disgruntled to say the least. Of course they would have warded the walls so that no one wearing one of the collars could cross them. Even the short amount of time he'd been in the captivity of the faeries, he could tell that they weren't the type to play around when it came to keeping their 'property' in check. Power play seemed to mean everything to them.
Still, he was possibly angrier that Crowley had been right and that the demon hadn't had the decency to say anything, just watch as he shocked himself on the barrier and alerted the guards before promptly disappearing, thus leaving Castiel to serve whatever punishment came now alone.
He was dragged into a room off of the bathroom, also with blank tile floors and walls. It was dark and dingy and had chains and manacles and other foreboding things lying around.
Castiel was shoved inside and Aiden appeared soon after, his baton in his hand.
"Little bird tried to escape," one of the guards sneered, shoving Castiel hard in the back and sending him staggering forward a step. "Got a bit of a surprise."
"Ah, yes," Aiden said, coming forward and shoving his baton up under Castiel's chin, raising his head. "I forgot to mention not to bother trying to escape over the wall. Those runes in the collar are linked to our magic which is protecting this place, keeping it hidden from those who shouldn't be seeing it. And making sure that those who are supposed to stay inside do so."
Castiel grit his teeth and glowered. Aiden stared him down for a second before he stepped back, nodding to the guards. "Tie him up."
They yanked Castiel toward the back of the room where a grate leaned against the wall. His coat was manhandled off of him, followed soon by his shirt then he was shoved face first against the grate and his arms were spread and manacled at the wrists to the metal slats. Castiel shifted in discomfort as his skin pressed against the cold, rough metal. It looked rusty, but upon closer inspection, Castiel realized the color wasn't in fact from rust.
It was from blood.
A pit opened in his stomach. As if the day couldn't get any worse.
He saw Aiden out of the corner of his eye. The faery was opening a cupboard in the wall and pulled something from inside. Castiel felt his stomach sink again as he saw it was a whip, a cat-of-nine tails. He swallowed hard.
"You will learn your place here, angel," Aiden said, coming over to the grate and leaning close to Castiel, the lash's tails tickling against his arm as Aiden rested his fist on the grate above Castiel's head. "And it can get a lot worse than this, I promise you that. I want you to think about that while I'm flaying the skin off of your back."
Castiel only glowered at him, keeping his mouth shut, before Aiden pressed his lips into a thin line and stepped back, going to stand behind Castiel so the angel couldn't see him.
All the angel got in warning was a whistle before the lash struck him across the shoulders. The air was punched out of him but Castiel clamped his jaw shut, refusing to make a sound.
Another blow followed in the same place as the first, and another. Castiel exhaled sharply, feeling wetness trickle down his back in a couple places. He arched his back and choked out a muffled cry as the next blow landed across the small of his back.
"What's going on here?"
Castiel took a shuddering breath as Aiden halted, and he craned his head to see that Lord Calen had come into the room. "I heard that the angel attempted an escape," the tall faery said drolly. "I see you have it taken care of though, Aiden."
The slave master saluted with the lash he still held. "Yes, my lord. I am just seeing to his punishment now."
"Then by all means, carry on," Lord Calen said and lounged against the wall to watch.
Aiden nodded and raised the whip.
"Ah, Aiden, hold up," Calen said and stepped forward. "The angel must learn his lesson properly. So he doesn't try something so foolish again. You need to leave a firm impression."
Castiel shuddered, practically feeling the faery lord's smug smile boring into his back. He didn't think he would like what came next.
"Show your wings, angel," the faery said.
Castiel blanched, stiffening against the grating. "What? No!" he cried.
Calen must have used his powers because Castiel felt the electric shock of faery magic surge through him again and cried out, collapsing against the grate. When the pain stopped, Calen was standing next to him, a hand gripped in his hair, hauling his head back.
"Show your wings voluntarily, or I will make you show them," Calen said coldly.
Castiel decided then, looking up to meet the faery's icy eyes. He had suffered enough humiliation that night. He was going to suffer either way, he may as well try and hold on to what little dignity he had left. And really, he had nothing to lose. There was no one who would be hurt because of it except him.
He licked his lips and stared defiantly at Calen. "No. I won't."
The faery sighed. "Very well, have it your way then." His hand went from Castiel's hair down his back where he planted it in the blood between his shoulder blades. Castiel flinched but that was nothing compared to what came next.
He felt the faery push magic into him, the runes on his collar activated and the power charged through him, fraying every nerve like fire. Castiel screamed, arching his head back as he felt something tear in his back—not his vessel but his true form.
Static crackled on either side of him as his wings were ripped from the ethereal plane and appeared. Calen stepped back, satisfied, and Castiel shuddered at the shock, pulling his wings in toward his body instinctively.
Calen nodded to the guards. "Hold them open."
Castiel fought as the guards came to take hold of his wings, yanking on them to unfurl the large appendages. They already hurt, damaged from years of low grace and little care and having them forcibly stretched open like this made them hurt even worse, causing him to eventually have to give up his struggles.
Calen returned to the other side of the room. "Carry on, Aiden."
Aiden chuckled with cruel anticipation and stepped forward, lifting the lash again.
"You really will be sorry now, halo," he said and swung.
The lash landed across Castiel's right wing and he bit back a cry, still not wanting to give the faeries the satisfaction. The next blow and he bit into his lip. The next blow sent several feathers to the floor and blood dripped out of the corner of his mouth from the damage he was doing to himself with his teeth. The fourth blow came and he couldn't contain his agony any longer. He cried out, and continued as each lash fell.
He lost count, it didn't matter. It was just one flare of agony after another. The abuse rained down upon his already injured wings, reaching levels of pain that he had rarely felt before. He wasn't even fully aware when it had stopped. He simply slumped against the grate he was tied to, the manacles the only thing keeping him upright. Feathers and splatters of blood littered the floor around him, appearing in his blurry vision. He didn't realize it before but there were tears of pain leaking form his eyes.
A hand grabbed his hair and lifted his head. "Well, halo? Do you think you've learned your lesson?" Calen's face appeared in front of him, a satisfied smirk on his lips.
Castiel couldn't form words. The only thing that came out of his mouth was a pitiful whimper.
Calen reached out and grabbed his wrist, wrenching it around to reveal the brand there. "You belong to the King of the Unseelie. Remember that, angel."
He left, and the guards came over to unlock the manacles. But by the time Castiel slid to the floor, he was already blacking out.
Crowley sat on the cot, looking at the opposite wall of the cell, mildly curious as to what was happening to his angelic companion. Okay, yes, he had left Castiel in the lurch, but the angel could have listened to him. Should have. It wasn't his fault the bloody creature was just so damn contrary. He wasn't going to feel bad about it.
Still, he couldn't deny they were in a bad situation. Probably about to be made worse with whatever they were doing to poor unfortunate Feathers. Crowley just hoped it wouldn't mess too badly with their plans to find a way to escape. He really wanted to be out of there before the ominous guests came for the so-called summit.
He glanced up as footsteps sounded from out in the hall and there was the telltale rattle of the key in the door. It was opened and a few seconds later, a bundle of dark feathers was thrown inside before the door was shut again.
Crowley raised his eyebrows as he looked down at what was left of Castiel. The angel was unconscious, winged, and covered in blood.
"Castiel," he called in a droll voice. "Are you all right?"
There was no answer. The angel lay there unmoving, bleeding from a mess of lashmarks on his back, his wings an absolute disgrace.
And there the demon came across a dilemma.
Crowley could leave him there, of course, wait until he woke up, but Castiel wasn't going to be healing himself like he normally would. Not with the collar. Crowley was sure it was tamping down the angel's powers just as much as it was his own. Without the ability to heal, Castiel would need care, lest he take a turn for the worse—the wounds weren't exactly scratches, even Crowley could see that.
And Crowley ideally needed another set of hands to help him escape. Besides, he would never survive the Winchesters' wrath if they found out he had left their pet angel a slave of faeries while he made to escape by himself. On top of that, Cas had agreed to help Crowley find Lucifer—it wasn't really a deal, but it was close enough and Crowley always kept his side of a deal. That's how he had become King of the Crossroads after all. Like it or not, they were a team, and Crowley respected that. Even if he wished the angel would be a little more conscious of others around him when he went and screwed up.
He rolled his eyes skyward and heaved a sigh. "Bollocks."
He climbed off the cot and bent to grab Castiel under the shoulders. The angel was a dead weight and Crowley grunted, cursing at the feat it was to maneuver the angel and his massive feathered appendages onto the tiny cot. Castiel whimpered, flinching, but Crowley ignored him, dropping the angel a bit more harshly than he had meant to onto the cot face first, hefting his legs up after and standing back, looking down at what he had to deal with.
"You know, Cas, just once, would it kill you to do things the easy way?"
He looked around and saw there were some cloths and soap stacked by the small sink at the back of the room. It wasn't much, but it would have to do.
Crowley walked over, wet one of the cloths, and returned to the angel to start cleaning his wounds.
He reached out to touch one of the wings that was hanging over the side of the cot, prodding at a broken feather, when Castiel's eyes shot open and he reached out to grab the demon's wrist in a crushing grip.
"Easy, just trying to help you out," Crowley cautioned.
Castiel stared at him for a long moment. "Crowley," he finally said as if just now recognizing the demon.
"Yes, no one's ever complimented me on my bedside manner but I can't be much worse than your flannel wearing bumpkins," Crowley snorted.
Castiel was already pushing himself up, but he huffed a pained groan through clenched teeth and Crowley forced him back onto the cot.
"Easy, Cas. You took quite the beating."
"I don't need help from you," the angel grunted.
"And you're going to clean your back and wings yourself and heal the wounds with your grace?" Crowley inquired wryly, raising an eyebrow. The angel glared up at him.
"Why do you suddenly care? You're the one who left me out there to begin with."
"And if I had gotten caught with you who would be tending your wounds now?" Crowley demanded. "I know you're used to partnering with self-sacrificing idiots, but I'm actually interested in getting us out of here, not sharing in the suffering. And we're not going to get out of here if you're half dead, now, are we? So I would appreciate it if you lie back and let me clean you up. I won't offer twice."
Castiel watched him for a long moment, a flurry of emotion on his face, his jaw working, before he finally slumped, dropping his head down onto one arm. "Fine."
"Finally seeing some sense," Crowley quipped and bent to begin cleaning.
The angel really was a mess. Deep lashes across his back, and the wings…Crowley tutted. He had seen cleaner work in Hell.
As he turned from the angel's back to his wings, Castiel shifted, tucking his wings away from Crowley's touch, turning to look at the demon suspiciously.
"You've done enough," he said hoarsely.
Crowley rolled his eyes. "Please. Yes, I'm a demon, and I'm sure it's taboo for one of my ilk to touch an angel's wings, but let's get with the times, Cas. And the situation. I may not know everything about wing care, but I know broken off feathers can't be a good thing. If you want to risk an infection, be my guest, but don't think I'm going to carry you out of here on my shoulders if you fall into fevered delirium."
Castiel's face was tight with pain, but there was defiance, pride in there too. Crowley fought the urge to roll his eyes again. Angels really were all the same. Cas didn't want to admit he was like the rest of his kind, but he was in so many ways. Especially that pride, and the racism. Even if a demon tried to help him he didn't want anything to do with them. Typical.
"It's not like the Winchesters haven't seen your wings, tended to them," he tried, probing.
Cas ducked his head though, looking at the floor. Crowley furrowed his brow. "What? You're telling me even Sam and Dean haven't seen your feathery bits? I suppose that explains the state of you."
"It's not their problem," Cas gritted out, finally sitting up, his face paling even as he did that. "And it's not yours." He snatched the cloth from Crowley's hands and glowered at the demon.
Crowley folded his arms across his chest. "Have it your way then."
He went back to sit on his own cot, watching the angel attempt to tend to his own wings. He pulled one around his shoulder and tried to clean it, pressing the cloth awkwardly into a bleeding area. But the position Castiel had to contort himself into in order to reach seemed to only put extra pressure on his injuries and he was hissing, biting his already chewed lip to hold back even the smallest of exhalations.
Prideful, not to mention infernally stubborn.
But maybe not completely stupid, because after a fifth failed attempt, he growled out and slumped over his knees, throwing the cloth onto the floor. "Fine. It…it seems I may require your assistance after all."
Crowley couldn't help the smirk, continuing to lounge on the cot for a moment longer, enjoying being proven right yet again. "Are you sure, angel?"
"Yes, dammit!" Cas gritted out, then bit back a cry as his back pulled.
Crowley enjoyed the moment, the angel dependent on him, as he got up to get a new cloth and wet it with warm, soapy water.
Cas shifted reluctantly as Crowley returned to him and canted slightly to the side. Crowley reached out to steady his left wing, touching the arm of it and Cas stiffened instantly.
"Relax," the demon chided as he began to clean the blood from the black feathers. "You don't trust me?"
Castiel snorted. "Is that a rhetorical question?"
"And after everything we've been through together. We're partners!"
Castiel huffed back at him and Crowley shook his head. No respect, not from Cas, not from the Winchesters. And after all he did for them. He went back to focus on the task at hand.
Castiel shuddered and flinched as the cloth removed the clotted blood, revealing the lashmarks on the bare skin between where the feathers were sparse.
By the time he had finished the cleaning, Castiel at least seemed more comfortable with him. Or maybe it was just because the pain was making him more compliant. Still, the inevitable would have to be seen to.
"These broken feathers need to come out," Crowley said matter-of-factly.
Castiel stiffened again and turned around to look at the demon. "How many?"
Crowley searched his wings, pursing his lips. "At least ten."
Castiel sagged, hands gripping the side of the cot until his knuckles were white. He was silent for a long time, until he finally said, "Do it."
That was all Crowley needed. There was no point dragging out the inevitable agony. He reached out and swiftly, efficiently, yanked the first broken feather out.
Castiel arched his back and yelped. "Some warning?"
"It would hurt more if you knew it was coming," Crowley said and yanked out the next one, gaining a curse from the angel, which made Crowley's eyes widen, impressed. Dean Winchester had definitely been a bad influence.
By the third Castiel was panting heavily. By the fifth, he was slumping low, groaning in agony.
When Crowley finally finished, he wasn't sure how the angel was still sitting upright. Though pure stubbornness probably had something to do with it.
He picked up the cloth and wiped his hands on it. "That should do."
Castiel sighed in relief. His wings shimmered then they disappeared back to their place on the ethereal plane. Then he finally slumped down onto his stomach and closed his eyes.
Crowley watched the angel with a scrutinizing look. He really hoped this wouldn't keep Cas down for too long. He would like to get out of there before Midwinter if they could and they only had days. Being captured by one faery court was bad enough, but being caught in between two warring factions during a 'summit' was something Crowley was not at all interested in, thank you very much. He'd rather be Lucifer's dog than find out what creative things faeries could come up with for the people who were unlucky enough to be kidnapped by them.
Long story short, Cas had better hurry up and heal or his feathery arse was getting left behind.
The faeries gave Castiel one day to lie in bed and recover but after that he was expected to get up and work again. His wings were in agony, but thankfully they hurt less on the ethereal plane than when they were psychical—more like a constant nagging ache. And Castiel had to give Crowley grudging thanks for tending to them as none of his wounds had gotten infected.
Unfortunately, his back was still just as painful today as it had been the day before. A day in bed hadn't really done anything for that, especially when the wounds wanted to reopen every time he moved. Crowley had to help him wrap bandages around his torso to protect the scabbed wounds on his back before he went back to work. Castiel hated the fact that he couldn't heal like he normally would. Just the act of standing made his back ache and he was sure any amount of work would open the wounds again. Still, there wasn't much he could do about it.
Time was running out, and with this drawback, it would make it harder for them to find an escape, especially since Castiel was currently being watched like a hawk. He could tell that Crowley was completely exasperated by this development, but again, Castiel refused to take the full blame for any of this. And the demon wasn't the one who had been flogged.
The kitchen was a bustle of activity that day, and Castiel and Crowley were instantly put to work.
"What's going on?" Castiel asked one of the maids.
"The guests will be arriving tonight," she said, shoving a sheet of bread loaves into Crowley's hands. "We have to prepare. Everything must be perfect."
Crowley and Castiel shared a dark look as they went over to the ovens to put the loaves inside.
"What do we do?" Castiel asked quietly.
"What do we do? We get as far away as humanly possible," Crowley snapped. "I've heard horror stories about what happens when the faery courts get together and I will reiterate: I don't want any part of it."
Castiel closed his eyes in exasperation. "You think I do? Look, we've been actively trying to find a way out. My search was cut short and didn't exactly go so well, so if you want to step up and actually do something useful, be my guest."
"What do you think I've been doing?" Crowley screeched, before he lowered his voice and grabbed Castiel by the arm, steering the angel into the pantry away from eavesdroppers. "Between my 'duties' and playing nursemaid to you, I haven't exactly had time to form a decent plan of escape, but I have been watching for the best times to look around, and I have been checking in to see what articles I can get close to hand to make our escape easier."
"And what did you find?"
Crowley folded his arms over his chest. "I'm working on it."
Castiel groaned, running a hand over his face. "So, nothing."
"Not exactly nothing, I'm still gathering my data!"
"You're the one who said we're on a time constraint, and we will be caught in the middle of two rival faery kingdoms if we don't get out of here before tonight!"
"Well, forgive me if I'm not exactly on the top of my game right now, I'm still consumed with my need to get vengeance on Lucifer."
"You won't have a chance to get vengeance if you're dead!" Castiel cried before the door swung open and the head chef, Sean, stood there, glowering at them.
"If I find you two shirking duties again, I will have both of you flogged—and I'm not sure the pretty angel can take another round," he sneered.
"We were just getting more flour," Crowley snagged a bag from the shelf and shot a look at Castiel, shoving the sack roughly into the angel's arms, before he left the small room. Castiel rolled his eyes and followed.
They didn't get another chance to plan. Sean kept a close eye on both of them, making sure their jobs kept them apart and whenever one task finished another was instantly given. Castiel's back was aching and he felt dampness against his shirt, knowing that some of the wounds had reopened and were seeping blood through the bandages. At least he was wearing black so it wasn't noticeable—not that it would matter if it was. It was unlikely they would let him stop even if he keeled over.
Crowley found him leaning against a shelf, eyes closed as he fought a wave of nausea brought on by the constant pain and the incessant heat of the kitchens.
"Don't pass out on me, Feathers," the demon quipped. "If you think I'm playing nursemaid to you again, you're wrong."
Castiel grunted and took a deep breath, regretting it when the act of expanding his chest only made his back ache worse.
"I was thinking, what if we find some way to slip out in the hustle and bustle when the guests arrive? If we can get to the garage, we may be able to slip out unnoticed."
"How?" Castiel demanded, flicking his eyes around the kitchen, seeing that Sean was thankfully occupied with yelling at a serving boy. "It's not like we can just walk out of here. I already tried that, remember?"
Crowley opened his mouth but the large swinging door to the kitchens opened and Aiden strode in.
"Alright, listen up! Every slave who is not kitchen staff is needed right now! Go clean yourselves up and get into your dress uniforms—the guests will be arriving in half an hour."
Crowley nudged Castiel's arm with the back of his hand. "Looks like we can just walk out of here, after all, Cas."
Castiel grit his teeth and followed the demon and the other slaves out of the kitchen. As much as he wanted to believe Crowley's plan would work, he wasn't exactly confident.
After all, there were a lot of things that could still go wrong.
Crowley and Castiel went back to their cell and changed into the silver-threaded coats they had been given for serving. Cas paled as he shrugged into his, and Crowley saw several wet patches on the back of his shirt, but they didn't have time to check bandages just then. Not if they didn't want more retribution from Aiden.
They trooped out with the other slaves to the entrance of the house, lining up against the wall, ready to assist the guests as they came in. Crowley watched the proceedings intently, shifting impatiently for the chance to make any escape that might present itself.
Castiel finally growled at him, "Stop fidgeting. It's annoying."
"Forgive me if I'm a little antsy," Crowley snapped back. "You'd think they'd have us unload the cars or something."
"I knew this plan wasn't going to work."
"Don't sound so smug. In case I need to remind you, this is both of our asses on the line," Crowley snapped before several guards strode into the hall followed by Lord Calen.
The front door was opened and more guards walked in, but wearing different livery. Whereas the Unseelie King and his court all wore blacks, greys and purples, this entourage was decked out in greens and golds, the faeries all with blond or red hair.
And in their midst was one of the most beautiful women in existence. Even Crowley was struck by her beauty. She was tall and regal, her golden hair long and silky, her skin pink and smooth, her features delicate and sharp all at once. She almost seemed to glow. Unearthly golden eyes swept the surroundings, as her long, flowing green dress swept the marble floors.
"Bloody hell," Crowley gulped. Castiel shot him a look, but the angel seemed just as struck by the faery queen's beauty and presence as he was.
Lord Calen stepped forward and gave the smallest of bows, a smile that was obviously nothing but a façade on his lips. "Your Majesty, welcome to our humble abode."
"Humble indeed," she scoffed, her voice sharp and ringing. "Of course, I wouldn't expect any better from Oberon. His halls in the Otherworld are tawdry enough."
Lord Calen pressed his lips together in obvious displeasure even though he continued to fake smile. "You must be weary, my lady. Come, let me show you to your chambers personally. I'll have the slaves bring in your things."
And like that the spell was broken. Crowley, Castiel and the others were set to work once again, moving the bags for the Seelie queen and her entourage of lords and ladies.
Crowley took in several bags before a carpetbag was handed to him and he was told to take it to the queen's quarters directly.
She was already there with several of her maids when Crowley arrived, and he cleared his throat, bowing.
"My lady, I have your bag, where would you like me to put it?" he asked, playing the humble slave at least for the moment.
"You'll address me as 'You Majesty' or 'Queen', worm," the faery spat. "Vulgar slaves for a vulgar house! Just set the bag on that chair."
Crowley bowed again. "Of course, My Queen." The words left a bitter taste in his mouth, but if he could look around, see if there was anything the queen had that could help him and Castiel escape, then he would bear it for a little while.
He went to the chair beside the vanity, and set the bag down, letting it gape open purposefully so he could peek inside. He let go of the handles, only for it to fall off the chair and spill across the ground. He faked a panic, scrambling to right it and scoop the things back inside.
The queen rose from her seat, furious. "By the gods! Get out!"
"Of course, your majesty, I apologize deeply." Crowley stammered and bowed low, backing out of the room before he closed the door behind him.
He straightened, smiling as he glanced down at the item he had pocketed. A small glass bottle. He popped the top and sniffed.
Yes, exactly what he was looking for.
He smirked. And Castiel had no faith in him. The angel would certainly be eating his words before that night was over.
Castiel staggered up the stairs for the umpteenth time, hefting a trunk with the help of another slave. How many dresses did the queen need for a short visit? He had thought faeries could glamour themselves, change their appearance at will; she could make herself look like anything she wanted.
They dropped off the trunk in the queen's guest quarters and Castiel had to bite his cheek as he straightened up, his back throbbing.
He quietly left the other slave as they retreated from the room and slipped away down the hall, hoping for a breather.
Castiel frowned, glancing around at the sound.
"Over here!" Crowley hissed and Castiel finally looked over to see him hiding in a corridor.
"What?" Castiel demanded, not in the best of moods at the moment.
"Don't look so sour, I think I found our ticket out of here," the demon said smugly.
Castiel rolled his eyes, not exactly believing Crowley at this point. "Really?"
Crowley made a face but reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small glass bottle. Castiel frowned.
"What is that?"
"This is poison that works very well of faeries," Crowley said, looking overly proud of himself. Castiel wanted to roll his eyes again, but he had to admit he was curious.
"Where did you get it?"
Crowley smirked. "As I said, the so-called summit between the two courts could only breed issues. The Summer Queen was keeping this close to hand, assumedly in the event that things don't go the way she wants them to."
"Then why not just let her do it?" Castiel demanded.
"Because there's no guarantee when or even if she will! If we do it ourselves, then we'll be ready." He cast a sideways glance at the angel. "Come now, Castiel, after everything you've done, you can't tell me you're squeamish about stooping to a little poisoning of captors."
Castiel felt a twist in his gut, Crowley's words stinging more than he wanted to admit. Yes, it was true, he had done many horrible things over the years, and he regretted most of them every day. He wasn't exactly a fan of the idea of poisoning someone, it seemed cowardly and he was still, at the end of the day, a warrior. But they had their hands tied in this situation and were without their powers or their weapons. Castiel supposed that on the scale of things, they were defending themselves against a powerful evil. He could even argue that they could save the other slaves with their action. He could also argue that the Winchesters would likely do the same if they were in this situation.
He sighed. "Fine. It's the only plan we have anyway. But how do we go about it?"
Crowley opened his arms. "The king is going to want to show us off to his opposition. He'll definitely have us in the dining room tonight. We'll be serving them everything, easy enough to slip something into the wine."
"And who's the target?" Castiel asked, resigning himself to following this plan.
"It doesn't matter," Crowley said, waving his hand. "Whichever one presents a better opportunity. If something happens to either ruler, the two factions will end up in turmoil, at each other's throats in an instant. Enough pandemonium for two lowly slaves to slip out unnoticed."
Castiel nodded slowly, then frowned again. "And what about the collars? We can't pass the gates while we're wearing them."
Crowley smiled. "Then I'll make it your job to find a key or a way to deactivate them."
"And how am I supposed to do that?" Castiel demanded.
Crowley rolled his eyes. "Get creative! I know it's a lot to ask to get an angel to think for himself, but we have to do this together. Right, partner?"
Castiel closed his eyes and let out a sigh. "Yes. Fine."
They parted so they wouldn't be missed, working until the late afternoon, when all the slaves were assembled and Aiden came to address them.
"Listen up. Everyone is needed on staff tonight. There will be no mistakes, or there will be very heavy consequences, do you understand?" He was looking directly at Castiel and Crowley as he said it and Castiel's back smarted at the thought of further punishment. Crowley's plan better work. "We would not want to embarrass His majesty in front of his very important guests, now, would we?"
He clapped his hands and dismissed them. Castiel tried to follow Crowley out with the others, but Aiden grabbed his arm, jerking him roughly to a stop so that his back was jolted. He screwed his face up in order to not react.
"No funny business tonight, angel. I'll personally rip out every feather myself. And there are worse things the king could have you do than clean the floor with your tongue."
Castiel looked down with a shudder, effecting compliance. Really, he was looking at the faery's belt, and the keyring there.
Aiden's hand found the center of his back and his fingers dug in. "Do you understand, angel?"
Castiel breathed through the pain and nodded. "Yes. Yes sir."
Aiden sneered and released him with a shove, and Castiel staggered forward, hurrying out of the room and back toward the kitchens where they were all expected to wait until they were called upon to serve, the faery's keyring resting cold and heavy in his pocket.
Everything was in organized chaos. Castiel tried to catch up with Crowley, but they were in different locations and before he could track the demon down, they were called into the dining room, waiting against the back wall where all the drink and the first course had been set, ready for them to bring forward.
Castiel finally caught up with the demon and they stood shoulder to shoulder, looking ahead as they spoke quietly.
"Well?" the demon asked.
"I got the keys off of Aiden's belt. I don't know if they'll help, but it's a start."
Crowley gave a small nod. "I'm ready with the poison. I'm thinking to wait until the second course, let them get comfortable."
"Just don't mess it up," Castiel grunted.
Crowley looked askance. "Excuse me? How many times do I mess things up?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe when you let Lucifer catch Sam in the cage, leading to all this mess?"
"That was my mother's fault, and you're the idiot who said yes, if I need to remind you."
Castiel pressed his lips together. "Let's just get out of here."
The diners started to arrive then, first the lords and ladies of the courts and then the Winter King, decked out in black and silver flowing robes. He took his seat at the head of the table, and soon after came the visiting queen, who took a seat at the opposite end.
"Well, Oberon, you do attempt to put on a nice table, I'll give you that," she quipped, sitting elegantly in her seat, one of her servants helping arrange her flowing skirts.
The Unseelie king, smirked. "One does try." He held up a hand and that was the cue for the first course to be brought in. Castiel, Crowley, and the other slaves brought over the plates and set them on the table, then began to pour the wine.
Castiel watched as the slaves went around the table and pulled each goblet off, filling it. He glanced at Crowley. They would have to poison a whole jug, it seemed, unless they could somehow slip a few drops into a single goblet.
As he retreated to stand against the wall again with Crowley, Castiel began to pay attention to the conversation between the two highly powerful faery rulers.
"So, Elvina, how are things in the Summer Court?" the king asked, sounding utterly polite but Castiel saw the charade instantly.
"Warm for one," the queen said, delicately picking up her fork. "Unlike this freezing, desolate place you found for us to meet in. We should have met in my realm."
The king smiled condescendingly. "It is not to my taste, and you know we have to meet on neutral ground, where we are both at the same advantage."
The queen snorted though it was a delicate, feminine sound. "Is that how you would describe meeting at Winter Solstice when you're at the height of your power, even in the mortal realm?"
The king took a long drink of his wine and smirked. "My, Elvina, if I didn't know you better, I would think that you were bitter," he said blandly.
She gave a wicked smile, tilting her head back with a toss of her hair. "I only think it would have been better in autumn or spring, when we actually are on equal standing, but of course, Oberon, you are always compensating for something."
"Takes one to know one, darling," the king replied.
"Please," the faery queen scoffed, setting her fork aside. She'd yet to eat anything, Castiel noticed. "Like your little show of arms and your varied collection of slaves is going to impress me."
The king looked down his nose at her as he continued to smile. "Oh? Perhaps I should introduce you to my newest acquisitions, and you might think differently."
He snapped his fingers and motioned to Castiel and Crowley. Castiel flinched and stepped forward along with the demon, cautious. They both bowed their heads, not wanting to draw attention to themselves at the moment.
"May I present my very own angel and the former King of Hell?"
The queen raised an eyebrow, but seemed little impressed. "Please, Oberon, we all know that we're more powerful than demons, and Hell has been on the outs for several years now. Hardly impressive. The angel however, I actually have to commend you on that acquisition, damn your eyes."
The king puffed up and Castiel jolted as the queen snapped her fingers sharply and motioned to him. "Come here, angel."
Castiel slowly approached her, wondering where this was leading. The queen glanced at him as he approached her chair and she snapped her fingers again, pointing to the floor.
"On your knees, angel, you can't be higher than the queen when she is addressing you," she said with a smirk and Castiel was forced to oblige, a pang of fury pulsing through him. He sank to one knee and she presented a hand to him. He was confused at first, then realized she wanted him to kiss it. He leaned over slightly and kissed the ring she wore.
"Charming, and very handsome," the queen said, stroking delicate fingers along his jaw, as she tilted his head up. "You may stand now, angel."
He climbed to his feet again, trying to hide the wince as his back smarted. The queen picked up her goblet, gazing into the wine before she handed it to him. "Taste it," she said.
The faery king's face faltered from his glib condescension to fury before he quickly hid it.
"I hope you'll forgive the faux pas, Oberon, darling, I'd just rather be safe than sorry," she said sweetly as Castiel took the cup.
The faery king gave her a thin smile. "I would expect nothing less of you."
"Well, angel, drink!" she urged.
Castiel felt Crowley's eyes on him and even though he knew there was no poison currently in the goblet—at least he was pretty sure there wasn't—this was an eventuality he hadn't thought of. He should have, though. Of course the two rulers wouldn't trust each other enough to eat what was put in front of them.
He brought the cup to his lips and took a sip before handing it back to the queen. She watched him intently but when he didn't fall over, or start foaming at the mouth she must have determined that the wine was fine for consumption.
"Well, looks like I was worried for nothing," she said sweetly, lifting the cup toward the faery king before she took a drink herself. She then turned back to Castiel. "You, angel, I want you in my chambers tonight. I'll need something to pass the time in this boring place—and someone to warm my bed." She grabbed his backside and Castiel jumped, cheeks blazing. He bowed hurriedly and retreated as fast as he could, heading to the side table where Crowley had his back turned, arranging a plate of fruit.
Crowley gave him a look, a smirk turning up one side of his mouth.
"Don't say anything," Castiel hissed under his breath.
"Touchy," Crowley quipped. "I'm almost sad we have to interrupt your tryst. You'd make an absolutely scrumptious faery consort."
"I said shut up," Castiel growled, glancing around. No one was watching them for the moment. "If we're going to do this, let's do it now."
"Agreed," Crowley said and nodded to him. "Block me."
Castiel moved between him and the table so what he was doing was out of the king's sight. Crowley swiftly pulled out the bottle, dumping it into the jug of wine on the table.
Just in time too, because the king called for more wine. Crowley swiftly pocketed the empty bottle and took up the jug.
Castiel watched with bated breath as the demon calmly poured wine into the king's goblet and set it on the table.
Lord Calen raised his own goblet and Crowley twitched once, before he stepped over to the faery lord and filled his goblet as well.
"You'll forgive me, Elvina, but it turns out I don't truly trust you, even at my own table," the king said then and snapped his fingers at Crowley. "Demon, taste the wine."
Crowley's eyes blew wide and Castiel's breath caught in his throat. Would that poison work on demons too? It was possible that anything would work on either of them in their current powerless state.
Crowley took the slowest step ever over to the king's chair as the faery watched him expectantly, holding out the goblet. The demon took it in a slightly trembling hand, looking like a deer in the headlights.
Castiel rolled his eyes and did the only thing he could think of: cause a distraction. He made as if to pick up the tray of fruit on the table and simply bumbled it onto the floor with a huge crash of the metal platter.
The room went silent and he stood frozen as the king stared at him with cold eyes.
"I'm beginning to think you're more trouble than you're worth, angel," the king said coldly.
Aiden hurried into the room, his face red with fury. He bowed to the king. "I deeply apologize, your majesty, I warned him not to make any mistakes. He will pay greatly."
The queen pouted. "Don't damage him too much; I'd like something left to play with tonight."
Lord Calen snorted, taking a huge gulp of the wine. "Don't count on it, your majesty."
The guards came forward to grab Castiel by the arms just as Lord Calen started to choke. The faery grabbed at his throat, his eyes rolling back into his head as he started to froth at the mouth, then pitched out of his chair, collapsing onto the floor, jerking involuntarily, until he finally lay still.
The moment of shocked silence ended, and everyone was on their feet, daggers pulled from inside coats and cloaks. The guards abandoned Castiel and hurried over to stand beside the king who was staring open-mouthed at his dead lord.
His eyes came up to meet the queen's across the table. "You!"
She leapt out of her seat, her own guards surrounding her protectively. "I had nothing to do with this!" she screeched indignantly. "I would never do such a thing during a truce!"
The king scoffed. "You'll forgive me for not believing you after what you did to my brother."
"He had it coming," she sneered. "And you can't tell me you didn't want him as dead as I did."
Castiel felt someone grab his arm and looked over to see Crowley.
"Come on!" the demon hissed and Castiel kicked himself into gear, the two of them, quietly slipping toward the entrance to the kitchen.
Until Aiden appeared in front of them, fury and suspicion on his face, his baton held threateningly in one hand.
"And just where do you two think you're going?" he demanded.
Crowley simply stepped forward and slugged the faery in his face. Aiden staggered with a surprised shout, but straightened up and flicked a hand at Crowley as the demon darted toward the door. Crowley cried out as his collar lit up and he collapsed to his knees.
Castiel struck out at Aiden while the faery was occupied, but Aiden simply swung the baton around and jammed the end into Castiel's ribs. He grunted and folded, before Aiden slammed it across his back. Castiel cried out at the pain and sprawled onto the floor.
Something metal clinked against the marble and Castiel saw too late that the keys he had stolen earlier had slipped from his pocket in the fall. He made a desperate grab for them, but Aiden's foot slammed down on his wrist.
"What's this?" the faery demanded, bending to snag the keys away from Castiel's grasping fingers. "You little bastard. You stole these from me earlier, didn't you?"
The guards were encroaching on them again, seeing the disturbance and Aiden took his foot from Castiel's wrist as the guards hauled the angel and the demon to their feet, holding them tightly.
"Search them both," the faery told the guards.
Their clothes were roughly searched, and it didn't take long to uncover the empty bottle in Crowley's pocket. The demon closed his eyes with a sigh and Castiel too felt the last hope they had of escaping dwindling rapidly.
"What's this?" Aiden asked and took the bottle, opening it to sniff inside. He recoiled and held it away from his face before turning back to Crowley. "You!"
Crowley screamed as the faery power tore through him. He fell limp in the guards' grip as Aiden strode over to the king, Castiel and Crowley dragged behind him.
They were thrown to the ground at the king's feet and Aiden held up the bottle.
"It was these two, your majesty. They are responsible for the poison that killed Lord Calen—and was probably meant for you as well. Possibly even the Summer Queen."
The queen gasped, putting a hand to her breast as if she hadn't been the one to bring the poison here herself.
The king stared down at them and Castiel met his eyes defiantly. There was no point playing the good slave now. There would be no faking through what came next.
"I see," the king said slowly. "Then there's only one thing to do with them." He turned to the rest of the faeries. "I think it's time for a little entertainment."
Castiel closed his eyes. They were, as the Winchesters would say, totally screwed.
Castiel and Crowley were taken out of the manor house and into the back yard where there were extensive gardens—mostly dead this time of year, but still elegant, if not bleak. Likely a perfect backdrop for whatever was about to happen to them.
The faery king and the two courts assembled into a small amphitheater, sitting down on the stone seats next to a fountain that had gathered frost around the edges. Some of the slaves carried out large cushioned chairs for the king and the queen. The queen took hers, shivering in obvious distaste at the cold and pulling a fur cape around herself. The king though, stayed standing, looking toward the guards who hauled Castiel and Crowley forward and shoved them on their knees in front of the faery ruler.
"You two are far too much trouble. I see now that breaking you is going to be more difficult than it's worth," the king said coldly. "You lost me my best advisor as well, which cannot be forgiven or forgotten. And so you must suffer for your crimes."
He snapped his fingers and Aiden came over, holding a length of chain. "Ready them. And fetch the cu sidhe."
Aiden bowed and came over to the two prisoners who were hauled to their feet again. The guards grabbed their wrists, Castiel's right and Crowley's left and then snapped a manacle around each, connecting the two by a four-foot length of chain. Crowley tugged on it indignantly, and Castiel yanked back, turning a warning glare on the demon. They had already gotten into enough trouble, and now they were chained together, left to face whatever was coming. Castiel had no idea what it might be, but he was sure it was not going to be a quick and merciful death.
The guards left them there on the stone tiles, going to stand around the circle so there would be no escape for the angel and the demon.
"Well, this looks like it," Crowley muttered. "It was nice knowing you, Cas."
"Stop," Castiel grunted. "We're not dead yet."
Crowley rolled his eyes. "Ever the optimist? Doesn't sound like you. Face it, we're royally screwed."
Castiel sighed, looking around for any chance of escape. "Perhaps we can still find a way out of here."
"Miraculous escapes are more the Winchesters' specialty," Crowley replied blandly. "You and I, Cas, we don't seem to have that luck, now, do we?"
Castiel pressed his lips into a thin line, shifting in helplessness, furious at his inability to do anything.
"For what it's worth, this venture of ours probably would have ended like this anyway," Crowley shrugged. "Lucifer likely would have killed both of us before we could get near enough to slit his throat. And you can't really say we haven't had a good run of it."
Castiel glanced around again, resignation threatening to spill over. "I never dreamed I would die fighting next to a demon."
Crowley glanced at him sideways. "How about next to a friend?"
Castiel narrowed his eyes in exasperation and Crowley rolled his. He opened his mouth, probably to say something else pointless, when a growling echoed through the gardens.
Castiel stiffened, head whipping around. At first he almost thought it sounded like hellhounds. There was a definite ethereal quality to the tone, but he saw one of the faery guards herding a small pack a five or six large hounds—all pure white, except for the blood red ears and eyes. The gathered faeries looked on with excited murmurs and cruel enjoyment.
"Bloody hell," Crowley breathed. "Faery hounds."
Castiel knew about these. They were the ones that notoriously ran with the Wild Hunt—fierce, vicious, and near perfect hunters. They would tear anything apart that got in their way.
"They haven't been fed yet today," the king said, an eager smirk on his face. "I'm sure they'll have their bellies full by the time they're done here, though." He reached into his sleeve and pulled out a small dagger, tossing it so that it landed on the stones a few feet from Castiel and Crowley. "I'll give you a fighting chance, though—I am a just ruler."
He smirked and sat down, raising a hand to the guard who was keeping the dogs at bay, waiting impatiently for the signal. The king made a motion with his hand and the guard nodded, whistling.
The hounds shot toward the prisoners and Castiel and Crowley braced themselves.
Castiel lunged toward the knife only to be brought up short as the chain pulled taut. He fell to his knees with a grunt of pain.
"Crowley!" he hissed.
The demon was frozen, watching the hounds, then finally snapped out of it, lunging forward to snag the knife as Castiel pulled himself to his feet.
The hounds were circling them, getting tighter and tighter with every pass. Their teeth were glistening with saliva, hunger in their eyes. Castiel and Crowley moved back to back, circling cautiously as the hounds got closer.
"Know any tricks to call off dogs?" Crowley asked half-heartedly.
"You're the one who has hellhounds," Castiel reminded him, feeling naked without a weapon.
"Who all have very rigorous obedience training," Crowley grunted.
"Well, maybe try to tell them to sit."
"Something tells me that wouldn't go over well."
One of the hounds seemed to get tired of waiting and lunged. Castiel jerked backwards, slamming into Crowley's back. The demon grunted and nearly stumbled into another hound.
The dog snapped and the demon hissed, lashing out with the knife and scoring a hit across the dog's face. It retreated with a yelp.
Castiel wasn't paying much attention though because another hound was coming at him.
"Crowley! Knife!" he cried, throwing his arm up. The dog snapped, and thankfully only got his billowing sleeve, ripping it nearly clean off as it fell to the ground, taking a strip of fabric with it, worrying the cloth with fury.
Crowley spun around and lashed out with the knife again, then lunged, pulling Castiel completely off his feet to crash against the stones. His back jarred and he grit his teeth as the gathered faeries laughed, seeming to enjoy their pitiful attempts to fight while chained together.
"Crowley!" Castiel shouted and grabbed the chain, jerking it hard, and yanking the demon around. Crowley yelped, collapsing, and Castiel grabbed the dagger from his hand, swinging around to stab it into one of the hounds that was coming up on him.
It hit the dog's back haunch and the beast howled, limping away.
"We have to work together!" Castiel growled at the demon as they both climbed back to their feet, giving the chain another good jerk.
"Then maybe next time don't pull me onto the ground!" Crowley snapped, yanking the chain back.
Castiel sighed, but another hound lunged at him. He lashed out, catching it across the eye before stabbing it in the throat.
The hound gurgled, then collapsed. One down, five to go.
Castiel turned and tossed the knife to Crowley. The demon caught it and lashed out at another hound that lunged for his throat. Crowley caught it right in the belly and blood spilled over the pure white fur. The hound collapsed with a thud and Castiel let out a breath or relief.
But their victory was short lived. The remaining hounds seemed infuriated at the loss of their pack mates and they all lunged at the prisoners simultaneously. Castiel turned to kick out at one but another came up on his other side and its claws tore down his thigh. Castiel cried out, staggering, as the first hound leapt at him, grabbing his wrist, teeth punching through flesh on top of the still tender brand, and dragging him to the ground.
"Crowley!" Castiel cried out, trying to force the hounds away, grabbing one around the throat before it could get its teeth into him.
"Little busy!" Crowley grunted then cried out in pain.
Castiel turned to see the demon slashing at a hound who had clawed him across the lower back. The hound fell back, a cut down its side, but another leapt at Crowley from behind, bringing the demon down on his face, biting into his shoulder. Crowley yelled, the dagger flying from his hand on impact, clattering across the stones.
Castiel shouted in fury, kicking the hounds off of him and lunging across the stones to grab the dagger. The hounds were on him before he could, growling and lunging at him again right as Castiel grabbed the knife. He rolled onto his back, only to have one slam him against the stones and tear its claws across his ribs. Castiel cried out, bringing up the dagger and slamming it into the dog's heart. It yelped and whimpered and Castiel shoved it off, rolling with a pained grunt onto his side and stabbing one of the hounds attacking Crowley.
The last two hounds slammed both prisoners down on their backs then, and opened their jaws, brushing their glistening, lethal teeth against the angel and the demon's throats. Castiel stayed still, breathing shallowly, suddenly very aware of the blood pumping through his jugular.
Castiel glanced to one side and saw the faery king standing up and striding over to them. He held up his hand and whistled and the hounds backed off, going to sit at their master's side.
Castiel and Crowley started to sit up, but the king waved a hand and pain ripped through them thanks to their collars. When it stopped they lay limply on the ground, exhausted and bleeding from multiple wounds. Castiel's whole body sang with pain and he was sure Crowley was in the same predicament.
The king reached into his robe and pulled out a blade. "I want the honor of finishing you myself. Especially after what you did to my hounds."
He raised the blade and Castiel tried to find it in himself to have enough strength to roll out of the way, when the sound of a gunshot rang out and the king staggered, blood spraying from his shoulder.
And instant uproar ensued. The guards surrounded the king, the two courts shouting; several of the Unseelie faeries turned instantly on the Seelie court in fury.
Castiel looked around for the source of the shot but couldn't see anything. Something dropped into the yard and there was an explosion, taking out half the fountain.
Castiel covered his eyes as shards of plaster flew through the air, and felt Crowley nudging him, grabbing his arm to get him to move.
"That's our cue," he said, staggering to his feet and hauling Castiel with him. "Come on!"
At this point, Castiel didn't even stop to ask who was responsible for the attack. The faery guards were shouting, swarming to the main gate where it seemed like the attack had originated. Castiel and Crowley went in the opposite direction, away from the vicious fight that was breaking out between the courts and hurried to the wall at the back of the property that led into the woods.
They both stopped, panting heavily. Castiel's leg was on the verge of collapsing under him and he grabbed his wounded side. Crowley didn't look much better off.
"Where—where do we go?" Castiel panted. "I don't have the key for the collars anymore."
"We may not need it, look," Crowley nodded to the walls.
Castiel looked up and saw runes snapping and fizzling across them as if something was breaking the warding. Castiel realized he could feel it in his collar then. The faery magic powering down. He tried yanking on the collar, but it still wouldn't budge. However, they may be able to get over the wall.
"The warding," he said and Crowley nodded, seeming to be on the same page. They raced to the wall and Castiel reached out cautiously to touch it. A small shock still went through him, but it wasn't anything like before. He turned back to the demon.
"I'll go up first and then pull you up," he said, leaving Crowley no room for argument, as he steeled his wounded body, then reached up, making a jump and grabbing the top of the wall with the tips of his fingers. He cried out as the power surged through him and it was everything he could do to keep his grip, but he scrambled up finally, the chain attached to Crowley tugging. He turned, kneeling on the wall and reached down toward the demon.
"Come on!" he cried as another explosion sounded out.
Crowley cursed under his breath and took a leap, grabbing hold of Castiel's hands. He nearly caused the angel to fall from his precarious position, teetering dangerously as Crowley's feet scrambled at the wall. Castiel jerked backward, overcorrecting, and felt himself tumbling backwards, hauling the demon with him.
He cried out before all the air was forced violently from his lungs, both from the faery magic and the fall. Crowley shouted as well and promptly landed on top of the angel, knocking the breath from him a second time in as many seconds.
Castiel lay there in agony as the demon scrambled off of him and flopped down at his side. They both lay there for a long moment, then slowly dragged themselves into a sitting position.
"We need to go," Castiel said urgently.
"Not arguing," Crowley grunted and they gripped each other's shoulders to get to their feet before they staggered off into the woods surrounding the manor house, leaving behind the sounds of the fierce battle behind them.
The sun was slipping behind the horizon, and the winter chill was really setting in. Castiel and Crowley staggered through the woods, still bleeding, and still chained and collared. It got more and more difficult to keep his feet shuffling forward. Finally, Castiel stumbled and didn't get back up. Leaves pressed against the side of his face and the cold from the ground seeped into his body, dulling the ache. It felt good, so good…
Crowley didn't notice his fall until the chain ran out and he turned around, seeing the angel slumped at the base of a tree trunk.
"On your feet, Castiel," he said. "We're not out of the woods yet—no pun intended."
Castiel ignored him, but at least dragged himself into a sitting position, propping himself against the tree. "I can't go any further. I just need to rest for a few minutes."
Crowley sighed but staggered back a few paces and slumped down to sit next to him against the tree trunk, seeming relieved to have stopped as well. "They can still find us. Set the hounds on us. We're still wearing the collars."
"They seemed a little preoccupied," Castiel murmured, eyes closing, not being able to find it in himself to care at the moment, he was so exhausted.
"Castiel." The sharp voice made his eyes flutter open and he was staring at Crowley. "Don't you go swooning on me, Cassandra. I'm not going to carry you out of here. And I'll cut your arm off before I drag you behind me."
Castiel tried to push aside the pain and weariness but it wasn't working. His grace was still locked down and he had lost too much blood. He was also cold. He really just wanted to be back at the bunker with Sam and Dean. Maybe with a cup of coffee.
A branch snapped in the woods and he forced his head up, a final reserve of adrenaline surging through him, his heart fluttering in panic.
Crowley pulled the small knife out of his belt and sat up straighter, looking around.
"What is—" Castiel tried but the demon slammed a hand over his mouth to silence him.
More footsteps sounded out and there were flashes of light, sliding across the ground and between the trees. Crowley and Castiel held their breath, and Crowley pushed himself further back against the tree trunk, holding the tiny dagger out in front of him.
Two large, shadowy figures appeared between the trees and a light flashed directly into Castiel's eyes, momentarily blinding him.
He heard Crowley huff a sigh that sounded halfway between relief and exasperation. "You two. I should have known."
Castiel looked up, past the light that was now pointing toward the ground and saw that the figures were familiar.
"Sam? Dean?" he inquired with relief, not quite believing what he was seeing.
"Cas!" Dean greeted and came forward, Sam following on his heels. "Man we've been looking all over for you."
"Hello, I'm here too," Crowley grunted.
"How did you find us?" Castiel asked.
"Rowena heard you two had been taken," Sam said. "Trafficking ring."
"Tracked the sons of bitches down, shut down their operation and found their records," Dean said as he crouched down and frowned as he saw the state of the escapees. "What the hell happened to you."
"Long story," Castiel sighed, just relived to see his friends again. He reached up and Sam and Dean both helped him to his feet, then did the same for Crowley.
Back on his feet, Castiel instantly regretted it. His head was light, his body aching, and the darkness encroaching had nothing to do with the coming nightfall.
"It's good to have you back, Cas," Sam said with a relieved smile, squeezing his shoulder as Dean inspected the chain that was still connecting him to Crowley.
Castiel tried to smile back, tried to reply, but he was using all his concentration just struggling to stay upright.
Dean was at his side suddenly, a hand held out cautiously. "Cas? You alright, man?"
And then Castiel was falling. The last thing he remembered were strong arms catching him, and then all was darkness.
"That's easy for you to say, Squirrel, your bedside manner leaves something to be desired."
"Hey, just be grateful I'm actually helping; I could have made you patch yourself up."
Castiel heard the arguing of familiar voices as he drifted back to consciousness, and slowly became aware of sharp pain across his ribs. He groaned, flinching, trying to push himself onto an elbow, before a hand descended onto the center of his chest and pushed him back into a padded surface with a gentle pat.
"Easy, I'm almost done."
Castiel forced his eyes open and saw Sam leaning over him, needle and thread held up as he expertly tied off a suture. Castiel felt the tug in his side and hissed, glancing down and seeing the deep claw marks across his ribs. He was lying on his back, wearing a pair of sweat pants that weren't his and as he glanced around at his surroundings, he realized he was on the exam bed in the bunker's infirmary. Crowley sat on one of the cots to one side as Dean stitched the demon's wounds, looking like he was being a lot less gentle than Sam if Crowley's protests were anything to go by.
Castiel winced as Sam tied off another suture. "Wh-what happened?" He didn't know how long he'd slept, but he remembered nothing after collapsing in the woods when the Winchesters found them and everything between that and the escape was rather hazy.
"Not much after we got you out of the woods," Sam said with a reassuring smile. "You slept the whole way back."
"On my shoulder, too," Crowley grumbled. "Drooling."
Castiel glared half-heartedly at the demon, frankly too tired to care about what he might have done while unconscious. He was just glad he was no longer chained to the demon. He frowned as he saw Crowley still had the faery collar on his neck and reached up with a weak hand to touch his own throat, heart sinking as he felt the abominable accessory still there.
Dean caught his look as he swept a pile of bloody cloths onto a tray. "We couldn't figure out how to get them off yet, but I'm sure we'll be able to find something in the archives. We just wanted to make sure you weren't bleeding out anymore first."
Castiel nodded in acknowledgement. He could understand the logic behind the choice, he was just desperate to have the collar gone.
Sam tied off one last suture and straightened with a huff of breath. "Okay, I think that's it for the stitches." He set the needle aside and picked up a cloth which he used to clean the blood from Cas' torso. It was warm and soothing, and he closed his eyes again as Sam urged him gently to turn onto his side so he could get to his back. The hunter hissed in sympathy as he gently dabbed at the lash marks there that were obviously still bad, having been opened again during the fight and the latter desperate escape.
Dean came over with clean rolls of bandages and set them on the table beside the bed, giving Cas a once over. "You think you'll heal once we get that collar off?" he asked worriedly.
Castiel sighed heavily, wincing as Sam dabbed a particularly tender spot. "Eventually, yes. Not sure how quickly my grace will come back after this though."
Dean pursed his lips and then glanced at Sam. "Well, in the meantime, let's get you comfortable. Can you sit up?"
Castiel grunted as Deana and Sam helped him sit. His whole body protested, but he managed to stay upright as Dean took up some gauze, taping it over the stitched wounds, and then wrapped bandages around Castiel's torso to hold them all on. He could already feel bandages around his thigh and the pull of sutures Sam must have put in there. His wrist also was bandaged where the dog had bit it. It was painful—but then his whole body was. Castiel just hoped none of the wounds would get infected. He didn't have enough energy for that.
As if reading his mind, Sam said, "We washed the wounds out with holy water first. Not sure what kind of issues faery hounds could cause so we thought it best to be on the safe side."
"Tried to give me the same treatment, the bastards," Crowley muttered from the cot, wincing as he slipped into a shirt and grumbled something about thrift store tripe touching his skin, but Castiel couldn't help a small smile. He was just glad to be back.
"How did you even find us?" he asked, trying to remember. "You said something about Rowena?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, she said she'd gotten word you two had been taken—supernatural crowd likes to brag. It took us a while to find the place, and figure out exactly what we were dealing with, but once we did, we worked up some faery bombs and pulled a full-scale attack on the joint."
"Well, you were just in time," Castiel told them.
"Glad we were," Dean said grimly. "What the hell did they want with you?"
Castiel sighed. "A symbol of power. We did our best not to make it easy for them."
"Yeah, I can see that," Dean said then narrowed his eyes at Castiel. "Crowley said your wings were injured too."
Castiel shot the demon a dark glower, and Crowley simply shrugged and smiled innocently. The Winchesters weren't supposed to know about his wings. That was the only reason he'd let Crowley help him with them to begin with.
"They're fine. Crowley talks too much."
"Cas," Dean said warningly. "If you're hurting, you need to tell us, man."
"At least let us check you out," Sam added coaxingly. "You don't want it to get worse."
Castiel's shoulders slumped and, really, he was too tired to refuse. Now that the Winchesters knew, they would only continue to bother him about it until he finally relented.
"Very well," he sighed and then glanced between then somewhat sheepishly. "Stand back."
He hunched forward and as Sam and Dean gave him some space, he closed his eyes and pulled his wings from the ethereal plane. He was unable to help the small sound of pain that escaped his throat as it was magnified by the fact his wings were physical, their corporeal weight adding to the stress of the injuries.
"Cas, this is…" Sam started then furrowed his brow in sympathy.
"They're terrible, I know," Castiel grunted, hunching in shame at the state of his wings. He felt Crowley watching and glowered at the demon, unable to help feeling defensive even though Crowley was probably the only reason his wings hadn't gotten infected. Still, the demon had told the Winchesters about his injuries and he couldn't quite forgive him for that.
Dean seemed to see the tension and nodded to Sam. "You know what, I got this, why don't you and Crowley go see if you can find anything to get those damn collars off."
Sam nodded in agreement, touched Castiel carefully on the shoulder and then jerked his chin toward Crowley. The demon rolled his eyes and grunted as he hauled himself upright, but followed Sam all the same.
Castiel relaxed a little more without the demon there, and Dean went to fill a bowl with water from the sink. It steamed slightly as Dean set it on the table by the bed and dipped a cloth into it. He held it up, raising his eyebrows in inquiry.
Castiel nodded and Dean stepped behind him and carefully put a hand on the arm of Castiel's wing, near his back, getting him used to the hunter's touch before Dean brought the cloth to one of the injured areas. Castiel flinched at the contact, but didn't yank his wing away from Dean's grasp as he wanted to.
"What happened?" Dean asked him simply as he started to work on Castiel's wings, cleaning the dried and clotted blood from his feathers.
Castiel sighed heavily. "I…am a poor slave, it turns out. They had me flogged."
He could sense Dean's anger, though the man's hands stayed gentle. "They were bastards."
Castiel reached up and worried at the collar around his neck. It had started to chafe, leaving some sores under his jaw and between his neck and shoulders.
"We'll get it off, Cas," Dean told him. "Sam and Crowley will find something."
"I know," Castiel replied, dropping his hands into his lap and looking down at them, fiddling with the bandage around his wrist. He swallowed hard, remembering the brand underneath it. He hoped that would heal and disappear once his grace decided to recharge again. "I just…Dean, I was so stupid. I can't believe I allowed myself to get caught like that."
Dean snorted. "Considering you were with Crowley, I doubt it was all your fault."
Castiel twisted his mouth wryly. "Well, you're not entirely wrong. It was his contact that sold us out." Dean hmed as if in confirming something he'd already suspected. "But both of us…we were so eager to find anything about Lucifer that we didn't think about what could go wrong. I didn't think. I got desperate and I know that's gotten me in trouble before. I should have remembered to stop and consider the possibilities of failure."
"Cas we've all been there before, as you well know," Dean assured him, moving to his other wing and refreshing the cloth. "But seriously, man, you don't have to take on this search for Lucifer alone."
"But I was the reason he escaped, and Sam…I don't want him to have to face Lucifer again."
"And don't you think that's Sam's decision to make?" Dean asked.
Castiel winced as the hunter dabbed a particularly tender spot but couldn't argue. Dean was right. Castiel wished he could protect both Sam and Dean from the people or beings who wanted to hurt them, but he couldn't keep them out of the fight. And they were always stronger when they were together. Maybe this recent failure had been a wakeup call telling him that a little additional help, having people to watch his back, wasn't such a bad thing.
Dean set the cloth aside and reached for a small tube. "Well, everything looks okay, but I'll put a little antibiotic stuff on just in case."
Castiel winced slightly as the ointment stung the open wounds, but once Dean had finished, he gratefully folded his wings away again, taking off most of the agony and only leaving a couple tattered feathers behind.
Dean handed him a soft, long sleeved shirt and helped him into it—an embarrassingly difficult feat with all the pulling stitches.
Castiel wanted to simply lay down on the bed in his room and sleep again, but he wanted the collar off more.
"Come on," Dean said, helping him slide off the exam bed. "Let's go see if they've found anything."
He grabbed Castiel's elbow as the angel staggered on his bad leg. He felt the sutures in his thigh pull and gritted his teeth against the pain, leaning on Dean as they made their way slowly to the library.
Sam was setting a box down on the table when they entered and looked up. "Hey, so I think we found something. It's kind of an all-purpose faery curse breaker I guess? It's supposed to break enchantments and magic from the faery realm."
"It should work," Crowley added from where he sat, slumped more than usual in one of the chairs.
Castiel eased himself into another and watched as Sam pulled bottles of ingredients out of the box and set them on the table next to a large bowl.
Sam measured out the ingredients, put them into the bowl, and spoke an incantation that sounded like Gaelic. A low glow appeared in the bowl and then stopped.
"Well, that should be it," Sam said and took a small cup, dipping it into the mixture.
"Bend your head," he said to Castiel and the angel did as he asked, leaning over the table as Sam poured the mixture across the back of the collar.
At first nothing happened, and Castiel began to worry the spell hadn't been the right one for the job, but then the runes on the collar started to glow. He flinched, expecting the all-too-familiar jolting pain, but instead the glow stopped abruptly and the collar slid from around his neck and thudded onto the table top. Castiel breathed a sigh of relief and shoved it quickly away from him.
"It worked," Sam said in relief.
Castiel felt like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. He reached up to rub the sore spots on his neck as he could feel his grace starting to stir again and felt comforted by the warmth of it in his veins.
"Hello, Moose," Crowley called impatiently. "Your angel isn't the only one here. And I'm the one who helped you find the spell."
Sam rolled his eyes but went over and poured the last of the mixture over Crowley's collar. The demon wrenched it from his neck and threw it to the ground, flicking his eyes to red for a second. "Ah, that's better."
"Cas?" Dean asked. "How's your grace?"
"Recovering," he said. "I should be fine within a couple days." He stood with a wince. "Thank you. I think I want to rest now."
"I could do with some rest myself," Crowley said. "Any chance I could get a room at the Winchester hotel?"
"Hell no," Dean said quickly.
Crowley turned to Castiel, mouth open in indignation. "Do you hear this? And after everything we've been through together."
Castiel sighed wearily. "Let him stay."
"Seriously?" Dean demanded.
"It's just for a couple days," Castiel said, then added with a shrug, "We've had worse."
Dean shrugged back in agreement. "Fine. We'll fix up a room for you."
"I expect chocolates on the pillows and pay-per-view," Crowley called after him and Sam. They ignored him.
Crowley huffed, then turned back to Castiel with a smirk. "Thanks for standing up for me, darling."
Castiel groaned, but it was half-hearted. "Look, Crowley. As much as it pains me to admit, you saved my life a couple times during our misadventure. And you had the opportunity to escape but you didn't. I…appreciate that."
"To be accurate, I was no more capable of escaping that place than you were," Crowley said than sighed heavily and rose from the chair with a wince, heading over to the side table to pour a glass of whisky. "But if it's any consolation, I wouldn't have left you. The Winchesters would have killed me, after all and I've had enough trouble lately."
Castiel smiled slightly. "Of course. Thinking of yourself as always."
"Of course," Crowley smirked. "But what can I say? Playing the bad guy is fun, but even the bad guy deserves to be the hero every once in a while."
Castiel rolled his eyes. Crowley poured a second glass of liquor and handed it to Castiel.
"What do you say? Partners?"
Castiel sighed in exasperation but took the cup. "Fine."
Crowley clinked their glasses and drank.
Castiel might not consider the demon his friend, but he had to admit that he wasn't the worst partner either, despite everything.
Dean and Sam came back in then. "Room's ready," Dean said tersely.
Crowley smiled and set the empty glass aside. "Excellent. When can I move my things in?"
"It's temporary," Dean reminded him with a growl.
Of course, Castiel though, he might change his opinion of the demon once again if he was forced to live with him in the bunker for a few days.
In the meantime, he was just planning on getting a good, long sleep.