Hello again, readers! I've been MIA for a while now, but I'm back. This is a fic I've started for H/C bingo for the prompt "slaves (regular)". This is only chapter one, though. Future chapters will be for different prompts.
Warnings: Slash, AU, brief allusions to dub-con/non-con
Rating: T, but it'll probably go up in future chapters.
Hope you enjoy!
x x x
That's the first thing Dean notices about them. They're skinny. Inhumanly skinny, but that isn't saying much, considering they aren't human. Their ribs jut out from beneath their skin, each one visible enough that Dean could count them if he wanted to. Their wrists are so tiny he thinks he could probably fit four of them in one hand. Bony little knees are the widest parts of their legs and their feet look too large for their bodies. Like duck feet. The women have no curves and the men have no meat on their bones; they all look like malnourished twelve-year-olds.
"Have you made your choice, Mr. Winchester?"
The question makes Dean shudder. Gordon makes them sound like a herd of cattle, waiting to be branded by an owner who would claim them as their own, a piece of property. They are goods. Nothing more.
"No." Dean's voice is weak. Watching the way they pant under the hot sun, their skin secreting shiny drops of sweat, is making him feel ill. He can feel the heat radiating off of them. It isn't a natural heat, but a sickly, humid heat that sticks to his skin and feels like a disease. He needs to get out of there.
Gordon's deep voice interrupts his thoughts again. "If you're having trouble choosing, I could point you in the right direction." The words should sound helpful, friendly even, but Dean can hear the sneer in his voice. Gordon's dark skin is soaked with sweat that drips down his face and into his trim beard. His eyes are filled with contempt and disgust when he looks at them.
The slave trader has been speaking to him, but Dean's been too enraptured by the bones and the smell and the fear to pay attention. "This one here is a beauty," Gordon continues, ignoring the horror on Dean's face. He walks down the line and stops in front of a girl. Huge, dark eyes flick up to stare at Dean from under copper-coloured eyelashes before darting away. Her skin is deathly pale despite the persistence of the sun's rays during the Arizona summer. She must have been locked inside for months. Her hair is a dull, unhealthy shade of red that hangs to her waist in greasy strings. The circles under her eyes are a deep purple-blue.
Despite all this, she holds her head high. Her bony spine is straight as a board and her mouth is pressed into a hard line of barely reigned in anger, defiance, and even pride.
"Name's Anna," Gordon tells him. He stalks towards her, looking her up and down like a wild animal sizing up its prey. Only Anna isn't Gordon's to prey on. He only has to sell her to the highest bidding predator.
Dean swallows and looks away. He can't bear to look at her. At any of them.
He doesn't want to do this. He's itching to get out of here and forget the whole ordeal, but he's put this off for far too long.
His eyes drift away from the girl with the clenched teeth and the fire in her dark eyes and fall upon blue. Dark, stormy blue, hooded under dark brows. The eyes of the slave and the absolute resignation Dean sees in them make something clench painfully inside him. Or maybe it is something he doesn't see, because the slave's eyes are essentially empty. The hopelessness he sees there is like a gaping hole with no bottom. It goes on and on with no signs of… anything.
Dean stares. Gordon notices. He gives Anna one last degrading sneer and turns his back on her. She spits and just manages to miss the slave trader's feet. It is obvious that this one still has spirit, a hope – even if it's carefully hidden – for a better future. Dean can't see any of that in the slave with the blue eyes.
"This one more your type?" Gordon asks, sauntering over to the slave and nudging him. He's trying to get a rise out of him. Dean waits, watches for some sign of retaliation or defence. There is none. The slave stands, his shoulders forward and his head down, dark, greasy hair falling into those blue eyes. He is sickeningly thin, like the rest of them, and raw, red streaks mark his chest and legs. The gashes are surrounded by a faint, sallow yellow. A small part of Dean's mind wonders how Gordon manages to make any sales with his slaves in these conditions. But then, considering Gordon's infamous low prices and what most people tended to do with slaves, a perfect bill of health isn't really on the top list of priorities.
"His name's Castiel. But you can call him whatever you want, of course," Gordon tells him with a slow chuckle. He jerks Castiel's chin up so that Dean has a better view of his face. The sun's rays hit the dark blue eyes and light them up. They would be beautiful if they weren't so vacant. "Previous owner gave him a couple beatings, as you can see, but don't let that discourage you. This one's strong as an ox. He's a fighter."
He doesn't look like a fighter. He doesn't look like anything. Just a shell. Dean supposes that's how he's stayed alive: by keeping himself lifeless.
"Tell you what," Gordon begins, and Dean can hear the smooth tones of a skilled and manipulative sales person creep into his voice. "He's banged up some, so I'll give you a discount. Ten percent off. I'll even throw in some antibiotics for those wounds and an extra pair of cuffs."
Dean flinches. Is this what awaits Castiel if Dean leaves here today empty handed? A pair of cuffs to chain him to a bed in a monster's dark basement? Whips to shred his skin? Starvation? Is this what awaits all of them?
"You can keep your cuffs," Dean counters, his voice hard as his eyes rake over the bloodied shell of the fallen angel. He'll take him home. He'll treat him well, feed him, clean his wounds. Castiel will be thankful. Any slave would. Because Dean isn't like most humans. While most everyone around him seems to thrive in this violent, angry environment they've created for themselves, Dean can't. There is something ingrained deep inside of him, an instinct that runs straight through to his soul to save people, not hurt them. And Dean wants to save Castiel.
Question is, is there anything left to save?
Gordon shoots him a suspicious glance. "You do know the laws of owning slaves, don't you, Winchester?"
Dean shivers. He should never have told Gordon his full name. The way he says it makes him nervous.
"Good. Then you know the consequences you could suffer if you let 'im go."
"I get it, Walker," Dean retorts, throwing the slave trader's last name back at him in exactly the same disgusted tone Gordon himself had used on him.
Gordon stares at him for another moment or two, his eyes narrowed, before nodding his head. "Good. Just let me go get those antibiotics." He saunters off, out of the hot sun and into a building that Dean guesses the slaves never get a chance to see the inside of.
Dean is alone with the slaves now, and it makes his skin crawl with discomfort when he realizes they're all staring at him. Their eyes are wide and desperate, silently pleading for Dean to save them instead, take them home, show them mercy. All except for the slave named Castiel. Dean starts to worry that maybe the blue-eyed slave really is past saving. But he knows he'll still try.
The wind picks up slightly, blowing a blissful breeze across the slowly burning skin of the slaves. It seems to startle Castiel, whose head jerks upwards for only a moment before he lets it sink back down. The basic reaction gives Dean just a little bit of hope for the slave. Maybe there's life somewhere in him, buried deep beneath the emptiness.
Dean wants to find out. He takes a slow step towards the slave and bends his head, trying to make eye contact. There is something almost skillful in the way Castiel avoids it. Dean clears his throat and still Castiel's eyes stay glued to the dust and sand at his feet.
Maybe a more forward approach, then. Dean takes another step forward, even more cautious this time, treating the slave like a skittish horse that could bolt at any minute. "I'm Dean," he murmurs in a voice low enough so that the rest of the slaves, staring at Dean and Castiel like starving vultures, can't hear.
Castiel doesn't even look up.
"Here're those antibiotics for you," Gordon says, announcing his presence as he strides over, still looking suspicious. "Now if you could just come inside, sign the paperwork, and make the payment, you and the bitch'll be free to go."
An urge to slug Gordon square in the jaw comes over Dean, driven by a protectiveness that he had somehow already developed, and he stiffens, fighting hard to hold back. Gordon smirks and waits; he's expecting it. It's a test. Gordon Walker had been a slave trader for a very long time and he could easily tell the difference between his regular customers and a customer who intended to treat their slave like they weren't a slave at all. A customer who might – might – even consider setting their slave free. A customer like Dean.
So Dean stiffens, but he keeps his fists by his sides and gives his best attempt at a conspiratorial smirk. He knows Gordon won't buy it, not completely, but he hopes it will be enough.
It is. Gordon nods in the direction of the building and Dean follows him inside with one last glance at Castiel. The slave's blue eyes follow Dean's boots as he leaves.
Half an hour later Gordon pushes Castiel's head down under the frame of Dean's Impala and shoves him in roughly. Dean swallows and pretends not to care.
"Have fun," Gordon tells him with a final smirk, and once again Dean tries to smirk back at him. He feels so sickened by all of this that he can't even tell if his facial muscles are pulling in the right direction.
"Sure thing," he croaks, waiting for Gordon to shut the door. Gordon nods and does just that.
The door slams on Castiel's hand. He winces. That's it. Not even a whimper.
Dean opens his door and scrambles out of the driver's seat. "Jesus, Walker! What the hell was that?" He jogs around to the other side of the car to check Castiel's hand.
"Sorry for the damage." Gordon speaks as casually as if the subject were a busted TV delivery. "You can always exchange him if hands are your thing," he says with a leer.
Dean closes his eyes to calm himself – getting into a fight wouldn't be worth the consequences. He has to remember that. He sets his jaw and makes sure Castiel is completely inside the car, limbs included, before closing the door. He doesn't even look back at Gordon before getting back into the car and taking off.
Dean drives for two miles before he's calm enough to ask, "Hey, you okay?" When Castiel doesn't answer he adjusts the rear-view mirror so he can see him. The sickly looking fallen angel is staring out the window, his expression blank and his hand lying limp in his lap. "Castiel?"
Still no answer.
Dean briefly wonders if Castiel normally gets away with ignoring his – he hates even thinking the word in reference to himself – masters. Judging from his appearance, Dean guesses no. It doesn't bother him, though. Castiel has the right to silence. Dean's just sorry that it wasn't always enforced.
He sighs. "We'll get you home and put some ice on that hand, then," he mutters, mostly to himself.
For the rest of the ride, the only sound is the warm wind whipping through the rolled down windows and the faint tune of Run Through the Jungle trickling out of the speakers. Dean doesn't turn up the volume for fear of spooking Castiel, and Castiel sits unmoving with his head turned, watching the browned grass and dusty hills zoom by.
It's nightfall by the time Dean pulls the car into the driveway of his house, and for that he's thankful. It's not that he's doing anything wrong – not by his standards, at least. On the contrary, up until tonight he was the only one left on his block without a slave, but Dean really doesn't want to have to deal with any questions.
Right about now, though, Dean wishes he had gone with the delivery service, no matter how much it makes Castiel sound like livestock. He sits in the backseat, still completely unresponsive, and Dean worries that he'll have to use force to bring him out. Considering Castiel's obvious past, Dean doesn't want to give him any reason to associate him with force.
For the second time that day, Dean gets out of the car and circles over to Castiel's side. He opens the door hesitantly.
"So… this is it. You can just come on out."
Castiel is statue-still, staring past Dean at nothing. Dean scratches the back of his neck awkwardly with a grimace.
"Come on, dude, you gotta get cleaned up. Your hand's swollen," he points out.
Finally, for the first time since Dean picked him out of the line up, Castiel looks him in the eye. Dean shivers, and he knows it has nothing to do with the cool night air. Castiel stares at him, unblinking, and Dean is reminded that even though Castiel is fallen, practically human, there's still something alien and other-worldly about him. He is incomprehensibly old and intelligent and he doesn't belong here on earth, not really. The fact that he could be reduced to a broken, bloody mess by a mere man makes Dean's fists clench instinctively. It isn't just.
After holding Dean's gaze for far too long, Castiel finally speaks. "Do you intend to fix me so that you will have greater satisfaction in breaking me again?" His voice is hard, but the question isn't frightened or angry or even bitter. It's nothing. Empty, just like his eyes.
All the same, the question breaks Dean's heart. Is this what they all expect? Is this how much faith they all have left in humanity? If so, Dean decides he can't blame them.
Dean kneels down, eye to eye with Castiel who is still sitting in the car. It makes Dean feel like he's talking to a small child, but he knows better than that.
"No. No, I don't. Look, Castiel, my only angle here is to get you inside, clean you up, put some ice on that hand of yours and let you get some rest. I promise." And because Castiel's stare doesn't become any less blank, because Dean really didn't want to use physical means to get him to follow, he tries coaxing him to speak again. "Do you believe me?"
Dean knows it's a lie. Castiel's voice is still utterly detached. He doesn't look hopeful or thankful or relieved. He looks exactly the same as he did standing in that lineup under the hot sun.
Dean would have to prove himself, then.
Despite his disbelief, Castiel gets out of the car. He stands stiffly while Dean closes the door, but as Dean leads him towards the house, he notices how shaky Castiel's legs are.
Dean leads his new slave – he hates that word, too – into the house and upstairs to the bathroom. He quickly gathers soap, shampoo, a towel, and a facecloth and sets them on the edge of the bath. He turns on the water, makes sure it's warm, and gestures for Castiel to undress.
Castiel looks at him like he thinks he's making a joke.
Dean sighs. "Just give me your clothes, alright; I'm not trying anything funny. You're wearing goddamn rags. They're nasty, man. I'll grab some extra ones while you shower. Okay?"
It takes him a moment, but eventually Castiel nods slowly. He pulls his shirt off, and Dean winces. He turns around, his stomach heaving – he can't bear to look at the sickening scars and bruises that cover the man's chest and back like a second shirt. There are no open wounds there – apparently there really is a limit on how disgustingly ruined a slave can be at time of purchase – but it doesn't matter. Castiel is still marked by every monster who ever owned him, with a myriad of angry purple-black blotches and puckered pink streaks, each mark telling a story of disobedience or incompetence or injustice. If Castiel ever wanted to, Dean would bet he could spend a week telling the tale behind every wound.
"Do I displease you?"
The question makes Dean want to gag, but that isn't a message he wants to send, so he holds back.
"No. It's not like that," Dean explains. Tries to. "It just… looks painful."
Castiel raises an eyebrow at him, and it's the biggest movement Dean's seen in his features since he first laid eyes on him. "I can assure you, it feels worse."
Of course it does. A wave of embarrassment washes over Dean. Here he stands, unable to so much as glance at the slave's body for more than a moment without feeling the need to empty his stomach, and yet Castiel has to see it every day. He has to feel it every day. And he can bear it. Dean feels like an idiot.
Dean mumbles an apology and Castiel holds his rags out. Dean takes them and leaves, quickly averting his gaze from the frightening skin and bone that is Castiel's naked body.
Castiel's showers quickly, all things considered. Dean can see the bathroom door crack open from where he sits on his bed with a make-shift first aid kit, a cloth, and a bowl of warm water. Long fingers attached to a bony hand poke out from behind it and feel around on the floor until they come across the small stack of fresh clothes Dean had left out. The door closes quickly after that.
Dean cracks a very small smile.
The angel – fallen angel, Dean reminds himself – emerges a moment later, clothed in a clean pair of boxers and a t-shirt that slides off one of Castiel's shoulders.
"We're gonna have to get you some clothes that fit."
His response is nothing more than a blank look, of course, but Dean didn't really expect much else. Castiel's icy image is shattered, though, as water droplets from his hair start to drip into his eyes. He blinks rapidly and then shakes his now clean hair out, trying to dry it. It reminds Dean of a wet dog, and it might have been endearing if Castiel looked like anything other than an extra from a slasher flick.
"C'mere," Dean mutters, standing up so that Castiel can have the bed to himself while being treated.
Castiel's steps are wary as he approaches the bed. It's the first sign of any kind of emotion Dean's seen in him so far, but considering the negativity of it, he doesn't know whether or not it's progress.
Either way, Castiel sits down on the edge of the bed, back stiff, expression guarded. Dean wants so badly to gain the trust of this wrecked creature before him, but he doesn't know how. So instead, he picks up the ice pack and kneels down in front of him.
"Give me your hand." He presses the ice to it gently and it begins to numb his fingers just as it numbs Castiel's.
Slowly, he moves his hand, and replaces it with Castiel's. The slave watches him carefully, silently, but he holds on all the same.
"Hold out your leg."
Once again, Castiel does just what Dean asks. Dean holds him by the ankle and swallows in muted horror at how frail he was. His hand fits easily around the width of the ankle with room to spare. Dean tries to ignore it, concentrating on the job at hand. He dunks the cloth into the warm water and drags it lightly over the cuts that mark Castiel's calf like a morbid game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Castiel flinches and a soft hiss escapes his lips.
"Sorry," Dean murmurs, washing the yellowish discharge away.
The antibiotics are worse. Castiel gasps when they enter the wounds and grits his teeth against the stinging sensations. Dean glances at him apologetically.
"Do you want me to stop?"
Castiel looks down at him and seems to visibly pull himself together. "No."
So Dean continues.
When it's over and all open wounds have been disinfected and loosely bandaged, Dean stands up and smiles tentatively.
"You hungry?" He isn't expecting much of an answer, and he figures it would be a pretty obvious one if he got it, so he continues. "I'll get us something to eat. You good with a sandwich? Sorry it's nothing special, but – "
"A sandwich sounds good," Castiel says, cutting him off timidly.
They eat in silence. Well, Dean eats. Castiel devours. Dean watches him tear bread, lettuce and turkey away with his teeth and flick his tongue out to catch whatever doesn't make it into his mouth. He chews viciously, almost desperately, and tilts his head back to swallow. Dean watches his Adam's apple bob quickly, over and over again, and forces himself not to ask any of the intrusive questions running through his head.
Eventually Castiel seems to realize that he's demolishing his meal with the fervour of a starving animal, so he slows down slightly. He licks his fingers clean when he's finished and then stands.
"What would you have me do?" he asks, and Dean can tell he's trying for all the world to look dignified and put together.
It takes Dean a second or two to understand the question, and when he does, he shakes his head. "You don't have to do anything. Get some rest."
Castiel's brow furrows and a wary look comes into his eyes once again. "There must be something. You bought me."
Dean sighs. "Yeah, well, I kinda had to."
"I highly doubt that," Castiel says flatly.
Dean responds with a scowl. "You talk to all your m-" He stutters over the word 'master'. He doesn't want to be thought of as 'master'. Not even by himself, and especially not by Castiel. "- buyers like that?"
The look he receives in return is vaguely amused. "It only took about three minutes in your presence to realize that you are not the typical… 'buyer'." Is Castiel mocking him? It sounds like he's mocking him. Great.
"What I meant," Dean starts, getting the conversation back on track, "was that I'm probably the last person in the entire state of Arizona to not have a slave. People are starting to talk. The tolerance level for anti-slavery is pretty low around here, y'know."
Castiel lets out a soft snort. "So instead of having your neighbours talk, you drove over to the nearest slave market and picked up the first guy that caught your fancy?"
He has a point. Dean breaks eye contact and mumbles, "Saved your ass." His eyes flick back to Castiel's just in time to catch the look of bitter understanding pass through them.
"Ahh," Castiel says. "That's what this is about."
The words are so quiet Dean can't be sure he's heard them, but before he can ask, Castiel begins to sway.
"Dude. Dude, you okay?"
There's nothing around for Castiel to steady himself on so Dean takes a step forward and offers his own arm. Castiel hesitates, looks up at Dean, and then takes it.
"Let's get you to bed."
There's no fight in Castiel as Dean half leads, half carries him to the guest room at the end of the hall, but every time Dean looks down he sees that same wary look in the man's eyes. Like he's preparing himself for the worst. Dean doesn't look down much.
The mattress isn't huge, but it's soft and the sheets are fresh and cool. Dean helps Castiel into bed and watches his head sink into the pillow. His eyes close in relief. Dean turns to go.
Castiel's hand shoots out from beneath the sheets and curls around Dean's wrist. His grip is surprisingly vice-like for such a frail hand, fingers digging into the hollows above the bone, and Dean tries not to squirm. He looks down to see Castiel looking straight back. His eyes – still so blue, even in the dim lighting of the spare room – are penetrating and Dean can't tell if he's looking for something in him or trying to turn him to dust with a look.
"Thank you," he says eventually, voice hard and emotionless again. It sounds as far from a genuine thanks as it can get, but Dean accepts it. Castiel lets go of Dean's wrist then and closes his eyes, making it clear that he doesn't want a response.
Dean doesn't give him one.
x x x
Next chapter should be out fairly soon. Let me know what you think! Reviews are love.
- Nix (: