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Non Tiembo Mala by Rebecca Scott aka River Critter

Chapter 1: Sweat rolled down his back and dripped uncomfortably from the tip of his nose but Castiel paid it no heed as he slammed the tip of his blade into his enemy once again. His tunic clung to him in the most uncomfortable of ways, plastered to his skin by the layers of moisture hed worked up in the last three hours but hed set aside the idea of removing it. That would take far too long and offer him even less defense from any blows that might be returned despite the fact that the tattered dummy before him was entirely unlikely to attempt such a thing. Still, Castiel preferred to practice as if he were engaged in genuine battle, just the way his older brother had taught him. There was a family tradition to uphold after all. Most of the Novak family had joined the military with the notable exception of the eldest son, Michael, who had turned, instead, towards politics. Unlike his older brother, Castiel had been practicing to join the ranks of Romes legions since he was old enough to hold a sword, and had dreamed about doing so even longer, but as of last night, that dream suddenly and unexpectedly had been swept out of his reach.

A frown creased the young mans brow and he slashed half-heartedly at the dummys head but he didnt really register the small puff of straw and debris that fluttered to the ground. Instead his mind slid back to the strange conversation hed had the previous night with the eldest member of their sprawling family. Michael had always been distantly affectionate with all of his younger brothers and sisters but their father had left for battle over 20 years ago, and when he hadnt returned, Michael had been forced to grow up rather quickly. At only 16 years old, Michael Novak had inherited all rights of Patria Potestas and as a result hed grown steadily more distant from his younger siblings since then. Castiel rarely saw him since most days found Michael at the Senate chasing along the heels of powerful men. His ambitions did not lean toward the sword and shield like the rest of the family but rather toward the podium and the positions of entitlement he felt he was meant to hold. With all of this considered it had come as quite a was a surprise then when Castiel had found himself summoned to dine with Michael.

Hed dutifully gone to his brothers side filled with confusion over this sudden interest in spending time with him only to leave later even more confused by the course their conversation had taken. Despite his training having taken a backseat to the running of the daily household tasks, Castiel had always expected to eventually join the military ranks but last night Michael had informed him his request to join the legions was going to be put on hold once again, this time indefinitely. As the younger brother, Castiel knew better than to argue but he was still unsure why this was happening. He had no real interest in politics the way Michael did and he held few skills, outside of those suited toward the battle

field, that would make him a good tradesman but once his brother had wrapped his mind around an idea, it was near to impossible to dislodge it. Castiel sighed and slashed at the training dummy again. Hed always been a good and obedient son, the youngest of all his siblings, and when everyone else had gone their separate ways, hed stayed behind to pick up the slack; but always with the promise that his own time would come. Now that dream had been stolen away and he chafed at the fact that he didnt even have an answer for why yet.

You know, I dont think its going to attack you first. Castiel jolted at the sudden interruption. Hed been simply staring blankly at the training dummy for the past few minutes without even realizing it. A flush of embarrassment crept up his cheeks as he turned around to face the owner of that all too familiar voice. Gabriel leaned casually against one of the smooth marble pillars that ringed the atrium, his legs crossed at the ankle and a lopsided grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. My apologies, Castiel rumbled as he threw a frustrated glance at his motionless adversary, I was distracted.

You dont say, Gabriel quipped sarcastically as he bounded down the rest of the steps and sauntered over to the tattered remains of straw and linen. He poked at the spot Castiel had sliced open along the dummys cheek. You get this distracted on the field of battle, little brother, and youre going to be in more pieces than this guy. When Castiel said nothing in reply, Gabriel merely raised an eyebrow. Bad day, huh? He pressed as he walked toward the low rack of swords that hung from one wall. After careful thought Gabriel slid a short thick blade from among the others and made his way back to where Castiel stood dejectedly staring at the training dummy. You might as well spill it, Cas. You know Im just going to kick your butt till you do.

A hint of a smile passed over Castiels face in spite of himself. With the exception of their sister Anna, who had practically raised Castiel, Gabriel had always been his favorite sibling. Sure, the guy was pushy, had a strange and often offensive sense of humor, and was painfully stubborn, but he was also loyal to a fault and had always looked out for his baby brother in his own way. Still, Castiel wasnt sure where to even begin, how to explain to Gabriel that his whole world had just been turned upside down for apparently nothing more than the whim of their older brother. It is nothing of importance, he offered with a forced smile, How are your oration classes going? Gabriel had only recently joined the ranks of the citys public orators, his wit and skill with words gaining him popularity even this early in his career, and Castiel found himself fascinated and often envious of his brothers abilities. His own attempts at social interaction were laughable at best and as a result he found public gatherings were little more than a breeding ground for humiliation.

Gabriel, however, was not about to be put off and he rolled his eyes. Cas, its hotter than Vulcans balls out here and from the smell of you, youve been at this for quite some time, so obviously its something important. Can we skip straight to the part where you tell me whats wrong so your awesome big brother can help you fix it? Whatd ya do? Did you set free all of the eels Michael had set aside for one of his fancy dinners again? Gabriel flipped the sword in his hands with a deftness that came with years of training. Most enemies that gazed upon his smaller stature dismissed him as being little to no threat but Castiel knew better. All of his combat instruction had come from the slight man before him and Castiel knew Gabriels wit wasnt the only thing that was dangerous. I Castiel paused and tried to collect his thoughts into something coherent but his attention was diverted by the gleam of a sword swinging at his face. He stumbled back a step and quickly raised his own blade up to block with barely an inch to spare. Gabriels mischievous eyes smiled at him from the other end of the sword. You must learn to think on your feet, baby brother. The words were followed by a few more swift blows, all of which Castiel blocked with more ease now that he was expecting them and knew what his brother was trying to do. Hed always had trouble speaking his mind as a child, his fear of disappointing others or burdening them with his misgivings always prevailed over his own needs. Gabriel was a clever teacher, however, and had quickly figured out exactly how to get his little brother talking. He simply didnt afford Castiels mind time enough to worry about things like guilt. It started with Castiel being forced to recite arithmetic lessons, poetry, or philosophy during sparring sessions but it quickly became a sure fire way to get Castiel talking about anything and everything that was bothering him. While hed hated it at first, over time he had soon come to realize the value of this exercise. Hed learned how to think while under fire and how to separate his mind from the frenzy of battle. It had made him a quick thinker and a calm fighter, both qualities that could save his life someday. Or, at least, would have if his dream of joining the military hadnt been squashed. Michael has forbade me from joining the ranks, he blurted out as he swept aside a vicious blow aimed at his ribs. Gabriel screeched to a halt and shot a look of incredulity at the young man across from him. Say again? I am not allowed to join the legions, Castiel repeated, the tension in his shoulders draining as they slumped in defeat. Michael said he has other plans for me and does not feel a military career would further the family honor as much as I believe. Gabriel snorted in a combination of bitterness and disbelief. In other words, he doesnt think it will further his career enough. Did he tell you what he DID want? Or is he just planning on making you his wife so you can clean the house and tend the slaves for the rest of your life? Castiel ignored his brothers sarcastic comment and shook his head. No, he did not say why I am forbidden, just that I am not to put my name on the roster for training.

Gabriel shook his head in disgust. That arrogant bastard. He mumbled something quietly to himself and took in the dejected form of his youngest brother across from him. Michaels unwavering belief in utter obedience by the rest of the family and his desire for power had already driven away all of his siblings save for Castiel. It seemed unfair to Gabriel that his youngest brother was the one left trying to hold everything together. Lucien, the second eldest, had left home shortly after his brother had taken control, though that was probably for the best considering how often they fought. The last news Gabriel had heard from him placed his older brother with a Legion somewhere near Macedonia while Uriel had volunteered for the sea journey to Crete. He himself had left for the oratory schools as soon as he could convince Michael to allow it. Gabriel was pretty sure the only reason Michael agreed to it was to simply shut him up. Annas fate had been both more and less kind. She had stayed at home, refusing to leave Castiel alone. It was a decision that had cost her dearly. Shed fallen in love with a young merchant who spent many months pursuing her hand but Michael would not hear of it. When his attempts to break up the relationship failed, hed simply arranged a marriage for her to a Senator. Powerful men are fickle at best, however, and after hed had his amusement with her, the Senator had simply refused her hand in marriage. Shamed and humiliated Anna had fled in disgrace. Despite all of Michaels scheming however, she gained the happy ending she had prayed for as she fled directly into the arms of her estranged love. Now it left only Castiel to take care of the sprawling family home while Michael pursued his aspirations. Despite all of this Gabriel had never thought for an instant that his brother would be so selfish as to keep Castiel from fulfilling his dreams just to satisfy a need to keep the house in working order. Surely there were slaves better suited to such matters. No, Gabriel thought with a heavy frown, there had to be some other reason why Michael was refusing to let Castiel leave. He met the sad blue eyes of his little brother and tried to put on a smile to cheer him. Hey, Ill talk to him, ok? Well get it all straightened out. Trust me. He grinned broadly at Castiel who seemed to brighten slightly at that. How long will you be staying? Castiel asked hopefully. Gabes smile fell some as he shrugged. Only tonight, Im afraid. Sorry, little brother. My mentor and I are heading out tomorrow. He wants to take a trip out toward Cicely for some gods forsaken reason. Castiel nodded quietly but didnt offer a complaint. He was grateful for however much of his brothers company he could get. His thoughts were interrupted, however, by the scurry of feet across the tile floors inside and both men turned to see an older woman, bent with age and work, come shuffling to the edge of the atrium. Forgive me, masters, she said deferentially, but Master Michael has returned and is on his way. He wishes to speak with Master Castiel. Castiel could feel his shoulders tighten with dread as his mind played over every possible reason Michael might want to speak with him yet again. Thank you, Anya, he said politely, watching as the old woman rushed back into the cool shadows of the house. She had been a fixture in their home for as long as he could remember; a slave bought off the racks by his father back when she had been young, though her

years were showing more and more with each passing year. Castiel worried she wouldnt be with them much longer and had recently begun secretly helping her with her chores despite the fact he knew Michael would never approve. There were a great many things Michael didnt approve of, he thought bitterly. Gabriel moved to stand beside him but when Castiel looked, it was to find his brother scowling off into the darkness of the house with his arms crossed tightly over his chest. For some reason, Castiel felt a little safer just having Gabriel there. He knew Michael would never hurt him but he lacked the finesse of his witty brother to talk his way out of things he didnt want. He turned his eyes back in time to see a form materialize as Michael emerged out onto the first step. For someone who wasnt in the military, the oldest Novak certainly cut an impressive figure; his very presence was commanding, offering those around him the definitive impression that he was not to be trifled with. His well-built frame, despite the fact it had none of the muscle possessed by a fighter, was still an impressive sight standing over six feet tall. Michaels sharp gaze flicked down to where Gabriel was still holding the sword clenched tightly in his fist and when he met Gabriels eyes, a moment of challenge passed between them. It was obvious no love had been lost when Gabriel left. How pleasant to see you, Michael stated coldly, had I known you were coming I would have arranged a meal to celebrate. Gabriels smile was sugary sweet but his eyes narrowed threateningly. Oh, dont trouble yourself, brother. I know how busy you are. Im sure I can find my way to the kitchens for a meal. Castiel shifted uncomfortably and looked away as if it would help relieve some of the tension vibrating between the two other men. He wanted to find a small rock to hide under until this was over. He knew there wouldnt be any bloodshed; Gabriel was too smart to attack the head of a powerful family even if that person was his own flesh and blood, but the situation could escalate into a verbal fight. While Gabriel would easily win such a battle, Castiel would be the one left behind with Michaels temper; it was a scenario hed rather avoid if at all possible. Im sure you can, Michael said icily, Please feel free to do so. I must speak with our brother alone for a moment. Castiel. With that, the older man turned on his heel and strode back into the house without a single glance back, expecting and knowing the youngest of the family would dutifully follow the silent command. Blue eyes met hazel as Castiel shot an apprehensive look over toward Gabriel before obediently trailing in Michaels footsteps. Behind him he could hear Gabriel angrily drop the sword back into its spot on the wall with a ringing clang. Hed barely entered the main dining area behind Michael before the older man turned to face him. I know that he is your brother and you love him but I do not want him back in this house while I am home, he said with finality before heading over to a small low couch where he eased himself back with a gesture for Castiel to do the same.

He is your brother too, Michael, Castiel dared to interject as he lowered himself onto the seat. He chose otherwise when he placed his own desires above the needs of this family, Castiel. He left us. He left you. Castiel looked up to find Michael watching him intently. Whatever else could be said for the man, his penetrating stare belied an incredible intelligence that made him dangerous on any field. It always left Castiel feeling small, like a bug pinned down for examination by a scientist, and he kept his lips tightly sealed against the rebellious words that threatened to spill out in defense of his brother. Regardless, Michael continued, He is not what I wished to discuss this evening. Castiel glanced back up from where hed been staring at the dusty tops of his sandals to meet his brothers gaze. Im heading to the Senate again tomorrow, Castiel. I have made great progress in gaining the favor of none other than Azazel himself. Im sure you know of him, Michael prompted. He is one of the most influential politicians of Rome, Castiel rattled off dispassionately. Hed heard Michael speak of Azazel before but even without his brothers constant references to the senator it was hard not to know of him. The man in question had most of the Senators and other government officials squarely in his pockets and rumor had it that no one got into the Senate without his approval. To be on the good side of Azazel was to have Rome practically on a platter. Michael offered Castiel a rare smile. Yes, and tomorrow I am meeting him for an important meal to discuss my possible election as a Quaestor. I wish for you to accompany me. Castiel stared at his brother dumbfounded for a few moments. He had never shared the social graces his other siblings had possessed and had never shown any interest in politics. He had no idea why then, when so much was at stake, his brother would suddenly want him to join him on such an important engagement. Surely Michael would have been better off alone at such a meeting. Being elected as a Quaestor was a sure fire way to gain a seat in the Senate and with Azazel backing him, the end result of any election would be a foregone conclusion. There was nothing Castiel could imagine that he could bring to the table for such an event. Brother, with all due respect, I have never even met this Senator. I.. Exactly, Michael cut him off with a dismissive wave, but I have spoken of you to him and Azazel surely cannot endorse me without meeting my family. With Lucien and Uriel off at war, that leaves you. Castiel chose to not to comment on the fact that two other family members were still quite alive and well as he doubted they had been left out by accident. But you know I am uncertain how to impress people of such influence. I do not wish to reflect badly upon you and jeopardize this opportunity. The older Novak slid easily back to his feet and Castiel quickly followed suit. Two large hands rested upon his shoulders in a gesture of affection so alien that Castiel found himself shrinking under it as Michael leaned forward. Do not worry, you will not ruin it. Venus has blessed you with the face rivaling the legendary Narcissus himself; her son cupid follows in your wake. All you need do is sit quietly and let your silence charm those around you. You will be my beautiful mystery, little brother. With those cryptic words, Michael turned and strode from the room leaving Castiel staring after him.

He wasnt sure just how long he stood there trying to decipher what exactly his brother had meant before his body invariably pulled him toward the kitchens and the comfort he knew hed find there. He stepped down onto the thin tile floor and was met by the warmth of the ovens, the smell of fresh baking bread, and the laughter of the servants as Gabriel regaled them with what was no doubt an entirely inappropriate and lewd tale if the blush on the youngest maids cheeks were any indication. His brother perked up even more upon seeing him but the mans smile faltered a moment as their eyes met. Gabriel hopped down from his seat on the counter and strode over to Castiel. Ladies, your masters are famished. Would you darling things whip up something for us to eat while I have a little chat with my brother here? Gabriel slipped an arm around Castiels shoulders and all but dragged him over to a low seat near the ovens where they could talk in semi-privacy. So, what is it now? What brilliant plan has our brother set down for you that he thinks is so much more important than the military? Im assuming thats what his little impromptu chat was all about. Castiel nodded and his lips thinned into a frown. He wants me to join him for the midday meal tomorrow. Gabriel quirked an eyebrow and the two shared a wordless look of mutual disbelief. With a Senator. Gabriels eyebrow reached higher. Senator Azazel. Gabriels head tilted forward simply due to the fact that his eyebrow could climb no higher. Seriously? he asked with as much confusion as Castiel felt. Yes, his brother said simply, Michael wants me to meet him. If this meeting goes well, Azazel will back him for election to Quaestor. Gabriel sat back and stared into the fire before him, his lips pursed in thought. Then why bring you? I mean, no offence little brother, but you arent exactly a social butterfly. None taken, Castiel said quietly, I told him the same thing myself. He said, I didnt need to be. That I was basically just to sit there and look pretty. The last part of that sentence caused the corner of his mouth to turn down sourly. He hated the idea of being little more than a decoration for his brother to show off and he had never felt himself especially attractive, no more so than any other member of his family. Michael was strikingly handsome in the classical way most artists looked for when carving statues, Lucifer had their fathers strong chin and regal air, Uriel was the living embodiment of a god with all of his muscles, Gabriels eyes sparkled with a mischief women seemed to find irresistible, and Anna.oh Anna.

His wonderful Anna had been the most beautiful woman Castiel had ever seen. Her hair was the fiery red of Vulcans forges, her eyes the blue of Neptunes seas and her voice had lulled him to sleep on so many nights when the angry shouts of their brothers had scared him. Castiel could see nothing so special about himself. When he looked back to Gabriel though, he was surprised to find his brothers face twisted in anger. Hes going to do it again, the other man growled through gritted teeth, that arrogant, self righteous, self absorbed Gabriel cut himself off and looked back over at Cas. Remember what he did to Anna? How he suddenly had an interest in her life once he thought he could marry her off to someone powerful enough to give him clout? Castiels eyes narrowed. He didnt like where this was going. Yes, but the Senator is a man and has a wife already. He could not replace the Lady Megara with me. Yeah, well, I dont think thats going to stop Michael from dangling you in front of the good Senator like a worm on a hook. He has to think youll get Azazels attention somehow if hes bringing you with him. Dont think for a second he wouldnt sell you, me, Anna, and the whole lot to Azazel if it would get him to his goals. Damn-it. I cant believe him! Gabriels whole body radiated with an obvious anger but he breathed out a slow sigh and let the tension and ire seep off. It would do no good to get wound up without a plan and as he stared into the concerned eyes of his brother, Gabriel knew he had to think of something quickly. Hey, dont worry about it too much, ok? Well figure something out. For all we know, you arent this Senators type and Mikes just grasping for straws here. When he realizes he cant use you, hell lose interest and when I come back next week, Ill convince him to let you join the military again. Castiel wasnt so sure though and he swallowed nervously as he rubbed the sweat of his palms across his dirty knees. What if the Senator is interested? he asked softly, what am I supposed to do then? Gabriel shrugged. Pick your nose every time Mike isnt looking, he joked lightheartedly. Trust me, if the Senator wants you after that, you might WANT to see if you can get him to marry you. The look of disgust and unhappiness on Castiels face said plainly he didnt find the joke funny though and Gabriel rolled his eyes. Look, its just a meal, right? Its doubtful Mike is going to just drop you in the Senators lap. Hell see if theres interest first and then try to work out some kind of assurance that hell get something in return. That means you shouldnt have to worry too much about tomorrow. If this guy does show interest, then just fend him off till its time to go and when I get back next week well handle it. If Mike tries to force the issue, we can claim I kidnapped you and Ill take you with me out of the city. I hear the coast of Hispania is lovely this time of year. This time Castiel did smile, even if only a little. Thank you, he all but whispered, it has been hard without you and Anna here. I.Ive missed you. Gabriel grinned at him lopsidedly and poked his little brother in the ribs. Ah, you just miss me cause you like getting your butt kicked in training sessions, he quipped. Castiel smiled fully in spite of his lingering fear over the next day and he let himself be dragged back toward the gaggle of servants who had set up a fine meal for them both at the weathered old counter in

the center of the room. The rest of the night was spent wrapped in his brothers fanciful stories and memories of simpler times when they were all younger and had only each other to worry about before Castiel finally made his way to his bed and fell into a fitful sleep. Chapter 2: The low moans of the dying filled the air around him as Deanarious picked his way down the steep incline. It didnt escape his notice that both Roman and Gaul soldiers tended to sound alike when breathing their last. The woods around him were still, save for that mournful sound. Finding his fallen brethren among the piles of mangled limbs that surrounded him was difficult, but his keen eyes hunted for any signs of bronzed amour hidden among the dead and dying. Here and there he stopped and checked for a pulse and, finding none, he made a mental note of those he recognized so that he could offer his personal appreciation to their families for the sacrifice their loved one made this day. Some were men he had known for months, some for only a few weeks, and occasionally he stumbled across one hed known for years, though the latter were blessedly rare. Usually the older warriors had learned well enough what it took to survive in battle and when one fell it was more often than not because they were distracted by younger, less experienced, men.

It should have bothered him more, he thought, this hunting and picking through the remnants of his fellow soldiers, but he shut it away with the rest of the pain hed learned to ignore over his tenure in the Legion. People die and at least these died fighting honorably. Dean stopped and tugged at the hastily tied bandage around his left thigh. The rag was crusted over with dried blood from the deep slash underneath, a souvenir hed picked up from a heavy set Gaul with hair pulled back in a wild tangle of braids. He could still remember the stink of the mans breath as hed lunged desperately at Dean in an attempt to kill one last Roman before the fight was lost for good. While it was a noble sentiment, he had simply picked the wrong Roman. The cut would heal but Dean knew hed need to clean it out soon before infection set in. He frowned at the thick layer of grime smeared over his legs and silently wished for a bath.

The life of a soldier had been all Dean had ever known though and he carried on with his quiet search for survivors, satisfied that he wouldnt lose any more blood for at least the time being. Hed been part of the 78th Justia Compleo Legion since he was only a boy. It had been his fathers regiment before him and hed always known this was where hed end up someday. Their mother had died early though, the victim of a tragic fire, and Dean found himself unable to join the ranks as early as hed liked since his younger brother Samael would have been left alone in the city without him. Hed stayed, raised his sibling with the wages his father sent home to them and when Sam was old enough, theyd signed up together. Fate is cruel however, and by the time Dean and Sam had trained enough to join the front lines, their father had moved on to another unit.

While Sam protested the military life they currently led he had excelled at a wide variety of disciplines and studies, this in combination with his superior intelligence made him a perfect candidate to be an officer in Romes forces. Hed risen through the ranks quickly and now served as the legions Aquilifer, their standard bearer on the field, a position of high esteem and one that made Dean proud to have such a little brother. Dean himself would have picked up rank just as quickly if it werent for his disciplinary issues which prevented him from holding a senior rank for any period of time. Usually these issues arose whenever someone informed him that his new rank might affect his staying in the same unit as his brother. For Dean, it was enough that hed earned the rank of Salararius, a high ranking non-commissioned officer kept around for his particular skill with a sword, since it kept his brother where he could watch over him.

Dean knew it couldnt last forever though. Sam was far too good at what he did to be kept in this unit for long. Soon the orders would come, and in that moment Sam would be promoted to Centurion status only to then be reassigned to a legion or unit in need of an officer in its ranks. When that time came, Dean knew hed do anything in his power to transfer along side him. Luckily men of his status were welcome additions in almost any legion especially since a seasoned warrior was one that both knew actual battle and could train others, but Dean also came with a record of disorderly conduct. Whether his experience would outshine his record was yet to be seen and could cause his request to be to be denied. The mere thought of being apart from his brother was one he wasnt willing to entertain. Theyd never been apart more than a few days before and while the logical part of Deans mind said Sam could look after himself, he just couldnt put aside his protective instincts. In a way, it was Dean who needed Sam though hed never admit it. It was Sam who pulled him away from the tables when hed been drinking too much or gambled away too much of his pay. It was Sam that helped him drag his sorry carcass back to the barracks on the rare occasions when theyd been afforded leave back in the sacred walls of Rome itself and it was Sam who had his back when he took on one too many fellow soldiers in a brawl.

Dean paused in his thoughts and searching to scan across the narrow ravine, his sharp green eyes raking the landscape. In the distance, he finally spotted the telltale flutter of vibrant crimson cloth that marked Sams location. His brother would be at the center of the battlefield acting as a beacon for troops trying to regroup. It struck Dean just how far hed wandered during the battle. He snorted derisively. Battle? No, it had been nothing less than an ambush. Theyd wandered down into the ravine on their way through the forest since their original path had been blocked. Dean had known from the beginning something was off. Perfectly healthy trees didnt conveniently knock themselves over and they certainly didnt fall directly onto paths for no reason, especially since there had been no storm to cause the trees to do such a thing. The moment hed seen it, hed known they had been lured into a trap. Sam had seen it too and together theyd alerted their garrison of the threat. It was the two brothers that had turned the tide on what, otherwise, would have been a massacre.

Now the verdant carpet of ferns around his ankles was crushed and tattered beneath booted feet and the once green leaves were splashed with streaks of red. It HAD been a beautiful forest. Dean started sharply as a hand reached up from the foliage and wrapped tightly around his calf. It was blood smeared and missing two fingernails but that wasnt what caught his attention. It was the thick blue lines of tattoos that ran in swirling patterns around the wrist. No Roman would have such decorations and Dean let his eyes wander down the arm to where a Gaul man was staring up at him with a pained expression. They were always so very human in the end. This was the hard part for Dean. He wished they just stay feral and violent the way they were when they came at him in battle, not broken and wounded and oh so vulnerable as they were at the end. Something in the nature of men seemed to set aside cultural differences when death was at their door and it wasnt the first time Dean had found an enemy reaching out for aid as he lay dying.

Rome would show this man no pity, however, and Dean knew it was no mercy to bring this Gaul in alive. The man would be tortured for information and would eventually die of much more horrific wounds or would be killed outright. For Dean the answer was brutal, but simple. He closed his eyes and shut out the scared rabbit look on the mans face before plunging his gladius down through the exposed throat of his enemy. The hand around his calf shuddered and finally let go, falling back to the forest floor with the rest of its pitiable owner. Dean sighed and pulled out his sword before moving on.

He found only five Roman men alive on the field, all of whom would need tending but the total number of casualties was fortunately small. It was a great victory for them, one that Dean was sure would go far toward bolstering his brothers already sterling reputation. By the time Dean made his way to Sams side, the young man was already doing head counts to see who and how many theyd lost. Sam paused as Dean wandered up to him. Not too many, he said heavily as he eyed his older brother for signs of injury, Its lucky we were prepared for an attack. You doing ok?

Dean could hear the worry in Sams voice and he waved it off with a snort. What this? he said gesturing to his leg, Meh, Ive had worse. Ill live. How about you? Any damage?

Sam shook his head and smiled a little sadly. Does it ever bother you? he said quietly enough that no one else could hear, Seeing this all the time? I mean, I know theyre barbarians and all butlook at them. Theyre just trying to save their homes from us. I kind of feel sorry for them.

Dean shot him an incredulous look. Seriously? he said with a raised eyebrow, Sam, they smear themselves with paint made from blue dye and piss. How can you possibly feel sorry for them? He shook his head and turned from his brothers disapproving stare. He wasnt about to admit that yeah, sometimes he felt a little sorry for them too. Their armor and weapons werent as powerful as the Romans and they were defending their homes from Roman invasion but Dean had lost many men over the years to well laid traps and his pity had its limits. The Gauls might lack the same sheer military might of a Roman Legion but they were not to be under-estimated. Too many Romans had died by doing just that and Dean wasnt about to be one of them. Chapter 3: The sound of Starlings fluttering about their cage woke Castiel the next morning, his eyes blinking at the sunshine peaking through the heavy drapes as he tried to chase away the memory of the nightmare hed been having. The small birds had been a parting gift from Anna just before shed left home for the last time. Their music was often the very first thing Castiel heard when waking. Anna had said they reminded her of her little brother, beautiful things that man should never have put behind bars, and she hoped that some day he would set them free. Castiel, however, never seemed to have the heart to do so. He had not seen his sister since shed left over a year ago and he couldnt bear to part with the last gift she had presented to him. He rolled over in his bed and watched them flit from branch to branch in their beautifully gilded cage. There was something almost mournful in the way they chirped out to the sunlight creeping in through his window and he felt a horrid sense of kinship with them; despite being trapped in lovely surroundings, none of them wanted to stay. Castiel once again thought about freeing them, of watching them flutter away swooping gaily on the warm winds, but his heart ached at the thought of not seeing them again and he let the idea go with a heavy sigh. Maybe one day hed gather enough courage to actually part with the little birds, but not today.

Castiel lay in bed a few more moments, debating whether or not he had enough time to get some practice in before he and Michael were set to leave. A good sparring session might help take some of his nervousness away or, at the very least, he could make himself too tired to care. He glanced down at the lump of sweat soaked sheets tangled around his legs with a frown and chided himself for being silly about everything. After all, it was just a meal. Gabriels words from the previous night still plagued him though and he couldnt seem to shake the stone sitting heavily in the pit of his stomach. He knew that paternal law gave Michael all rights to do with Castiel as he pleased seeing as he was the head of the household, and he had already proven once that he was not above using the rest of his family as a means of reaching his objectives, whether it was in their best interest or not. Castiel could only hope this senator Azazel would show no sign of interest and that the meeting would be over quickly before he did something that would ruin his brothers political career while still in its infancy.

Castiel threw off the last of the tangled sheets and slid from his bed. The cold stone of the floor was just the shock he needed to push the last of his sleepiness away as he stretched his aching muscles, arching

his arms toward the ceiling, his body protesting the rough treatment from yesterdays training. Hed worked himself harder than normal due to Michaels news and now he was paying for it as his arms and shoulders knotted with tension. Castiel snatched up a thick towel from one of the small baskets set along his wall and wrapped it around his waist. While most of the servants had seen him nude at some point or another, he doubted they would appreciate him wandering around the house that way. He shuffled out into the warm morning light that poured into the atrium at the center of the house and considered going to see Gabriel for a moment. He paused and thought better knowing that if his brother were still around hed have been waiting for him just outside the bathroom the way he always had when they were younger. The house was still and all but empty though as Castiel made his way towards the baths; the silence letting him know that his brother had, in fact, already left the family dwelling. Their fathers military career had ensured the Novak family had enough money to live comfortably if not in extreme wealth and they were fortunate enough to have a private bath within their own home. It was a fact Michael bragged of often and it made his dinner parties very popular since guests were able to enjoy the luxury of having a bath after dinner.

Their home was modest but laid out beautifully with a recessed and open atrium at the center that was ringed on all sides by several spacious and equally splendid rooms. Castiels bedroom was almost directly across from the bath and as he headed up the steps and back into the cool shade of the other side, he could hear shuffling footsteps behind him. He recognized the soft footfalls at once and smiled as Anya caught up. The old woman had learned his schedule over the years and he knew shed probably been waiting around for him to wake for at least the last fifteen minutes. She was often his silent companion day in and day out save for when other duties called her away and shed refused to leave his side even when Castiel had explained that she neednt attend to him like some imperial master. Anya had explained in her patient voice tinged with its odd Sicilian accent that she preferred his company to that of his brother. Shed been a constant in his life from the moment of his birth and had helped Anna to raise him, making her more like his own mother rather than a servant.

Castiel watched her move about the room, pulling down oils from shelves and laying them out on the mosaic tiles that lined the bath and he wondered what had brought her to this point. Hed asked her once how shed come to be a slave but shed simply told him it had always been so since as long as she could remember. Slaves came to Rome from far and wide and it was not uncommon for a child of a neighboring island or country to find itself in such a position. His mind flicked back to the Starlings again and as he watched her kneel at the side of the bath, he wished that he could free her too. He pulled the towel from his waist and folded it neatly so that she wouldnt have to before climbing down into the mercifully warm water. Thick copper pipes running below the house kept the bath filled at all times and a furnace beneath the floor had been stoked before hed even climbed from bed. He shot a grateful smile toward Anya as he slid deeper still beneath the water and let it pull the tension away from overused muscles. Strong hands wrinkled with age immediately set to work on his shoulders, speeding the process of relaxation with a practiced ease that put many a masseur to shame.

Once satisfied that her master was comfortable, Anya slipped out of the room to prepare his breakfast, leaving Castiel to finish washing on his own. By the time he slid back out of the bath, Anya had laid out fresh robes for him and a small tray of olives, bread, and a few select cheeses. He dressed quickly and then sat on the stairs in the sun as he polished off his meal, his mind reeling through all of the etiquette classes Michael had insisted on when he was growing up. He eventually decided against more sparring practice in favor of helping Anya and the other servants clean the kitchen, a decision helped greatly by the lingering soreness of the previous days workout, and it was there that Michael found him a short while later. His brother shot him a disapproving look from the doorway and Castiel quietly set down the rag hed been holding before following the older man outside. No words were exchanged between them, not even a morning greeting and Castiel patiently waited for the lecture he knew would be coming for participating in what his brother considered servants work. He trailed in Michaels footsteps as the older man turned and headed down the street toward the exclusive section of town.

In short order they found themselves swept into the throng of other citizens making their way around the city. Occasionally a litter carried by four or more strong slaves would pass by them and Castiel did not miss the look of envy that would cross over Michaels face. If this meeting went well enough, it would not be long until the Novak family could also claim such an auspicious way to travel. A fact that made Castiel even more nervous about this meeting than he had been last night; he knew he could not afford to bungle the encounter. His brothers whole political career might very well hinge on how this meeting turned out. The last thing Castiel wanted was to be the reason Michael didnt get elected to his desired position. He had almost begun to believe the other man had forgotten about finding him in the kitchens when his brother spoke up.

Its beneath you, He stated simply, as if that in itself should be enough of an explanation, and Castiel didnt need to ask what Michael was referring to.

The tone of his brothers voice said that this one short sentence was in and of itself an entire conversation, beginning, middle, and end, and that there would be no room for argument but the words were out of Castiels mouth before he could stop them. Anya is getting old. The work is hard on her. I was only trying to help.

Michael shrugged nonchalantly. Its her job, Castiel. It is her station and duty. When she can no longer do the work to which she is tasked, we will simply get someone who can. Do you believe we need to do so?

The threat was there even if his brother didnt say it openly and Castiel swallowed hard. His eyes lowered to the ground out of habit despite the fact that Michael hadnt even looked back at him nor slowed his pace. No, he said thickly, No, she is still capable. Im sure she will be able to do the job on her own.

Then you have no excuse to help her, do you? Michael prodded quietly.

No, Castiel said around the lump in his throat. He knew arguing wouldnt do him any good, Michael wasnt the sort that changed his mind, but it still made Castiel feel horribly guilty knowing he could not dare helping Anya again for fear of Michael finding out. His brother wouldnt hesitate to follow through on the unspoken threat and he would gladly replace Anya with a new and younger slave if he thought it would keep Castiel from disobeying him.

Michael paused finally, turned to clap a hand onto Castiels shoulder, and smiled in a brotherly way that looked oddly fake on him. Im only looking out for your best interests. This family has great things ahead of it and we must act as our station in life demands. Anya has her place, we have ours, and we must each do our duties for the betterment of all. Trust in me, my dependable and loyal Castiel.

Castiel nodded silently. He almost wished Michael would go back to ignoring his existence, as this strange new affection he was receiving was unsettling at best. Hed never been Michaels favorite, though he couldnt say off hand that any of them had, and he was entirely uncomfortable with the sudden closeness his brother seemed to be fostering between them. Michael squeezed his shoulder and shot him one last fleeting smile before turning and once more striding with purpose toward their destination. When they finally came to a stop, it was in the courtyard of a sprawling home lavishly decorated with imported plants and pottery from all corners of the empire. The home was set back from the street outside and sheltered away from the bustle of the city by a thick wall inset with two heavy wood doors, which were slammed shut as soon as the pair entered. Castiel felt his stomach sink as he watched two of the guards resume their places on either side of the entryway. Two more armed and armored men waited with stoic patience at the door ahead of them which led into the house itself, but Michael paid them no heed as he made his way up the steps. The door was opened almost as soon as they reached it and a small man with an intelligent looking face met them there. The servant didnt bother to introduce himself but he bowed his head politely to Michael and ushered them inside. The great Senator awaits your presence in the main dining room. Please follow me.

If the outside of the home had been impressive, the inside was downright opulent. The front parlor room was vast, interspersed with heavy columns that had been wrapped with expensive dyed fabrics, and it opened onto one of several atriums scattered around the house. Servants rushed about but the man leading them acted as if they didnt exist and not one of them would meet Castiels eyes when he looked at them. The pit in his stomach deepened further but he could not place what exactly caused him so much unease. Gabriel had always informed him that his instincts were exceptional and right at that very moment they were screaming for him to get out of the house as quickly as he was able, but he tore his gaze away from the retreating back of a slave to follow behind Michael regardless. There was not one inch of the house that was not a display of the senators power and wealth and despite his best intentions Castiel found himself staring as they made their way through several more rooms. Diaphanous sheets of fabric fluttered from where they hung around a private garden, offering a tantalizing glimpse of the exotic plants beyond and bird song echoed through out the home from hidden cages. Most of the birds were ones Castiel had never heard before.

A couple of sleek greyhounds caught up to the trio and loped past them on their way toward their masters side and each room they passed through was strewn with heavy imported furniture crafted by truly skilled artisans. There was no doubt in Castiels mind that this senator knew how to impress and he felt a little ill as he thought of how much more his clumsiness and stumbling attempts at social grace would stand out by comparison. There was no turning back now though and he followed the servant into a wide cool room where several other people were already waiting. Large ornate couches huddled around a set of massive dark oak tables and colored glass lanterns dangled from several decorative columns around the room. To their right the ceiling had been cut away to allow light to pour in and beneath it sat a small garden where brilliantly colored flowers carpeted the space around a statue of the goddess Nike. It wasnt the garden that caught Castiels attention, however, so much as the shadowed figures which dotted the walls around the room; guards in heavy segmented armor watched the newcomers with impassive faces as they waited for any sign of threat.

Michael seemed utterly unfazed by the sheer richness of his surroundings and he conducted himself as if he knew he simply belonged here among those he considered his rightful social class. He offered a salute of respect to the man sitting across from them in the place of honor and Castiel watched as the senator rose to return the gesture. His robes were made of the finest ivory linens, edged in the telltale crimson banding that marked his position with the Senate, but it was less his clothing and more his air of authority that made it clear who the master of this house was. The senator returned the salute politely but his eyes werent on Michael and Castiel swallowed heavily as he found himself suddenly under that scrutinizing gaze. Sharp hazel eyes raked up and down Castiels form in a way that sent shivers of unease down his spine and he found himself looking anywhere but at the senator in his discomfort.

He could hear the man make his way across the space and he glanced back in time to see him exchange a hug with Michael in greeting. Im so glad you could make it, Azazel said in a voice that Castiel was pretty sure would belong to snakes if snakes could talk. There was slight rasp to it that spoke of many years and many speeches made on the Senate floor but it was undercut with something else Castiel couldnt quite put his finger on, he just knew he didnt like it, and already he wished this meal were over with so he could escape this mans presence.

Thank you so much for your generous hospitality, Michael said with a warmth and familiarity that hed never shown his own family. It made Castiel feel very much alone in the room and he worried that it had to be glaringly obvious to everyone there just how much he didnt belong. The senators other guests consisted of a corpulent older man in robes that matched Azazels own, a fact that marked him as a fellow politician, and a lean middle-aged man of the patrician class. It was obvious that this man was trying to impress his respectable host as his own robes were overly lavish and hung with bronze and gold ornaments that jingled every time he shifted on the couch. While the older senators hair had succumbed to gray long ago, the patricians dark hair had only just begun to show signs of age along his temples and scattered around his well-groomed beard.

Azazel gestured toward an empty couch and then resumed his own seat. The servant that had led them into the room swiftly took up his own place at the end of the couch near his masters feet and it spoke volumes about the mans worth in that household that he would be allowed to stay for the meal. Michael sprawled himself against the arm of their seating with a calm he had never displayed at home while Castiel sat rigidly at the other end and tried not to accidentally do anything that would seem impolite. Azazel sat across from them both and he and Michael quickly struck up a conversation about the recent goings on at the Senate. Castiel tried to pay attention for Michaels sake but hed never had much care for politics and he soon found himself staring off at the little garden while his mind wandered. All he had to do was make it through an entire meal without messing anything up and he was hoping Michael would stay true to his assurances that he wouldnt have to say anything. Suddenly just sitting still and looking pretty didnt seem like such a bad option. After all, what could he possibly have to say that would be of interest to a man who was currently talking idly about changing laws that would affect all of Rome?

Michaels assurances didnt seem to have been passed along to Azazel though and Castiel flinched a little when he heard the senator address him. I apologize. Our conversation must seem entirely dull to youCastiel, was it? Castiels head snapped around to find every set of eyes in the room on him and he shrank slightly in his seat. He truly hoped he hadnt just been caught ignoring something important the senator had said. The look Michael was giving him was less than pleased but Azazel didnt seem insulted by Castiels lack of interest. Instead he was smiling knowingly and looked more amused than anything.

Castiel cleared his throat and shifted nervously. No, of course not, he lied as best he could, You are responsible for the well being of Rome, your conversation is of utmost importance. I apologize that I am not well enough versed in law to fully appreciate it. He glanced back over at his brother and Michael gave him an almost imperceptible nod that said he was pleased with Castiels quick recovery.

Azazel didnt look like he believed Castiels explanation in the least bit but he mercifully changed topics regardless. Oh thats all right, we dont expect every Novak to have the same enthusiasm for politics as your brother. The senator shot Michael a look that said plainly he was making fun of how often the other man was found at the heels of the citys politicians but if it bothered Michael, he certainly wasnt showing it. He smiled politely and let the comment pass. Im curious though exactly what vocation it is that you do.

Castiel looked back again to Michael as he tried to figure out the best way to word well I WAS going to join the military till you and my brother decided to know what was best for me but he was spared the effort by his brother chiming in on his behalf. He has trained relentlessly in the finer arts of war since he was a child and had originally intended to gain his commission the same as my other two brothers, Lucien and Uriel, but Im afraid his request to join Romes legions was denied. Hes of too light a build to make a good centurion. Instead, he has generously been helping me with the running of our household. Castiels head snapped around to his brother as the lie rolled easily off his tongue. He had not been denied! He hadnt even been allowed to submit his name for the Legion! He knew better than to correct Michael in front of their host and his guests but it chaffed him that his attempts at a military career had just been insulted.

The heavyset senator, who had been introduced to them as Septimus, hummed his approval and nodded as he reached for his wine. Very honorable, he said through a thin layer of phlegm, my own father was friends with a powerful general as you know, and I have the utmost respect for men who choose to fight for our way of life. A shame you werent accepted but honorable of you none the less.

Timian, the well dressed man who was, as it turns out, a wealthy merchant who owned half the stalls in the most influential sections of the city, chimed in as well though it seemed he was more interested in just having something to add to the conversation than actually trying to make any point. Oh I agree, I agree. Very honorable.

Azazel seemed content to ignore them both however as he stared at Castiel. His eerie smile had not faltered in the least but his eyes seemed to be scouring Castiels face for any sign of what his guest was actually thinking. I see no reason for your brother to be relegated to doing a job any well trained servant could do, he said without looking at Michael, I believe he may be destined for something greater than that. Castiel let his eyes flick between Michael and Azazel, unsure of how to respond to that or even if he should. Too many emotions were warring just under the surface while his future and career choices were being bantered around and he didnt trust himself not to say something he would surely regret later.

Perhaps youre right, Michael responded tightly, I could always hire more help but Castiel is a valuable asset to my home. I dont know that replacing him would be so easy.

Azazel glanced over at Michael at last and suddenly the tone of the conversation seemed to change as if there were an unspoken meaning layered beneath the words being exchanged. Well, I could always use a man of intelligence and worth in my offices. If he is so valuable an asset as you say, perhaps I could convince him to come work for me. There is an open position for an assistant I believe he would fill nicely and he could aid me in organizing my affairs. I would need someone I could rely on however.

Michael smiled and pretended to consider the matter some. Oh Castiel is very reliable. He has a way with our servants that keeps them loyal and working hard. People seem to trust him and I believe he could put almost anyone at ease if given the chance. So, as you can see, he would indeed be difficult to replace. No slave Ive ever met has shared those traits.

Azazel waved a hand dismissively. You dont need someone like that to run a household of your size. He would be far better suited to serving as a direct aid to a senator where he would see far more travel and where his particular skills would be put to better use. Castiel looked back to the garden and bit back a snide comment about how it would be nice if someone in the room dared to ask him what he wanted. He had the sinking feeling though that they werent really discussing his career and if the way Azazel kept glancing at him appreciatively were any indication; he doubted the senator was looking for a purely platonic aid for his meetings. He felt his stomach curl painfully at the idea of this man being allowed to lay hands on him and he hoped his brother wouldnt be so callous as to trade him away for a chance at political glory.

I see your point. Perhaps he might be of use to you but I would be sorely put out at losing him, Michael baited.

Well, Im sure once we get you elected to Quaestor, you will have no trouble finding a replacement and I would consider it a personal favor if you would release your brother to my care. Azazel smiled in a way that made Castiel shudder and he looked desperately over at Michael. His hope was shattered though at the look of satisfaction on his brothers face.

Indeed. With an offer so generous, how could I refuse such a simple request?

Castiels mind rebelled at the idea and he wanted to scream at them both for being able to trade him so easily while he sat in the room without any say in the matter. He clenched his mouth shut hard enough to make his jaw ache and tried to reassure himself that Gabriel would put an end to it. He didnt dare to say anything aloud and risk embarrassing Michael in front of such powerful people since he knew full well what kind of wrath that would bring down on him. Hed be lucky if his brother didnt sell every slave in the house and beat Castiel black and blue for such an insult. He was so angry and distraught that he barely registered the food being brought out to them on expensive ceramic plates. He picked at his food just to feign interest while his mind ran as quickly as possible through the list of ways he could sneak out of Rome with Gabriel and where they might go that would be far enough for Michael not to follow.

The rest of the guests didnt seem bothered in the least that he wasnt talking any more now that Azazel and Michael had made their arrangement and Castiel was mercifully left alone to his thoughts. Eventually everyone was full enough to be content and Azazel offered to show his guests around his home. When Castiel rose to join them however, Azazel simply gestured to the garden and smiled. Weve bored you enough with all our talk, Castiel. You seem to like my garden quite a bit. Tennen here can show you the far more impressive one I have in the back. There will be plenty of time for you to see the rest of the house once you come work for me. He winked at Castiel before turning to lead the rest of the group away and his servant stepped forward to take his place.

If you will follow me, Tennen said pleasantly. Castiel numbly followed the narrow faced little man through the house, grateful that hed been spared any more time spent in their hosts company. He was led to the edge of the large atrium hed seen earlier and Tennen drew back the sheer curtain to let Castiel through. For a moment he forgot his troubles as he peered around in wonder at the array of beautiful plants that sprawled out before him and he reverently made his way down into the sunshine that fell from the open ceiling. He wished he could take off his leather boots so as to feel the cool marble tiles that led on the winding path he was following to the center of the garden. It was like a whole other world carved out of the center of the house and it was crowned at its middle with a small but ornate fountain depicting four nymphs holding jugs of constantly flowing water. The leaves on the

side of the trail tickled his calves as he walked and the air was a mixture of sweet floral scents from all the blooms around him. In a far corner sat a beautiful golden perch wrought into swirling patterns and on it sat a bird unlike any Castiel had ever seen before. Its neck was long and graceful and its body was covered in bluish feathers that shone an iridescent green when the light hit them just so. Its tail was the most defining feature however with its long feathers that flowed to the ground, each terminating in a design that looked like shimmering eyes all staring back at him.

Castiel was so enamored of the bird that he almost didnt hear the person walking up behind him. He turned sharply and was surprised to find himself face to face not with Tennen but with Azazel. The senators loyal servant seemed to have disappeared and the thin curtain wall that surrounded the garden went from comforting to leaving Castiel feeling suddenly trapped. Azazel was smiling at him again, watching him with that same intensity hed shown all afternoon but this time he was a little too close for Castiels comfort and the young man took an involuntary step back. In the bright sun of the afternoon, the hazel of the senators eyes took on an almost golden yellow hue that only further solidified Castiels first impression of a serpent.

Do you like my garden? Azazel said as he gestured around them.

Y-yes, Castiel stammered before gathering his wits and trying again, Yes, it is lovely. Thank you. Where are my brother and your other guests? I do not wish to keep you from them.

Azazels smile deepened. Dont worry, you arent. Theyve decided to take advantage of my private baths and are enjoying one of the finer things that sets Romans apart from the rest of civilization. I was worried I was being a bad host however and excused myself so I could make sure you were not feeling neglected. He took another step forward and in one movement took back any space Castiel had given himself between them.

Castiel swallowed heavily. He wasnt entirely sure how to remove himself from this without ruining his brothers career or insulting their very powerful host. Irritating the most influential man in Rome could certainly have larger consequences than just keeping Michael from his aspirations. I am fine, he bit out nervously, I am more than happy to simply wait here until you have all finished your baths. He tried to take another step back only to find his calves bumping up against the side of the fountain and he eyed Azazel like a trapped animal. He suddenly knew what sheep felt like when they encountered wolves.

The senator closed the space once again and Castiel recoiled as far as he could without falling over. Why dont I wait here with you then? Its important to me that you feel comfortable in my house. Youre going to be spending a lot of time here after all. There was something in those words and the way the senator said them that made Castiel cringe and when Azazels hand made its way to the top of his hip, Castiel jerked away from the touch.

No, he said firmly as he sidled around the fountain and took a few steps away. It had just become painfully obvious that Gabriel had been wrong about how quickly the senator might try to claim his prize. I am flattered, senator, but I do not believe this is appropriate, he said flatly. He was surprised when Azazel simply laughed at him.

Appropriate? With a word, I can change the minds of some of the most powerful people in the empire. With a word I can condemn a man as a criminal against all of Rome and then hold games where he will fight and die to amuse the people of this city. With a word, I can sway the senate and change law itself. I think I will be my own judge of whats appropriate in my own home. Azazels smile widened into something entirely predatory and Castiel found his dislike of the man infinitely increasing. Besides, Im sure your brother will forgive me if I wish to get to know you better.

Castiel found himself backing away as Azazel tried to close the space between them again. He knew in a one on one fight he could probably easily overcome the other man, after all hed had the advantage of having Gabriel as a teacher, but he doubted heavily hed stand much of a chance against the armed men Azazel had spread throughout his home. He also doubted they would care much that hed had a good reason for striking their employer. Perhaps I should leave, he said as he stumbled backward through one of the curtains. Castiel didnt wait for a reply as he walked briskly back the way theyd been led in. He needed to get out of this house and out of this situation before he did something hed regret. He made it all the way to the front door, which was mercifully unmanned and had started to pull it open when a hand slammed flat against it and pushed it shut again. Castiel turned and backed against the door as Azazel penned him in. Please, he said as politely as he could through grit teeth, Just let me leave.

Azazel didnt appear moved by his request, however, and he leaned in and whispered against Castiels ear. I could offer you so much more than youve ever known, Castiel. I could hand you Rome on a silver platter and all you have to do is not fight me. A warm hand slid along the bare skin of Castiels thigh, pushing up a section of his robe and he sucked in a breath as panic took hold. Michaels plans be damned, he wasnt about to let this happen. He planted his hands against the senators chest and shoved him backward as hard as he could, sending the senator skidding across the tile floor with a

shocked look on his face but Castiel didnt wait to see what happened next. He knew it wouldnt take long for one of the guards to get wind of what had just occurred and he slammed the front door open.

As he rushed down the steps and bolted for the gate, he could hear a surprised shout from Michael behind him and the sound of several sets of wet feet slapping against the floor. His brother and the other guests must have come looking for their host when he didnt return and Castiel didnt want to think about what the scene must have looked like from their point of view. The guards shot him an uncertain look as he threw open the gate and Castiel used their hesitation as an opportunity to dash out into the street. He quickly lost himself in the throng of citizens and raced away from the senators home, the sound of Michael angrily shouting his name still ringing in his ears.

Chapter 4: This was it. Castiel was utterly doomed. He sat curled in a corner of the kitchen near the stoves and wracked his brain for a way to get in touch with Gabriel but he already knew his brother wouldnt even get the letter in time to spare him Michaels wrath when he got home. As he looked up into the worried face of Anya, guilt tugged at him. His inability to put aside his own needs for one afternoon might have just cost her the only home shed ever known. A little swell of panic tugged at Cass heart when he thought of what might become of her now. Michael knew how much she meant to him and he knew his brother was not above using her to enact his vengeance. He could easily sell the old woman into a much harder line of work where she would have less comforts and a master she didnt know. Castiel briefly considered trying to sneak her out of Rome but he doubted they would get far once Michael alerted the city guards and he knew the penalty for stealing a slave. I am so sorry, he said quietly, taking the older womans face into his hands, Forgive me my selfishness. Anya didnt bother with a reply, she probably had no idea what he was talking about, but she pulled him into her arms and rubbed his back in the way she used to when he was a child. A soft lullaby wafted against his neck as she hummed quietly to him but it brought little comfort today as there was nothing he could do to protect her when the time came. Castiel had almost steeled himself for the sort of screaming match he used to overhear between Michael and Lucien when his brothers imposing figure suddenly filled the doorway. He mustered his courage and slid to his feet, pointedly ignoring the way Anyas hands tugged at his robes as if she were concerned for his safety. The look of silent anger smoldering on Michaels face had him a little concerned for his safety as well but if he could keep his brothers anger focused on him then he might be able to spare Anya any punishments doled out on his behalf. He managed to evenly meet his brothers gaze despite his own uncertainty and waited for the hit he was sure would be coming but was surprised when a strong hand snapped around his bicep and simply dragged him from the room instead. I blame myself, Michael fumed as he marched Castiel through the house toward his bedroom, I should have forbade him to set a foot here again after hed left. I should have never let you spend so

much time around him growing up. Hes been a bad influence on both you and your sister from the moment he was old enough to talk. Michael pushed the door to Castiels room open and shoved him inside. You will never speak to Gabriel again. You will not write him. You will not see him. You will return all his correspondence unread. Castiel stumbled into the room and stared at his brother with disbelief. The tone of Michaels voice said he wasnt joking in the least but when Cas opened his mouth to protest Gabriels innocence, that this was his mistake alone and had nothing to do with his brother, he was silenced with a single raised finger. He fills your head with nonsense. He goes against my word without thought and he has spread his own selfishness to you and Anna. You have always been loyal to this family until last night after his most recent visit. He poisons you and it will not continue, Michael said with a note of what sounded like sadness. Castiel knew he should keep his mouth shut lest he make things worse but he couldnt stop the need to defend Gabriel. Perhaps his brother was a bad influence after all. This was not Gabriels doing. I pushed the senator because he Cas felt his cheeks flush and he cleared his throat, he placed his hands upon me without permission. I acted in self-defense. Michael did not look impressed. Castiel, he said with forced patience, he is the most powerful senator in the empire. If he wishes to have you, you lift your robes for him and count yourself fortunate that such a man has taken an interest in you. He could single handedly lift this family to the highest echelons of society or cast us into the lowest and you have insulted him. I am not his whore, Castiel found himself growling angrily, and I am not yours. Michael did hit him then. The punch slammed him back into the side of his bed and he felt something warm and wet trickle over his chin. When he looked down he could see a few spatters of crimson on his sheets from his newly busted lip. You are a member of this family and you are whatever I tell you to be, Michael stated coldly from behind him. Your selfishness could have destroyed everything we have worked for. Castiel waited for another blow but instead Michael took a deep calming breath. Fortunately for you, Azazel has chosen not to take insult though he had every right to. For some reason he seems to like your rebellious nature and has made it clear he still wants our arrangement, he said with a note of disgust. Tonight he is leaving for the front lines of Romes expansion to celebrate a great military victory there. He has been far more gracious than he needs to be and has given you a full 3 days to get your affairs in order before we meet the guard that will escort you north. There you will meet up with him on the front lines and travel back with him to Rome. Castiel watched Michael from the corner of his eye. Please, he found himself saying quietly, Do not do this. He wasnt sure why he couldnt just keep his mouth shut, hed never before been so rebellious, but he couldnt help thinking that if he could just hold all of this at bay until Gabriel got back, then he might have a chance still of getting out of it. Michael stood rigidly in the doorway. Three days. Gather what you need for the journey. I will have crates brought to box what you leave behind so it can be taken to the senators home after you leave. His voice dropped into an unsettling calm laced with warning. You will not embarrass this family in such

a manner again, Castiel. You will do as you are told, you will serve the senator as he desires, and if I hear so much as a whisper of his displeasure with you, I will sell Anya to the stone quarries as a water bearer. Castiel winced and dropped his head. Hed lost this fight and he knew it. The quarries were practically a death sentence for any slave and fully grown men in their prime rarely lasted more than a few months there. The heat, dust and grueling labor claimed most of them and while Anya would not be forced to break rock, she would spend out the rest of her days carrying heavy water jugs for the men working the field. Castiel doubted at her age that she would live to see out a few weeks under such conditions. He could not relegate her to dying in the dirt and heat if he could help it. That will not be necessary. Forgive me, brother. I will do as you say. He flinched as a soft hand landed on his arm and he looked over to where Michael was kneeling beside him. His brothers face had schooled itself into a look of sadness and he patted Castiels arm gently. I know you will. I just wish you didnt force me to such measures to assure it. You are a good son of this family and you will do your duty to uphold our honor. I have faith in you, Michael said soothingly. Castiel would have preferred it if his brother had simply stuck with yelling at him, it would have stung infinitely less than the note of disappointment he could hear in his brothers voice, and he nodded without meeting the other mans eyes. Thank you, he whispered. Michael smiled at him and swept out of the room, closing the door behind him and leaving Castiel alone with his silent prayer for Gabriel to hurry home.

Chapter 5: The mood of the encampment was one of general frivolity. The recent victory over the Gauls had solidified their hold on this section of the region and news had just reached them that another garrison 30 miles to their west had also won a decisive battle. The Gauls would have no choice now but to give ground and regroup farther north to lick their wounds, giving time and needed space to the Romans for building a new fortification that would ensure continued dominion of these new lands. With the chance of an enemy attack so low, the commanding officers had given permission for their men to blow off a little steam. Drinks were being passed around as the last of their supplies were broken open for they knew tomorrow they would be heading to meet the other garrison toward the west and that new supplies would be already underway once the news of the victories reached Romes walls. Shouts and jubilant cries rang out through the camp as men gathered in small clusters to gamble, wrestle, or share stories of their personal battles, mugs of warm wine gripped in almost every hand. Dean easily ducked the swing of the drunk soldier he was fighting while the crowd around him raised a chorus of cheers. He landed two punches to the mans stomach before jumping back again and then silently thanked his reflexes for being fast enough to get him out of range as his opponent doubled over to vomit at his feet. He smirked and patted the back of the other fighters head. The battle was over and everyone knew it. It was the fifth hed won so far that night and he collected his winnings before

winding away back toward the tent he shared with his brother. Chumps, he snickered as he tucked the newly acquired coins into a pouch on his belt and pushed his way inside, the noise of the crowds becoming muffled as the flap dropped behind him. Sam was crouched at the far end of the tent surrounded by rolls of parchment and he glanced up as Dean walked in. Hey, he said by way of greeting before dropping his eyes back to the task in front of him, How many did you cheat out of a weeks pay this time? Dean smiled and shrugged. Only five. Decided to call it off and come see if I cant convince my stick in the mud brother to put down work for a few hours and join me. He paused and watched as Sams face scrunched in concentration. You know, its not really a fair fight if they only think youre drunk, right? Sam checked off something and jotted down a note onto a parchment at his right. Yeah, well, serves em right for getting that trashed in the first place. Friggin babies cant hold their wine, Dean snorted as he dropped his coin pouch into a hidden section of his pack. It was an age old scam he and his brother had run from back in their childhood days. Their fathers pay hadnt always made it to them in a timely fashion and when things got tight, Dean had been forced to think of ways to keep his little brother fed. People were easy to bilk out of their money and while shell games had brought in enough coin to keep the bills paid, the real money was to be had in fighting. Romans loved nothing so much as a good fight and it was never hard to find someone in a tavern who was too drunk to know better. Dean would feign his own intoxication after a few mugs of wine and then scan around for someone to challenge. All he had to do was drop a few insults, lose a few rounds, and once the betting had reached its height, lay the guy out and collect on his pay. Hed walk away with some bruises, a bloody nose, and enough money to keep him and Sam living comfortably for a week. The trick had lost none of its potency once theyd joined the military and over time Dean had squirreled away a few years worth of salary. Theyre eventually going to figure it out, Dean. Theyre not stupid, Sam chided him. Are you kidding? Have you talked to Vitus? The guys a moron. I could play him every single day and hed still fall for it, Dean shook his head. Sam just sighed and let the matter drop. He went back to scanning over the records of their last few battles when Dean suddenly snatched the paper away. Hey! I was looking at that! Dean ignored his brothers protest and rolled the parchment up before smacking the younger man on the head with it. Ow! What was that for?! Come on, Sam, Dean snapped in frustration, theres a party outside that would make Bacchus jealous and youre sitting in here like some kind of leper. Youre the only guy in a uniform not holding a mug. Youre not holding one, Sam replied sullenly as he rubbed his head.

Hey, Ive already DONE my part to drain the supplies, thank you. Now if you dont come have a drink with me, then thats going to be one more glass of wine were going to have still in the supply wagons and well have to cart it all the way across these forsaken woods to the other encampment. Do you really want to be the person who didnt do his duty in helping us make the trip lighter? Dean shot him a look of such seriousness that Sam couldnt help but chuckle. Fine, he laughed, but just ONE. Im not dragging you back in here like I had to last time. You get too drunk to walk again and Im going to leave you right where you fall. Dean snorted and rolled his eyes as he headed for the exit. Yeah right, I hold my wine a whole lot better than you do. If one of us has to get dragged back here, its not gonna be me. **** The next morning started with someone rudely shouting Deans name as they rapped on the door to the tent and he let out a muffled groan from where his face was buried in his helmet. Beside him, he could hear Sam roll to his feet with more energy than was descent that early in the morning and he turned his face away from the light as the flap to the tent was thrown open. He could make out a quick muffled exchange of words but the pounding headache he was fighting down made it hard to concentrate on what was being said. Sam shuffled back in a moment later and unceremoniously kicked his leg on his way past. The commander wants to talk to you, Dean. Hes probably angry with you for urinating on the side of his tent last night. Sam flopped down and began pulling on his armor, his face twisted in a scowl of disapproval. I did not, Dean croaked as he finally raised his head to peer at his brother. His nose was hurting from where hed apparently spent the night with it pressed into the back of his helmet. Yeah, Dean, you did. And then you passed out just like I said you would, his brother snapped, and I had to carry you all the way back here. Dean smirked. I thought you said you were going to leave me where I lay. Sam paused in strapping on his greaves to shoot Dean an irritable look. Oh come on, its not the worst thing Ive ever done, he said dismissively. He could have you whipped for something like that, Sam said with all seriousness and Dean could detect a little worry in his voice. Hes not going to have me whipped, Dean said as if it were the most ridiculous thing hed ever heard, The guy loves me. *** I could have you whipped for this! Dean and Sam stood at ridged attention in front of the makeshift desk of their commander. The normally calm face of the older man in front of them was red and puffy with anger and Dean didnt need

to look over at Sam to know his brother was probably already forming about a million ways to say I told you so at that moment. Little geek probably even knew six different languages to say it in. My apologies, sir, Dean said nervously. What is wrong with you? Commander Pullo continued, Are you incapable of discipline, Winchester? No, sir. Do you do this specifically to spite me? No, sir. The older man sighed and let his head drop to his hands. I should have you flogged as an example, he said, peering up at Dean with a scowl, but Im not going to. Thank you, sir, Dean said gratefully as relief flooded his body. He had a pretty high pain tolerance but hed seen men flogged before and he valued keeping the skin of his back in one piece if he could help it. Oh dont thank me yet, Pullo said with a note of malignant glee in his voice, Youre not getting off that easy. The only reason Im not flogging you is I dont want to set a bad impression when we meet up with the 125th Veridis Quernus Legion tomorrow. I dont want them thinking our men lack discipline. So I have a better use for you that will keep you out of my hair for a week or so. Dean and Sam shared a brief glance of concern at each other as the commander lifted a message scroll from his desk. I just got word from Rome. Theres a very influential senator on his way up to the front. He and a few of his fellow cronies are going to be making a short tour of the new fortifications being built to secure our victories. Apparently he has a new aide still in Rome whose company he wishes to have and he has asked for two of our most reliable men to ride back and escort this person. You will take Titus with you back to the city, collect this aide of his and then bring him safely back to the fort we will be constructing at the curve of the river to the west. Dean frowned and raised an eyebrow. An aide? he said incredulously, I have to ride all the way back to Rome to babysit some guy just because this senator wants his new toy? Why cant they just get one of the troops still stationed there to do it? Because those troops dont know this new territory as well as you do, they arent a recently fought veteran like you, and because you pissed on my tent, Winchester, the commander said with a little too much satisfaction. More to the point, Im sending you because I cant risk anything going wrong on this mission and as much of a screw up as you are when you have any free time on your hands, you are still one of my best when it comes to battles. Nothing bad can happen to this aide, Winchester. This senator is extremely powerful or I wouldnt be even considering this kind of request. This is not the kind of person you say no to. If he wants us to get his aide and cart him all the way up here, then thats what we do. Now go get Titus and move out. Sam stepped forward before Dean could do much more than open his mouth to protest. Sir, I request permission to take Tituss place. I would like to ride with my brother.

Im sure you would, the commander said with a little sorrow, but Im afraid thats not possible. Samael, youre commission has come through. Youre being re-assigned to the 32nd Bellus Monstrum Legion. Deans heart seemed to seize up in his chest and he looked over at his little brother. Sam looked just as stunned as he was as he stared at the ornately penned scroll their commander was passing over to him. Sir, Dean said a little more desperately than he really intended to, I formally request to be transferred to the same unit. Request denied, the older man said as he sank back into his chair. I cannot spare you. Despite your unruliness, you are still one of my better men. The hell you cant, Dean started to snap but Sam had a grip on his arm and was practically shoving him back outside while uttering a string of apologies on his behalf. Theyd barely stumbled out into the morning light before Dean was poking an angry finger into his brothers chest. The crap do you think youre doing?? He wants to keep me here, I can show him just how bad an idea that is. Sam grabbed his brothers arms in an iron grip and Dean fought the urge to wince. Sometimes he forgot just how strong his little brother had gotten despite the fact that his younger sibling had grown a full 3 inches taller than him. Dean, this isnt helping, Sam snapped, just go back to the tent, pack your gear and let me talk to him, ok? Sam, Dean said around the painful lump tightening in his chest, theyre trying to split us up. Theyre gonna send you away. Who the hells gonna look after your sorry ass on the battlefield if Im not there? Sam shot him a melancholy smile. I know but Im going to try to fix it, ok? Look, screaming at him isnt going to help. If anything he might just change his mind about flogging you. Just let me try to talk to him. Dean shot a last glare at the tent and wavered on the border between trusting his little brother and marching back in there to beat on someone till the world made sense again. Fine, he ground out at last before turning on his heel and storming back off toward their quarters. A short while later Sam finally rejoined him and he sank down onto the ground next to where Dean was angrily shoving his belongings back into his travel pack. One look at the young man said clearly that he hadnt gotten the answer hed hoped for and Dean cemented his eyes back to his own pack. It felt like someone was threatening to sever his very arm off and there was nothing he could do about it. He wasnt sure what he was going to do if he didnt have Sam nearby. He figured someday something like this could happen but it had always been a distant possibility, not the real and looming threat that it was now. Theyre still sending you away, arent they? Dean said tightly as he jammed a rolled up robe into his bag. Yes, Sam replied, but its not hopeless. I cant get him to agree that hell transfer you with me but he at least said hed consider it. I did get him to let me go with you back to Rome though. Im due a few

days leave anyway to get my affairs in order for my transfer. He said I could ride with you as the second member of the escort and Ill just head back to Rome to meet my new unit after its over. Dean sighed through his nose. It wasnt what he wanted but at least it was something and the knowledge that he was being afforded even a few more days with his little brother helped ease the ugly knot that had formed in his chest. Yeah, he said distantly as he finished packing. Sam watched him with open concern. He didnt like the idea of being away from Dean any more than his brother did but he was genuinely worried about what would happen to Dean once hed gone. Without him around, who would keep his brother out of trouble with the officers? Sam felt a little sick at the idea of Dean going off recklessly into battle or getting the skin torn from his back by the thick lash of a whip for acting up without anyone to keep him grounded. Hey, who knows? If we do a good job on this, Dean, it might be what we need to get you transferred. The idea suddenly struck Sam like a lightning bolt and he snapped up from where hed been leaning against the wall of the tent. Deanthis senator were helpinghes powerful, right? I mean, this guy is capable of getting a legion on the front to part with two of its best men just to act as an escort. If we get this aide of his back here in one piece as fast as possible, we could potentially earn his favor. Politicians do it all the time. Sam was getting excited now as the idea started forming together and Dean stopped packing to watch him. His little brother was a genius when it came to tactics and if he was this locked onto an idea, then Dean was willing to hear it out. No, this is perfect, Sam was saying happily, When we go to drop this guy off, well have to be introduced to the senator as the two men who escorted him. Usually a mission like this can earn a favor from the politician for a job well done. Dean, if we can do this quickly and without a problem, then we can mention my getting transferred and ask if he can put in a transfer for you too. Dean perked up and grinned. See, this is why we work well together, he said brightly as he snatched up his pack and began breaking down their tent, I got all the beauty and you got all the brains. He chuckled as he dodged the blanket roll Sam threw at his head. Chapter 6: The past three days had been the longest of Castiels life despite the fact that Michael had been kind enough to leave him to his own devices. He had no doubts however that his movements throughout the house had been watched carefully to make sure he didnt try to leave, an unnecessary precaution in his mind since he wasnt about to do anything to put Anya at risk. She had come to his room some time after his argument with Michael and had not left his side since. Her tender hands had washed away the blood of his busted lip and shed applied healing salves to ease the burn of it. Almost no words had been exchanged between them over the past few days but Castiel had woken several times in the night to hear the old woman weeping quietly next to his bed and his heart ached for her. Once he was sent to live with Azazel, she would be alone with only the other servants and Michael for company. She had helped him pack without complaint though and Castiel had taken as much comfort as he could from her presence. The morning he was set to leave found him sitting on the steps of the atrium watching the sun

rise overhead. His fingers rested on the top of the cage to his right where Annas starlings flitted about and chirped their morning song. He closed his eyes and listened to them for a few more minutes before finally standing and lifting the little latch on their prison. He hated to part with them but Castiel refused utterly to bring something he held so sacredly into the home of Azazel. It would feel too much like handing that man a part of his childhood with Anna. Castiel smiled at the delicate creatures perched on their makeshift branch and the one closest to him puffed up its feathers and cocked its tiny head in curiosity. Cas pulled open the door to their cage and turned it to face the open air of morning. Go on, he whispered to them, fly for both of us. It took a few minutes for the birds to realize the door was no longer barred but eventually they made their way to the threshold and then fluttered out into the morning light. Castiel watched them until he could no longer mark them against the sky before dropping their cage back into his quarters. He wondered if Anna would be proud of him for freeing them or disappointed in him for failing to manage the same feat for himself. He grabbed the traveling bag that was sitting on his bed and turned to find Anya standing in his doorway. Her eyes were red and puffy, a sure sign shed been crying all night, and she made her way over to him, dropping to her knees and wrapping her frail arms around his legs. You give too much for me, she said brokenly. Castiel wasnt sure how to answer that so he simply pulled her to her feet and then sat on the edge of the bed with her while she held him and petted his hair, murmuring my boy, my sweet boy over and over. He looked up when the sound of footsteps stopped just outside the door to his room and found Michael standing there watching them. Anya let out a strangled unhappy sound as Castiel moved to stand and he had to pull her hands from where they clutched his robes. She turned her face away as he grabbed his bag and followed his brother from the room. She acts like youre dying, Michael said with obvious disapproval as they stepped out into the street. Castiel stared straight ahead, his voice flat and quiet. She has been my surrogate mother for as long as I can remember. She is losing a son. Michael snorted derisively. You are not her son. You are not of blood relation. You are a citizen of Rome. She is a slave. She raised you because it was her job to do so. The sooner you learn to understand that everyone has their place, the easier life will get for you, little brother. We all have roles to play in this society. If we treat slaves like regular people, they will start to get the idea that they have rights. Our city will devolve into anarchy. Far better people than you and I made these laws for a reason, Castiel. You would be wise to follow them. He shot an irritable glance over at his brother as they walked. YOU are acting like this is a death sentence as well. Its beneath you. Castiel didnt bother to argue. He doubted hed get much sympathy from Michael anyway. Forgive me. I am honored to have such an esteemed station offered to me, he said. He couldnt quite muster enough to make it sound convincing since he was too busy trying to keep hold on the contents of his stomach. He knew for a great many people, such a statement was entirely correct. At Azazels side, Castiel would be treated to a world of riches, travel, and influence that many would sell their souls for but to him it simply meant he was a high profile consort. In the span of a few short days his future had

gone from holding his own on a battlefield with his brothers to being little more than an extremely well paid prostitute and he didnt care how much prestige would come with it. He wondered if perhaps he was being selfish since he knew his cooperation would grant their family a huge leap into the higher levels of society, he just couldnt bring himself to be happy about it, and as they drew up to the gates of Azazels home Castiel felt his heart sink. Here they would meet up with the two escorts who would take him to his fate and he half entertained the idea of trying to convince the men to take him to Gabriel instead. He could hide out at his brothers place and have Anya smuggled out of the city before Michael ever got word that he didnt arrive at the intended destination but he dismissed the idea as soon as it entered his mind. His guards were probably going to be employees of Azazel himself and were not likely to have any compassion for his situation. Even if they did, the punishment for disobeying their orders would be most likely be severe and he doubted anyone would be willing to put themselves at such risk on his behalf. Castiel sighed and resigned himself to his fate as the gates swung open. When he stepped inside, there were already four horses waiting within. One was burdened down with supplies while the other three were saddled for the ride and at the reins of the lead horse was the largest man Castiel had ever seen. His armor marked him as a legionnaire and suddenly Castiel felt a little bad for any Gaul that had to go up against such a giant. His mind went blank however as another smaller figure stepped out from behind one of the horses with a gripe dying on his lips. Dean had spent the better part of the morning complaining about the sheer frivolity of sending two legionnaires to do a job any hired guard could do and hed only gotten surlier the longer they waited for this mysterious aide to show up. His irritation faltered though as he caught sight of the men entering the villa where he and Sam had been told to meet their guest. The taller and older of the two carried himself with the air of a typical patrician, self-important and entitled, but Dean had barely spared him a second glance. It was the younger man to his right that had caused the words to falter in Deans throat and he blinked a few times as he took in what he was seeing. It was obvious the two men were brothers as both shared the same skin tone, dark hair and blue eyes, but where the older brothers were a cold slate blue, the younger mans eyes were a brilliant shade of sapphire that would make the Mediterranean Sea envious. His dark hair held a slight curl to the ends that his brothers lacked and his lips were either a gift from the gods or a curse sent to tempt weak men. Dean found himself licking his own as he stared at them and wondered if they felt as soft and full as they looked. The young man had gone rigid as hed met Deans gaze and a slight tinge of pink had crawled up along the sides of his neck. Dean smiled at him with obvious appreciation but the newcomer merely pulled his gaze away and looked back to his brother. I am Michael Novak, the older brother stated in a manner that suggested that was supposed to mean something to Dean, this is Castiel. You two are the escorts assigned to my brothers safety? You mean the babysitters? Yeah, thats us, Dean snarked before Sam swatted him in the arm. He didnt know who this Michael guy thought he was but he could already tell he wasnt going to like him.

Sam spoke up as Michaels face twisted into a scowl. Uh, yes, sir. Were from the 78th. Weve been assigned to this escort mission. My name is Samael, this is my brother Deanarious. Mike turned his back on Dean to nod at Sam instead. At least one of you has manners, he said with disdain while Dean shot him a less than polite hand gesture from behind, You will deliver my brother safely into the care of the senator Azazel. You will not deviate from your course nor make any unplanned stops that can be avoided. His wellbeing on this journey is of utmost importance and you will obey any orders he gives you that do not contradict mine. Sam could already see Dean puffing up indignantly at the idea of being ordered around by a civilian and he spoke up quickly to cut off what he was sure would be a lot of very ugly words coming out of his brothers mouth. Yes, sir. We understand. You can count on us, he said as he shot a warning look at Dean who was gesturing that he obviously thought Sam had lost his mind. Michael nodded his pleasure and then headed back to Castiel, completely ignorant of the fact that Sam was trying to calm a melt down behind him. He stood still and impassive in front of Castiel until Cas finally looked up to meet his eyes. Dont let me down, little brother. Please do not make me do anything both of us will regret. Castiel nodded and tried not to flinch when Michael offered him a brief cold hug. His eyes stayed glued to the ground just in front of him until he heard his brothers footsteps disappear back into the street but when he looked up it was to find two sets of eyes watching him closely. Castiel swallowed and approached his new companions. He had barely opened his mouth before he was cut off. Look, I could give crap what your brother over there thinks. I dont take orders from you. Now get on your horse, shut up and lets get this over with, Dean growled irritably before turning and hopping up onto the massive black animal hed been taking care of earlier. Castiel stared at him open mouthed for a moment before a far more gentle voice piped up behind him. Uh, hey. Dont take it personal, ok? Deans just a little angry about all of this. Were not exactly used to being ordered around by civilians. Hell calm down some once we get underway, Sam said gently. Castiel shot him a frown and then climbed onto the mount that had been set aside for him. I am no more pleased than you about this arrangement, he grumbled, shooting a glare at Dean. Dean would have liked to come up with a snappy argument but he seemed to have developed the problem that all of his braincells had headed south with the sound of Castiels voice. He certainly hadnt expected the deep gravelly sound to come from the smaller man and he decided that it was possibly the hottest thing hed ever heard. Dean had always enjoyed the company of both men and women and had never hidden his sexual preferences around any of his fellow soldiers. Such things were certainly not frowned upon as men in large groups under intense pressure often formed relationships with each other but no other man had ever turned Deans head quite like this one and that was a feat considering the impressive number of other lovers hed taken. Dean cleared his throat and pointedly looked away as coolly as he could when he realized hed been staring. Hitting on this guy, no matter how hot he was,

would be a bad idea considering who he belonged to. When he looked back though, Castiel was still watching him with an intense scrutiny and Dean quirked an eyebrow at him. He looked away and back again as Sam was mounting up onto his own horse only to find that Castiel still had not stopped staring and it was quickly becoming disconcerting. Finally Castiel must have noticed the affect he was having because he dropped his eyes away and looked off into the distance instead. Dean gathered his reins and looked up to see Sam eyeing them both with something between suspicion and amusement. He frowned and galloped his horse around his brother, leaving Sam and Castiel to catch up. The last thing he needed right then was any smart-ass commentary from his brother. The three rode in silence all the way to the gate of the city. The pack horse had been lashed to the small gelding Castiel was riding and he quickly found himself situated in the middle between Sam and Dean. As the trio wound their way out of the northern gate and headed into the countryside beyond, Cas perked up some and began taking in their surroundings as much as he could. His duties at their home had never afforded him much time or ability to travel and he had to admit that at least the bright side of this journey would be getting to see the world beyond the city walls. Behind him Sam watched his reactions carefully, noting the way their charge seemed strangely entranced by everything around him and he thought back to his own first foray outside the city when he was younger. He had long since begun to take for granted the beauty of the well sculpted countryside which stretched out on the roads leading from Rome and a little smile formed at the corner of his mouth as he watched Castiel take in every detail with wide-eyed wonder. The grand villas of the wealthy gave way to olive groves and then to rolling hills dotted with sheep before finally falling away to open country broken up only occasionally by distant farmhouses. The road beneath them was still paved and Sam knew they could ride for the entire night before they would reach a point where the heavy stones would fall away to a dirt trail. After a few hours of riding in silence, Sam urged his horse up around Castiels to pull up level with Dean. Its not his fault, you know, he said quietly enough to keep their companion from hearing, you could at least try to be nice, Dean. Dean shot him a sidelong glance. Im not interested in being his best friend, Sam. Our job is to get him there in one piece, not make sure he has a fun time doing it. He turned his eyes back to the road and resolutely refused to look at where he knew Sam was wearing that mournful expression he always got whenever he thought Dean was being unfair to someone. He had no intention of getting to know their traveling companion. In fact, the less he talked to Castiel the better seeing as how the guys voice was a sure fire way for Dean to get into major trouble. He doubted the senator would be all that appreciative if he knew even half of the things Dean had been daydreaming about already while they were riding and he couldnt risk screwing this up. He wasnt about to throw away what might be his only chance to get transferred to his brothers new unit just to spare some civilians feelings. No, it was better for everyone involved if he just stayed away from this guy till they could hand him over to his new caretakers. Sam frowned and glanced back to see Castiel shooting them an inquisitive stare that said he knew full well they were discussing him but he turned his face back to the country around him without saying anything. He didnt strike Sam as a typical patrician. There was no air of superiority that hed expected

from someone whose new employer could buy and sell half the men in Rome. Instead, Castiel just looked a little forlorn and Sam had to wonder what was bugging the guy so much. He elbowed Dean sharply in the ribs and jerked his head back toward Cas. Dean scowled at him but turned just enough to look behind him anyway and the minute he did, he wished he hadnt. Guilt tugged at him as he watched the young mans expression. There was a quiet sorrow as he stared at the passing hillsides and Castiels words from earlier came back to Deans mind. He really wasnt any happier about this than his guards were though originally Dean had simply thought it was because he hadnt wanted to travel with soldiers. Now he was beginning to wonder just what else was bugging the guy. Damn-it, Dean muttered as he shot a glare at his brother. Sam just smiled and took up the lead, letting Dean pull his horse back to draw up even with Cas. So, he said as cheerfully as he could, what exactly does an aide to a senator do? Castiel eyed him warily. I do not know, he said with obvious mistrust, as if trying to determine why Dean was asking him such a question, I have yet to take up my duties. Right, Dean said awkwardly. Apparently the guy wasnt much of a chatter box. Ok, he was willing to try again. Well, uhyou excited about your new job then? Castiel frowned heavily and looked away. No. Dean looked up and glared at Sam who just shrugged. Okaaay He waited patiently for Cas to elaborate but after a few minutes of silence it was clear he wasnt going to get more of an explanation and he spurred his horse back up to the front of the line. Your turn, he said flatly, Feel free to go back there and chat about your feelings or whatever to your hearts content. Dean, Sam started to plead but his brother cut him off with a raised hand. I tried, Sam. I struck up a conversation. The guys not interested, ok? You wanna be pals, go be my guest. Im gonna stay up here and keep an eye out for a place to bed for the night. Sam frowned at him but didnt argue as he reined back to fall in line behind Castiel once more. The group continued on for the rest of the day and Castiel glanced more than once back at Sam for any sign that they might be stopping soon but he didnt raise any complaints even when his rear began to ache from all the time in the saddle. He knew as soldiers, his companions probably spent a good deal of their days on horseback but he had never actually owned a horse since the crowded streets of the city meant only the wealthiest of citizens were allowed to ride while everyone else walked. He wasnt about to give either of these men any more reason to look down on him than he figured they already did however and he was determined not to be seen as a burden on this journey. He wasnt sure why it was so important to him but he supposed it was because these men were already living the dream he once held for himself. They were the defenders of Rome, trained warriors, and whether they cared much for him or not, he had once wanted to be one of them and he couldnt help looking on them with a certain amount of respect.

Castiel had almost convinced himself as well that he wasnt trying his best to impress Dean for other reasons. When hed first seen his traveling companion, his heart had about climbed out of his chest. Dean was, quite simply, stunning. He and his brother bore the distinct signs of a mixed lineage that marked someone in their ancestry as coming from outside of the region. Deans cheeks were crowned with a smattering of freckles that was a fairly rare sight and his eyes were an intense green set into a determined but handsome face. His lips were pouty and his hair bore a slight tinge of sandy blonde to it, all of which seemed to contrast beautifully with a form that looked like the gods themselves had crafted it. If only he didnt seem to hold such disdain for his mission and Castiel along with it. Cas had felt his attraction turn to irritation when hed been snapped at without so much as a greeting and since then Dean had done little to change the opinion that his very presence was an offense to the soldier. Hed been cautious when Dean had suddenly tried to strike up a conversation and while Castiel did not consider himself a genius, he was certainly no fool. It hadnt taken much to see that Sam had asked Dean to talk to him and Castiel wasnt interested in being coddled. He also didnt want to explain his situation to the two men he was riding with. He couldnt bear the embarrassment and shame hed feel telling two soldiers that hed laid down his own sword and aspirations for the military in favor of being a senators consort. Castiel was determined to at least bear out his fate with some of his pride intact and he hoped that when Dean saw he wasnt a burden, it might make him think better of his traveling companion. Sam had to admit he was fairly impressed with how well Castiel was dealing with long term travel. Most citizenry would have complained or asked to stop for meals but the young man had simply taken the cheeses and breads he was offered in the saddle and ridden on without a fuss. All through the day there was no sign of protest from him but Sam began to see the telltale signs of fatigue in the slump of Castiels shoulders by the time the sun had begun to dip in the sky. They had ridden without stopping save for bathroom breaks but Sam knew Cas wasnt going to be able to ride all the way the through the night. He was about to tell Dean to find a spot to rest when his brother suddenly cut off the trail and headed to a clearing on the side of the road that was sheltered from the wind by a small cluster of trees. Castiel gratefully followed and slid from his horse to tie it next to Deans. He stood awkwardly to one side while his companions pulled down their gear and began setting up a small camp with an efficiency that said they could do it in their sleep. He tugged his own bedroll from the gear hed brought with him and tried to figure out how to set up the tent hed been provided but he was only halfway to putting his up when Sam announced he was going to find wood for the fire. Castiel held one of the bars in hands as he looked over the rest of the tents components and tried to figure out where hed gone wrong on putting it together. He heard a sigh from behind him and he turned to see Dean watching him with a look that said he had expected this. You need me to put it up for you? Dean asked in exasperation. Castiel turned back to his tent. No, he said with determination, I will figure out how to do this or I will not have a tent. He was not about to give Dean one more reason to think little of him. He could hear Dean sit back to watch him and he set about trying to figure out how it all went together with a renewed sense of mission.

Dean watched the failed attempts for a little while and tried not to roll his eyes. He could respect wanting to do something on ones own but he knew eventually he was going to have to go over there and help. If his father had taught him anything, it was that sometimes it was ok to ask for a little assistance but if Cas wanted to be stubborn, well, Dean had won awards in that department. He looked over when he heard Castiel sigh in frustration. The man had the right idea but had swapped around the poles he needed so that the tent was sagging strangely on one side and Dean knew it would topple over the minute the wind blew. He set down the knife hed been playing with and walked over to where Castiel was once again examining the pieces as if they had directions on them he just couldnt see yet. Dean crouched down and snatched the bar from his hands before taking apart the rest of the tent. Cas simply sat staring at him with a look of annoyance written on his face but Dean scooted back over and began holding the bars up one at a time. These go on the side, this is your support bar. Watch, he said as he began to put the tent together a lot slower than he had his own. Castiel went from annoyed to interested quickly and he leaned over to watch every move Dean made. There was an intelligence to his expression that said he was making mental notes on every detail and Dean was pretty sure hed be able to do it on his own next time. When the tent was finished, Dean leaned back and turned to say something only to find himself far too close to those big blue eyes. Castiel had been sitting just behind him, leaning over his shoulder as hed finished pounding the spikes into the dirt, and apparently he hadnt thought to back off when Dean sat up. There was a tense moment of silence as both men sat staring at each other and Dean looked down again at those all too tempting lips that were ever so slightly parted. He was starting to lean in toward them when Sam re-emerged holding a small bundle of kindling and broken branches. He had apparently missed the way both men jerked apart as he started up a pleasant conversation with Dean while setting up a fire in the center of camp. Dean chided himself heavily as he watched Castiel take up a seat on the opposite side from him. He had almost done something he might well have regretted and as he set about trying to lay out their supper he cussed himself for being that dumb. He wasnt even sure if Castiel was interested in him that way and if he did anything that scared or upset this guy, it could make the difference between getting his transfer or losing Sam for years at a time. Castiel was also chiding himself on the other side of the flames. He had felt emotions and sensations he was almost entirely unfamiliar with when hed found himself that close to Dean. He could still remember the smell of the mans armor and the memory of the way Dean had looked at his mouth sent a little shiver up his spine. It was a desire he knew he couldnt act upon though. While it fairly obvious from the way Dean had looked at him that there was attraction there, Castiel knew Michael would be furious if he ever found out Cas had bedded the very soldier tasked to bring him to Azazel. He also didnt think the senator was the type to share either and he knew the man could make life miserable for someone like Dean if he found out. Still, he couldnt help letting his mind linger on the way hed suddenly been so aware of his own skin when hed been that close and he wrapped himself in that feeling for as long as he dared. It was a pleasant sensation that set off butterflies in his stomach and as Dean worked to prepare their food, Castiel found himself glancing across at him and wondering despite his best efforts what it would be like to feel his hands on his skin.

The rest of the evening was filled with a tense silence between Dean and Cas while Sam tried his best to strike up any conversation he could that would get them both involved. Castiels answers were usually short and to the point, revealing little, while Dean would just shoot Sam looks that said he knew what his brother was trying and that he should stop now. So...uhbet youre going to be looking forward to getting back to Rome, Sam tossed out once they had finished eating. Castiel shrugged. Everything he had enjoyed about Rome was no longer available to him. Not particularly, he said quietly. Come on, cant be that bad, Dean finally put in, guy like you comes from a good family, right? Beautiful houses, good food, good drink, beautiful women. He glanced over at Cas to see the other mans reaction to the last offering. He knew he shouldnt even be thinking about this but there was something in him that wouldnt let go of it until he knew whether Cas had been even a little interested in the sort of kiss theyd almost shared. Castiel didnt seem the least fazed by it though and he just stared into the fire. I suppose. You suppose? You telling me you wont miss the feel of having the arms of a willing woman around you while were on this little adventure? Rome has some of the best brothels in the world. You cant tell me you wont miss that at least a little, Dean pressed. He could feel Sam staring at him questioningly but he focused instead on the way a very distinctive blush crept up the sides of Castiels face and the way he suddenly wouldnt meet Deans eyes. I Castiel cleared his throat, I have never had the occasion. He could feel his face flushing with heat as he admitted this particular bit of information to these two men he barely even knew. He wasnt sure why the words had left his mouth, why he hadnt come up with some lie, but it probably had something to do with the fact that it was Dean who had asked the question. Wait....are you telling me youve never Dean stared at him as if hed grown another head while Sam shifted uncomfortably. Seriously? Sam asked as if he was sure hed heard wrong. Yes, Castiel said stiffly. He refused to look either of them in the eye and instead focused off into the distance on a set of hills just barely visible in the deepening night. How the hells did a guy like you go this long without ever having sex? Dean asked incredulously, Didnt your dad ever take you to a brothel when you were old enough and buy you your first one? Dean could still clearly remember that first time. His father hadnt been there, of course, but it was a typical tradition held by many a Roman and hed saved up enough to take himself when he came of age. She had been an older woman who had seen better days but she had shown Dean a lot of things he still recalled to that day about what it was to be a good lover. He couldnt believe that a guy from a higher ranking family hadnt had a prostitute hand delivered to his bedroom to commemorate his growing up.

Castiel nodded and managed to look even more embarrassed. Michael took me when I was sixteen, he admitted quietly, he insisted it was necessary to become a man but I He coughed and mumbled something so lowly that Dean and Sam had to strain to hear. Come again? Dean prodded. I talked to her, Castiel blurted out. Sam and Dean exchanged confused looks. You talked to her? Dean asked as if he hadnt heard that right. Yes, Castiel said with such obvious embarrassment that Dean almost felt sorry for him if it wasnt so hilarious. He picked one out for methis little thing that could barely speak a word of Latin. She tried to kiss me butII just couldnt. I didnt want it. So I paid her and she made noises while I talked to her about my day. Sam struggled to find words appropriate to the situation but Dean simply fell over and laughed himself sick. Castiel looked none to pleased about this but every time Dean looked up again, he would devolve back into a fit of laughter until Sam finally kicked him and informed them that they should all get some rest. Dean had tried to catch his breath enough to apologize to Cas but the young man simply shot him a frown and crawled into his tent. He shrugged it off and went to the little tent he shared with Sam, set on trying to make it up to Castiel the next day. Chapter 7: He was pinned against the door to Azazels home, the hot breath of the senator ghosting over his ear, and Castiel couldnt seem to get his heart to stop pounding. He tried to free up some space between their bodies but no matter how hard he pushed, the other man simply wouldnt budge. He got nothing but laughter for his efforts as Azazel tugged insistently at the hem of his robe and Castiel let out a strangled protest. He struggled as hard as he could but it didnt seem to have any affect and he cried out for his brother to help him as he felt the insistent push of a hand against his thigh.

Its ok, not gonna hurt you.

The words were whispered against his ear but the voice wasnt Azazels and Castiel stopped struggling immediately as his heart skipped for an entirely different reason. He pulled back enough to look up into sharp green eyes underscored with freckles and a smile that made his knees feel a little weaker than they had any right to. He tried to say Deans name, to ask him why he was in the senators house, but his lips were captured in a soft kiss and he let out a needy little moan instead. Suddenly the hand on his leg wasnt such a bad thing and Castiel felt his whole body light up as Dean tugged the cloth high up onto his hips. He found himself pressed back against the door with the full length of his lover sealed to his

body and he clutched desperately at the hard sleek armor under his fingertips. Dean rocked into him and deepened the kiss, dragging a far more wanton sound out of Castiel than hed ever thought he would dare to make. He wasnt sure why he was letting this happen, he knew he could get into trouble for it, but everything else seemed far away and his world was filled with nothing but the smell of leather, oiled metal and Deans skin. He suddenly couldnt think of anything in the world he wanted more in that moment.

Hey! Castiel! Come on, we gotta get on the road.

Castiel jolted awake and blinked in confusion at the sheer wall of linen fabric before his eyes. His body was stiff and aching from laying on the ground all night but he realized there was a far more urgent matter that needed to be dealt with as he rolled onto his back and looked down at the throbbing erection between his legs. He groaned and covered his face as he prayed to all the gods that might be listening for Dean and Sam to give him enough time to calm down before insisting he exit his tent. He wasnt sure how he would explain to them why he was so turned on and he didnt want to deal with how Dean might react to being given such a display first thing in the morning. Damn, he muttered. He tried his best to write the dream off as nothing more than the by product of stress but he couldnt get the vivid imagery out of his head and it was doing nothing to help him with his current problem.

Dean rapped on the side of his tent again and Castiel jumped to cover his groin with the small blanket hed been using as a pillow. He had barely pulled the cloth over himself before Deans head appeared in the opening of his shelter and he did his best not to look guilty as he met the other mans eyes. Hey, sleepyhead. You want beauty rest, youre gonna have to take it in the saddle. Sams got breakfast ready and were gonna eat on the move. We got a lot of ground to cover so lets go. He offered Cas a quick smile before disappearing again. Castiel blew out a sigh and flopped back onto the dirt. He had to think of horrible things quickly unless he wanted to make one heck of an impression on his companions. He concentrated on the fate that was waiting for him, on the fact that the dream was nothing more than that, and that he couldnt actually ever act on it. It didnt take long for the thought of Azazel waiting on him at their destination to cause his body to lose interest and he scooted out of his tent to find Dean and Sam had already packed their horses for travel.

Dean barely waited for Castiel to exit before he was tugging apart the mans tent, trying his best not to look over at the beautiful blue eyes he could feel watching him. It had taken him a moment to find words once hed laid eyes on Cas first thing that morning but he had fortunately managed to recover quickly before he could make a fool of himself. Even with bed head, the guy was gorgeous. How was that fair? If anything, that tousled, fresh out of the covers look only seemed to make him all the hotter

and Dean found himself thinking of a million very pleasant ways to start his morning if only Sam would just go hunt for breakfast and that whole pesky unit transfer issue would go away. Instead he was left packing up the guys tent with a fervor driven by his need to get himself back on mission before he followed through with the stupid mistake hed almost made the night before. He just had to hold onto his mantra that it was better this way. He was not going to risk losing Sam over a piece of ass no matter how hot he was. Dean strapped Castiels pack back onto his gelding and then swept past him to get to his own horse.

Impala nickered at him softly as he approached and Dean patted her nose before he climbed on board. She was a beautiful animal and had won the admiration of many of his fellow soldiers though no one but Dean could ride her. Hed won her in a game many years ago much to the dismay of her original owner and a bond had formed between the two of them right from the start. Dean edged her back onto the trail theyd left the night before and waited for the others to join him.

Castiel mounted his own horse and tried not to wince as his body politely reminded him that hed ridden all day yesterday without rest. He figured he was in for the same treatment today but held any complaints in check and just wriggled in his saddle till he could find a position that was slightly less uncomfortable. He took up his spot behind Dean and watched as the man bobbed up and down ahead of him with each step his horse took. Castiel tried to find something physically wrong with him, some mar or hidden ugly trait that he could concentrate on to kill whatever lust he might have for the man but his search was in vain. He frowned and looked away from where the morning sun was just rising enough to kiss Deans armor with shades of gold. It was as if the gods themselves were going out of their way to make Dean look as good as possible just so they could laugh at Castiel for his foolish desire.

Sam trotted up next to him and handed over a small bundle wrapped in cloth. Sorry we cant give you more time to wake up and get a proper breakfast. Ill try to get Dean to stop a little more today so you can at least rest some, he said earnestly.

Thank you, Castiel replied as he took the offered package. As Sam rode on ahead, he unwrapped it to find some dried fruit and thick hearty bread inside. His water skin had been refilled at a stream the day before and Castiel washed down the meal with it as he rode. He could feel a thin layer of stubble on his chin as it scraped along the leather bag he was drinking from and he rubbed at it absently. He must look an absolute mess, he realized. His hair was sticking up in every conceivable direction and he hadnt been given time to shave. His clothes were rumpled, his legs were dirty from the ride, and Castiel wondered if he looked every bit as uncivilized as he felt. There had never been a morning when he hadnt had a bath and he felt grungy with the layer of horse sweat currently sticking to the inside of

his calves. Perhaps he had been hasty in saying there was nothing about Rome he was going to miss on this journey.

Sam was true to his word and though it was obvious that neither he nor Dean really needed it, the trio stopped a little more often along the road to take rests. Castiel took full advantage of those moments to stretch while he could before being herded back onto his horse and shuttled on down the path again. He wondered why Dean was in such a hurry to be rid of him. He knew the man wasnt terribly happy about being assigned this mission in the first place but Castiel had tried his best to be as unobtrusive as possible and he hadnt taken advantage of Michaels command that his orders be followed even though he knew he could. He doubted Dean would really listen to him on his own but Sam seemed amiable enough and would probably get Dean to go along with it if Castiel gave them an order. He had refrained out of respect though and yet his guardian was still setting a brutal pace in his hurry to get Castiel out of his hair.

By the time the three of them settled back down to rest for the night, Cas was limping to his sleeping spot. He half considered not even bothering with a tent but the threat of another unintended dream was enough to get him moving and he found building the shelter was a lot easier the second time around. He could recall all of Deans instructions and while he was no where near as proficient as his two companions, he was still able to get his tent up before Sam had even left to get the nights wood. They had long since left behind the countryside that surrounded Rome and were far enough north for the signs of civilization to have become a lot more rare. The camp was surrounded on three sides by low brush and the paved road had fallen away to a dirt path well worn by troops heading to and from the city. Castiel knew it would be laid with paving stones within the year. Rome did not stand idle when it came to her roads.

He dropped his blanket inside his tent and settled down to watch Dean finish prepping a small dinner for them. I can help if you would like, Castiel offered quietly.

Nah, Dean waved him off, Almost done here. Besides, youre a proper citizen. Cant have you getting your hands dirty. He smiled at Cas and chuckled a little at the frown he got in return. There was something immeasurably fun in teasing the young man, mostly because Castiel took his jokes too seriously or simply didnt get them at all. He tossed a few slices of fresh fruit, some dried meat and a chunk of bread to Cas before hopping up to take the bundle of kindling from the arms of his brother when Sam stepped back into camp. Sam helped himself to the food while Dean set up the fire and Castiel watched them work with the seamless efficiency of two men who knew each other well enough to interact without words. Dean didnt need to ask for the flint as his brother was already offering it to

him the second he turned to look in that direction and Sam never said a word but Dean somehow knew he was looking for the piece of parchment that had rolled under their covers after Sam had spread them out around him.

Years in close proximity had given both men the ability to read each others body language and Castiel suddenly found himself envying their relationship. Of all his siblings he had been closest to Gabriel but even they didnt share the kind of kinship Dean and Sam had. The two soldiers before him had formed a bond that could only be had through time served in war together. They had obviously come to rely on one another and Castiel felt a little sorry for anyone who got caught between these two when they were on the battlefield. He found himself wishing hed gotten to spend more time with Gabriel and he half wondered what his brother was up to at that moment and whether they might have formed as close of an attachment had they joined the military together like Sam and Dean.

The brothers were joking easily with each other, bantering in a way that Anna and Gabriel used to do when they would all sit in the kitchen together until the wee hours of morning. Castiel ached to fit in like that again, to be part of a group where he felt at ease and could just be himself, and he wished he had the words that would cement that kind of friendship with Dean and Sam. He watched as Dean ruffled Sams hair only to have his younger brother jerk away and swat at him but both were grinning broadly. It only made him feel a little more like the outcast in the group as the two men traded inside jokes and Castiel wracked his brain for a way to integrate himself into that banter. Or, at the very least, not to feel so very much like someone looking in on a scene they didnt belong to. He didnt share much in common with either man and he wasnt sure what to say that they would be interested in. Gabriel usually broke the ice with jokes and hed told Castiel more than once that humor could disarm a man faster and more permanently than any sword. Castiel had never managed to successfully tell a joke in his life.

There was a professor once that had a friend who was traveling, he found himself saying out loud regardless, and he asks his friend to bring him back two fifteen year old slave girls. His friend tells him that if he cant find two fifteen year olds, hell make it up by bringing him one thats thirty. Castiel grinned to himself as he remembered how hed laughed himself silly when his brother had told it but when he looked up, it was to find Dean and Sam staring at him with utter confusion. Its a joke he said lamely. The brothers exchanged a look that said they were trying to figure out what in the world he was talking about before they turned concerned eyes back in his direction. It was funnier when Gabriel told it, he mumbled in apology before turning to fiddle with the straps of his boot.

"Uh.yeah, Dean said awkwardly. He looked to Sam for help in trying to break up the moment but Sam just shrugged before dropping down on the opposite side of the fire from Castiel. It was

obvious to them both that their guest was feeling a little left out but Dean was at a loss on what to say to make it better. He doubted a man of Castiels background would find military humor very funny. Sam, on the other hand, had always been better with this sort of thing and he shot Cas a friendly smile.

So howd you wind up as a senators aide? He asked politely.

Castiels heart sank. He wished theyd pick any topic to discuss but this one. He half debated trying to tell another joke if only because the awkwardness of no one finding them funny would still better than trying to explain what cruel twist of fate had brought him to this point. His mind had gone strangely blank though and he couldnt think of a single story or joke to tell so he sighed through his nose and mumbled simply my brother.

Sam shoot a look at Dean and then back to where their young guest was staring at the ground before him. The one we met? he pressed lightly. He wasnt sure why Castiel didnt seem to want to talk about his new job but it only intrigued Sam more. Most people who found themselves lucky enough to be an aide to a senator like Azazel would be crowing about it to anyone who would listen but Castiel looked more like the very idea was repugnant to him.

Castiel nodded and flicked a rock toward the fire. Your brother buddies with the senator or something? Dean chimed in. Itd explain why the guy has such a massive stick up his ass.

Sam threw a small hunk of dirt at Dean and shot him a look usually reserved for when he felt his brother was being a jerk but Castiel let out a small chuckle.

My brother is rather entitled, he said with a bitter smile, He covets a seat on the senate and Azazel can get him there.

Sam frowned at him. I dont understand what that has to do with you though.

Castiel tried to meet Sams gaze but his eyes dropped back to the ground in embarrassment as the words left his mouth. My brother covets a political career. The senator covets me. It was a simple

enough equation. He swallowed down the bile that came with summing up his betrayal in so few words and waited to see how badly this confession would hurt him in the eyes of the two men he was traveling with.

Deans face twisted in a look of disgust. Wait. Your brother freakin traded you over to some senator just to get himself elected? he said in disbelief. Such an idea was so foreign to Dean that he was sure he had to have heard wrong. He couldnt fathom there being anything he could want in life enough to all but sell Sam off to someone.

In so many words, yes, Castiel said shamefully. My newposition will bring my family a lot of honor and gain my brother the title he has always sought.

You dont exactly sound like youre thrilled about it, Sam said with open concern.

My desires are unimportant, Cas recited. He had been raised believing that most of his life but now the words tasted sour in his mouth and he wished he had an alternative. Only my familys honor matters.

Dean scoffed and threw the last of his wine into the fire angrily. Yeah, whatever. Thats bullshit, Cas. That family of yours sure didnt give a damn about you when they sold you off to be some miserable bastards plaything.

The words stung like a physical blow and Castiel winced as Dean said them. He wished it wasnt true, wanted to yell at him and tell him that his brother was only doing this for the sake of his family name, but there was a little too much truth to those words for comfort and instead he stared miserably off into the distance. I have no choice, he bit out, I do what I must. I do not expect you to understand. He debated telling them about Anya but he decided against it. He felt had already made himself look pathetic in their eyes with his inability to choose his own fate and he didnt want to make it worse by letting them know that he was willing to trade his freedom for the sake of an old slave. Most Romans would simply laugh at him for such a foolish sacrifice on the part of someone they barely considered human and Castiel doubted he would continue to stay cordial toward Sam and Dean if they mocked or insulted Anya. No, it was better in his opinion to just keep his mouth shut and at least let them believe he was doing this for the sake of honor.

Youre damn right I dont understand, Dean griped. He wasnt sure why it bothered him so much, after all hed only just met Castiel yesterday, but the whole situation made his skin crawl. Perhaps it was the fact that the young man before him simply looked so utterly miserable about the whole situation or it might have been the fact that Dean simply couldnt fathom forcing his brother into such a position for any personal gain. Either way, it irked him to no end that Castiel hadnt just stood up and told his brother to drop dead. He knew there were certain rules that applied to the higher classes that he was free from but he couldnt imagine why Castiel was just letting all this happen when it was so obvious he was unhappy about it. Youre a grown man, you have the right to make your own friggin decisions in life. Just tell your brother that if he wants this position so bad maybe he should whore himself out to the senator.

Castiel swallowed and shook his head. Its not that simple, he said quietly. I can not explain it to you in a way that will make sense to you.

Dean snorted. Yeah, I guess commoners like us wouldnt possibly get it if you tried to explain.

Castiel looked up startled. What? No! That is not what

Dean cut him off as he stood up and headed for his tent. Yeah, whatever. You wanna go hand yourself over to the good senator so your brother can play politics, thats on you. He paused at the opening of the tent and shot Cas an irritated look. But youre right. I dont understand that, he said before disappearing inside.

Castiel flopped down in his own tent a short while later. Sam had tried his best to make small talk but it was obvious that Cass poorly chosen words had stung him a little as well. Castiel had politely excused himself with the explanation that he was tired from the long journey so far and hed retired to his bed in the hope that tomorrow he would be able to smooth over the mess hed just made. A soft rain began to patter against the sides of his tent and Castiel let the sound soothe away his worry that hed ruined his chance at friendship with these men. Hed barely begun to drift off to sleep when a strange sound woke him. The horses were whinnying nervously and shifting around the tree they were tied to but beyond them Castiel could make out the sound of creaking leather.

He slid up quietly in his bed and reached for the flap to his tent when it was sharply drawn back. Cas jumped and let out a gasp but he relaxed a little when he recognized the face in the entry backlit by the meager firelight that still flickered in the center of camp. He opened his mouth to apologize for his offending Dean earlier since he figured that was why the other man was there but he was silenced by the serious look on the soldiers face. Stay here, stay quiet, Dean whispered before withdrawing back into the darkness outside. He must have also heard the horses spook and Castiel suddenly felt a little thrill of adrenaline creep up his back at the thought that there might be someone else out there besides them. He looked around him for something that might work as a weapon but he had little on hand save his blanket and he found himself wishing he had at least one of his training swords to defend himself with. He would have to trust in his companions for the time being though it irked him not to be out there helping them.

It was still and silent in the camp save for the patter of rain and the hiss of the fire as the droplets worked to smother it out. The horses shifted a little and Dean froze just outside the edge of the dying firelight. Someone or something was spooking them. Dean peered across the camp even though he knew he wouldnt be able to make out Sam on the other side. His brother was surprisingly good at hiding himself for someone who could easily be the bastard son of a giant and Dean knew he could trust that his brother was edging in his direction so as to pinch their potential adversary between them. The hilt of his gladius sat in his grip with its familiar weight like an old friend and he rotated his wrist a few times to loosen the muscles there for a better swing should he need it. He came up along the right side of Impala and patted her reassuringly. She bobbed her head in greeting and snorted affectionately into his hair while Dean scanned the area for any sign of danger.

Nothing, Sam whispered from the other side of his own mount and Dean blew out a little sigh of relief. He checked over his baby regardless, quickly assuring himself that nothing had happened to her, and then he gave Castiels horse a once over as well. He was about to go to bed again and call it a night when Sams voice halted him in his tracks. Dean, come look.

Dean made his way to where Sam was standing next to the pack horse, a thin section of leather strap pinched between his fingers. Dean squinted at it but hed already figured out what was wrong the minute Sam whispered it aloud. Its been cut clean through with a knife. Deans senses shot back to high alert and he felt his muscles tense back up. Someone had been over near the pack horse, most likely trying to get their hands on the goods they had been tasked to bring along with Castiel, and it appeared theyd been interrupted. That meant they were still near by. Dean crept out beyond the horses and stared out into the night as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Hed barely gone more than five steps when he made out a large shape hunkered down near a small outcropping of rocks not too far away. He turned back to gesture at Sam and instead found himself staring into a set of dark eyes above

a snarl of animalistic desperation. As the man before him lunged forward, Dean heard Sam call out his name before it was lost beneath the sound of metal against metal. Chapter 8: Dean had always been an adept fighter, ever since he was little more than a boy. Years on the streets of Rome had taught him how to hold his own, to survive against the odds or risk starvation for himself and Sam. Rough skills were learned in the seedy taverns that lined the dark corners of the city but they were truly honed once Dean joined the military. What he had lacked in technique, he had more than made up for with aggression and tenacity and the years spent under the tutelage of his training instructors filled in the blanks. There was a reason Dean had risen to one of the first cohorts of his Legion as the unsuspecting man before him learned quickly when the unforgiving blade of Deans sword slid between his ribs. Deans off hand had wrapped itself around his opponents wrist, pushing his weapon aside and drawing the man's arm out to open his body for an attack. Poor bastard never even saw his own death coming. His eyes opened wide as the sword slid into one of his lungs and he let out a surprised gurgle before collapsing at Deans feet.

Dean had barely registered his fall as he had already turned to meet the person he could hear rushing at him from behind. His arms locked to fend off the blow from a man almost as tall as Sam was and about twice as wide. The impact of their swords clashing jarred Dean hard enough to click his teeth together but he dug into the dirt with his heel and pivoted his body to throw the mans arms out wide. Dean spun, rolling his body around to the mans right, and then whipped his sword around to slam it into the unprotected flank of his enemy. The beast he was fighting didnt go down as expected though, instead letting out a pained roar, and Dean drew back with wide eyes. Fantastic. Sam was fending off two men to his right while Dean had apparently drew the luck of having to fight a guy that was as big, angry and apparently hard to kill as a rabid bear.

The rain had begun to come down in earnest now and Deans boots slid in the mud under the weight of another ferocious blow from his opponent. He ducked and lashed out at the mans calves, cleanly slicing tendons and muscle, which earned him another bellow of anguish from the brigand. There were plenty of highway thieves that stalked the roads leading to and from Rome, men who had been dishonored or who had fled punishment for crimes in their hometowns, and Dean had not been unprepared for the idea that they might encounter some. Rome was known for its imports and rich citizenry so a small traveling band carrying a horse laden with supplies was a prime target for marauders. Dean just wished their attackers had been fewer in number and a little less burly. His attention was caught by an angry shout from Sam and his head whipped around instinctually to check on his little brother. He caught sight of his brother doing a fairly impressive amount of damage to the man that had tried to sneak up on him from behind but his view was short lived as a meaty fist slammed into the side of his face.

Ow, Dean grumbled as he stumbled back a few steps and spit out the blood leaking across his lips from where his nose had been busted. He dipped below another swing and used the motion to spring up under the mans arm, turning as he passed to land another solid blow against the broad back he was presented with. The mans arm dropped limp to his side where Dean had severed the connecting muscle but the guy was trying to stagger to his feet again. Friggin REALLY? Dean screamed, Just DIE already. He let loose with another few blows in rapid succession which sent the man staggering a few paces before he mercifully dropped onto his face in the dirt. Dean sighed and rolled his shoulders. Thank you, he muttered as he jogged off to Sams side.

Sam had been holding his own and the ground at his feet was littered with the bodies of three other men but the force that had attacked them was at least a dozen men strong and he was being hard pressed to keep the rest of them at bay. They must have thought this small traveling group would have been an easy target and Dean could almost feel sorry for them for having the bad luck of attacking the only set of Legionaries in the area. He slipped into the battle and positioned himself between the thieves and his brothers back. Two of the six remaining men had broken off and were working to pull the horses free, apparently having decided that it would suit them better to just grab what they could and run while their compatriots were busy, and Dean shouted angrily as one of them snagged Impalas reigns and began trying to tug her away from the camp. He struggled to push back the two men he was fighting so he could save his horse but she apparently didnt need his help as she reared and tried to kick the man holding her.

Dean grinned. Thats my baby, he said proudly as he batted away a strike aimed for his heart. He glanced back to Sam and his grin broadened at the look of terror on the faces of the enemies his brother was fighting. Sam was extremely tall and well built despite being younger than Dean, and when he was lost in the rage of battle he was a force to be reckoned with. It was a fact his unsuspecting foes had just learned the hard way and both men looked like they were struggling just to survive the onslaught of blows from Sams sword, much less actually do him harm. Dean was feeling pretty good about the fight as he cut short the life of one of the men he was facing but his joy was short when his foot slid in the mud and left him off balance for a moment. He let out a pained cry as the man to his left slammed a dagger into his previously injured leg, bringing Dean to his knees. The cut he'd received during the Gaulish battle had healed well but the thin tissue holding the wound closed gave way easily beneath the sharp edge of the bandit's dagger. Dean pushed away an attempt to slit his throat from the one remaining man standing over him but things were about to get worse as the two men who had been occupied with the horses saw their chance to finish him off.

Dean heard Sam shout his name but he couldnt spare more than a glance toward where his brother was trying to extricate himself from his own fight in his desperation to help. He met Sams large worried eyes for only a moment before both men were pressed to turn their attention back to the enemies bearing

down on them. Dean watched the night grow darker as the fire finally gave up and hissed out of existence under the onslaught of rain. He blinked in the darkness and tried to keep the men attacking him at bay while his eyes adjusted. One of the men, a tall brutish looking fellow with short cropped hair, suddenly went stiff and stared at Dean with open surprise. He shuddered a moment before collapsing to the ground. Behind him stood Castiel, rain pouring down his face and dripping from the end of his nose as he glared at the remaining brigands. In his hands was a sword hed pulled from the fallen body of one of their enemies and he took full advantage of the confusion his arrival had caused to slit the throat of one of the remaining men. The last thief standing over Dean took a few steps back and tried to size up this new comer but Castiel didnt give him much time to think.

Dean could only watch with a raised eyebrow, his respect for their little patrician growing exponentially as Castiel deftly swatted aside any blows directed at him with the sort of skill that should have marked him as a soldier. Castiels lean form easily evaded the sword of his enemy and he moved with the practiced grace of someone who had done this so often and for so long that it had become second nature. His movements were precise and calm with little effort wasted and the last man before him had only enough time to look frightened for a second before his life was extinguished on the end of Castiels blade. Cas stood panting slightly in the downpour as he stared at the man at his feet. Dean was staring too but his attention was caught entirely by the figure before him who he felt like he was seeing for the first time. He had certainly not expected that level of skill from a high society member of the city and he couldnt help his begrudging respect. It was as if someone had replaced the quiet awkward young man theyd been traveling with and put a soldier with them instead.

Sams hand on his shoulder made Dean flinch and he looked up into the furrowed brow of his brother. Youre hurt, Sam said with obvious worry. Dean looked down at the wound in his leg. Hed all but forgotten it for a moment while watching Castiel work.

Ill live, he said distractedly.

Sam followed his gaze up to where Castiel was still staring at the corpse at his feet. He looked a little lost suddenly and Dean thought he even looked slightly ill. Sam could tell from the look on his face that killing those men had taken its toll on their companion. He wanted to take the time to reassure their friend that hed done well but his first concern was for Dean and he needed to tend to his brothers wounds. He had seen a stream not far from their location and knew there would be herbs there he could use to stave off any infection. He decided the best way to help both men was to keep Castiel busy and keep his mind off of what had just happened. Looking at his young friend, he could guess well enough that Cas had never taken a life before and he knew from experience just how hard that first time

could be. Castiel, Sam said urgently, come wrap Deans wound while I grab something to stop an infection from setting in. Castiels head snapped around to them and he nodded mutely, swallowing hard as he shuffled over to where they were kneeling.

He dropped down next to Dean and automatically pressed his hands over the wound to stop the bleeding until Sam could bring them fresh bandages. Hed learned quite a bit about medicine from all his time around Anya. She was a warehouse of knowledge when it came to such things and had taught him remedies for everything from bug bites to gaping wounds. Castiel numbly took the clean cloth Sam handed him and pressed it to the cut to staunch the flow of blood. He looked up to see Sam trotting off toward the stream they had passed earlier and he watched for a few moments until he became aware of the other set of eyes locked onto him. He turned slowly back to find Dean watching him with suspicion. First time killing someone? Dean asked quietly. Castiel nodded and turned back to stare at where the rain was washing the blood from his hands in thick red rivers.

Dean eyed him like the most interesting puzzle in the world. In some ways, thats exactly what Castiel had just become to him. The young man had swung from being quiet and eager to please to someone who had just easily killed three men with the skill of a trained warrior. To Dean, it was all the more confusing that someone possessing the training Castiel obviously had would allow his brother to bully him into doing something as base as being a glorified secretary to a senator. Not your first fight though, he pressed. It wasnt a question but it still demanded an explanation none the less.

Two of my brothers are in the Leigons. A third, Gabriel, taught me what hed learned from them and then some. He is a great fighter though he chooses to take the path of an orator. Castiel shuddered as his mind conjured up the face of the man hed just killed. Hed always known there would come a time when he would have to take a life but it was so much easier a thing to dream and talk about than it was to be faced with it. He tried not to wonder who the man was, what his name had been, and if hed had a family of his own. He concentrated instead not on what hed taken but what hed saved and as he glanced up at Dean, he knew hed happily pay that price again and again.

Dean was still eyeing him as if he were trying to peel back the layers of Castiels mind. You wanted to be in the military, he guessed.

Castiel nodded. How did you know?

Dean shrugged. Skills like you just showed take time and dedication to get. Men who learn swords just to say they have dont put that kind of effort in. That means you learned cause you wanted to do something with it. Not exactly a lot of professions out there that call for learning how to gut a man so it had to be the military. He watched Castiels face for reaction and knew he was right when his words earned a small smile.

I suppose that makes sense, Castiel said. He looked sheepishly up at Dean and tried to ignore how the rain clumped the other mans thick lashes together and dripped across his chin.

So why didnt you? Dean pressed.

Castiel sighed in frustration. I already told you. I dont have a choice. I have to

Yeah, I know. Youre brothers big election, Dean said bitterly. He couldnt believe someone of Castiels obvious skill was going to just throw away what would most likely have been a brilliant military career for the sake of his pompous brother. It seemed all the more a shame now that he knew what the other man was capable of. Castiel deserved more than that and Dean couldnt decide just why it bothered him so much. He watched Cass shoulders slump as the young man looked away toward where Sam had gone. Dean sighed through his nose and winced at the pain that brought with it, a reminder of the punch hed taken early in the fight. He glanced back over to where Castiel was still staring off into the distance and he bit back his desire to just shake his companion until some sense finally knocked loose. He tried to deny it even to himself but he was coming to like Castiel more than he wanted to admit. It was more than just his being hotter than the sun as well, something Dean wasnt really used to. Hed usually chosen his lovers based on how fun they looked like theyd be in the sack and he never stuck around long enough to really make anything permanent of it but things were oddly different this time. He wanted Castiel on a purely physical level, as any sane man who had even the slightest leanings in that direction would, but he found himself wanting something more than that too. He wanted Castiel to have a better life than the one he was being handed. Castiel was more capable with a sword than many of the young men Dean had helped train over the years and he knew with the proper tutelage he would make an amazing fighter. There was also something a little lost about the guy that tugged on Deans more protective nature and he found himself fighting back the urge to tell this senator to get screwed, that Cas was worth more than him or his promises of a political career.

He couldnt be worth more than Sam though and Dean bit back his frustration at knowing he had to pick one or the other. Castiel, for all that he was someone Dean was coming to really like, was not his flesh and blood and Dean wouldnt let anything tear him and Sam apart. Castiel was his own man and he had to make his own decisions anyway, Dean told himself. He shifted uncomfortably as he tried to alleviate the ache of kneeling in the mud and he found himself actually flushing a little as Cass fingers slipped from the edge of the cloth. They were feverishly warm against his rain chilled skin and Dean stared at them, wishing he could do more than that. He looked up to find Castiel staring at him, his head cocked to the side in curiosity and he realized he must have made a noise of some sort when hed shifted. Are you alright? Cas rumbled in that voice that was way too sultry to belong to anyone his size.

Dean nodded and pressed his lips together. He didnt trust himself not to say something lewd and make this whole situation more awkward than it suddenly felt. He was instantly and powerfully aware of how close Castiel was at that moment, of the heat radiating off the young man and the way his hair was plastered down to his forehead in the lingering drizzle. Water slid in thin lines across those thick lips and Dean licked his own in response. He wanted to duck in, draw his tongue across them and drink the rain right from Castiels mouth but instead he cleared his throat and tried to concentrate on how inappropriate it was that he was getting a hard on with a stab wound in his leg. It wasnt the first time the rush of battle had left his body wanting to stand up and celebrate its continued survival. Hed taken many of his lovers in the hours after a heavy fight and he found that some of the best sex was had when the adrenaline was still leaving his body.

Castiel hadnt really shown any clear signs of interest before though and as Dean stared into those big blue eyes, he suddenly decided he really needed to know. He needed to be sure that he wasnt the only one feeling this way and he tossed caution to the wind as he leaned forward and closed the distance between them. Castiel didnt pull away though he did suck in a sharp breath through his nose when Dean pressed their lips together for the first time. His mouth was every bit as soft as Dean thought it would be and he nibbled gently on his top lip.

Cas melted a little against him and finally, hesitantly, returned the kiss. It was all Dean could do not to give in right there. There was a stumbling sweet urgency about the way Castiel kissed him, as if he were trying to prove something but wasnt sure what, and Dean threaded his fingers up into that warm tangled mess of hair that crowned Castiels head. He pulled the other man closer and lapped at the seam of his mouth. He was rewarded a moment later when Cas finally parted his lips and Deans tongue darted inside to taste him. Castiel let out a needy lost sound into the space between them and it shot like an arrow straight to Deans groin. He echoed the sound with something far more hungry and he could feel Castiels breath huff excitedly against his cheek.

Um Sam coughed from the edge of camp and the two men parted quickly like kids caught stealing candy from their mothers kitchen. Sorry, he offered with obvious embarrassment. I uhI got the herbs we need. Do you want Cas to

Castiel stood up quickly as if burned by their closeness and shook his head. No, no, its fine. You can

Dean nodded his agreement. Yeah, its uhits fine, Sam.

All three stood around for a moment of awkward silence before Sam knelt down next to Dean and began dressing his wound with the poultice hed whipped up by the river. Dean sighed in frustration and turned to watch Castiel as the young man began pulling down his tent. They couldnt exactly bed down there for the rest of the night considering the twelve dead bodies strewn around the camp and as soon as Deans leg was bandaged, he moved to stand up. He must have been bleeding more than he realized as the world tilted oddly when he hit his feet and he stumbled a step before Sam caught him. I just need to sleep, he griped as he brushed off his brothers worried attempts to help him walk, I dont need to be babied. Just put me on Impala and lets go. He limped toward his horse and pulled himself into her saddle while Sam finished breaking down camp.

The wound was deeper than hed originally thought, it's edges stretching along the line of the old wound that had been torn back open, and Dean scowled at it as he tried to find a comfortable way to sit. Theyd only ridden about a mile down the road before Dean felt that same dizziness wash over him and he tilted dangerously in his saddle. Sam was at his elbow in an instant, large hands pushing him back upright and he heard Castiel trot up closer behind him. You lost a lot of blood, Dean. We need to get you some place safe to lay down and rest before you fall off your horse, Sam said with motherly concern.

Dean tried to wave him off. Im fine, he groused, but his brothers grip was insistent and he knew stubbornness ran in the family. Look, we cant stop yet. Gotta at least move a little farther down the road, find some place remotely dry to sleep. Ill be ok.

Sam frowned at him and pulled Impala to a stop. Youre not going to make it that far on your own. He looked back at where Castiel was watching with open worry. An idea struck him as he looked between the two men. Castiel, I need to you to move up to Deans horse. Just ride behind him and make sure he doesnt fall out of the saddle.

As expected, Dean pulled back stubbornly. No. Sam, Im fine. I dont need someone to babysit me.

Sam matched his stubbornness with a look of his own that said plainly he wasnt willing to budge on this. Youre hurt, Dean, and I cant sit with you to keep you in the saddle. I need to be on the lookout for a place to camp. Castiel doesnt know this road or what signs to look for, I do. I know you dont like it but we either do this or stop here for the night.

Dean scowled at him and then turned away. Fine, he pouted, lets just get to some place I can lay down.

Castiel obediently climbed off his own horse and handed the reins over so Sam could tether the animal to Impalas saddle, forming a chain with the pack horse at its rear. He approached Deans huge black steed cautiously and reached up to pull himself aboard. A massive black head turned to look at him and he found himself staring into a set of dark glassy eyes. Impala snorted at him and laid her ears back but Sam just took her reins and pulled her head forward again. Castiel heaved himself up into the saddle behind Dean and looked down. Impala was the largest horse he had ever been on and he could feel her muscles tighten and twitch under the extra weight. She sidestepped unhappily and Castiel had to grab the back of the saddle to keep himself steady. He shot a questioning look to Sam who just smiled reassuringly. Sok, baby, Dean whispered, hes not gonna hurt you. The horse calmed immediately and waited for Dean to guide her.

Castiel wrapped his arms tentatively around Deans waist and took the reins from him, sighing in relief when Dean reluctantly dropped them into his grip. He shifted around the armored form in his arms and shivered as the cold metal pressed into his chest. There was heat radiating from below the hem of the breastplate though and Castiel blushed furiously as he thought of how close he suddenly was to a man hed been kissing only an hour before. He knew he shouldnt have let that happen, should have told Dean no, but hed wanted it more than he could have put words to and didnt have the heart to pull away. Now he was holding Dean in his arms, his chin just barely cresting over Deans shoulder and he could feel the hair at the nape of Deans neck as it caught on his scruff.

Dean himself was acutely aware of how close Castiel was and he shot a look at his brother that said this situation was entirely unfair. Sam smiled knowingly at him and winked before turning to trot ahead, leaving a fuming Dean in his wake. Sam wasnt an idiot by a long shot. He had walked in on them kissing

and he knew there was an unspoken attraction there even if neither man would give in to it for some reason. As Deans little brother, he felt it was his duty to foster what he could obviously see growing there. His brother had never moved so slowly or carefully with another man before and Castiel was a good person, of that Sam was sure. He wondered if their new friend might not be just the person his brother needed in his life and while he would be heartbroken to not have Dean in his legion, he couldnt help but think it would be a good thing for both Castiel and Dean to tell this senator where to stick it and to ride off together.

Dean shivered against the hot breath below his ear. This was so not fair. Sam knew full well what he was doing and Dean knew it too. He was going to have to hand his brother a good, friendly ass-beating later for putting him in this position. He had to admit though that the surprisingly strong arms wrapped around him were somehow comforting. He relaxed back into the chest behind him and tried not to think too hard about the warmth rolling in waves off of the body curled around his own. Hed lost a lot of his body heat when hed lost so much blood and he was trying his best to hide the shivers wracking his frame. His rain soaked clothing was doing little to protect him from the cold and his armor was only making the situation worse. He grumbled as he shuddered again. Screw this, he thought wryly, he wasnt about to freeze just to keep up appearances.

He struggled in his saddle and felt Castiel pull Impala to a stop as he wrenched his breastplate off. Cas watched him with confusion for a moment as he dragged one of the other horses forward and strapped the armor to their saddle before relaxing contentedly back into the warmth of Castiels chest. Cas glanced around nervously, uncertain how to react, but Dean took the reins back and urged Impala on to catch up with Sam, forcing his passenger to grip him all the tighter. He handed the reins back once theyd fallen in line behind his brother and smiled in a self-satisfied way as he heard the suddenly strained breathing coming from behind him. If he was going to be uncomfortable in this situation, then by the gods, he wasnt going to be the only one. Chapter 9: By the time Sam spotted a cave for them to rest in he was utterly exhausted. Hed pulled all night rides before but they were never something he looked forward to and his concern over Deans health had him checking every nook and cranny he thought they might have been able to hole up in. The small outcropping of rocks hed finally chosen had yielded a shallow hollow just deep enough for all three of them to bed down and its position at the top of a little hill meant that the rain wouldnt seep into their blankets. He trotted back to the trail to find that the horses hadnt moved an inch. Castiel blinked at him with bleary eyes and Sam was glad the cave had been perfect because he doubted his new friend was going to be able to travel for much longer. Dean had passed out halfway into the ride, his head lolling against Castiels shoulder and Sam had felt his chest tighten painfully with worry until his brother began snoring. Hed slept pretty soundly the rest of the trip, cradled in Castiel's arms.

Sam approached the pair and gestured back over his shoulder to the hill. Theres a cave. We can rest here. Castiel let out a grateful sigh of relief and struggled to turn Impala in that direction. Hed done little in the way of actually guiding her as she had ignored his attempts for the most part. Instead shed simply followed behind Sam having decided that an alternate Winchester was still preferable to someone she didnt know. Cas finally gave up all pretense and just let the reins drop as Sam led all of the horses back up to the cave. He pulled them into a narrow depression along the outside edge of the rock and began pulling down their gear. They wouldnt need tents so he settled for just grabbing enough blankets to keep them warm. Castiel spent the time trying to wake Dean long enough to get the man off the horse and onto a bed roll. He gently shook his passengers shoulders only to get a mumbled reply and Deans hand wrapped around his knee. Cas sighed and shook him harder.

This time he was successfully if only in getting Dean to blink open his eyes and glare at him. What? Dean grumbled.

Samael has found us a place to rest, Castiel said through his exhaustion before struggling to extricate himself from the back of the horse. Dean looked none to pleased to lose the source of body heat hed been enjoying for the better part of the night and he immediately felt the shivers creeping up on him again. His clothing was soaked and he flexed his aching fingers to try warming them back up before trying to struggle down from his perch. As Dean slid from the saddle, Castiel immediately put his arms out to brace him. He wanted to say something snarky about how he didnt need the assistance but he decided that he was too tired and sore to bother and so he let the young man help him limp to the cave instead. Sam watched them shuffle in and then stood from where hed set out their beds. Castiel noted with no undue concern that Sam had only set out two.

I need to get a fire started. Were all soaked and well catch cold if we dont dry these clothes out. You stay here with Dean, keep him warm, and Ill see if theres anything dry enough to burn, Sam ordered before striding past them both. Castiel turned to watch him go, a question on his lips that he was pretty sure he already knew the answer to, but Sam didnt pause long enough for him to ask. Dean was too tired to care about what their sleeping arrangements were and he simply began peeling off his clothing. He dropped his tunic to the ground with a wet slap, forming a pile with his belt and boots, and in the meager light of the moon Castiel could make out an expanse of taught skin covered now with nothing more than a thin breech cloth that had been woven around well muscled thighs and tied across narrow hips. Dean dropped onto one of the two sets of blankets and tried to pull them around himself to ward off the chill until little more than the top of his head was left exposed.

Castiel looked between the empty bed and where Dean lay shivering visibly in his own. He knew full well what Sam had been suggesting and he didnt figure arguing was going to help much since Dean really did need the body heat he could provide until they could get a fire started. Castiel tried hard not to think about the fact that he was about to spend the night pressing his mostly nude body against a man he had been lusting after and instead he concentrated on just pulling off his own tunic and neatly hanging it over a low rock in the cave. He tugged off his boots and then crept to the pile of blankets Dean was buried in. He lowered himself down with the thought that hed simply set up his own bed once his companion was no longer in danger from the cold.

Castiel peeled away the covers and slipped under them, eliciting a short growl of unhappiness from Dean at losing what little heat hed managed to accumulate. The complaint was cut short however as Cas scooted close and wrapped his arms around the other man. Dean immediately shifted backward, pressing his body into the warmth behind him, and tugged the blankets back around them both. Castiel could practically hear his heart pounding as he lay there. Every inch of his body was intensely aware of the smooth wall of muscle he found himself curled around and he could only hope Dean would be too tired to feel his growing erection. He peered out into the darkness and hoped Sam would hurry back quickly. The minutes seemed to drag on forever though as Castiel lay in the dark and tried not to think of how Dean's skin felt, smooth and soft, like warm silk pulled taught over stone. He tried to concentrate on something else and found himself latching on to the deep rhythmic breathing of his companion. His arm shifted with each inhalation and Castiel found himself stifling a yawn against the back of Dean's neck. The warmth of their combined bodies mingled with his fatigue until his mind was happy to trade in lust for exhaustion. ****

Castiel woke only once during the night to find a small but welcome fire crackling in their midst. He hadnt meant to fall asleep but he couldnt bring himself to complain seeing as he was warm and comfortable. Dean had rolled over at some point and his nose was buried in Castiels neck, each soft snore puffing hot, moist breath across his collar bone. Powerful arms and legs had entwined themselves around every inch of Castiel until he wasnt quite sure where his own began and ended. The awkwardness of their partial nudity had been replaced with a strange joy he couldnt put his finger on, a comfort hed rarely known since childhood when hed curled up with Anna in her bed during thunderstorms, and it smothered out any fears or concerns he might have had given the circumstances. He let himself drift back off to a dreamless sleep with the sound of Deans deep breathing easing the way.

When he woke again it was to find himself alone. Sams bed roll was missing and their fire had died sometime in the night. Castiel glanced around quickly, scanning for sign of his companions when he

spotted Dean standing in the late morning sunshine, stretching out his injured leg and testing it for sturdiness. He bit back any greeting and instead settled for watching Dean move, lean muscle shifting under exposed skin in a way that was more poetic than lewd. The sight stirred something in Castiel that he didnt want to admit and he knew it was more than just pure physical desire. Cas had known lust before in his life. Hed harbored a few secret crushes as a boy that had never been spoken of, fleeting glances and furtive dreams in the solitude of his room, and he was well aware of the reactions his body would have in the presence of someone he wanted to bed even if hed never acted on them. But what he felt looking at Dean was entirely new. He wanted more than to just bed him. He wanted to be close to him.

His body certainly let him know its desire but his heart was chiming in for the first time as well, conjuring up the memory of holding Dean in his arms last night. It had been so very long since hed felt that safe, both protector and protected, and he longed to have that again. He knew he would never feel it in Azazels arms. He would never be anything more than a toy for the senators pleasure but Dean had needed him last night and had shown him a trust few others had. Theyd barely known each other more than a couple days and yet Dean, injured and in danger from the cold, had taken comfort in Castiels embrace, had curled around him like a lover and held him through the night. Suddenly, the idea of being relegated to a life at the hands of Azazel seemed even less appetizing an option. He wasnt sure if Dean would ever want to pursue something more meaningful with him but he knew now what it had been, even for a night, to have someone hold him without trying to own him.

Castiel stayed silent as Sam stepped into view and headed for his brothers side. The two of them were a perfectly matched set, that much was obvious, and as Cas watched Sam talk quietly with Dean, he wished again that he were part of something that intimate. He couldnt help the spike of envy he felt at the way Dean seemed to brighten up at his brothers approach, an infectious and genuine smile spreading over his face. He was pretty sure that no one else in the world was as close to Dean as Sam was and Castiel found himself wishing Dean would smile at him like that too. He didnt bear any bitterness toward Sam though and as he watched Dean slug his brother playfully on the arm, he knew hed never want to see them parted. He didnt just want Dean for himself, he wanted to be part of their family.

Sam had been far kinder to him than duty said he had to be and Castiel entertained the idea that he might be able to foster a close friendship with the man. He hadnt had a lot of friends growing up, what with the duties of the household taking up much of his time, but his brothers and sister had been all the company hed needed. Over the years theyd left one by one but until a year ago, hed still had Anna at his side. Now he was alone, left at Michaels mercy, and he missed having someone to confide in. Hed found himself opening up more to Dean and Sam than he had ever done with anyone else and he let himself imagine what it would be like to be their friend, to ride off with them to war and share in the

celebration of victory. He chided himself a moment later for being foolish and dragged his eyes away. He did have someone who looked at him with utter trust, who smiled at his approach, in whom he could confide, and her life was currently in his hands. Castiel shuttered away his desire to take Dean as his lover and concentrated instead on the old woman whom he had to protect. He wouldnt be someone worthy of Deans love or Sams friendship if he were the kind of person who could let her die after all shed done for him.

Castiel glanced up when he heard Dean suck in a pained hiss through his teeth. Sam had was kneeling next to him tending to the wound in his leg, a neat row of stitches now marking the spot. It was clear that Sam had been the one to administer them as his fingers ran gently over each one and ensured they werent pulling out anywhere after the mornings stretching. The movement of Castiels head must have caught Deans attention and he turned to meet the young mans eyes. A flustered look crossed over his brow and when he looked back down at Sam, Cas could swear he saw a flush of pink creep up Deans cheeks. The soldier cleared his throat before planting his usual calm smile over his face. Morning, he said cheerfully. Sam shot him a look of confusion before he realized Dean wasnt talking to him.

I seem to have overslept, Castiel said by way of greeting. He reached over and snagged his now dry tunic from the nearby rock and pulled it over his head before getting to his feet. He rubbed at his face, frowning as he felt the heavy layer of stubble now gracing his chin after two days without shaving. Sok, you needed it, Dean said as he limped to a nearby rock and flopped down onto it, Well just take it outta your hide later.

Castiel shot him a wide eyed look of concern but Sam just chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. Hes joking, he said reassuringly, besides, we all needed the rest. Weve been making good time so we havent lost much by sleeping in a little. Sam dug around in his pack for a moment before handing over a razor and a small bowl. Theres a creek about seven miles up this trail. Go ahead and use some of the drinking water if you want. We can refill up there, he said with a smile. His own face was smooth shaven and a glance at Dean revealed the same so Castiel didnt feel too bad accepting the offer since it was clear the brothers had already done the same thing.

He knelt in the sunshine and listened to the pleasant sound of his companions packing their camp while he shaved, his mind latching onto the idea that this is what it would be like to ride with them on whatever adventures would await them after this mission. By the time he had finished and tucked the bowl back into the sack hanging from Sams horse, both men were already mounting up. Impala sidled up next to Castiel just after he climbed onto his own horse and as Dean shoved a small parcel of food into Castiels hands he paused to shoot an unreadable look at him. Both men sat quietly staring at each

other for a second, Deans hand lingering on Castiels, before Dean finally broke eye contact. Thanks for last night, he said quietly, his eyes flicking back to Cas for a moment as a secretive smile curled up one corner of his mouth. He spurred Impala away again as Castiel moved to say something and Cas found himself almost relieved by that since he wasnt sure how to respond anyway. He fell into line behind Dean as Sam took up the rear and promptly lost the battle to fight down the shy smile that crept onto his face. He was still wearing it when they finally came to the creek Sam had mentioned later that afternoon.

The three of them pulled off the trail mostly at Impalas insistence as she headed straight for the creek heedless of Deans attempts to stop her. She waded in halfway and happily slurped down her fill while her rider grumbled about her being as stubborn as his brother but Dean didnt really mean it and he grinned down at her as she snorted playfully into the creek. He slid out of his saddle and tugged his waterskin loose, dropping by Impalas nose to refill it. As he knelt in the shallow edge of the water, he glanced over almost against his will to watch as Castiel did the same. Hed woken that morning to find strong arms still wrapped around him and it had taken a moment to remember where he was. His cheek had been pressed against a lean chest firm with muscle and hed peeled his face away to peer up at long lashes and dark slightly curling hair. It wasnt the first time morning had found Dean in the bed of another man but he wasnt normally the cuddling sort and had usually climbed out of reach long before the sun came up. This time had been different and he hated to admit hed slept better last night than he had in a long time. Considering he hadnt even gotten laid, he was pretty surprised by that.

Dean had been frozen between the desire to flee Castiels bed for fear of what he was feeling or give in and snuggle closer, reveling in the comfort of the other man. In the end hed simply pulled himself away as slowly as he could to avoid waking his sleeping partner and crept off to clear his head, feeling like a coward the whole time. He had never been this confused about anyone else. Sure there had been a few lovers hed enjoyed for longer than usual and hed let himself relax in the comforts their bodies could offer but hed never found himself pulled so much toward any of them the way he was with Cas. He couldnt shake the image of him from the previous night; hair slick with rain, breath panted over parted lips, a sword spattered with fresh blood in his grip. Castiel had looked every part the warrior, proud, capable and most of all, an equal. With enough training Dean knew the young man would easily be as good a fighter as he and Sam and together the three of them would make one hell of a team.

Sam for his part seemed to like the guy too and that was a huge bonus in Deans book, not only because his brother was a good judge of character, but also because no one made it into their group that Sam didnt approve of. The Winchesters came as a pair and to get close to one, you had to be accepted by both. In Castiels case, Sam hadnt just approved of him but had also apparently decided Dean needed more of a push to do so as well. He hadnt exactly been subtle either. The two of them had shared a bed before to conserve body heat on cold nights so Sams decision for Castiel to be the one holding Dean

hadnt just been about keeping him warm. He was still going to kick his brothers ass for it later and he wasnt about to admit just how well hed slept since he knew Sam would be unbearably smug about it for at least a week if he knew. He also wasnt sure what Sam thought he was going to accomplish. They were both well aware that failure to deliver Castiel to the senator meant Dean wasnt likely to get his transfer. Surely his brother didnt intend for them to get split up just because Dean was harboring some ridiculous crush on a guy he really couldnt have anyway.

Dean slung his waterskin back onto his horse and then promptly dunked his whole head in the stream to cool off. He was more than ready for a real bath so he could wash the stink off of him. While soldiers didnt get to bathe regularly on the road, the baths were usually one of the first things to be built in a new fort and he knew by now the construction was already underway. With both Legions having met up along the river, it wouldnt take them long to put up a structure capable of securing the area. Dean decided he wasnt willing to wait till they reached the fort to get at least a little cleaner though and he peeled off his armor and tunic, dropping both along the shoreline before wading in and scrubbing the dirt from his skin. Sam followed suit and both men paused to stare at Castiel who was eyeing them with flushed cheeks. Hed certainly been around other men in less than the loin wraps they were all wearing, last nights adventure being no exception, but he was having trouble peeling his eyes from the expanse of suddenly exposed skin being paraded in front of him none the less. Most of the people hed been around with so little clothes had either been family members or the flabby well fed patricians his brother invited over, the latter of which Cas had never been forced to be undressed around himself. Hed caught brief glimpses of Dean in the moonlight last night but the sight was a far different thing in the bright light of day and he was suddenly glad he hadnt been able to see very well as he doubted hed have gotten any sleep at all had he realized what Deans mostly nude body looked like.

He wasnt about to be the only person in their small group who still stank of horse however, and so he pulled the layers of his short tunic over his head and neatly folded them on the ground next to his horse. He could feel the burn in his cheeks that said he had to be blushing furiously but he tried to ignore the pairs of eyes on him as he climbed down into the water himself. He stole a glance over at Dean, eager to catch one more vision to fuel his dreams later, and found that his gaze was met with a lusty smile. Dean wasnt being shy about his appreciation now that he could see his companion in broad daylight and Castiel flushed clear up to his ears. The look he was being given was just as lewd as the one Azazel had used but there was a marked difference in that there was no underlying desire to own him there. When the senator had stared at him, hed felt shudders wrack his body. There was something predatory in those eyes, something dark and unpleasant that made Castiel feel like Azazel intended to devour him whole. Deans gaze held less danger and more heat to it. It was appreciative without being vulgar and Cas found he liked it more than he wanted to admit.

Sam, who was caught between the both of them, just rolled his eyes and moved upstream a little so he wouldnt block either mans view. They washed quickly and Castiel noted that Deans eyes followed him almost the entire time. He hid his nervous smile as best he could while they dressed and then fell back in line once they pulled onto the path. ____________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter 10:

It seemed that Castiel's two companions had become more comfortable around him after the events of the previous night and as the afternoon wore into evening, he found himself caught in the middle of a conversation between both men as they rode. He chimed in occasionally when his opinion was asked for but otherwise sat quiet and simply enjoyed the sound of their voices. Sam was mulling over some figures on a parchment, calling out his concerns over the numbers and placement of the Gauls theyd fought so far, while Dean waved his hand dismissively and assured his brother that he was over thinking everything too much. Castiels interest was piqued however and he listened intently as he stared out into the foreign territory they now found themselves in.

Im telling you, Dean, this doesnt add up. Not with the numbers theyre reported to have, Sam was saying emphatically. All the forces theyve sent at us so far have been small. I compared the numbers from the attacks over the last few months and they just seem off. Why send such small numbers against us unless it was to test our tactics?

Dean sighed dramatically. By the GODS you are such a nerd. Seriously Sam, get a hobby. The Gauls arent sending bigger numbers because they either dont have them or are smart enough to know wed kick their asses. Give it a rest. Sam scowled at his brother but rolled up his parchments anyway and tucked them safely back into his saddlebags. Castiel wasnt quite content with letting the conversation drop though, not with them riding right into an area that had up until recently belonged to said Gauls.

Do you believe they will attack again, Samael? He asked worriedly, turning in his saddle to look at the man behind him.

Oh great, Dean grumbled from up front, now I get to listen to both of you fretting like old hens.

Sam ignored him and shrugged, looking gratified that at least someone was interested in what he was trying to say. I dont know. Its possible. Im just saying its worth being aware of. Theyre smarter than I think we give them credit for and if it were me leading them, Id be gathering a major force to attack while my enemy was overconfident in his victory. I mean, both legions arent going to stay on site for long so they might be waiting for our numbers to thin a little.

Castiel felt suddenly and strangely aware of the area theyd just entered into in light of Sams warning. Their travel had taken them outside of the areas well worked by Roman hands and into wilder lands where trees had gathered in small clusters along the trail. The farther they rode, the denser these clumps had become until Castiel now found himself hedged in on either side by thick tall trunks that stretched up toward the heavens. He could well imagine wild men with tattooed faces leaping out of the woods around him and the stillness of the forest was eerie compared to the bustle of city streets he was used to. Even out on the open road, the sound of Dean and Sams voices, the snorts and hooves of their horses, had echoed out around them. Within the cradle of the trees though, the sounds were all muffled and Cas glanced about with heightened awareness.

Its possible they might even have left scouts behind to monitor our movements, planning out the time when wed be at our weakest, Sam said absently as he pulled one of the sheets back out and jotted down some thought that had just occurred to him.

Castiel swallowed heavily. Do you believe we are in danger?

Dean snorted a laugh, Cas, trust me, if the Gauls were going to attack us, wed smell them long before they got close enough to be a threat. Besides, youve got nothing to worry about. Theyre more likely to kidnap you than kill you what with you being a valuable hostage and all. He turned and shot a mischievous wink at Castiel who scowled at him in return before turning back to stare out into the forest. He couldnt say it was all bad despite his continued fretting. The sun was barely filtering down through the boughs above them but every now and then it split the canopy and poured down in glittering shafts to the forest floor. Small flocks of birds fluttered now and then when the group rode too near and once Castiel even spotted a deer who spooked at their approach. The path they had been taking had devolved into nothing more than a wide swath of trampled underbrush, its edges defined only by the hacked off limbs of trees severed to make room for the long line of men who had marched through this land. Dean led them down it with a confidence that Castiel could well imagine had earned him the fierce loyalty of his comrades and he could see why the soldier had risen to the rank he now bore.

The forest around them grew colder with the setting sun, the trees having blocked most of the warmth from settling into the ground, and Castiel was beginning to consider pulling out his cloak when the forest parted and dumped them out into a narrow valley split down its center by a glittering river. In the distance he could make out a tall wooden structure crouched on the edge of a bend, its walls bristling with makeshift spikes to keep enemies at bay, and around its base a fair sized encampment had been set up. Scores of men milled about, weaving between tents and hauling makeshift construction equipment with them as they reinforced the walls of the fort. Dean slowed his pace now that their final destination was in sight. Hed been in such a hurry to get Castiel here, to drop off his cargo and finish this mission so he could get his transfer. Now that he was here, however, he wished hed moved slower. He hated the idea that this was it, that here he and Castiel would part ways and never see each other again. A single glance at the young man behind him showed plainly that he was no happier to have arrived either.

Castiel felt all the happiness and comfort hed experienced in Dean and Sams company suddenly filter away, replaced with a sense of dread that only got worse as they began to ride down to the fort. The closer they got to the looming structure, the heavier Castiels heart felt until he found himself fighting the urge to just wheel his horse around and leave. Hemmed between Dean and Sam though, he knew he couldnt shame himself that way much less let down Anya all because of his desire to escape what was apparently his fate. The sound of the horses hooves felt hollow to him as they finally breached the edge of the camp and rode through the army to the gate of the fort.

Dean frowned as he looked around in confusion. Most of the legion wasnt there and that fact bothered him greatly. With their numbers so thinned for what was apparently no reason, Sam's cryptic warnings suddenly sounded a lot more plausible. Several men stopped to watch as they rode toward the gates of the fort and Castiel suddenly felt entirely out of place again. He was dressed in the white robes of a citizen and that alone made him stand out like a beacon among the swarm of crimson tunics and shining armor that surrounded him. Multitudes of eyes turned to watch him and greetings were tossed to Sam and Dean as they rode past. Castiel had never wished more that he were simply one of their number, another soldier like them, so he would feel more like he had their respect instead of their curiosity. He settled for keeping his eyes locked onto Deans back though that only served to remind him more of what he was about to lose. It was better than looking into the faces of the men around him and seeing the life he knew hed never know now. The trio rode across a broad dirt ramp that served as the only entry point to the fort since the rest had been surrounded by a deep trench. As the gates before them swung open, Castiel couldnt help feeling he was walking straight into a cage and he once again had to fight the urge to flee. He gathered his courage and lifted his chin as they finally entered the center of the structure.

A long low building had been settled into the middle of the space and a second was still under construction beside it while several others had been placed strategically around them to house the soldiers. Castiel could only imagine the central building was for housing the higher command, a theory that was proven right a moment later when an older man dressed in ornate armor that marked him as the legions commander emerged and approached them. Dean and Sam slapped their fists to their breastplates in a salute of respect which the man returned with all the air of a proud father. I am General Pullo, he announced to Castiel, We are glad to have you safe among us. Your patron has not yet arrived, unfortunately, but we will do our best to make you comfortable until he does.

Thank you, Castiel said lifelessly. He hesitated on getting off of his horse, as if doing so would further reduce his non-existent chances of escape, but he knew he didnt have a choice and putting it off wasnt going to help his Anya any. He slid down and dully began pulling his own bag from his saddle when a soldier he didnt recognize took over, gently pushing him aside.

Pullo walked up behind him and settled a hand on his shoulder. Come, Tatius can show you to your room, he said politely, gesturing to the unfamiliar man holding his gear.

Dean didnt even bother asking permission as he snagged the bag from Tatiuss hands. I got it, he said flatly as he turned and strode off toward the central building. It was the only place Dean knew they would put Cas and he doubted it would be hard to locate the room that had been set aside for their distinguished guest. Castiel smiled gratefully and followed behind him. He paused to see if Sam would follow as well but the other soldier waved them on and then pulled out a parchment to hold in front of the general. He began chatting excitedly and Cas could tell from the intent look on Pullos face that he had the generals complete attention. He turned and followed Dean into the cool interior of the command center. Men in centurion armor were coming and going with intent looks on their faces and he had to dodge out of their way more than once as they walked. The whole building had been constructed from lumber gathered from the surrounding forest and Castiel found himself impressed by the speed with which the structure was being built. He knew within the span of a few months it would be converted to stone and the lumber would be chopped to fuel the bath furnaces.

Dean peered into each room he came to until he finally found one appointed to the level that a senator would be worthy of. The lack of military equipment ruled out the possibility of it being the generals quarters so he stepped in and dropped Castiels bag next to the bed which sat in the corner of the room. The space was large, more so than anything Dean had ever been afforded, and it had been decked out with all the finer things their general had brought with him. The bed was covered in thick warm blankets and a low chest squatted against one wall. Along its surface was a set of fine cups and bottle of wine.

Furs had been spread over its floor and cloth draped every wall to keep the drafts out. Dean whistled as he looked around. I know this might not be as nice as youre used to but trust me when I say the general went all out on you, he said as brightly as he could. He had hoped the words would cheer Castiel, who looked at that moment as if he were being sentenced to life imprisonment, but the young man just shot him a miserable look and walked over to the bed.

Thank you, Dean, Castiel said quietly.

The two shared a long unspoken moment of sorrow before Dean found he had to leave or risk saying something ridiculous like asking Cas to just ride out with him and Sam that night and never look back. He paused at the door and cleared his throat as he tried to think of anything he might be able to offer in the way of comfort but he could barely convince himself that this was a good thing so he settled for a half hearted Youre welcome before shutting the door behind him and storming out of the building.

Castiel sank down onto the soft blankets that covered his bed and did his best to convince himself this was the way things had to be. Chapter 11: When Sam found Dean a short while later he was picking a fight with one of the other soldiers, his finger jabbing into the mans chest like a punctuation to the clipped off words coming out of his mouth. Dont. You. EVER. Talk. About. Him. Again, Dean growled. Sam wasnt sure what had spurred the argument but the other soldier looked confused so he could well assume that something stupid had just been said. Considering the mood Dean was obviously in right then, Sam knew the poor sap was lucky his brother hadnt just decked him already. He snagged Deans arm and forcibly pulled him away from a situation he knew wouldnt end well. Dean shoved his hand off and glared at the kid hed been yelling at before stomping off toward the quarters their cohort had been assigned.

So, does he even know he what he did wrong or did you just go straight into threatening bodily harm? Sam asked as he jogged to catch up with the swift pace his brother was setting.

Bastard made a comment about Cas, Dean growled.

Ah, Sam said knowingly. Dean stopped short and looked at him. He hated it when Sam did that. It was more than an acknowledgement of what had been said and they both knew it.

What? Dean snapped.

Nothing, Sam shrugged, its just that I dont think thats the only reason youre in a bad mood.

Dean glared at him and then turned to walk away.

Im gonna miss him too, Dean, Sam called after him.

Dean pulled to a stop and barely looked over his shoulder. Just drop it, Sam. He didnt wait for a reply and instead stormed off to their room. Sam followed quietly behind him, shaking his head as he went. It would be infinitely easier if his brother would just admit what he was feeling but Dean had never been one for discussing his emotions and Sam knew it wouldnt do any good to press the issue. They slipped into the bunk room and Dean tossed his bag onto one of the two remaining beds that hadnt been taken yet. Everyone in their Legion knew who the Winchesters were and while Sams rank earned him sleeping arrangements in a better building, he always chose to bunk down next to his brother. It had become a sort of custom then that whatever room Dean was assigned to, an extra bed would be left empty for Sam.

Dean flopped down and ran his hands through his hair. He needed something to divert his mind from blue eyes and lips that tasted like rainwater and salt. Did the general explain why most of our force is missing? Where the hell is everyone? He glanced up at his brother in time to see a furrow crease Sams brow.

He said orders came in to move most of them to the fort sixty miles west of here. They left yesterday. That group of senators thats doing the tour of the frontlines checked in at the fort two days ago and the higher ups want a sizable escort for them to get here. They should be here tomorrow, Sam finished quietly, watching his brothers face for any sign of upset this news might cause.

Dean worked at looking uninterested while his stomach tried its best to climb into his shoes. Yeah well, good, he bit out, faster they get here, the faster they leave and then we can get on with our lives without a bunch of spoiled prissy jerks getting in the way. When he looked up it was to find Sam giving him a sad, worried frown, like he knew full well how much it was bothering him that Azazels arrival meant Castiels departure. Dean wasnt about to admit that to him, not when he was working so hard not to admit it to himself either, and he hopped up to find something else to distract him, ignoring Sams calls as he stalked back out into the darkening night. There had to be a dice game going on somewhere in the fort. Dean could lose himself in some good wine and a few rounds of taking everyone elses pay, especially if it got him away from Sams pitying looks and not so subtle attempts to share feelings.

***

Castiel sat on the edge of his bed until the room had become so dark he had to hunt for candles by feel alone. He lit a few of the lanterns spaced around the room and eyed the wine bottle sitting on the chest. He had never been the drinking type but he had a fairly high tolerance regardless if only because of how often in their childhood Gabriel had shoved a cup in his hand. He knew the bottle was meant for when Azazel showed up but Castiel snatched it up and opened it anyway just so he could have the small satisfaction of denying the senator something. He poured himself a cup and eyed the other one where it sat upturned and alone. He wanted to go find Dean, wanted to invite him to take the other cup and drink the senators wine with him, but he knew that wouldnt be doing either of them any justice. He belonged to Azazel whether he liked it or not and he knew Anyas life wasnt the only one that his betrayal could harm. Azazel could make Dean and Sams life a nightmare if he so chose and Castiel wasnt willing to risk that.

He sat in the solitude of his room, quietly listening to the muffled sounds of men thumping past his door on their way in and out of the building. He could barely make out the sound of laughter somewhere and he wondered if any of the soldiers were celebrating this rare downtime they were getting. With the darkness now set in, the construction efforts would have ground to a halt and he knew the troops would have been turned loose. He downed a few glasses of wine and looked around his quarters. It was true that it wasnt as nice as the home he had in Rome but hed have traded it all in an instant for a small cave along the trail with his only two friends in the world. Castiel knocked back another glass before tossing the cup onto the chest and settling for just drinking the rest straight from the bottle.

He wondered what Anya was doing right then, how Gabriel was, what Anna had been up to and whether he had any nieces or nephews yet. He hoped so. Anna would make a wonderful mother and he told himself that he would make a point of trying to go see her once he got back to Rome. Living in Azazels

house would at least have the perk that he wouldnt be under Michaels watchful eye anymore and he hoped the senator wouldnt deny him the right to see his own sister. A little rebellious part of his mind chimed in that he could care less what the senator wanted, hed sneak out to see her regardless, and for once Castiel didnt make an attempt to push such thoughts aside. He let the idea linger until he began to nod off sometime later.

He was awoken in the early hours of morning by frantic shouts and a chorus of cries that sounded like the underworld itself had ripped open nearby. Castiel bolted to his door and threw it open only to almost collide with a couple of soldiers tearing down the hallway. They didnt spare him a second glance and instead simply tore out of the building in full armor. Outside, men were shouting orders over the din of cries that had risen until Castiel was certain that they were being attacked by flocks of harpies. He ran to his bag and dug around until he found the sword he had tucked among his things. He had kept it after the fight with the bandits, determined not to be caught unarmed again. Castiel had no armor, a fact which bothered him greatly, and he doubted the troops outside would want his help, but he had a driving need to know where Dean and Sam were and if they were ok.

He ducked out into the swarm of activity just outside the building and had to press himself back against the wall to keep from being caught up in it. Men were scurrying along the tops of the walls, firing down into whatever enemy force had laid siege to the outside, and troops were pouring out of the bunkhouses like ants from a nest, bristling with spears, daggers and swords. The courtyard flickered with light as it glinted off well polished armor and shields. Castiel glanced around in the confusing mess, uncertain where to even start in his quest to find his friends when a hand grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and jerked him back toward the door. Get back inside! a centurion screamed at him, The Gauls are attacking!

I can help! Castiel found himself shouting over the noise, I just need armor!

The centurion just shook his head and pushed Castiel back again toward the door. He opened his mouth to say something, most likely a refusal of Castiels offer, but his words were cut off by a startled cry. Someone had removed the barricades to the front gates. They had been betrayed. The doors swung inward and the soldiers inside formed lines with an efficiency Castiel could only have dreamed of. He watched with open admiration as they fearlessly met the swarm of creatures rushing through the gate. His eyes widened as he finally caught sight of the Gauls for the first time. They lacked the armor and discipline of the Romans but there was a wild fierceness to their eyes, to the cries of rage falling from their gaping mouths. They hurled themselves against the Roman forces with reckless abandon and Castiel recoiled at the wet squelch of human flesh being impaled against spear, lance and sword.

His fingers curled tighter around the sword in his own hand. He knew running back to his room would not happen now nor was he willing to entertain such an option. He would not get in the way of the trained soldiers but he wasnt about to wait quietly for his own death if they were over run either. On an open field the troops would have no doubt slaughtered the Gaul force pressing at their shields but the confines of the fort made forming lines difficult and the enemy force seemed to have no end. The men stood their ground regardless but the line was being forcibly overrun. For every one Gaul killed, two more stepped up to take his place until Castiel was sure they had to be standing on a small pile of corpses just to continue the fight.

The line of Romans didnt so much break as simply fall beneath a swarm of flailing bodies. Men with blue tattoos scrawled across their skin in dizzying patterns rushed in until the courtyard was teeming with them. Castiel found he didnt have to go to the fighting as it abruptly came to him. The tidal surge of Gauls swept up through the center of the fort until Castiel found himself caught up in it. He barely had time to think before he was fighting furiously to keep his skin intact, his sword clashing against a spear hard enough to sunder it. Gabriels voice sounded in his head, a thousand lessons learned over the course of his life, and he let himself fall into familiar rhythms. Dont think about death, dont think about injury, concentrate on the telltale body movements of the enemy that will give away his next strike. Castiel rolled into the dance of the fight, cleanly cutting a swath through the Gauls around him.

He could feel a spear pass through the bundle of cloth hanging from his shoulder but he didnt give it much thought as he clamped down on the shaft and used the moment to stab its owner in the throat. There was a rip as the fabric gave way but Castiel could barely hear it over the sound of his heartbeat and the forced slow measure of each breath he took. Breathe in. Duck below the swing aimed at him, come up from beneath, slide the sword into the mans ribcage. Breathe out. A sharp pain along his right arm alerted Castiel to a sword that had sliced a little too close for comfort. He spared his injury only a fleeting glance, enough to mark it as a shallow cut, and then turned to dispatch the man who had dealt it. Time seemed to grind to a halt as he fought and every minute was an hour. He felt like hed been fighting forever when he heard another cry, this time of triumph and he looked up from the man hed just killed to see the doors to the gate swinging shut. Archers lined along the wall just above the doors were firing volley after volley into the enemy, offering the troops inside a chance to close the entrance and seal out more of their attackers.

Castiel almost cheered himself when he saw the gate slam shut again. The barricades were quickly put in place and the troops set to the arduous task of killing the remaining enemy force that was now trapped inside with them. Castiel cried out as a spear sliced along his left hip and slammed into the ground at his feet. He turned only to meet a fist right to the face. Strong hands wrapped into his tunic and tossed him

backward, knocking the wind from him when he landed. Something warm and wet rolled down his face as he sat up and Castiel spat a thick dollop of blood onto the ground next to him. He brought his sword up in time to stop a fierce blow dealt out by a ferocious looking man with a wild tangle of shoulder length hair. The Gaul didnt give him time to recover his feet and Cas fought as best as he could from his back as the assault rained down on him from above. He scooted backward through dirt mingled with blood and fended off his attacker until his shoulders bumped against the limp body of a legionnaire, effectively halting his retreat.

The Gaul raised his sword, his eyes gleaming with triumph, when his body jolted sharply and the weapon fell from his hands. A sword swung around from behind and cleanly severed his throat, dropping the man to the ground with a final strangled gurgle of protest. From behind the fallen Gaul Dean grinned at Castiel. Were even, he said almost cheerfully. Castiel couldnt help but return the grin and he accepted the bloody hand held out to him. He was yanked to his feet and Dean patted him on his uninjured arm. Damn, you look like five miles of bad road, he teased.

I shall endeavor to be more cleanly for the next attack, Castiel replied sarcastically.

Dean chuckled and jerked his head behind him. Cmon. Well find Sam and show him what real soldiers look like instead of those namby pamby guys holding up fancy curtains.

Castiel looked at him with confusion until he realized what Dean had been referring to. He could just make out Sam in the distance, the legions standard in his hands while the fight raged around him. The standard bearer had one of the hardest jobs in the legion since he couldnt take either hand off of the pole he was holding and Castiels respect for Sam jumped considerably. Only someone truly noteworthy and utterly courageous would have been given such an honor and Sam was bearing it with a grace that did him justice. Troops rallied around him while he stood like an immovable pillar of strength, heedless of the fighting going on only feet from him. The thick crimson cloth that hung from his standard fluttered in the little breeze that had made its way into the fort, setting the symbol of the 78th dancing as if it were moved by the battle raging around it.

Castiel found himself heading inexorably toward that sight with Dean leading the way. They plowed into the battle from behind and waded through the remaining enemy. Castiel had never felt so much like he belonged to anything in his life. No one was judging him. No one was looking at him strangely. He wasnt the outsider, the patrician, or the object to be coveted. He was just another Roman fighting among his brothers to protect the symbol of their legion and their way of life. By the time the fighting stopped, his

lungs were burning and blood was flowing freely from a gash over his right eye. The archers had done their jobs and with the gates sealed once more, the Gauls outside had no place of refuge from the constant hail of arrows sent into their midst. They pulled back to lick their wounds, retreating into the forest once more and leaving the world sounding eerily quiet in their wake.

Dean patted Castiel on the shoulder and let out a strained laugh. Hell of a night, huh? he said breathlessly, Whew! Gods, I need a drink.

Cas smiled at him and looked up to find Sam doing the same. The three shared a moment of victory that Castiel wished he could hold onto forever before the booming voice of the general began calling for a head count of the fallen. He watched as troops began lining up to take tally and he almost joined them before he remembered that he wasnt one of them. Dean looked at him with understanding and slapped him on the shoulder. Hey, you kicked a LOT of ass out there, he said proudly, Dont you let anyone tell you different.

Castiel could feel his face pull into a bright smile despite the pain his body was alerting him to now that the adrenaline had worn off. That simple compliment from Dean had meant the world. Hed fought beside them and hadnt been seen as a burden but rather an equal, a brother and someone to be respected. Even with his lungs burning, his eyes stinging from the blood that had dripped into them, and the pain in his hip, Castiel had never felt happier. Even if none of the other Legionnaires felt the same, Dean and Sam had seen him for the capable man he could be and that was more than enough for him. Generals gonna want us to help with the body cleanup after this, Dean continued, I dont think hes gonna want you to be a part of that. Why dont you head back to your room, clean up, and Sam n Ill catch up with you when were done. I think weve all earned a drink.

There is at least three bottles of good wine and one of porto in the supplies we brought for Azazel, Castiel found himself saying before he could even process the words, We can open those to celebrate.

Dean and Sam exchanged looks. Umwont we get in trouble for drinking those? Sam said warily.

I will take responsibility, Cas replied, It is doubtful he will care much if Im the one that took them.

Sam still looked doubtful but Dean didnt seem to share his concern. Sounds like a plan to me, he said happily. He was fairly sure that any wine the senator brought would be some of the best and he was positive that wine stolen from that self absorbed jerk would taste even better if only because he was keeping Azazel from enjoying it himself. Youre not taking the heat though, he said offhandedly, Ill snag em on the way back when we come find you. We can say the Gauls destroyed em. He grinned at the look of disapproval Sam gave him but he also knew that faced with the options of stealing the wine or risking Castiel taking the blame for their disappearance, his brother would side with the theft.

Cas nodded. Agreed but if you get caught, just tell them I asked you to.

Dean winked at him and gave Castiels shoulder one last slap before wandering back down toward the lines that were forming up near the gates, Sam following in his wake. Chapter 11: Castiel sat on the edge of his bed and stared at his sword where it rested against a nearby wall. The adrenaline of battle had fled his system leaving him feeling worn but still jittery. Hed pulled enough water from the stores kept within the fort to wipe himself down with a wet cloth, something he was grateful for since he doubted hed have been able to sleep still reeking of sweat, dirt, and blood. Hed also cleaned and wrapped the cut on his arm along with the one gracing his hip before settling down on his bed to wait for Dean and Sam. He glanced down at the bandage wrapped tightly around his bicep. Fortunately the cut hadnt been deep and the bleeding had already stopped by the time hed returned to his room. He was pleasantly surprised when no one had stopped him or said anything as hed moved about the fort gathering water and clean linen for his wounds. The men hed passed had simply nodded to him on his way and he figured the mud and gore soaking his robes had been enough sign of his courage in battle to earn him the silent respect of the other soldiers. It warmed Castiels heart to feel so much a part of them. Hed gone from being someone they had to take care of to someone who had shown he could be counted on as a fellow warrior.

Castiel glanced up at the door for the umpteenth time since sitting down. He was beginning to worry a little. Hed eaten up at least a good hour getting cleaned and dressed but no one had shown up by the time he was done. As the time had slipped past hed reminded himself that Dean and Sam had to attend to the removal of bodies before they could even look to the luxury of bathing, much less make it to his room. After two hours, hed told himself that Dean had to bide his time to get the wine from the supply rooms. Now as the night wore on, he began to wonder if they had changed their minds about coming at all. Perhaps they had been sidetracked by other soldiers looking to celebrate or perhaps Dean had been caught and was now in trouble. Castiel felt his stomach tighten at that thought. He certainly didnt want

to be the reason his friend was being punished. He rose to his feet, intent on finding them and ensuring they were ok, when someone finally knocked at his door.

Castiel hurried to open it and was almost bowled over as Dean dodged inside and pressed the door shut behind him. He leaned back against the wall with a mischievous grin, a cloth wrapped bundle tucked beneath his arm, and then pressed his ear to the wood with a look of concentration. Castiel waited with baited breath while Dean listened but the soldier just nodded and sauntered into the room once he was sure no one had followed him. Not technically supposed to be in here, he said to his fellow conspirator, what with me not being an officer and all. They get kinda touchy about that stuff. He certainly didnt sound unhappy about having to sneak in; in fact Castiel thought he sounded like hed enjoyed it more because it was taboo.

Dean dropped the bundle of cloth onto the chest and Castiel glanced back at the door. Wheres Sam? he asked in confusion. He hoped the other man hadnt mistakenly thought he wasnt included in the invitation.

Dean shrugged. Ah, he went to bed. Hes my brother so I love im and all, but between you and me, kid needs to get out more. I swear hes too damn serious about everything. He could ruin a wet dream.

Castiel suddenly felt his cheeks flush a little. Sam wasnt coming and that left him alone with Dean in the privacy of his room. Considering that the last two times they had been alone for any period of time, theyd wound up kissing, Castiel felt a little thrill of excitement run through him. He also felt a little concern to go with it. Sam wouldnt be here this time to interfere and he wondered how far things would go without the unintended interruptions. He watched as Dean pulled out some bread, aged cheeses, fine wine, spices, and oil. His friend hadnt just skimmed a little drink off of the stores, hed practically robbed Azazels whole supply list blind. Thisthis is a lot more than just wine, Dean, he said uncertainly.

Dean shrugged and tossed the cloth wrap to the floor. Yeah, well, if youre in for a little, you might as well be in for a lot, right? He smiled at Cas and popped the top off of the bottle in his hand. Sides, in all the confusion from tonight, its not that hard to think the supplies got a little ransacked. If weve got an excuse, might as well use it to its fullest. He held up a cup of fine deep red wine before Castiel. It doesnt bother you or anything, does it? he asked as if the idea had just occurred to him.

Castiel stared at the drink for a minute before finally taking it. No, he said with a slowly growing smile, its fine. He is more than capable of getting more when he gets to Rome. There was something alluring in the idea of stealing from Azazel and enjoying the spoils with Dean instead. His companions enthusiasm for bending the rules was slightly infectious and it only seemed to make him more endearing. Castiel had never been one for breaking the rules but he had to begrudgingly admit he was starting to like it. It felt like taking back a piece of himself, of what he had been asked to give up, and he felt that little rebellious spark flare to life once more. He thought perhaps Gabriel would like Dean very much. Both of them shared a knack for flouting the societal norms and living right on the edge of what they could get away with.

All thoughts of his brother fled though as Castiel looked up and met Deans gaze a moment later. The cup paused against his bottom lip as he stared across it into those sharp green eyes hed dreamed of before and time seemed to grind to a halt. He felt his heart speed up, something in his gut fluttering like a trapped animal, and in that moment he made a decision that both thrilled and scared him. He didnt want Azazel to be the only lover he would ever know. He wanted Dean to be his first. Dean with his strong hands, his kind smile, his beautifully sculpted lips and those hypnotic eyes. He couldnt imagine spending the rest of his life without ever knowing any touch but the cold lust of the senator. As he stood trying to cement his resolve, he found that Dean had also paused in his drinking.

Dean met the heated look being thrown his way and he felt his body instantly respond. Hed been looked at that way before and it was usually an invitation he wouldnt have thought twice about accepting but this situation was far different than any hed found himself in previously. The man before him was entirely off limits in so many ways it wasnt funny. Touching Cas was a sure fire way to make sure his transfer wouldnt happen much less what it could do to his military career as a whole if the senator found out. A little nagging part of his brain was screaming that no one had to know. Hed already stolen food and wine, why not take everything he wanted? He watched as a blush crept up Castiels cheeks and the other man finally broke the stare to fix his eyes on the door instead. Sams excuse had been pretty thin at best and Dean could see now that his brother had just set him up. Hed been lured into being alone in a room with a guy he had been lusting after and his brother knew full well that willpower had never been his strong suit. He watched as Castiel downed his wine with the desperation of someone trying to bolster their courage and the slightly panicked look on the mans face would have been enough to make Dean laugh if he werent so busy trying to convince his libido to shut the hell up for a second.

So, Dean said, trying to lighten the sudden tension in the room, Pretty good fight, huh?

I want you to bed me, Castiel stated flatly.

Dean choked on the mouthful of wine hed been trying to swallow and he sputtered as he tried to breathe around it. ImIm sorry? he gasped a moment later. Well that had been a lot more straight forward than expected.

I said I want you to bed me, Castiel repeated, his chin suddenly held high and a look of determination on his face. I told you already that Ive... He blushed clear up to his ears but the conviction in his stiff posture never wavered. Ive never known the touch of another man, he continued as matter-of-factly as he could, as if they were discussing contract negotiations, I want you to be my first.

Dean was at a loss for words for a moment, not a normal state for him and he opened and closed his mouth a few times like a fish out of water. Welluh.I.Man, youre a real romantic, arent ya? he finally managed to say while his mind rushed to catch up to what his body had already happily answered to. There had been others who had extended obscene invitations to him in the past but none so unabashed as the one hed just been offered. Castiels invitation had been no nonsense, there were no games attached to it, none of the usual coy flirting that Dean was used to and for some reason that worked really well for him. For once in his life though, Dean was determined to think things through before rushing headlong into doing what would be most gratifying, despite his bodys protests to the contrary. There was too much at stake here if they got caught.

I apologize, Castiel said with obvious embarrassment, Was there a better way I should have phrased that?

Wuhuh hey, Id like to get to know you some more would have been at least a little lessumblatant, I guess, Dean stammered out.

I do want to get to know you more, Dean, but we dont have that much time, Castiel said with a little frustration. Hed never been very good at most normal social interactions so he was entirely clueless on how one went about asking for sexual favors. Perhaps we can continue discourse afterward but I would like to have sex with you first.

Dean could feel the blush climbing up his cheeks. OkwowumCas, thisthis is such a bad idea, I mean, isnt your senator gonna be a little upset that Ive deflowered his aide or whatever? Gods, did I just say deflowered? he muttered to himself as he ran his hands over his face.

Azazel does not know Im a virgin, Dean. Michael doesnt know. My brother still believes I bedded that young woman he paid for. I justDean, I do not want his touch to be the only one Ill ever know, Castiel replied as calmly as he could.

Dean felt his stomach drop a little. He wasnt about to admit just why even to himself but he felt a strange anger at the idea of the senator touching Castiel that way. Hed never been possessive of anyone else, never cared if theyd slipped from his bed straight into anothers, and yet he hated the thought of having to share the man before him. Then dont go to him, he said before his brain could tell his mouth to stop, just stay with Sam and I. We can get you a place in the legion. Im sure we

I cant, Dean, Castiel interrupted, I told you, I have to

Yeah, I know, Dean said bitterly, Holding up your family name or some other bullshit like that. Thats your choice, Cas.

Its not, Castiel said brokenly. He hated Dean being unhappy with him and a little panic took hold as he watched the tenuous respect that had formed between them slowly unravel. He found himself blurting out the only thing he could think of to stop it. If Dean was going to disrespect him because of his decision anyway, then it couldnt hurt worse for his friend to know why. Her name is Anya, he said haltingly, Shes a slave in our house. Shes old. There has never been a time when she wasnt around, cleaning after my brothers and sisters, meeting us with meals, comforting us when we were hurt. Michael owns her, Dean. Shesshes the only mother Ive ever known and he will sell her to the quarries if I dont do as he says. I have no choice. Shell die. He looked up expecting to see nothing but disgust or mockery in Deans face but instead he saw compassion, confusion, and then a dawning realization. All of those emotions were swept to one side a moment later by a frightening rage.

You mean to tell me your brother is holding your surrogate mom hostage unless you do this? he growled out, his whole body tensing in open aggravation.

Yes, Castiel said quickly, I apologize for not telling you sooner but I thoughtyou might think less of me because of her station.

Dean looked taken aback. Cas, why the hells would I think less of you for trying to save an innocent life? Its your miserable asshole brother I think less of. Gods, Cas, cant you just take her and run or something?

Castiel shook his head. No, Michael will suspect that. Theres no way for me to get back into the house without him watching me and Azazel is coming to get me from here tomorrow. Even if I could get her out, we would never get far. Michael owns her and he could claim theft. Its a serious offence. Dean looked like he was mulling it over but Castiel put a hand on his arm. You would fare no better if you tried to steal her either and I cannot condone you putting yourself in danger for me. If you want to help me, then dont let me go to Azazel like this. Just give me one night I can look back on, something I can hold ontoplease, Dean.

Dean looked down into those pleading eyes and found his resolve wavering. At least now he understood why someone like Castiel was allowing himself to be handed over to the senator but it did nothing to calm how angry he was about it. Despite Castiels protest, Deans mind was already trying to figure out a way to stop this, to save Cas from a life he was being forced into. There was little time though. The senator would be at the fort tomorrow and there would be no way Dean could stop Azazel from taking Castiel with him. He would be damned by Pluto himself though if he was going to let that bastard be the first one to lay hands on the man before him. He didnt bother with words now that his brain and body had finally come to an accord, instead closing the distance between them with a searing kiss that gained a muffled surprised noise as their lips pressed together.

Castiel certainly hadnt expected the kiss but he wasnt displeased in the least. Strong arms wound around his waist and pulled him flush against Deans chest. Soft lips pressed at his own, nibbling, coaxing, teasing until he finally returned their invitation. A tongue darted out to lap at his top lip and this time Castiel eagerly opened his mouth to meet it with his own. He lost himself for a few moments to the smell of Deans skin, the feel of his hands pressing him close and the wet slip-slide of tongues. Their kisses faltered into quick desperate nips at one another as Dean guided Castiel back against one wall. A thigh slid between his legs, drawing a sharp inhale from Cas, and he felt Dean smile through their kiss as his forgotten cup clattered to the floor. Even in his dreams he never felt anything like this and it was a little overwhelming. Deans body moved against him, gently grinding the top of one well muscled thigh against his groin while Deans hands slid from his waist up to his hair.

Dean slid his fingers into the thick tufts of dark warmth and then trailed them down the back of Castiels neck. His thumbs played over delicate collar bones and across the other mans shoulders, slipping beneath the soft white cloth to ghost over smooth skin. Castiel shivered as lips flitted down his throat leaving a trail of kisses in their wake. Hot breath panted over his skin and along his hairline accompanied by the minute scratch of stubble and he cupped the back of Deans head just to have something to hold on to. Strong fingers latched onto the cloth covering his left shoulder and with a quick jerk the seam gave way, its death marked by the sound of fabric shredding. Dean stepped back to watch it fall away revealing an expanse of smooth pale skin beneath it.

Castiel was a picture of beauty, his hair a mess, his body tense with need, his breath coming in shaky lungfuls as he stared at Dean with wide eyes. He looked utterly debauched with his tunic hanging half off and Dean had never seen anything that fuckable in his life. He slid the rest of the fabric off Castiels other shoulder and reached for the thin woven belt still around the mans waist, the only thing keeping the tunic still in place. Cas took the opportunity to retaliate and he pressed up to nip a line down Deans jaw. He felt the fingers at his waist falter for a moment and his lover let out an appreciative sound as he pressed his body farther into the touch like a cat looking for more attention. Castiel made quick work of the belt around Deans waist, his own having been forgotten for the moment, and there was a sharp metallic clang as sword and leather strap finally fell to the ground.

The sound snapped Dean back to the fact that his lover was still wearing way too much clothing for his tastes and he yanked the thin belt from Castiels midsection. He watched as the fabric pooled around the young mans feet, revealing a thin loin wrap that was making every effort to contain the straining member behind it. Dean played his hands across Castiels chest reveling in the way he arched up when a thumb flitted over one nipple. He leaned in and sucked at the soft intersection of skin where Castiels shoulder met his throat while he toyed with the soft pink nub beneath his fingers. Castiels hands slid along the length of his arms, tucking under the crimson of his tunic, and above him Dean could make out soft wanton breaths coming fast and shallow. He let his hand dip lower, his fingers playing over ribs and the flat taught muscle of Castiels abs. His thumb pressed gently against the dip of his lovers naval and as he continued lower to play with the edge of Castiels loin wrap, he worked his lips back upward.

Castiel turned his head to allow more access to his throat. His heart clamored in his chest as the hand on him slid lower while its mate threaded back into his hair. Hot moist breath rolled across his ear and a tongue darted out to trace the outer edge of the delicate shell. Castiel hadnt meant to let out the thin whine that forced its way up from the back of his throat and he swallowed heavily to stop it. Hed never felt anything like this before. There had been many nights growing up where he had touched himself but it was nothing compared to the overwhelming heat of Deans body against his own, the mouth playing at his ear or the hand teasingly sliding down to cup him through his loin cloth. He let out a strangled cry as his hips bucked up into Deans hand. He was rewarded with a series of long slow strokes but it wasnt

enough, he needed so much more. Please, he whispered against Deans neck. He couldnt get any other words to seem to form yet.

Dean smiled sucked the lobe of Castiels ear between his lips, worrying at it gently with his teeth while he teased his lover. Castiels body was rocking up with each movement of his hands and it was a strain on him not to just take the man right there on the floor. Dean didnt want to rush though. This was too important to hurry. He had never been good at saying what he was feeling but he knew how to give physical pleasure, he knew how to make Cas feel good, and he was determined to do it to his best ability. Here, like this, he could say everything he wanted without having to say anything. This was where Dean excelled. He tugged loose the knot at one narrow hip and let the cloth drop to the floor. He pulled back enough to look down between them, finally getting to see Castiel utterly nude for the first time and it was a beautiful sight.

Castiels dick stood dripping at attention, crowned with a well trimmed thatch of dark soft curls. Dean slid his fingers into them and framed the base of Castiels shaft before finally curling his hand around it and giving it one long slow stroke up to the tip. Castiel moaned as his hands fisted into Deans tunic. His whole body arched up into that one touch and he closed his eyes as he sought to repeat the process. Dean kept him right on the edge, his hand stubbornly refusing to move the way Castiel wanted until those blue eyes finally cracked back open in unspoken question. Just relax, Dean murmured, We got all night. Gonna make this the best one of your life. Castiel swallowed and nodded but tensed a little as Deans hands settled on his hips and he found himself being turned around to face the wall. He braced himself, waiting for what hed seen countless times in the graffiti littering the lower streets of the city, but instead Dean stepped away, his absence marked by a sudden chill that left Cas shivering.

Dean returned a moment later with one of the small decanters of olive oil. He layered a trail of sweet, gentle kisses down Castiels spine, his free hand keeping pace as it slid along the mans flank, before finally uncorking the bottle. Have to stretch you out first, he explained in a soft reassuring voice, dont wanna hurt you. A broad warm palm slid down Castiels behind, pausing to pull gently at one cheek and he flushed bright crimson as he felt cold air brush across his most sacred of spaces. Hed experimented on himself with such things but never with more than a single finger and he had to admit a certain amount of nervousness now that things were about to escalate. He had utter trust in Dean however. The size difference between them wasnt that great but there was something comforting in the fact that Dean was bigger than him and the way the larger man was pressed and curled around him felt protective.

A thin line of oil slid down the crack of Castiels ass and he shivered but didnt pull away. Deans fingers followed behind it, smearing the oil around and slicking him down. Cas spread his legs without thinking about it, his body begging for more, and his nervousness only seemed to goad his desire. A thick finger slid into him and Castiel grunted as he tried to force his body to relax around the intrusion. It had been far too long since hed done this to himself and it took a minute for the initial discomfort to wear off. Dean pressed his finger in slow and easy, allowing his lover to adjust to him every step of the way. Once he had gone as far as he could, he pulled back out before repeating the process. Castiel was tight and it was going to take a little coaxing to get him open enough for what Dean wanted. And oh how he wanted it. Castiels body was warm on the outside but it was a whole new game inside him. Deans finger was wrapped in a silk furnace and he needed more than anything in his life to be buried in that heat. He nipped at the back of Castiels neck while he slid in and out, slowly working the other man open until he could slip a second finger inside.

Castiels body tensed at the burn of two fingers stretching him but Dean was right there, whispering sweet encouragement into his ear with a patience he certainly hadnt expected. He knew without doubt hed made the right choice. Dean was handling him with utmost care, like some precious thing hed been gifted with, and Castiel doubted hed have ever found anyone else who would have been so kind or so slow with him. His body relaxed more around the intrusion and he was just starting to get used to it when Dean curled the ends of his fingers and pressed against something inside. Castiels eyes widened and he let out a truncated cry as his toes curled. His cock twitched against the wall and he pressed himself back onto Deans hand again.

Dean obliged and rubbed at him again before striking up a rhythm of pulling almost out before sweeping in and pressing against that spot over and over. Castiel couldnt seem to get enough air suddenly. He was panting against the wall, his legs shivering as he rocked back with each stroke. Dean bit softly onto the top of his shoulder and Castiel could feel the hard insistent press of Deans own need against his left hip. Cas wanted to have Dean inside him but he felt his control slipping with each slick push into him and he struggled to find the words to tell Dean he wasnt going to last long. Hed never felt anything so overwhelming in his life. D-DeanII cantImahaaah godsIDean

The way his lover was tensing and twitching told Dean well enough without words that Castiel was right on the edge. Hed actually lasted longer than expected since all of Deans prior experience with virgins had shown they usually got off pretty quickly. He lapped at the base of Castiels neck and slid his free hand from the narrow hip hed been gripping to the swollen member trapped between Castiels shivering body and the wall. It only took a few quick strokes before Castiel was coming around a strangled cry, his body clenching down hard enough on Deans fingers to pop his knuckles, and thick spurts of warm fluid spattered the wall and rolled over Deans hand. He continued to place soft kisses and bites over Castiels neck while his lover shuddered and finally relaxed. The room went silent, filled

only with shaky labored panting, but Dean continued to nuzzle into Castiels hair until his lover's breathing began to calm.

He finally slid his fingers out and reached for Castiels discarded tunic to clean his hands. He couldnt bring himself to move very far from the mans side. He knew Cas was going to need lots of reassurance and there was a need to be there for him, to protect him and make sure he knew how gorgeous he was, how valuable he was. Castiel shot him a rather abashed look but Dean just grinned at him. That wascan Ido you want me to touch you now? Castiel said with a little embarrassment.

Dean just pulled him away from the wall in answer, kissing back any protests, and he walked him over to the bed. Dont worry, happens to everyone the first time, he said, making sure to catch Castiels eyes, besides, were not done yet. He let out a hungry growl around the grin on his face and Castiel couldnt help but return the smile as he let himself be pushed back onto the mattress.

Dean slid his tunic over his head and tossed it to the floor. He felt a spike of pride in the wide-eyed way Castiel was staring at him, hunger written across his features even if he wasnt sure what to do with it yet. He made a fumbling attempt, his hands sliding over Deans chest and down his stomach, and he leaned in to experimentally lap at the smooth skin. The slight tang of salt met his tongue mingled with something sweet and musky that he inhaled deeply. The next stroke was considerably bolder as Castiel swept his tongue along a rib and then rose onto his knees so he could suckle experimentally at one nipple. Dean swayed a little where he was standing next to the bed. He slid the thick locks of Castiels hair through his fingers. Yeah Casthats it, he murmured in encouragement, make me feel so damn good. The words were possibly the best thing Castiel had ever heard. Hed never felt so in control of someone elses pleasure before and he found it intoxicating. The idea that he could perhaps break down Deans self imposed walls, that he could strip away all that cockiness and self-control for a moment, was enough to have Castiel carefully measuring every reaction from Dean so he could repeat what seemed to get the most affect.

He took example from what had felt good to him and traced kisses over every inch of exposed skin he could. He glanced down and hesitated only a moment before taking Deans manhood in his hand and giving it one long stroke. Dean let out moan and gripped Castiels arms hard enough to bruise but he wasnt about to stop. He looked up eagerly into Deans face, watching as those green eyes slid shut and the mans head tipped back with each successive move of his hand. Deans hips picked up a fluid rocking motion far more controlled and graceful than Castiels earlier stuttered movements but with no less need behind it. He looked down to meet Castiels eyes and lunged in to kiss him deeply. Castiel was certainly not being shy and those long thin fingers were doing wonders where they wrapped around

him; combined with the sheer eroticism of seeing Castiel come just a few minutes before, Dean was quickly losing himself to his need and he had already half pushed Cas back onto the mattress again before he realized it.

Dean climbed onto the bed and slid between Castiels thighs, pressing them apart. His cock slid against oil slicked skin and he let out a needy sound as he pressed himself between his lovers cheeks. An apprehensive noise filtered up from Cas and Dean paused to make sure he was ok but Castiel merely grabbed his head and pulled him down for another kiss. Dean circled the head of his member around the tight entrance below him for a moment before finally pressing in. Castiel made a small pained sound and Dean pressed a kiss to his mouth to muffle it as well as to give the man something else to think about other than the thick cock pressing into him. Cass fingers clamped down onto his shoulders with surprising strength and Dean could feel his thighs shaking but he knew it wasnt really going to get much easier without just doing this. He slid as gently as he could into him but the constricting heat was so intense it was almost painful. Several times Dean had to pause and try to convince Castiels body to relax around him.

Cas gritted his teeth, his eyes screwed shut, and he turned the side of his face into the pillow. He hadnt expected it to hurt so much and he wondered for a moment if Dean was even going to fit. Hey, Deans voice interrupted his thoughts and he turned to look at him, Breathe, Cas. Just take some nice deep breaths, ok? You need to stretch out and relax. Itll help. Trust me. Castiel nodded and tried to do as he was told, sucking in through his nose and out through his mouth. Dean slid his arms under Castiels and used his body to keep Cas from curling in on himself. He knew it would only make it hurt more until the mans body could get used to the new intrusion. It took a few moments but slowly Castiel began to relax and the pain lessened. Dean took every moment to reassure him, placing kisses across his face and throat. When the muscles wrapped around him finally let up some, Dean pressed forward, sliding in and stopping when Cas began to tense again. They continued in this manner until Dean was finally sheathed inside as far as he could go.

So beautiful, he murmured against Castiels ear, So strong. Dont you ever let anyone tell you different. Cas could hear some emotion he couldnt quiet identify in Deans voice. There was something a little heartbroken there, as if it pained him that anyone had ever thought so little of his lover. Castiel wanted to find that emotion and crawl inside it. He was sure he could be safe from Azazel there. Hed be safe from his brother. He was pretty sure hed be safe from everyone.

As long as you think that, Castiel replied, it doesnt matter who else does.

Dean held him for a long moment, buried inside him and curled around him, before he finally pulled away a little. He watched Castiels face carefully as he slid out halfway and then back in, pausing immediately at any sign of pain. Cas just pressed him on while he forced his body to relax. The feeling was intense once the pain subsided enough for him to really enjoy it. He felt utterly full with Dean inside him and he found himself matching Deans moans of enjoyment. Dean sat up and clamped onto his hips, holding Castiel steady while he fucked him slow and deep. Cas wrapped his hands in the pillow behind him and rolled up to meet each thrust. The stare between the two was broken only when one or the other would close their eyes, overwhelmed by the sensations, but it would resume the moment they opened them again. Castiel looked over Dean as if hed never see him again, as if committing every inch of him to memory, and that bothered Dean greatly. He wanted to scream he cant have you to the whole world.

Dean slipped his hands under Cass knees and pressed his legs back toward his chest. Cas let out a small surprised sound as this lined the cock inside of him up so that each thrust pressed into that spot that sent chills up his spine. He stopped even trying to hold back the sounds he was making. AH! AAH! DDEAN!

Dean reached up and grabbed Castiels wrists, pinning him to the bed and leveraging himself up so that every thrust drew another shout of pleasure from his lover. He didnt give a damn who heard them at that point. Let them hear. Let every bastard in that encampment know that Castiel was his. Cas pulled at his wrists, desperate to get some friction on his already hard dick. Dean wouldnt let him though, he wasnt ready for this to be over just yet, and he pressed Castiels knees farther back into his chest. The whole bed squealed in protest with each movement but Dean ignored it. The only sounds he was interested in were the ones his lover was making with the sort of wanton desire that would have made any whore in Rome blush.

Youre mine, Dean growled, Tell me youre mine, Cas. His voice dropped to a broken whisper. Pleaseplease Cas. Tell me youre mine.

Yours, Castiel conceded, GodsDeanAHplease

Dean finally relented and let one of Castiels wrists go, slipping his hand into the narrow space between them to wrap around the twitching shaft pressed to Castiels belly. Cas threw his head back and arched up off the bed as his world dissolved into nothing but the slide of the cock slipping into his body and the hands on his too-hot skin. He let out a wordless cry as he spilled his seed onto his abs and he felt Dean

jerk and slap against the backs of his thighs. Their cries mingled, Dean losing himself in the tightness of Castiels body, until both collapsed into a tangled heap of sweat and skin. Dean reluctantly pulled himself out and off of Cas and let the other mans legs fall back to the bed. He rolled to the side and flopped down onto the mattress, gaining one more squeak of unhappiness from the wood frame. Both men lay panting in the sudden quiet.

When thought and reason began to make their way back into his mind, Castiel found himself even more torn than hed been before. Dean wanted him, wanted him to stay at his side, and in the heat of the moment hed agreed, giving himself to Dean in body and pledge but he knew when Azazel showed up the next day, things would not go so easily. He couldnt just forsake Anya and let her die but he had never known joy like he was feeling with Dean at his side. As he looked over and saw Dean smile sleepily at him though, he shunted such worries away. For just this one night, he would concentrate only on having the one thing he wanted most in the world. Tomorrows worries would still be there when the sun rose and Castiel wasnt willing to lose this night for their sake. ____________________________________________________________________ Chapter 12: Castiel was jolted awake the next morning by the sound of pained screaming. He froze, half sitting up in his bed, and listened for any sign that it had been more than some remnant nightmare. A moment later though it sounded again, a cry of torment that curled up on the end into a whimper before it died. Castiels heart made much the same sound when he glanced over to his side and found his bed no longer occupied by Dean. Terror seized him that his indiscretion last night might have gotten Dean into trouble and the legions of Rome were not gentle when meting out punishments. He wasnt sure what the cost would be for a soldier discovered in the officers quarters much less what would happen if they found out Dean had stolen from the stores and as the cry ripped through the encampment again, Castiel leapt out of his bed and tore through his bag for a spare tunic. He yanked it on over his head and rooted around to find where Dean had discarded his belt. As soon as hed tugged on his boots, he was out of his door, appearances be damned, and he ran down the hallway toward the slim line of morning light he could see in the entryway. As he burst through the door and into the fresh air, he skidded to a halt. Men were lined up in formations, their bodies held stiffly at attention, and every head was turned toward the two six foot poles that had been erected near the gates of the fort. A man had been tied between them, his shirt missing and his back a bloody mess of torn flesh. He was hanging from his wrists as his legs had apparently given out already and Castiel couldnt see his face. He felt his hands shake as he started to make his way toward the victim, intent on finding out if it was indeed his lover, but after only a few steps he halted when he noticed familiar tufts of short sandy hair amidst the ranks across the way. Dean caught his eye and gave him the tiniest of smiles before going back to watching the proceedings. Cas searched for the pole hung with the legions standard and breathed a sigh of relief to see Sams tall figure standing motionless among the throng as well. His fear turned to curiosity and he peered back at the man being whipped so mercilessly at the head of the gathering. A large well built

soldier stood behind him, sweat dripping from his brow as he wielded the long leather strip in his hand with unerring accuracy. Each snap of his wrist sent the whip flying and it scourged another strip of flesh away. Castiel winced as another scream filled the air. The general stepped up a moment later to halt the beating. Let it be known that our fellow soldiers died due to the traitorous act of this single servant. We had a Gaulish slave in our midst and did not treat such scum with the mistrust we should have. The guards who failed in their duty to prevent the opening of the gates will each receive ten lashes as well. Let it be a lesson to all that ignorance is not an excuse for failure. It has been decided that this slave shall be sent back to Rome to face the final punishment for his crimes. He shall die, torn limb from limb by the wild beasts of the farthest reaches of our empire as payment for his animalistic act. The general turned and strode away as another officer gestured for the removal of the slave. Castiel could almost feel a note of pity for the man as they cut him free and the gaunt figure flopped to the ground. He was not afforded the dignity of finding his feet and was instead dragged away in the strong grip of two soldiers. Cas turned to watch as Deans unit disbanded, each member heading off to their daily duties and he was about to go speak to his friends when the general approached him. The older man looked him over with an unreadable expression and Castiel felt his cheeks flush. Hed been rather loud the previous night and he knew the general, who had only been a few doors away, had to have heard them.

Please accompany me, Pullo said stiffly before walking back into the officers quarters. Castiel shot Dean a fleeting glance and noted the look of worry on his lovers face before he followed the general inside. The sound of their footsteps echoed hollowly as they walked and it wasnt until Castiel was led into a fairly spacious and well appointed office that Pullo spoke to him again. The two guards inside were waved away and as the door snapped shut behind them, Castiel felt nervousness creeping back up on him. He should never have given in to his desire. The general would surely tell the senator and Castiel feared what repercussions Dean might face much less what would happen to himself and Anya. Pullo eased himself behind his broad desk and pulled out a rumpled looking letter. Castiel eyed him warily but the general was as stiff and emotionless as a statue. You will be leaving my fort later this afternoon, he said flatly, You will be escorted back to Rome. We received a rider this morning from the neighboring fort. The group bringing your senator to us was also attacked by the Gauls on their way here. Their guards managed to avoid their slaughter by making all haste with them back toward the safer territories owned by Rome but since the safety of the senators is of utmost importance, they will not be coming back here to get you. As such, you will be taken back to Rome as soon as possible to meet up with them there. Castiel sighed in gratitude for this fortunate change of events. He had all but consigned himself to the idea that today he would be at Azazels mercy but the Gaul attacks had just won him a little more breathing space, even if it was only a few days. With all due respect, he said, summoning his courage, I would humbly request the same escort that brought me here.

The general gave him another long flat look before a single eyebrow went up. Yes, Im sure you would like that, he said tonelessly. Castiel looked away in embarrassment. He was sure beyond doubt now that Pullo had indeed heard them. If you feel it would be inappropriate You are a citizen of Rome, Pullo interrupted, What you do in the privacy of your bedchambers is not my concern so long as it doesnt disrupt my command. Samael is being released from my care as it is. I will send him with you as an escort and when he reaches Rome he can join his new legion there. And Dean? Castiel prompted quietly. The general looked up at him again from where hed been jotting something down and this time a sly smile curved up one corner of his mouth. Dean is a royal pain in my ass. I am not adverse to letting him be a royal pain in yours. I deem that you enjoy it more than me. Castiel blushed clear up to his ears but couldnt help the smile that twitched up one corner of his mouth. Thank you, sir, he said. Pullo chuckled and finished the letter he was writing. He rolled it up and passed it to Castiel. I will send word to Sam and Dean that they will be escorting you back. The three of you will leave after the afternoon chow. Castiel thanked him and headed for the door but he paused as a thought suddenly struck him. General, if Sam is staying in Rome and I am going to the senator, then Dean would have to ride back here alone. Pullo laid down his pen and cast a searching look at him. In all the time since Ive had the pleasure and pain of knowing Dean Winchester, I have seen him bed many people. I have never once heard him lay claim to any of them. He paused and smiled at Castiel before going back to the stack of other papers in front of him. I do not believe riding alone will be something Dean need have fear of. Castiel frowned at the cryptic words for a moment but he let them go and headed back to his room to pack. He hadnt brought much to start with but he lingered on the edge of his bed as he heard the crack of the whip outside start up again. This time he knew it would be the two guards who had failed to stop the treason and he had no desire to see a fellow Roman flayed that way. He felt a swell of pity for them and he couldnt help but wonder who had owned the slave in question. Surely they would have punishment coming to them as well but no mention had been made of the Gauls master.

Castiel was still mulling that particular mystery over by the time he headed back outside with his pack slung over one shoulder. He found that three horses had been once again saddled and he recognized the immense black beast at their center as the one belonging to Dean. She snorted at him as he approached and he was surprised to find that while the other two horses had been tethered to hitching posts, she was free to roam. She eyed him as he drew closer and Castiel dared to slowly reach out his palm to her.

He heard one of the nearby soldiers chuckle and make the worrying comment that he was about to lose a finger but Impala merely stretched out her graceful neck and snuffled into his hand. Sa good sign, said someone behind him and Cas turned to find Dean grinning at him. She doesnt just like anybody. My babys a good judge of character. There was an immense fondness in his voice that spoke of how much she meant to him and the feeling was mutual as Castiel was immediately forgotten in favor of her lipping the short strands of hair just above Deans ear. He chuckled and patted her. Hows my girl this morning? Castiel watched the scene unfold with a slight smile. He wanted to go up to the other man and greet him with as much enthusiasm as their equine friend but he wasnt about to risk overstepping his bounds so soon. They had been fortunate enough to have a commanding officer that had been so understanding and Castiel wasnt about to push that good luck by being openly affectionate with Dean out where everyone could see them. He also wasnt sure in the light of morning where he and the other man stood now. He had made a promise last night he wasnt sure how he was going to keep and it was no secret that people often said things they didnt mean in the heat of the moment.

For all he knew, Dean wasnt even feeling the same way. After all, hed slipped away from Castiels bed sometime during the night and the general had made it clear that Dean was no stranger to one night stands. Perhaps it would be easier on them all if thats all it turned out to be. Castiel was trying hard to convince himself of that when Dean smiled at him and shattered all of his efforts. Looks like youre stuck with me and the shaggy giant for a while longer, Dean quipped. He scooted past Castiel, grabbing himself a handful of ass along the way, and climbed onto Impala. Cas jumped and shot Dean a glare he couldnt quite work up into being disapproving and Sam joined them a moment later just as Castiel was mounting up. As the three made their way out of the city, Dean was whistling happily to himself. Cas watched him with a bemused expression and turned to find that Sam was doing much the same thing. The younger Winchester looked far more wistful than his brother though and Cas dared to pull back a little and ride beside him once they had re-entered the woods outside the fort. Are you alright, Samael? Sam smiled at him and let the tension drop from his shoulders. Yeah, Im fine Cas. Castiel wasnt sure what was wrong but he could tell something was still bothering the young man. He doubted pestering Sam would get him an answer though so he switched to a different topic. Congratulations on your promotion, by the way. General Pullo mentioned that you were being reassigned. Have they said when Deans paperwork will come through? Sam shot him a sad smile. It isnt, Cas. Castiel pulled his horse to a stop, halting both Dean and Sam who looked back at him. But I assumedwhen the general said you were being transferred The idea had simply never occurred to him and now that he looked back on the conversation hed had with the general he suddenly felt like an

idiot. Hed been so happy and relieved to spend more time with Dean and Sam that he hadnt questioned something as glaringly obvious as Sams transfer. Suddenly Sams wistfulness made sense and he looked up at the young man apologetically. I did not realizesurely youve requested a transfer. He looked questioningly at Dean. We did, Sam put in for him, but dont worry about it, Cas. Yeah, dont worry about it, cause I have a plan, Dean finally piped up sounding immeasurably pleased with himself. Sam raised an eyebrow at him. It was evident that whatever plan Dean was talking about Sam was not in on it. Dean, I thoughtlast night, you said you and Cas were He looked back at Castiel who was at that point utterly confused. Ok, stop. Dean, I thought we talked about this. You said you and Castiel were together now. Our only hope of you getting that transfer was to get on Azazels good side so we could ask for a favor. I doubt hes going to be our biggest fans when you fail to deliver Cas to him. Castiel jerked back in shock. He certainly hadnt been privy to this little plan and he narrowed his eyes at Dean. Hed had just about enough of people planning out his life without his input. Dean, I told you I dont have a choice. I have to do this. You know why. What about Anya? And you didnt tell me that you and Samael would be separated if you failed to deliver me. A swell of betrayal rose up in him as he took in everything that had just been said. Hed confessed to Dean why he was being forced into Azazels care but while Dean had been looking down on him for going willingly, hed conveniently hidden that fact that he too needed Cas to go since it was the only thing keeping he and Sam together. Castiel wanted nothing more than to ride away with Dean but this new information only cemented his resolve that he couldnt have what he wanted. He refused to be the thing that tore the brothers apart. Dean raised his hands in the air and shot both men a sheepish grin. Ok, whoa guys. Just hear me out. I didnt tell Sam yet about why you were doing this whole aide thing. I kinda figured that was your secret to tell. I also hadnt really planned to have this conversation fifty feet from the gates of the fort so can we maybe take this little chat on the road? He felt guilt ride up his back at the unhappy look Castiel was giving him and he wished hed had more time to explain everything before theyd left. It was bad enough that hed had to slip out of the room in the middle of the night but he knew hed be missed at morning formation and he wouldnt be able to explain why he was coming out of the officers quarters if hed been caught. Dean felt his heart sink when Castiel trotted angrily past him, his mouth a thin line of irritation, and Sam didnt look any happier as he passed on the other side. Dean rolled his eyes. Why wasnt life ever simple? If he could just get both of them to listen for a minute then he could explain his brilliant plan to get everyone what they wanted. Sam had been smugly happy for him when Dean had finally gotten back to his bunk and spilled the beans on what had happened between he and Cas. He wasnt exactly proud of the fact that it hadnt taken much effort from his brother to get him gushing like a teenage girl either but he couldnt stop remembering the way Castiel had cried out the word yours and it had only given him utter determination that he could find a way to help them all. Sam had simply encouraged Dean to take Cas and get out of the Legion. He didnt want to be apart from Dean but he claimed hed seen something

growing between them and he wanted his brother to act on it before it was too late. Dean had just called him a self-sacrificing idiot and hed tried to assure Sam that he would think of something but eventually hed just settled for agreeing that he would stay with Castiel no matter what. After Sam had gone to sleep though, Dean had lain awake all last night thinking things through and trying to perfect his plan. He only hoped that once everyone heard it, they would stop being irritated with him. Dean didnt get his chance to explain until theyd stopped for their evening meal several hours later. He plopped down next to Castiel and waved Sam over. Cas just shot him a frustrated look and opened his mouth to protest but Dean held up his hand. Just let me get it out ok? Castiels teeth snapped shut with a click and he went back to cutting angrily at the bread in front of him. He was trying his best to fight down the betrayal he was feeling but he wished for once that someone would ask him what he wanted from his own life. Sam flopped down and glared at his brother with a look that plainly said youre screwing it up. Sam wasnt blind and he could see well enough that Castiel was irritated. He didnt want Dean to lose something that was sure would be good for him. Dean sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Alright look, I came up with this idea last night. What was I supposed to do, wake you both up at three am to tell you about it? Yes, both men said in unison. Dean looked between them with a frown. Did all touchy-feely people have some kind of mental collective he wasnt part of? Ok then. WellIm sorry, alright? I was just tryin to figure out how to work this all out without this senator getting to screw all of us. Castiel shot him a glare. Dean cleared his throat and tried not to swallow the rest of his foot. Sorry, Cas. Castiel just turned to look out at the landscape. Anyway, Sam, Cas here cant just refuse to go to the senator because his dick of a brother is holding his surrogate mom hostage. Cas, Sam and I are gonna get split up if we dont turn you over. But I gotta plan. See, all we gotta do is get to Rome and turn Cas in for a few hours. Both Castiel and Sam exchanged confused glances and Dean turned to Cas. See, we get you there, get the senator to write up my transfer request and then leave. After we drop you off though, Sam and Ill go bust your mom out and sneak her out of town. I got some friends in the less reputable sections just outside the city thatll hide her for us. "When the sun goes down, Sam n Ill sneak back to the senators house and get you. Then you, me, Sam and your mom all ride out toward Sams new legion! Tada! Im in Sams legion with that paper the senator gives us, your moms safe, and no onell know where you went. Without your mom, Mike cant force you to stay with Azazel. When we get to the fort, you can stay with us there till the heat dies down a little and then the next time we go back to Rome, you sign up for the legion officially. He looked around waiting for the applause that would mark his brilliant idea but Sam was looking at him like hed lost his mind and Castiel simply sighed into his hands. Dean, Cas muttered, you cannot possibly take Anya without my help much less get access to the senators house to come get me.

Come on, how hard could it possibly be to collect one little old lady and sneak you past some guards that probably havent seen any real action in their lives? Dean said incredulously. Dean, youre an idiot, Sam added flatly, You think Michael isnt going to raise an alarm? Not if he doesnt know shes missing, Dean countered. He really wished people would stop tearing apart his idea. By the time he realizes whats happened the next morning, well be long gone. For all hell know, she just ran away. He will know it was my doing, Castiel countered thoughtfully and Dean hoped maybe that was a sign he was at least getting the other man more into the spirit of things. Wont matter, Dean assured him as he dared wrapping an arm around Castiels shoulders, Your brother wont be able to prove anything and he cant force you to stay with Azazel at that point. Cas hummed his reluctant agreement. Dean, Castiel could still get in trouble if Michael even thinks hes involved and when Cas goes missing from Azazels place, its going to look really suspicious, Sam put in as if it should be obvious. Where ever Cas goes, theyll come looking to see if hes got Anna. Anya, Castiel corrected, Anna is my sister. You have a sister? Dean piped up, Is she as hot as you? Castiel sat up and glared at Dean. Kidding, Dean said playfully, I already got the hot Novak. Im good. He waited until Castiel had settled back into his thinking before quietly adding wouldnt say no to a hot Novak sandwich though. Castiel just ignored him and continued to try finding loops in Deans plan. He was fighting down the part of him desperate to just say yes. He wanted what was being offered more than anything even if he was still a little irritated at Dean for not revealing the issue with his transfer papers. I shouldnt stay at the fort with you, he said slowly, We dont want to risk Azazel finding out you had anything to do with my leaving or he could cause great harm to your careers. My brother Gabriel is staying with a teacher on the west coast. I can go to him, stay at his place and hell find a home to hide Anya in. He has many friends. When you next head back to Rome, you can send me word and I can sign on to go with you. He looked hopefully up at Dean. Without Anya, Michael cannot force me to stay. He could try to marry me to someone but I doubt he will bother once I make it clear I will not go back to the senator no matter his threats. Azazel will not be pleased with my family but two of my brothers are secure enough in their careers that I doubt he will go after them. Anna has been disowned and Gabriel is too well liked for Azazel to risk making an enemy of a whole crowd of orators. He paused and ran the plan through his head one more time, hardly daring to believe he was going to try something so foolish. What if you get caught, Dean? Ill be fine, Cas. You gotta trust me, Dean squeezed his shoulder.

I could write a letter to Anya, to let her know you are coming on my behalf. She would not go with you otherwise, Castiel continued. Sam merely looked between them like theyd both obviously gone mad but he had to admit that the idea of getting away with such a plan was highly appealing. If Deans plan went off, they could thwart the senator and Castiels brother in one night. He knew from experience that Dean could move as stealthy as any cat and he had to agree that while it would be dangerous, they should be able to get into Michaels house with relative ease. It was the senators home that had Sam more concerned but with Castiel there, they would have a man already on the inside. Cas would be able to move about freely enough and could even potentially go out to meet them on the pretense of taking an evening stroll. This is probably the stupidest thing weve ever done, Sam breathed, but Im in. I dont want to lose Dean and I dont want Dean to lose you. Dean grinned and chucked a piece of bread at Sams head. Thanks for the confidence, bitch. Sam snorted and threw the bread back at him. Jerk. Castiel watched as their playful bickering devolved into more name calling, a smile spreading over his face and for the first time since all of this began, he felt his fear and worry drain away. At least now they had a plan and that meant they had hope. Chapter 13: The three day journey back to Rome flew by much faster than anyone had hoped despite their attempts to move at a much slower pace than before. Castiel had been irritated at Dean on the first day for not trusting him earlier when it came to Sams transfer but his attempts to remain angry had been thwarted when his lover had ridden next to him and done everything in his power to get back in good graces, including apologizing repeatedly. When Dean finally slipped his hand into Castiels and gave him a sad smile, the walls of reserve Castiel had came tumbling down. Sam refrained from making any commentary about how sickeningly cute it was that they rode the rest of that day hand in hand, owing mostly to the fact that he knew his brother would punch him for it, but he couldnt wipe the smile from his face regardless. It was a relief to see his brother so happy and it helped assuage some of his nervousness about the insane plan they were about to put in motion. He could only hope everything would work out as they planned and he spent much of their trip trying to refine it so as little was left to chance as possible. When they got back, they would drop Castiel off at the senators home. They would collect Deans note of favor and then head to Michaels house to look the place over. Castiel penned up a note for Anya which would convince her to trust the Winchesters and once she was safely outside the city walls with Sam, Dean would head back to the senators home. Castiel, meanwhile, would wait till an hour after sundown and then ask to take an evening walk outside for a bit of fresh air. Dean would meet him at Azazels gates and the pair would slip out to meet up with Sam. Castiel and Anya would ride to Gabriels residence and the brothers would go back to the city to check in with their new unit. It seemed simple

enough but Sam couldnt shake the feeling that this was going to horribly awry somehow. He knew Dean wouldnt be put off though so he was left checking and re-checking for contingency plans. As they finally approached the northern gate of the city on the third day, everyones spirits were more subdued than they had been the whole trip. Dean shoved away his nervousness and convinced himself this would work. It had to. He couldnt bear losing Sam and he wasnt about to lose Castiel now that he had him. Dean reined Impala back to Castiels side. Remember, one hour after the sun goes down, he said with authority, that gives us enough time to get Anya and get back. Castiel nodded and tried to latch onto his partners confidence as much as he could. I am aware of the plan, Dean. He felt his stomach go sour at the idea of having to be in Azazels presence until sundown but thoughts of freedom and memories of his time with Dean and Sam would hold him through it. He doubted his conversational skills were high on the senators list of priorities so with any luck he could simply find a spot to sit quietly and bide his time. And if Azazel decided to seek out the only asset he did care aboutwell, Castiel would cross that bridge if he came to it. He would just have to fend off the senator for as long as possible. Castiel looked up into Deans eyes and reminded himself that this was all worth it if he could wake every morning to that sight. He watched Dean tense and start to reach for him but there were too many eyes to see them now and Dean let his hand drop back to his lap with a disappointed sigh. The procession made its way through the gate and into the overcrowded streets of the city. The smells of baking bread, honey, and curing meats wafted up from an adjacent market alley and it offered a note of comfort to welcome Castiel home. He lifted his chin as much as possible and rode with all the stiff importance of a high ranking patrician now that he knew people were watching. Azazels influence stretched far through the city and Sam had been right in insisting that he should act as distant from them as possible to prevent later suspicion. Every step closer to the senators home only worsened the sour taste in his mouth and by the time the dreaded villa was in sight, Castiel was thoroughly miserable at the idea of parting with his new companions when he couldnt even offer them a proper goodbye. He consoled himself with the knowledge that it wasnt going to be for long as the gates slid open and admitted them. Tell senator Azazel that Castiel Novak has arrived, Cas said with more authority than Dean had ever heard him use before and he tried not to think about just how immeasurably hot that was. A guard at the front door poked his head in, said something clipped to an unseen person within, and a few minutes later the door opened. Tennen, the slave Castiel had met before marched out onto the steps. Were very glad to see you arrived safely, Master Castiel, he said in a way made it clear he couldnt actually care less, Please step inside. Master Azazel is waiting for you. He arrived just last night himself. Castiel nodded at Dean and Sam before slipping from his horse and striding purposefully into the cool depths of the house. The Winchesters ignored the disapproving look from Tennen as they followed in Castiels wake. Your services have been most appreciated, the servant offered when it became clear

the soldiers werent taking his subtle hints, We do not wish to take up more of your time than is necessary. Dean looked him over with a raised eyebrow, his expression saying clearly what he thought of the little man. Our orders were to deliver Castiel Novak into the hands of Azazel himself. When thats done, well leave. Ah, the tenacity of Romes Legions, a smooth voice interrupted them, following orders to the letter. Good. It does you justice. Azazel stepped out into the meager light afforded by the open atrium to his right and Dean decided in that instant that he hated this man even more than he thought possible. Every inch of the guy radiated pompous self-importance and it was exactly that kind of attitude that irked Dean to no end. It didnt help that this was the scum trying to lay claim to his Castiel either. Azazel gave them all an oily smile and glided across the room toward them, the folds of his long toga swishing around his ankles. He strode up and laid his palm affectionately against Castiels cheek while Dean tried to fight down the urge to punch him in the face. Castiel, he gloated, I do hope your time here goes better than our last meeting. Cas tried not to flinch from the touch as Azazel thumbed across his cheekbone. I apologize for my earlier actions. You startled me, he lied as smoothly as he could, I am flattered and grateful for your generosity in not taking offence. These things happen, Azazel purred in a way that made it very clear he knew Castiel didnt want to be there, and it made Deans skin crawl. It wasnt until Sam nudged his arm that he realized hed balled his hands into fists and he struggled to unclench them. He hated the way the senator was looking at Cas and for a moment Dean wasnt sure he could do this. He didnt want to leave Castiel with this monster, wanted to skin the guy for even daring to touch him that way, but Sam stepped in and stopped what might have gone very poorly otherwise. Senator Azazel, we do not wish to take up any more of your time, Sam said pointedly. The senator peeled his eyes away from Castiel with a last crooked grin and turned his attention finally on the other two men in his presence. The way he eyed Dean made the soldier feel ill and he got the impression that Azazel would happily have added him to his list of conquests if he could have done so. Dean clenched his jaw shut so as not to say anything he might regret. Of course, Azazel said patronizingly, I must thank you gentlemen for going above and beyond the call of your duties. You have had to escort my Castiel, MY CASTIEL, Dean thought angrily, all the way to the front lines and back again. Who would have expected such treachery from the Gauls? And to think, it was one of my own servants I am told who betrayed you that night. Castiels head snapped around in surprise. So thats who owned the slave that had opened the gates. He was sent ahead as a gift to your general for his kindness in indulging me. You can imagine my embarrassment, the Senator continued, though Azazel most definitely didnt sound embarrassed. If anything he sounded mildly annoyed but he let the subject drop without further comment. I suppose I wouldnt be a very good host were I not to reward you both for going so far out of your way on my

account, would I? He gestured to Tennen who drew out a money pouch from his waist. Will 2000 sesterii each be sufficient? Dean almost choked. That was a whole years pay for him and he almost reached for the coins before he remembered why they were there. Actually, we were hoping you might be able to help with something of a different nature, Sam interjected. Dean could have cried when Tennen closed the money pouch back up. Ive been transferred to the 32nd Bellus Monstrum Legion but my brother Denarious has not yet been able to secure a transfer. If there were anything you could do to help, Sam trailed off. Azazel nodded. Of course, family is very important, isnt it? He flicked his wrist and Tennen scurried off only to return a moment later with a quill and some papyrus. He handed the items to Azazel and then neatly bent himself in half so his master could smooth the paper across his back. Azazel scrawled something quickly onto the sheet and then handed it over to Sam. That should take care of things. Now if youll excuse me, he said with finality before turning and striding toward a door in the back of the room without waiting for a reply. He paused at the threshold and held out his hand. Come, let me show you around, Castiel. I want you to feel at home. Castiel swallowed down his uneasiness and resisted the urge to look to Dean for comfort. He knew he couldnt afford to give them away now and so he marched stiffly in the senators footsteps. Dean watched them until they disappeared into the darkness of the next room and it took every ounce of will power he had not to chase after them. An insistent tug on his sleeve clued him in to Sam saying his name and he let himself be led back out of the house. He hadnt counted on it bothering him so much when the time came to leave Castiel alone with Azazel but he couldnt help wanting to run back into the home and tear that man apart for even looking at Cas. It was obvious to Dean that Azazel knew well enough what Michael was doing, he knew Castiel didnt want to be there, and the pleasure Dean could see he was taking from that made him sick to his stomach. The creep had better not so much as stare hard at his lover before he made it back to collect him. Dean trotted out of the gate and back onto the street, the space at his side feeling somehow emptier now that Castiel wasnt sitting there. It was like there was a hole in him he didnt know existed until it was filled by blue eyes and dark hair and now he was painfully aware of it being hollow again. Sam trotted up next to him and shot his brother a worried look tinged with annoyance. You know, that would have gone better if you hadnt been glaring daggers into the senators back, Dean. Were lucky he didnt suspect anything. Sam sighed and pulled out the note Azazel had handed him. It was pretty cut and dry, a simple request from the senator making it clear that it would please him greatly if Dean was transferred to Sams unit and it carried the unspoken undertone that such a request was best not refused. Did you see the way that creep was looking at Cas? Dean growled. Freakin slimy, self righteous, son of a bitch.

Sam tried to steer Deans thoughts away from the encounter before his brother got the disastrous idea to try going back. Its only for a little while Dean. Cas can take care of himself. We just need to focus on doing our part. I know Cas can take care of himself, Dean snapped, I just dont like leaving him with that jerk. Well, the sooner we get this note to the command of the 32nd, the sooner we can get Anya out of Michaels hands and then you can go get Cas back. Dean snarled unhappily but followed his brother regardless down to the main legion headquarters in the city. He just had to hope Cas would be ok till he could get back to him. Chapter 14: Castiel followed silently in Azazels wake and feigned interest while the senator pointed out the various features of the home he felt were important. A large grizzled looking hound sat that the entrance to one of the rooms and he growled lowly as Castiel passed before taking up stride at his masters hip. Azazel patted him but Castiel kept his distance regardless. The mongrel was some sort of imported beast, bigger than any dog hed ever seen before, and he could guess it was from the northern lands by the wiry thick coat it bore. As they made their way into a large sitting room with an inset pool in its center, Castiel noticed a graceful figure slipping through a door on the other side. The woman was beautiful, even Castiel could see that, and the way she held herself made it impossible for her to be anyone but the senators wife. Megara strode into a wide shaft of sunlight which set her golden locks to shining and, when coupled with the flowing diaphanous gown she was wearing, she made the perfect picture of a Grecian goddess. Castiel could well imagine such beauty had claimed the hearts of many men but there was a cold detachment to her eyes that belied the smile she wore. Husband dear, she said in an almost mocking tone, I see you finally collected your prize. Azazel shot her a smile that didnt quite reach his eyes but ignored her comment. Castiel, I would like you meet the lovely Megara, my wife. Castiel inclined his head respectfully but Meg merely looked at him distastefully like something caught on the sole of her shoe. So youre my husbands latest conquest. Megara, Azazel said warningly. Come now, she purred at him, lets not pretend that we dont all know why hes here. I have to admit though, this one is nicer than your usual playthings. Youll have to let me know how he is. I might wish to borrow him from you. She smiled a little challenge at Azazel and he chuckled as if her constant needling of him were an affectionate trait as opposed to the hateful banter Castiel saw it as.

He couldnt imagine that anyone would be allowed to talk to the senator that way but Azazel seemed to almost enjoy egging her on. If I am guilty of indulging now and then, it is only because I need some heat to thaw out my bed when your frigid body has left it. Castiels eyes widened at the insult but Megara simply laughed. I cant tell you how happy I am that you didnt die at the hands of the Gauls, she said playfully and Castiel couldnt tell if she was being sarcastic or not. He was sure, however, that he absolutely did not like this woman any more than her husband. He fell back into step behind Azazel and as they left the room, he glanced back to see her offer him a small wave that would have been more welcoming were it not for the evil smile that accompanied it. He found himself willing the sun to go down faster as they made their way through the remainder of the rooms until at last Azazel stopped in front of a heavy wood door. This is your room, the senator announced as he pushed the entry open. Castiel certainly couldnt fault the mans ability to impress as he took in the lavish dcor. A large bed squatted against one wall, its three open sides veiled behind two sets of drapery and its top covered in thick warm blankets. Chests of varying sizes were scattered about the walls and exotic furs littered the floor in a dizzying array of patterns which Castiel had only rarely seen showcased in the arenas. Heavy lamps hung about the room, casting flickering light across the plethora of golden trinkets and bronze accessories that lined every flat surface. Castiel noticed with dismay that the room lacked any windows which would make it harder for him to sneak out should that become necessary. Thank you, he said absently as he wandered around the room. His bag had already been brought in and was sitting slumped against one wall. As he looked around, he found several other containers stuffed into corners that he recognized as ones hed packed before leaving his home. Michael had been true to his word about sending the rest of his belongings here and Castiel felt only a small note of sadness that he would have to leave most of it behind him. Youve had a long ride, Azazel said from where he leaned in the doorway, you are welcome to go where you please so perhaps a bath would be in order. Evening meal will be served in about an hour. Ill have Tennen come get you then. You will find fresh clothes in the chest to your left. The senator smiled as he watched Castiel look around the room, a predatory grin curling up the corner of his mouth. Thank you, Castiel said again and he met the hungry stare being thrown in his direction with as much calm as he could muster until Azazel finally withdrew, closing the door behind him. It would only be a few hours, he told himself, and then he would never have to see this place again. He wrapped that thought around him like a shield and set about rifling through the containers of his belongings, setting aside anything he would want to keep. When the time came, he wanted to be as light and fast as possible to ensure his escape at Deans side. Chapter 15:

The idea of being nude in any place that Azazel might be able to walk in on him was nauseating at best but Castiel knew he couldnt just forsake cleaning up after the long ride it had taken to get back to Rome. He stank of horse and his skin itched with sweat and dirt. He couldnt exactly put in an appearance at dinner in such a state or he ran the risk of raising suspicions. He flipped open one of the chests in the room with utter disinterest and rifled through several bolts of cloth until he found a toga that wouldnt impede his movement but wasnt so short it would invite extra interest from his so called host. The fabric was a fine cotton edged on one side with an ornate keystroke banding in blue and green. It must have cost a fair amount considering the scale of detail in the border but Castiel was decidedly unimpressed. He yanked the toga out and snatched up a soft tunic to wear under it before venturing out into the home once again. He half thought of just trying to flee right then but he decided it was best to stick with the plan. He couldnt risk alerting anyone that something was off for fear that it would put Dean or Sam at risk. If his presence was missed at dinner, surely people would go looking and his home would be one of their first stops, running them right into the attempt to free Anya. Castiel glanced up at the fading sunlight that was still coming in one of the atriums as he passed. There was still a good hour and a half of day left before it would be safe for the brothers to make their attempt at Michaels home and as he made his way into the baths, Castiel began formulating believable excuses for leaving the evening meal should it run too long. He bathed as quickly as he could and breathed a grateful sigh of relief when no one interrupted him but as he headed back toward his room, Tennen stepped around a corner and smiled at him. The food is being served. Please follow me, the little man said with distant politeness. He didnt wait for an answer, leaving Castiel to catch up to him as he wove through the corridors of the house and out to the main dining area. Cas found himself once again in the large room hed been brought to on his first visit and he pushed aside the hurt that came with memories of his brothers betrayal. The senator and his wife were already draped majestically across the arms of their own couches, joined by another man in heavy ivory robes. As Castiel made his way to the empty seat Azazel gestured him to, he caught sight of crimson ribbon on the other guests toga. Another senator then, though not the one Castiel met on his first time here. This man was a noble looking sort with a proud air to him that lacked the usual smugness most politicians carried. He had been heatedly discussing something with Azazel when Castiel had come in and he paused only a moment to note the newcomer before barreling forward with his argument. I am simply saying I see no point to raising taxes yet again on the lower citizens. Their favor is all that keeps our heads from rolling. Rome IS its people and your suggestion that we draw more of their lifeblood to fill the coffers of war is out of line, the man said with utter conviction. Azazel pulled his eyes from where hed been appraising Castiels new attire to shoot the other senator a bored look. Castiel, I would like you to meet Flavian Octavius Appius, he said, waving a hand in Flavians direction. Im afraid youre going to be treated to quite a bit of my fellow senators flair for the dramatic. Hes convinced, you see, that we should let the Legions go unpaid for the sake of some plebeians who cant pay Rome for the privilege of living here.

Flavian snorted in disagreement and instantly Castiel decided that of all the people hed met in politics thus far, he liked this man most, not in the least because he was arguing with Azazel. He glanced over when Megara yawned loudly and let her head drop back against the arm of the couch as if utterly bored with this topic of conversation. Flavian was not about to be put off though and he pushed ahead despite Megaras rude behavior. I never said do not pay the Legions. There is money enough in the pockets of the wealthy that we should not need to further beggar the poor is all Im saying. The poor will The poor will do what they are told, Azazel interrupted with exasperation, Tomorrow we will announce a new tax and sweeten the taste of it in their mouths with the commencement of new games. I have already booked out the coliseum in the center of the city for three days and before the masses have time to think, they will find themselves too entertained watching barbarians, criminals, and gladiators killing each other to care about the tax. Flavian glared at him disapprovingly and Castiel had to refrain from joining him. He wished Azazel werent right about such things but he knew full well what kind of fervor the citizenry would rile themselves into over a good set of games. No one would be talking about a new tax when the far more interesting topic of who killed whom was there to conveniently cover it up. The dinner was served shortly after they were all seated and Cas spent a few minutes listening with interest to the ideas Flavian put forward. He admired the senators strength of conviction and his desire to put the common people of Rome before its wealthy but every option he laid out was quickly cut down by a bored and often irritated Azazel. Castiel eventually turned to just tuning them out as much as he could in favor of looking out at the garden and measuring how much more time he had until he would be able to meet up with Dean. The sun was just beginning to set and he guessed perhaps another hour at most. His heart thrilled at the idea of escaping and riding out into the night with his lover and he looked over the table for food items he could say had perhaps upset his stomach, an excuse he thought might explain his desire to get outside. Castiel flinched involuntarily though when Azazels hand suddenly plopped down onto his knee. He drew his eyes up to meet the crooked vulgar smile Azazel shot him and a shudder ran down his spine.

Far earlier than expected, the senator suddenly stood up inclined his head politely. Im afraid youll have to excuse me for a moment. I just remembered I have some business of great importance I want to take care of. Megara snorted a decidedly unpleasant and bitter chuckle which Azazel ignored. Im sure my wife will be happy to entertain you until I return. Meg sat up at that and shot a glare at her husband before apparently deciding time spent toying with the other senator would be more amusing than dealing with Azazel all night. She smiled coldly at Flavian who looked displeased at this strange course of events.

You do what you must, he said flatly.

Thank you, Azazel replied as he took a few steps toward the door. Castiel, please join me. I wish to discussimportant matters with you.

Castiel felt his stomach clench into a knot and he suddenly doubted hed have to work too hard at pretending he was sick. He eyed Azazel warily for a moment and tried to think of a good excuse for refusing but all eyes in the room had turned to him and he knew no simply wasnt going to be taken as an answer. He eased up from his seat and walked stiffly over to the senator who draped an arm around his shoulders and escorted him from the room. Nothing was said until they reached a large set of double doors and Azazel pushed them open to reveal a large master bedroom inside. Castiel felt his whole body tense up and his eyes widened with distress. He had rather hoped this wasnt going to happen before he had to meet with Dean but apparently Azazel had grown tired of waiting to claim his prize. Castiel shivered as a hand was pressed to the flat of his back, nudging him into the space and hed barely taken a few stiff paces in when the doors snapped shut behind him.

Castiel turned to stare at the senator like a trapped animal. Idont understand, he said as his mind fished for ways to buy time.

Oh, I think you do, Azazel purred, Dont worry, Castiel, I know you dont want to be here. Its ok. I like that. Castiel swallowed the small amount of bile that rose at such a confession and he slid back a step as Azazel crossed the room toward him. See, I like em with a little fight, the senator continued as he walked a slow circle around his prey. Castiel looked around the room for something that would tell him how to get out of this. If he tried to run now, Dean and Sam might not be able to get Anya out though. The plan had been to remove her after dark and the sun had only just set. It was doubtful she was safe yet. Cas shuddered and tried to summon his will. He could do this, distasteful as it was, and then Azazel probably wouldnt care if he went for that walk afterward so long as he got what he wanted first. Castiel repeated that thought to himself over and over as he felt Azazel slide up behind him and hot breath pressed against the back of his neck. Oh I knew I wanted you the minute I saw you, whispered a lusty voice in his ear and a hand reached up to tug the folds of his toga off his shoulder.

The fabric slithered to the floor in a heap around Castiels ankles leaving him only in his tunic and he could feel Azazel press against his back hungrily. He concentrated on controlling his breathing and tried to grab for any calming thought that would help him through this as a tongue slid along the side of his neck. He shuddered again and pushed away his repulsion with memories of Dean. His Dean. He tried to imagine the hand wrapping around to fondle his chest was the strong one hed held on the ride here. The fingers pushing up his hem were those of his lover, the same ones that had gently caressed him on that night in the fort when theyd finally given in to each other and as those fingers rolled around to

brush the inside of his thigh he pulled up the image of green eyes and freckles. There was no one else in the world he wanted more, no one whos touch would make him happy, and he couldnt wait until he could get back to

Dean.

The hands on him froze as did Castiels heart in his chest and his eyes snapped open as he realized what hed just moaned aloud. Dean? Azazel hissed in his ear. It felt like an eternity before Castiels lungs would properly work again and his mind scrambled for something to fix his error but the lie didn't form fast enough. The soldier, the senator growled behind him. It wasnt a question, it was a statement, a validation of what they both already knew and Cas felt his whole body tense up. Why Castiel, not so innocent as I thought, are you? Azazel whispered angrily, So tell mewas it just the one soldier or did you fuck the whole encampment?

Castiel jerked away from the arms encircling him and wheeled to punch Azazel squarely in the face before he could even register the movement. He stared in shock as he realized what hed just done. Azazel coughed a small amount of blood onto the floor and wiped at where his nose was leaking. The cough grew into a chuckle and then an outright laugh while Castiel looked on in confusion. He didnt see a single thing in this whole situation that was humorous. He turned and headed for the door having made up his mind that he would simply have to ride to Dean and if his brother sold Anya, then they would just steal her from the quarries instead, but Azazels voice stopped him cold. Oh no, no. Youre not going anywhere, my pet. GUARDS! Castiel could hear several sets of booted feet thundering instantly in their direction and he whipped around, looking desperately for another escape. He bolted for the window but his fingers had barely touched the sill when a set of strong hands jerked him backward.

Three men surrounded him, pinning his arms behind his back, and a hand wound into his hair, jerking it back painfully. Azazel sauntered up to them and Castiel could hear the sharp hiss of a dagger being drawn. The blade pressed against the soft skin of his throat but the senator put his hand out to hold back the guard. No, he said with a little too much amusement, I want him alive and undamaged. Take him to his room. No one goes in or out until I say. Castiel struggled in vain as the men holding him dragged him out into the hallway. The entry to his chamber was thrown open violently and he staggered as he was shoved inside. He skidded and turned to slam himself against the door as it was shut but he couldnt budge it with the three men pressing in from the other side. NOOO! He cried as he heard the heavy wood bar thud into place, effectively locking him in with no way to escape. How was Dean going to get to him now?

Down the hall Azazel leaned against the door to his room looking rather peeved. Tennen appeared beside him, accompanied by the head of the guard, and the senator turned to smile at them both. Gather the men, were going for a little walk. He swept down the hall and back out into the dining area where Megara was delighting in riling up Flavian until the man was reconsidering his vow not to strike a woman. Both parties rose at Azazels entry and his wife took one look at him before laughing outright at the fact that he was apparently having trouble with his new toy. Azazel glared at her. Im afraid dinner is going to be cancelled for the moment. I have to ride out to a friends house. I have a very important matter I need to discuss with Michael Novak, the young man I told you about, and its not the sort of thing that should wait till morning.

Flavian quirked a brow and shrugged, snatching his cloak up from Tennens hands. Then I shall ride with you, he said, leaving no room for argument, I am headed in that direction anyway and would like to meet this man you claim such favor in.

Azazel paused and stared at Flavian as if trying to determine the best way to tell the other senator to drop dead but he put on a sugary smile instead and muttered of course. __________________________________________________________________

Chapter 16

Dean had been utterly unbearable since dropping Castiel off and Sam was almost at the point of telling him to just go back and get him now if only to save his sanity. Hed had to listen to a diatribe of insults which questioned everything from the senators choice of wardrobe to the integrity of his entire family tree. While he couldnt exactly disagree on most of what was said, he did feel that insinuating the mans mother had bedded most of the farm animals in Rome was going a bit far. He had felt some sense of relief when the paperwork for Deans transfer had made it safely into the hands of the 32nds chain of command. Even now the orders were being sent out that would release him from duty with the 78th. Sam couldnt say he was ungrateful though when the sun finally dipped below the horizon and the brothers found themselves crouched just outside a well off home in the wealthier section of the city. It was by no means as opulent as the senators but as Dean finally caught sight of Castiels childhood home, he stopped griping long enough to appreciate it, much to Sams relief.

It was a pretty enough place with its squat welcoming entrance and lovely stonework. Dean could almost imagine the tiny figure of little Cas playing on the low stone steps leading into the house and the mental image brought the first smile to his face since dropping off his lover. Ok, Sam whispered beside him, Cas said the slaves quarters were on the back right corner of the house. Theres a little alleyway that runs along that side and we should be able to get in there and get his mom before Michael knows were here.

Dean nodded. Yeah, got it. You got the note? Sam pulled out the folded sheet of parchment that Castiel had written on and handed it over. All right, lets get this over with. He slid out of the darkness across the street and darted across the open road. Sam slipped along behind him without a noise and followed as Dean led the way down the alley to the backside of the house. There, just as Castiel said, was a small door set down just below street level that led into the slave chambers. Dean pulled out a thin set of tools from a pouch at his waist and slid one of them through the space between two of the slats in the door. He pulled up slowly, feeling it catch onto the bar on the other side, and then jerked up until the beam clattered to the floor. He winced at the noise it made and could hear someone shuffling around inside so he barged in as fast as he could. In the meager light from the lamps outside, he could just make out a small bent shape scurrying toward the kitchen and he rushed after her, all but tackling the old woman as she reached for a set of sharp knives lined along a cutting board. She moved to scream and he clamped a hand over her mouth, a hand she promptly bit, and Dean grunted in pain. Nnnnggg.you are SO lucky Cas likes you, he growled.

The old woman stilled a little at that and Sam snuck forward to try calming her. Sssh! Its ok. Were friends of Castiel. He sent us here to get you.

Anya calmed in Deans arms and he raised his eyebrows. If I let you go, youre not gonna scream, right? She shook her head and he tentatively released her, ready to pounce again if necessary. The old woman didnt make any noise though and instead just looked over the brothers shrewdly. Her wrinkled brow furrowed as she stared at each one in turn and Sam could see a great deal of intelligence in those eyes. Years of hard work had worn her down and her face bore the signs of a life fraught with difficulties. She took a tentative step away from Dean but made no further attempts to scream.

"You think I'm stupid enough to go with two men who break into my house?" the old woman croaked quietly, "You leave. Get out now or I'll call my master and he'll have your heads on pikes by morning."

Dean sighed and pulled out the note. Cas cant leave Azazels house till youre safe, ok? So were gonna sneak you out of town. You just gotta trust us. Sam herell take you outside the gates and then Cas and Ill catch up. Anya flicked her eyes from the paper she'd been handed to Dean and back again before balling it up and clutching it to her chest. Hes such a good boy, she whispered quietly, You get him out of there. You tell him not to worry so much about me. Anya patted Deans stomach affectionately and then shuffled quickly out of the backdoor behind Sam. Dean lingered as he glanced over the array of dried foods currently gracing the kitchen. He hadn't had much time to eat with all the rushing about they'd been doing and his stomach growled angrily at him. He snagged a hunk of fresh cheese off the counter and tucked it into a pouch at his waist along with a few sausages before finally ducking out to join the others. He slipped back into the front of the group, ignoring Sam's questioning look, and headed for the street again with all the stealth of a jungle cat. Anya slipped in behind him and Sam took up the rear. He could see the escape route in his head and knew they just had to make it to the darkness on the other side of the street before anyone saw them. It wasnt exactly going to look good for two soldiers to be caught running around the nicer sections of the city with an old slave in their care but he figured they would be safe enough once they got down to the darker parts of Rome. No one would look twice at the strange trio in the festering alleys and ramshackle market stalls Dean had grown up around. Stay close and keep up, he whispered behind him before stepping out from the alley and right into view of the group of armed men he hadnt seen standing at the front of the house. He froze and snapped his left hand behind his back, balling it into a fist as a signal for Sam to stop. Twelve men were standing around an ornate litter and all of them turned to look at Dean in unison as he came around the corner. Hi guys, he tried to say as nonchalantly as he could, nice night for a stroll. The men looked at each other and then back to Dean. Beautiful house, he squeaked, gesturing at Michaels home. One of the guardsmen took a step forward. Who are you? What is your business here? Dean swallowed hard and opened his mouth to lie but the low hiss of a voice he recognized cut him off. His name is Dean Winchester, Azazel said triumphantly from the door to Michaels home. He slipped down the steps and Dean tried to resist the urge to throttle the bastard just for looking so smug. Hes a legionnaire and I assume hes here to ask Michael for Castiels hand in marriage or something sweet like that. Azazel grinned at him knowingly and Dean felt his heart drop straight into his stomach. The senator knew. He wasnt sure how it had been discovered but he flicked his fingers to wave Sam back now that he knew he wasnt going to talk his way out. His brother watched with trepidation from the alley way; he had also recognized Azazels voice and he didnt want to risk leaving his brother alone out there. Dean flicked his fingers again with more urgency and Sam finally relented, dragging Anya back to the door they had come from. He ushered her back into the kitchen and told her wait until they came back for her before rushing back to the edge of the alley to see if Dean was ok.

The guards had moved to take up positions around his brother and Sam watched helplessly as they grabbed Deans arms. Dean didnt go down quietly though and he solidly broke the nose of one guard while crippling the other with a blow to the knee. He couldnt get his sword out in time though before there were simply too many men on him, pulling his arms behind him and slapping a set of heavy iron manacles in place. The men dragged him up to stand before Azazel and he snarled at the senator. You cant prove I did anything wrong and while you may make plenty of laws around here, theres none against walking around at night, he growled, Now tell your toy soldiers here to get their frickin hands off me. I dont understand the meaning of all this, Flavian spoke up from the doorway, Who is this man? Azazel ignored his fellow senator for the moment and gripped Deans chin in his hand. To start, I think Ill charge you with trespassing, he said with slimy satisfaction, but thats not good enough, is it? A slap on the wrist maybe. No, I need more than that. Flavian stepped up behind Azazel and placed a hand on his shoulder. I dont know whats going on here but you have acted strangely this whole night. You interrupted evening meal for mysterious business, rushed to this home to discuss your aides behavior with his brother, and now you are detaining a soldier of Rome for what amounts to no reason. Azazel, I insist you explain yourself and release this man or I will have to send for the city guard. I tire of these games. Azazel tipped his head back and closed his eyes for a moment. I think murder should do it, he said a moment later. In a lightning quick movement he wrenched the sword from Deans belt, whirled around, and sank it up to the hilt into Flavians gut. The senators stared at each other for a long moment, Flavian gasping for air while Azazel smiled at him, before the less fortunate of them finally fell to the ground with a sickening thud. Azazel yanked the sword back out and turned to smile at Dean. Dean, Dean, Dean. Murdering a well respected senator. Shame on you. Why you sunnuva Dean never finished the sentence as the end of a dagger struck the back of his head and his world went black. He flopped to the ground in a heap and Azazel leaned over to pull a hip flask from one of his guards. He emptied the contents over Deans tunic and face before turning to face the rest of his group. This drunken soldier was caught trespassing on private property. When he was asked to leave, he brazenly murdered senator Flavian before anyone could stop him, Azazel drawled out calmly. Go fetch Michael. He should know what horrible tragedy happened on his front steps. And you, he said pointing to another one of his men, Go get the city guard. We have a new criminal for tomorrows festivities. Sam railed against the desire to go out there and rescue his brother but he knew he would stand no chance against that many men on his own. He reluctantly pulled back and slipped into the shadows at the back of the house. He would have to wait until they left and then find a way to free Dean and Castiel, who he could well guess was also in trouble. As Sam sank down in the darkness and listened to the sound of Azazels men rallying the guard, he bowed his head and prayed to all the gods that would listen.

Please help us.

Chapter 17: Castiel slumped at the end of his bed and glared at the door. Hed been in that position for most of the night and his back was beginning to hurt but he ignored it. His mind was too preoccupied with all that had happened in the past twenty four hours. The rugs strewn about his room were a mess from where hed been pacing, kicking them out of the way as he went just to let off some steam, and the floor was littered with the trinkets Azazel had left around the room. Castiel had dug through them all looking for something he could use either as a weapon to defend himself or as a tool to pry up the locking bar on the outside of the door but had come up empty handed thus far. Everything hed found was too small to be of much more than decorative use and, when coupled with the bar being set into the outside of the door, it spoke of Azazels extreme planning in picking out his room. The man had ensured that nothing within reach could be used as a weapon and that Castiel could be locked in should the need arise. To hold a citizen in this manner was highly illegal but he doubted hed be able to get anyone to believe him much less punish someone as powerful as Azazel without a good amount of proof. No one was going to risk going against the senator on the word of a lower patrician either, even if he could get out of this room. Castiel sighed and dropped his head to the tops of his knees which hed folded and brought protectively to his chest. His mind turned for the thousandth time to Dean. He felt like hed failed his lover. Hed been unable to just let events unfold so that the plan could go off without problems. If only hed been able to just let Azazel have his way, then he would already be at Deans side, riding off toward Gabriels home with Anya. Instead he was locked in a room waiting to see what would happen to him now. He prayed Azazel hadnt said anything to Michael as he had no doubts his brother would make good on his threat to sell Anya. Despite his worry for her though, it was Dean that had him most concerned. Had his lover come for him? Had he waited in vain outside for Castiel to come out? How long had he sat there hoping for a sign before hed finally given up and left? Or was Dean even now crouched just outside those walls waiting for Castiel? The last thought was both touching and heartbreaking. He couldnt imagine what his love must be thinking and he prayed Dean didnt think hed changed his mind about their plan. Dean was reckless and a little foolhardy sometimes and Castiel honestly worried that his lover might try breaking in to rescue him. That would only end in disaster for them both. Though it broke his heart to even think it, it would be better if Dean were to just get away with Sam. They had their transfer papers at least and perhaps he could catch up with them at some point. Castiels thoughts were interrupted by a light knock at his door. His head snapped up and he was on his feet the instant he heard the board on the other side being slid open. He took a few steps toward it but halted when the door opened and Azazel slid inside. Behind him Castiel could make out two armed guards who quickly pulled the door shut behind the senator and his heart sank as his tiny chance of freedom slipped away leaving him with only his captor for company. He glared at Azazel and took care

to keep as much distance as possible between them. Castiel, the other man said in a chipper mood that set his nerves on edge, Oh, my pet, you look awful. Didnt get any sleep, huh? Such a shame. Dont you like your room? He gestured around as if showing it off and then raised an eyebrow as his foot collided with a small overturned cup. He kicked it to one side and took in all the rest of the items scattered about the floor. Youve been an industrious little thing, havent you? Castiel remained silent and looked over the senator for any sign of a weapon he might be able to wrestle away and use against him. Azazel was unfortunately unarmed, at least, there were no weapons Castiel could see, but he was clutching a rolled up piece of parchment in one hand that bore his official seal on it. Curiosity awoke in Castiels tired mind but he refrained from saying anything. It turned out that he didnt have to. Azazel had caught the direction of his eyes and he held up the paper like a treat for a dog, waving it slowly back and forth as if it were some temptation Castiel might find irresistible. I had the most interesting encounter last night, he drawled, stalking around to Castiels side and forcing the other man to move just to keep the distance between them, Youll never guess who I ran into. Castiel stopped and narrowed his eyes. He hated this game Azazel was playing. Your conscience? Azazel laughed. Oh gods no, I dont have one of those. He chuckled as if tickled at his own joke but Castiel didnt think it far from the truth. No, I had stopped in at your brothers house, he paused to take in the look of pained realization that flashed across Castiels face, when who should I stumble across but the one and only Dean Winchester. A hole opened up in the bottom of Castiels stomach and he wished in that moment that he could crawl into it to escape. Not only did Michael now know that hed refused Azazels advances yet again, which would put Anya at risk, but he doubtless knew about his indiscretions with Dean. Worse still, Dean had been caught trying to free the slave from his brother as well. There had been no mention of Sam thus far and Castiel hoped the younger Winchester had made it away unscathed. Castiel looked up from where hed been staring at his boots, his mind whirling a mile a minute as everything unraveled before his eyes, and his stomach flopped over on itself as he took in the eager smile on Azazels face. The senator was taking obvious joy from his suffering over this news. I feel just awful having placed you in his care for so long now that I know how untrustworthy a character he truly is. Hes been arrested you see, Azazel continued, drinking in each pained flinch of Castiels face, and this afternoon he will sadly meet his end in the games. Castiel started and stared with disbelief at Azazel. It was a lie. It had to be. Even someone stealing a slave wouldnt be put to such an end. There were other punishments far more fitting than death in the arena for such a crime and it made no sense that Dean would be executed so quickly or so brutally. The games? he asked in utter confusion, Dean has done nothing to warrant that. You lie. Azazel clucked his tongue in mock sympathy. Oh Castiel, Im so sorry. I forgot you werent there. You dont know about the tragic murder of Flavian. Castiel stared at him with wide eyes as the news sank in. Oh yes, it was awful. There was nothing we could do. Dean slew him before anyone could stop it and as you know, the murder of a senator in such a brutal manner is certainly cause for Deans death in the arena. The people demand swift justice, he said with no little glee.

Castiel felt his knees go a little weak. No, he whispered in denial. His love, whom hed only just discovered, was about to die, torn limb from limb by wild beasts for the amusement of Romes citizenry. He couldnt believe it. How could the gods be that cruel? Why introduce him to what happiness could be if they were just going to steal it away again? Please, he begged quietly, Azazel, you can stop this. Please. Azazel nodded. I do have the power to pardon him. It was dark after all and perhaps wed made a mistake. I could be, he licked his lips obscenely, persuaded. Castiel shuddered and looked away but Azazel stepped back into his view and brandished the paper in front of him. A pardon. All written up and ready for delivery, Castiel, and all you have to do to save him is give me what I want. He leaned in and breathed hot against the side of Castiels neck. Give me you, dont deny me, and you can live here happily knowing your precious Dean is safe and sound, going about his idiotic little way and living his pathetic little life. Dont make this hard on yourself. Youre mine either way. Consider this a gift for good behavior. Castiel felt something in him give like a dam. He was tired of being used. Tired of being treated like an object and now this monster had placed the most important person in the world to him in danger and expected him to just obey. It was Michael and Anya all over again and Castiel was sick of it. He had killed men in battle, had ridden by Deans side as an equal, had known what love was and what happiness and freedom had tasted like for a brief time and as he pulled back to look at Azazels smug face, he felt a rage boil up inside. This creep was no different than the bandits that had tried to kill them on the road and once again Deans life was in danger. Castiel was not about to let Dean die, he would not lose him, and if Azazel wanted a fighter, he was about to get a lot more than he bargained for. No one was going to threaten Dean. Castiel wrapped his hands into the front of Azazels robes and slammed him backward as hard as he could, reveling in the sudden flash of fear that rushed across the senators face when his back connected with a wall. You will not harm him, he growled low and deadly, and you will never put your hands on me again. The words were punctuated with a sharp punch to the gut followed by another to the side of Azazels face. The senator stumbled and then launched himself at Castiel with surprising speed and strength but he was no match for Castiels training. A quick shift and hip toss sent him clean across the room where he slammed into the wall with a thud. Castiel was on him in an instant, sending another punch directly into his nose and another into his ribs before finally dragging the senator over to the base of a thick chest of drawers. He yanked down one of the curtains around the bed and tore off a few long strips which he then used to bind Azazels hands behind him. I cannot kill you, he stated in a flat tone that suggested hed highly like to, as that would make me a criminal, but you will live the rest of your life knowing you failed to own me. He jerked the knots on the senators wrists tight enough to hurt and then snagged up the rolled parchment from where it had fallen during the struggle. He glanced over it to ensure it was exactly what Azazel had claimed and then turned to face his tormentor one last time. Your own arrogance defeats you. This paper frees Dean and once I

give it over, he and I will be out of your reach for good. You cannot revoke the pardon and you cannot keep me here against my will. Never come near my family again. He turned on his heel and prepared himself for the fight he knew would come when he tried to get past the guards outside. Azazels voice behind him halted him at the door. Oh you think you have it all figured out, dont you? he spat a wad of blood onto the floor at his side. But arent you forgetting something. Someone? Your precious slave? Shes dead, Castiel. You walk out that door and I will see to it myself that she never sees another day. I will string her entrails out as decorations for my next dinner party. Castiel narrowed his eyes at the senator but he had no answer for that. He was still concerned over the woman but he could not forsake Dean to die in the games and he doubted Azazel would stay true to his word to pardon him now that hed been so roughly treated. He would just have to work quickly to free Dean and then run the risk of trying to collect Anya once his lover was safe. He would have to fight with Michael no doubt but perhaps his brother could be swayed once he knew Castiel was no longer a useful pawn in his game. He took a steadying breath and pushed open the door to his room, fully expecting a fight, but was shocked to stumble out into the cool hallway and find himself utterly alone. What had happened to the guards? He didnt question the gift and instead silently closed the door behind him, sealing off Azazels angry shouts. He rushed down the hall toward the front door but pulled up short, skidding on the polished tiles, when he spotted the lithe figure of Lady Megara leaning against the door. She smiled at him and brushed at one of the folds on her luxurious gown. You wont get far if you go out this way, she purred at him, Follow me. Without another word, Megara glided through the room toward the back of the house. Castiel stood stiffly in place and she stopped when she realized he wasnt following. She rolled her eyes and sauntered over to him. You dont have much time, you idiot. I told the guards Id heard something out front. You have only a few minutes before they come back in so I suggest you use them. That is, unless you want to be caught and dragged back into that room again? She gave him an oily smile that made Castiel want to punch her. He was about to tell her he wasnt fool enough to fall for such tricks when he heard the sound of several booted feet coming back up the front steps. He turned to find Megara had returned to the door in the back of the room, beckoning to him and despite the feeling in his gut telling him not to trust her, he followed as quickly as he could. Megara moved with surprising speed, her robes fluttering about her as she ran, and Castiel hurried to keep up. They wound through the house and slipped into a small garden at the back where sunlight was pouring through the open door. Beyond it Castiel could see a large wall that hemmed them in but Megara burst out into the garden and turned sharply to her left out of sight. Castiel followed on her heels and she led him to a small door hidden behind a set of thick flowering bushes imported from some faraway place. She pried open the door and glanced about before gesturing for him to go. Castiel paused on the threshold and stared at her. Why are you helping me? he asked with obvious mistrust.

Megara sighed in irritation. Lets just say my husbands little conquests are an embarrassment. Do you know what its like to have to explain such things to the wives of other senators? Im tired of it. Im tired of their whispers and their little pitying remarks as if I couldnt keep a man in my bed all on my own. So Im helping you to knock Azazel down a few pegs. Maybe hell be a little more discreet about his toys in the future. She gestured toward the door in a way that made it clear she wasnt interested in talking anymore and Castiel didnt need to be told twice. He bolted out into the alley and rushed along the side of the house until he reached the busy street where he quickly disappeared into the crowd. It didnt take much effort to get caught up in the flow as the city poured toward the large building in the center where the shout of the crowd lured more spectators in. It was exactly where Castiel needed to go. There he would find Dean. If only he could make it in time. Megara watched him go until she lost him in the crowd. She slid the door shut with a cunning smile and walked back into the house. By the time she reached Castiels room, Azazel had been freed by his men and he turned to her like an angry serpent as she approached. How convenient that you should hear something outside when I might need my guards most. They seem to be under the impression that you were going to help me while they took care of, what was it again? Ah yes, the legionaries that were storming the building over Dean Winchesters arrest? Megara shrugged. I saw some angry looking soldiers, I thought they were headed here. I guess they passed us by, she said nonchalantly, by the time I came back here to help you, that brute Castiel had already come out. What was I to do? She smiled and blinked innocently at him. Azazel stepped up to her and brushed a hand into her hair. Of course, my dear. You were helpless before him. His fingers curled into a painful fist and yanked back hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. Strange that it took you so long after he left to help me. Where were you? He took me prisoner, she lied, a little fear showing in her eyes, to ward off any guards along the way. And I suppose he somehow knew just the path to take to avoid those guards, didnt he? Where is he? Gone. He fled through the back gate. I couldnt stop Shhssh. I know, my sweet. I know. Azazel thumbed over her cheek. I do so love our little games. The slave was a nice touch. I trust you to pick out one to send to the general as a giftyou pick the Gaul. Did you pay him to open the gates or did you just hope his desire for freedom would win out? Megara smiled at him through the pain. Oh he wasnt too hard to convince. By the time he left, he was sure I was all but setting him free. Id practically had him eating out of my hands. Little fool drank up any sign of sympathy like a sponge. Azazel smiled almost proudly at her. Clever. Had our forces been a little less trained, I would have fled one battle just to run right into a fort controlled by the Gauls. Right into your little trap. How did you coordinate the attack?

Megara let out a nervous laugh. I didnt just send one slave, she said proudly, the other Gaul? The one I told you died of fever just before you left? I gave him your schedule, told him Id free the other one soon, and sent him on his way. He ran right back to his people and the rest was just sitting back to wait. The senator chuckled as if theyd shared a good joke. Oh my beautiful, clever, Meg. I bet you were so disappointed when I didnt die the way youd hoped. She grinned at him. No, no I was proud of you. I thought maybe we could go to the games, watch the slave die together. Azazel nodded and brushed his free hand over her throat. I would have liked that. But you see, my sweet, you took our little game too far. You cost me my enjoyment of the Novak boy. He clamped down on her windpipe. You let him out. No, no. Dont deny it. I know you did. You let him out just to irritate me. He leaned in until his lips were brushing against her cheek and his voice was a low dangerous hiss. It worked. Megara made a strangled noise as her air began to cut off. Her nails dug into Azazels arm, raking thin bloody lines down it but he didnt seem to notice. Do you have any idea how hard I worked, how much of Michael Novaks irritating and pointless drivel I had to put up with just to get my hands on that boy? I would kill you but it would mean you got the last word in. He was beneath your station, she gasped, You were going to risk everything we have trying to hold him here. If anyone found out Azazels grip tightened, Ah, well, that makes sense. You cost me my plaything, let me be humiliated, so that you wouldnt risk losing your precious possessions? Your station in life should we be discovered? Good enough when it was just plebian boys at my whim but I over stepped my bounds to own another patrician? Megara nodded as she struggled for air. Well, since you cost me what Ive been looking forward to for weeks, I think Im just going to take everything else from you. Everything you worked for, everything you wanted, everything you have. You are banished from this house, your worldly possessions are mine and if I ever see you again, I will slaughter you in the street. He released her onto the floor in a heap and pulled a dagger off the belt of one of the guards. She tried to struggle to her feet but he dropped his weight onto her and pressed her to the floor, pinning her hands beneath his knees. And just to make sure you dont run right into the arms of another lover, lets just make you a little less pretty. As the first few locks of golden hair rained to the floor before her eyes, Megara began screaming bloody murder. She struggled as hard as she could but Azazel could not be dislodged and he sliced away at her pride until her hair was almost as short as Castiels had been. He ignored her screams, her threats and her pleas as the guards dragged her out of the house and threw her into the dirt of the street. ___________________________________________________________ Chapter 18:

Castiel fought his way through the crush of people trying to get inside the stadium. He could hear people shouting joyously over some fight that was going particularly well as he struggled through the pressing bodies to make his way toward the front, heedless of the indignant shouts from those he shoved aside. He stumbled up the entry steps and let out a frustrated groan when his progress was stopped by the guard at the top who was ensuring only those of proper wealth and entitlement were allowed into the best seats. Calm yourself, the guard said, putting a hand on his shoulder when Castiel tried to push past him, theres plenty enough blood to watch, citizen. The crowd let out a heavy sound of awe above them. I must get inside in all haste, he growled at the guard. Heard about this fight, huh? Cant blame you. Not every day you see a Legionnaire turned murderer in the arena. HEY! The guard stumbled back as Castiel slammed past him, his heart thundering in his chest. He gave up any pretense of politeness and shoved his way to the front where the crowd split into two groups to make their way to their seats. The path before him opened up and then suddenly dropped away affording him a perfect view down into the fighting area and he skidded to the railing there and peered down. He instantly recognized the small figure in the center of it, decked out in only a meager amount of armor as he fought off a Gladiator with twice as much protection. The fact that they had afforded Dean any armor at all spoke to the fact that his last minute addition to the roster had been played up. It wasnt every day a dishonored soldier made it to the arena to die and those running the games apparently didnt want him to expire too quickly lest they bore the crowd. DEAN! Castiel called out but he knew his lover was too far away to hear him. Castiels eyes scanned the seats all around him, searching through the sea of tunics and togas for the heavily decorated stand he knew would hold the most important people there. He spotted a small balcony across the way, shaded from the sun by a crimson awning edged in gold, and below it he could make out an older gentleman in the heavy white toga that marked him as yet another contemporary of Azazel. That would be who Castiel needed to get the pardon to. Only that senator could get call a hold to the game to release Dean and as Castiel watched his love dodge a vicious blow to his midsection, he knew he had to hurry. He wheeled around to make his way back outside where he could escape the crowd. It would take too long to fight his way through them from the inside and he knew there would be another entry closer to the senators seat to allow the dignitary easy access in and out. Castiel was determined to find it and try to save himself some time and, potentially, Deans life. He had just begun running down the steps, fighting through the throng going in the opposite direction when a large hand grabbed his elbow with surprising strength. Castiel whipped around prepared to fight only to look up into the large brown eyes of Sam Winchester. Relief flooded him and Sam quickly looked him over to make sure he wasnt hurt. You ok? Sam asked breathlessly.

Yes, but Dean is in trouble. I know. I was trying to figure out how to get him out of there. I was about to go down into the prep area, get some armor and go out there to help him, Sam explained. Castiel shook his head and brandished the pardon between them. No, I have a pardon from Azazel. I dont have time to explain, he said when Sam opened his mouth to question, just take this, go around to the senator on the other side. Give it to him. You can get in there easier than me. You are a soldier of Rome, your armor will let you into places I cannot go. Ill go help Dean. Sam hesitated for a moment before deciding to trust Castiel. He couldnt always be there to watch out for Dean and he knew the man in front of him had just as much to lose if anything happened to his brother. He snatched the pardon out of Castiels hand and gripped his shoulder. Good luck, he said before quickly muscling his way back outside. Castiel followed in his wake until he could split off and head for the entrances used by those working the event rather than attending it. He ran full tilt for the sloping tunnel that would lead him below the coliseum and skidded down into the darkness. Torches spaced along the walls were the only source of light in the lower sections of the building and men rushed to and fro carrying armloads of armor, winches, ropes, and weapons. Castiel could smell the pungent odor of animal dung mixed with smoke and the air was filled with the haunting screams of creatures brought in from far and wide. He rushed through the maze of tunnels frantically until a man dressed in a well worn tunic stopped him with a hand to his chest. Hey, wrong area. Go left then take the first right and keep straight, he said gruffly. Castiel stared at him in confusion and the man sighed. Youre one of the fighters, right? Well, youre not late so stop running. You can get suited up at the prep area. Just head where I told you and Ventian will get you ready. You wont be going on till after they do the elephant fight and thats not till after this ones done. Thank you, Castiel said as calmly as he could. He turned and hurried down the hall, breaking into a run again as soon as he was out of sight of the man. It wasnt uncommon for citizens of Rome to put forth their own names as Gladiators just for the fame of it and he wasnt about to correct anyone if thats what they thought he was doing there. It was the perfect excuse for why a patrician would be in the belly of the coliseum. He ran down the hallway and finally stopped when he found an open section with racks of weapons and armor on each side. An older man, tanned and fit from years of hard work, was handing over a helmet to a burly looking fellow. Beyond them was a huge set of double doors and the roar of the crowd was loudest there. Castiel didnt bother with words and he wrenched off his tunic, tossing it into the dirt. He snatched up a heavy leather belt, bronze greaves and bracers, a shield, and a heavy helmet which he plunked onto his head. He heard the old man shout in protest but Castiel merely grabbed a sword from the rack and rushed at the doors. A set of guards looked at him as if hed lost his mind and he screamed at them. Open the doors! I must be out there!

You idiot, its not your turn yet! yelled the old man behind him, Youve got a good hour before your time. The prisoners are first! Castiel shot him a look of such venom that the old man took a step back. Open the doors or forfeit your life, he growled. The man snorted and turned away. Suit yourself. Die early for all I care, he mumbled. The guards moved forward only to find Castiels sword in their faces and a look of pure ferocity written in his eyes. He edged past them and shoved the door open with his shoulder, stumbling backward out into bright light and the deafening scream of the crowd. He whipped around and took off in a dead run toward where Dean was fighting for his life while the citizens of Rome screamed their soundtrack of bloodlust.

Chapter 19:

The instant he woke, Dean knew it was going to be a crappy day. He was lying face down in a dirty holding cell, his cheek pressed into something damp which hed rather not think about, and his head was pounding as if Jupiter was throwing a tantrum inside it. Most of his clothes had been taken leaving him wearing nothing more than his boots and loin wrap and his arms prickled in the cold dankness in which he found himself. He groaned and reached back to gingerly rub the knot at the base of his skull. His mind began to dredge up the memories of last night, chasing away the last remnants of unconsciousness, and Dean swore under his breath as he took in his new surroundings. He was sitting in the last cell of a long row, mirrored across the way by another with a walkway down its center, and almost all the cells were filled with a sea of miserable people. Ragged souls looked out at him with gaunt faces and dead eyes that had long since given up hope. He searched every cell he could see and sighed in relief when he didnt spot Sam among the prisoners. His little brother would have been hard to hide and he tried to take some comfort in the idea that maybe Sam had escaped.

Dean sighed and thumped his forehead against the bars, an action he immediately regretted as his headache increased. Great, he rumbled, looking up at the sky as if directing his gripe to the gods themselves, This is just friggin awesome. He pushed off of his door and collapsed into one of the cleaner corners of his cell. The image of Azazels smiling face popped into his mind and he curled his lip in distaste. The bastard had killed one of his fellow politicians and now Dean was going to be the one to take the fall for it. He doubted shouting his innocence was going to get him anywhere either. No one would believe a soldier with a discipline issue over a well known and powerful senator. He grumbled a few less than polite suggestions for what hed like to do to the smug asshole when he finally got out.

Deans heart suddenly tightened though as the memories of the previous night trickled back in and clicked into place. Azazel had been at Michaels house and hed hinted that hed somehow found out about the affair between Dean and Castiel, a fact that could place them all in trouble. He didnt know what Azazel had told Michael but he didnt think Castiels brother would hesitate for a moment to carry out his threats and he hoped they werent too late to save the old woman. How would Castiel ever forgive him if hed let his mother die all because he hadnt acted fast enough to get her out? That is, if he ever even got to see Cas again. Killing a senator didnt exactly carry a light sentence so he could only guess what his punishment was going to be. Beheading, maybe? At that moment, Dean couldnt bring himself to really care. He was more worried about what was happening to his lover. If Azazel knew about them, had he done something to Cas? Had he hurt him? Had Castiel gone outside as planned, looking for Deans help only to find himself alone at Azazels mercy?

A mental image came to Deans mind unbidden, Castiel hurt and surrounded by Azazel and his men, and it was all Dean could do not to dig his way out of his cell just to make sure Cas was ok. He had to find a way to escape, had to find the young man with the beautiful blue eyes that had fought at his side as his equal and saved his life. He needed to tell Cas how much hed come to mean in so short a time. He needed to protect him, wanted to protect him, and that desire was even greater in the face of the fact that he knew Castiel could and would do the same for him. Cas, he said in a whisper that was half prayer. If the gods had any mercy at all, they would at least let Dean ensure the vibrant young man hed fallen for was free and safe. Then again, the gods werent exactly on Deans list of favorite people at the moment so he couldnt count on their help.

No, Dean needed to find his own way out. He checked every inch of his cell but found no easy answers and with no windows anywhere to be seen, he couldnt even tell how long hed been unconscious. His answer came when a scrawny old man walked down the row of cells tossing a small bowl in each one filled with something that looked like itd come of the wrong end of Impala. Apparently, this was breakfast. Oh yeah, thats appetizing. Dean kicked the bowl aside and grabbed the old mans arm before he could shuffle away again. Hey, hey! Im not gonna hurt you, ok? he said as the servant tried to wriggle free in a panic, I just need know where I am. What jail is this?

The man paused and shook his head at him. Not a jail, boy. Youre in the holding cells for the games.

Games? Dean asked incredulously, whatdya mean, games?

The games, boy. The arena? The old man pointed a gnarled finger skyward and thats when Dean realized the murmur of sound hed been hearing in the background was the thunder of a crowd taking their seats. Hed almost tuned it out entirely but now that soft white noise had taken on a whole new menace. They werent going to behead him, they were going to put him into gladiatorial combat to watch him fight to the death, and that was if he was lucky. If he wasnt, well, then theyd just be feeding him to wild animals for the crowd's amusement.

He let his hand drop and the old man skittered away while Dean pinched the bridge of his nose in an attempt to ward off his headache. He had never been afraid of a good fight before and hed seen enough blood during his tenure in the military that such things didnt frighten him but he knew that this wouldnt be a fair fight. He wouldnt be walking away from this. Were he a slave bought for the games, he might be able to prove himself an able enough warrior to earn his freedom but a criminal? No, they would keep throwing things at him until he died, especially given the nature of his supposed crime. Dammit! he snarled, Samwhere the hell are you?

The next few hours seemed to pass far too quickly for Dean as he waited for his turn to go topside. He watched with dread as the cells around him emptied one by one. Groups of men were dragged from their confines, some screaming, some crying, some merely going catatonic and shitting themselves, and all Dean could do was watch. He could hear their cries for mercy echoing down the hallway long after they were removed until at last he was the only one still sitting in his cell. Finally a group of four men in full armor came for him. Apparently he warranted a much higher level of security to ensure he wouldnt try to escape and he would have been flattered if it werent for that whole about to die horribly thing. Dean rose to his feet and stared down his guards. Death he could handle, it would be like paying a bill that had finally come due, but not seeing Castiel again, not being able to make sure he was ok, was more than Dean wanted to think about.

He thought about trying to put up a fight but he had no weapons or armor and against four armed men, he knew he wouldnt stand a chance. He squared his shoulders as much as he could and jerked his arm away when one of them reached for him. I can walk, he snapped, my damn legs arent broken. He pushed past them and quickly found himself in the center of their little group as they led him down the hallway. They made their way through several dark corridors until the ground finally sloped up and a pair of doors came into view.

A man was waiting there with a simple set of armor that would barely afford any protection but Dean figured it was better than what the other prisoners had received. They rarely spared armor for people they considered little more than fodder. He would have been grateful if it werent for the fact that he

was being fed into a giant meat grinder and this was just a way of making sure his suffering lasted longer. He snatched the armor out of the mans hand and began strapping it on, his gaze flicking around as he looked for any last hope of getting out of this.

All right, Dean growled, lets get this over with. Ya bunch of vultures. He snatched up his sword and stalked off toward the double doors which opened before him. He was forced to squint in the brilliant light of mid-morning as he stepped out and a great roar burst up around him like an ocean wave breaking over his head. Thousands of people were packed along the walls above, a swirl of color and waving arms, all shouting in excitement. It made him feel sick to know they were all looking forward to watching him die. Cant any of you people find a better hobby, he grumbled as he stalked toward the center of the arena. The ground beneath him was packed dirt and sand, each step setting off a small dust cloud as he walked, and he knew landing on it was a great way to tear up his skin. More blood to please the crowd. Across the way he spotted a set of small dark figures jogging toward him. Three young gladiators pulled up short twenty feet away and turned toward the balcony where Dean spotted a senator sitting in the shade. He thought for a brief moment it was Azazel come to watch his handiwork but the man was older and more compact of frame.

The gladiators saluted the senator and Dean offered his own salute though his was considerably less polite. The crowd riled and the cries became deafening. Romans loved a good scandal and they were eating up the rebellious soldier who was apparently showing no remorse for the murder hed committed. Dean hated them all for it. He sulked back to face the three men across from him. Oh THIS is fair, he spat. An official made his way down to the group and he held out a long wooden pole to measure the proper distance between the men. When the fighters had all taken their places, he yanked the pole away and the action began at once.

The men lunged at Dean but he could tell right away from their clumsy strikes that they were novice fighters, men that had volunteered in their hope of glory and fame, and he almost felt sorry for them. They had no idea theyd been put up against someone infinitely better trained. Dean tucked and rolled between two of them, wheeling up around and bashing the back of one mans helmet so hard he could hear teeth click and he let the momentum carry him around into a leap that slammed the tip of his sword into the upper thigh of another fighter.

That was one down. The wounded man screamed in agony and fell to the ground. He wouldnt be getting back up on that leg any time soon which Dean was grateful for. He didnt REALLY want to kill the kid. He shuffled back out of the wild swing aimed at him and smacked it way off to his right with the flat

of his blade. A sharp knee to the gut followed and Dean watched yet another opponent hit the ground with a surprised OOF! He barely spared a glance as he kicked the mans kidney and stepped over the writhing body. He didnt want to have to take any more lives than was necessary.

The last remaining fighter was backing up slowly, trying to gain some distance from Dean so he could think through his strategy a little better, but Dean afforded him little time. He dropped his chin and set his most fierce scowl in place as he stalked with murderous intent toward the remaining fighter. His intimidation worked like a charm and the last fighter looked at him with wide-eyed uncertainty. A few pathetic swings were taken which Dean easily avoided and he jogged around to the mans right before tucking, skidding around, and then slashing at the thick leather straps holding the mans armor in place. It fell to the ground with a clang and the crowd went wild.

Dean paused to smirk at the sound. Hed never been famous but his show thus far had made quite the impression apparently and he couldnt help a little swell of pride at knowing his fighting prowess was being appreciated. His mood dropped however as the three fighters slinked away and a huge beast of a man rolled out of the door where they had disappeared. The crowd roared in excitement as the gladiator crossed the arena. He was much larger than Dean and his face was entirely covered in a thick helmet pocked with holes for breathing and sight. A large plume rose above his head on either side, hemming in a long bronze crest, and heavy armor covered his left leg. The entire left side of his body was concealed behind a massive square shield and in his hand he gripped a short wickedly sharp sword. Dean glanced down at the small round shield on his arm and then back up to the wall of bronze heading his way. He swallowed heavily and took a step back.

Ok, Winchester, he said as he bolstered his nerves, you can do this. Its just like fighting a Gaulor a beara big bearin armor. He closed his eyes and cussed again. When he opened them, he was forced to look up into the face of the other fighter. The official stood between them once again and measured out the distance before calling a start to the fight. Dean had barely enough time to skitter backward as a sword swung at him and he barely missed having his head chopped off. This was no novice fighter, this was a trained professional who had been doing this for most of his life, but Dean was no beginner either and he knew from experience what it was to have to fight to survive. He tried his trick of rolling around to catch the other fighters back but every attempt was thwarted and he had to back off quickly to avoid the retaliating strikes aimed at him. Every blow he knocked aside was powerful enough to send vibrations up his arms until Deans shoulder ached from it.

He could hear the crowd calling out in awe and joy over the skill being displayed but it was hardly comforting as he found himself struggling just to keep himself intact. He dipped low and tried to strike at

the fighters leg below the shield but his sword clanged uselessly off the greave and he earned a hard bash to the face for his efforts. Dean rolled backward with the blow, sparing himself a broken nose, but his arms chaffed across the hard ground and he felt the burn of skin rubbed raw as he regained his feet. He coughed and spat out the blood trickling over his lips from his left nostril. The gladiator didnt afford him much breathing room and he pressed his attack with a series of swift precise slashes in the hope of finding a hole in Deans defenses. Dean shuffled backward, giving ground again and again as he searched frantically for a weak area he could attack. The crowd was chanting for blood around them and he tried to tune them out as much as possible.

Their swords glinted in the harsh sunlight as they carried out their dance of life and death. A particularly well aimed strike opened a thin line along Deans ribs and he winced as he pulled away and circled to the left. He blinked as sweat stung his eyes and slid into his cuts, setting them on fire. He knew he wouldnt be able to keep this up forever and he hoped maybe the other fighter would get tired soon from having so much more armor to carry. He was searching so hard for an opening to use that he almost didnt register the change in the crowds roar. It rippled around in a wave of shock and cries of protest burst forth. It took him a moment to register the addition of a new fighter to the arena and he swore under his breath. This was it. He wasnt going to be able to hold off two of them. He was surprised however, as was the rest of the crowd from the sound of it, when the newcomer flung himself at the gladiators back and sliced a heavy line across his shoulders.

Dean blinked in confusion and stared into a very familiar set of blue eyes. Cas? he asked numbly.

Castiel quickly took up a position at Deans side and looked him over with open worry. Im here as is Sam. We just have to buy him some time.

Dean stared dumbfounded for a moment before a slow smile broke out on his face. IuhI love you, you know, he shouted over the cries around them.

Castiel smiled fully then, the corners of his eyes crinkling in delight. I know.

Dean chuckled in disbelief and the two of them turned back to face the very confused gladiator in front of them. It didnt take them long to have him on the defensive. The pair worked with perfect timing, driving the man back into one another so that when he faced one, his body was vulnerable to the other, and soon enough he took a knee in surrender. He raised his sword in a plea for mercy and Dean didnt

bother waiting to see if the senator would grant it. He simply stepped around him and made his way to Castiels side. You hurt? he asked, checking over his lovers almost nude frame.

Im fine, Castiel replied. He watched as Dean continued to look him over and he cocked his head to the side. Dean, I said Im fine.

I know, Dean replied distractedly, but you are not just fine. You are fine. Damn, you look hot in that.

Castiel blushed and ducked his head. Dean, I do not believe this is the appropriate time or place for that.

Dean smirked. Well, hells, Cas, all these people came for a show. I think we should give em one. He chuckled at the look of embarrassed horror that crossed his lovers face but his mirth was short lived as the ground below them vibrated ever so slightly. He glanced around in time to see four trap doors slide open and from each one a large, slightly emaciated tiger slinked out. He instinctively turned and tried to put Castiel behind him but they were surrounded on all sides. Casyou said Sam was doing something about this, right? He tried not to sound as nervous as he felt.

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Chapter 20:

Sam rushed up the last few steps toward the senators seat. It had taken him far longer than hed wanted to get there but hed been forced to slink around, dodging guards, and even in one event striking up an innocent conversation with one when hed been spotted. Hed distracted that soldier long enough to knock him out but the going had been slow and every shout from the crowd had gnawed at him like acid in his veins. As he stumbled at last out into the balcony, he took the moment to glance down into the arena and his heart almost stopped. He could see Dean and Castiel in its center, surrounded on all sides by four large predatory cats and he only hoped this could be stopped before it was too late. He ignored the shout of protest from one of the officials next to the senator and made his way straight for the one person he knew could end this. Hed almost made it when two guards grabbed his arms and tried to forcibly drag him back out. WAIT! he shouted, I need to talk to you! Please! I have a pardon!

The senator turned and scowled at him. A pardon? Aint nobody in these games getting a pardon that Ive ever heard, he snapped, Whats your name, boy?

Samael. Samael Winchester. The man down there is my brother. I have a pardon from Azazel, Sam said breathlessly. The men holding him paused and looked at the senator for direction on how to proceed.

Now I know youre lying. Azazels never pardoned a single blasted soul in his whole life.

I swear, Sam pleaded, just read it. He waved the paper toward the senator who snatched it out of his hand. The mans brows crinkled together and he scratched at the thick short beard that graced his chin.

Senator, Rubico? one of the guards asked.

Drop em, the senator replied much to Sams relief. He found himself under the senators heavy gaze and he glanced furtively down into the arena again in his impatience. They were wasting time and it could prove disastrous. How the hells did you get this? the senator asked with open skepticism.

Please, senator Rubico, I can explain later but right now my brother is about to die if you dont stop this.

The senator narrowed his eyes and snorted. Youll explain now or Im not stopping anything.

A Nubian man to his left shook his head and chuckled derisively. You know as well as I do, Bobby, that Azazels never given a pardon. Just send the kid on his way.

Shut up, Rufus, Bobby snapped.

Bobby? Sam asked with a raised brow.

A nickname. Short for Rubico cause my friend here cant be bothered to use my whole name. But were not here to discuss my personal life and youre running short on time, Bobby griped.

Sam couldnt seem to get the words out of his mouth fast enough. He let a series of lies slide easily off his tongue, ones hed pieced together on the way to the balcony, about how Castiel was an aide to Azazel (true enough) and how the senator had given Dean pardon because Castiel had helped identify the real murderer.

The look on Bobbys face said he clearly didnt believe a word of it and Rufus leaned around him just to add his own disbelieving scowl but the senator rose to his feet none the less. Whatever, kid. Far as Im concerned, the fact that this piece of paper has Azazels signature on it is good enough for me. Sides, if Im not wrong, whatever youre up to is gonna piss him off and Im always ok with that. Rufus chuckled and leaned back into his seat again. Bobby turned toward the crowd and waved his arms at the officials standing against the doors to the arena. They perked up at his signal and he crossed his forearms over one another, a sign to halt the proceedings. The reaction was instant and the men disappeared into the depths of the coliseum, returning only a moment later with the beastmaster at their backs. The older gentlemen, responsible for the care of the animals, rushed out and began directing a stream of other workers who poured out behind him much to the ire of the crowd.

***

Boos and shouts rang down as the animals were gathered up and Dean followed Castiels line of sight up into the stadium. There he could make out the senator standing with his arms crossed and beside him was the tall unmistakable figure of Sam. Dean sighed in relief and let some of his weight fall onto Castiels shoulder. A long lean arm wrapped around his waist in support and he looked over into his lovers concerned eyes. Mfine, Cas. Just tired. Been a long friggin day. Castiel curled Dean as close as he could to his chest in a gesture of protection and he kept a watchful eye out as the men around them herded the cats back down the ramps and into their cages below ground. When the arena was clear of wild animals, the men formed a tight ring around Dean and Castiel and the latter raised his sword threateningly as he warded off any potential future threats to Dean.

The men stood still and waited patiently as the crowd died down. All ears struggled to hear the words of the senator being shouted out over the arena. I hereby pardon Dean Winchester on order of senator Azazel who proclaims a mistake in identity has been made. This soldier is cleared of all charges laid against him. Let em go. The fight had been a good one and as such the crowd seemed pleased at this change of events. They did so love drama and the story of a legionnaire mistakenly accused of murder was sure to be a hot topic of discussion for weeks to come.

Dean unfurled himself from Castiels supporting arms and dragged his lover toward the doors leading to freedom, a scowl plastered on his face for anyone who got in his way. Once underground again and away from prying eyes, he slipped a possessive arm around Castiels waist and dared anyone to say a single word about it. They collected their personal belongings and re-dressed quickly, Dean trying hard not to think about how gross he felt as he tugged his tunic back on over the grit of sand, sweat and blood, and they made their way back out. As they trudged up the incline that would lead them back into fresh air and daylight, they found Sam waiting at the top for them.

Took you long enough, Dean said by way of greeting.

Sam snorted and raised an eyebrow. Youre welcome, he said with a shake of his head. You two ok?

Castiel nodded. Dean is hurt and needs some rest. I know a place we can go. He led them down through the city streets into a small quiet section on the outskirts near the walls. He had never been to the place himself but he recalled the directions on how to reach it and after checking three wrong buildings he finally found the little butcher shop he was looking for. He led Dean and Sam inside and made his way past the long table where a young man was chopping up some freshly slaughtered lamb to be dried and salted later. He knocked politely on the narrow door at the back of the shop and it opened to reveal a tall thin woman with vibrant red hair. She looked taken aback to find Castiel standing there and there was a pause of surprise before her face broke out into a full grin. Hello, Anna, Castiel said with a little hesitation, Im sorry to just drop in like this

Castiels words were cut off as Anna threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. Little brother, she whispered, Oh Castiel, Im so glad to see you. How did you get down here? Wont you be in trouble with Michael? She pulled back to look at him. I thought I was still on his list of people he didnt care for.

Castiel smiled ruefully. I have joined you on that list.

Then youre in good company, she said sympathetically before tugging him inside. She looked back at Sam and Dean, giving Dean a raised brow at the look of appreciation he shot her. Are these yours? she asked.

Yes, Dean and Sam are my friends, he paused and smiled shyly at Dean, and more.

Dean slid past Anna and took Castiels hand in his own, giving her a smirk before planting a possessive kiss on his lovers lips.

Anna just chuckled. So I see, she said as she closed the door behind Dean. Well, its good to see you again. Ive missed you. Care to tell your big sister what happened between you and Michael? She eased down into a chair and offered over a tray of thinly sliced cured meats, breads, and fruits. Dean wolfed them down while Castiel explained what had happened and as he watched the horror and anger flit across Annas face, Dean decided he liked her more and more.

We came here because Im afraid we have no place else to go at the moment, Castiel finished apologetically.

That arrogant bastard, Anna huffed, Well youre welcome here as long as you want, Cas. She paused and lowered her head sadly. I wonder whats going to happen to old Anya now.

Nothing, Dean chimed in. Every head in the room turned to look at him. Nothings going to happen to her because Sam and I are headed back there now to get her. Sam opened his mouth to protest and Dean held up a hand. Sam, we started this, were finishing it. We know Cas is safe now and almost everyone in the whole damn city is at the games. We go ahead and get her, bring her back here and then all four of us get outta this place before anyone knows better. And gods help me, I almost hope Michael IS there. I wanna give that sunnuva bitch a piece of my mind anyway.

Dean, you just narrowly escaped death. Youre hurt and tired. This is foolish, Castiel protested.

Do you have an option B? Cause I dont see any other way. Castiel wracked his brain for an alternative that wouldnt put Dean right back into trouble again but when he couldnt come up with one in short order, Dean nodded. Thats what I thought. Dean placed a reassuring hand onto Castiels knee. Just stay here, catch up with your sister, and well be back before you know it. Dean rose before anyone else could argue and headed for the door. He knew it might be foolhardly to try again so soon after being caught but from what hed learned from Sam, Michael was still clueless as to why Dean was there in the first place. His discovery at the Novak house had most likely been chalked up to him trying to speak with Michael on Castiels behalf and he knew that now would be the best time to make their move with everyone in the city being preoccupied.

Castiel watched Sam hurry out the door behind his brother, the words tumbling from his lips echoing every concern Castiel had over what could potentially go wrong. When he looked up though, Anna was smiling reassuringly at him and she squeezed his hand. Thats one heck of a guy you found, she said with a grin, Course, Im glad you got him because hed probably drive me insane. Castiel chuckled and Anna rubbed his back. They spent the next hour catching up on old times and what Anna had been up to for the last year.

Cas kept glancing back at the door eagerly every time he heard someone enter the shop outside and his shoulders would slump when the footsteps receded away again. He couldnt help the worry gnawing at him and as it happened again Anna took his hand into her much smaller ones. Theyll be fine, she tried to assure him. Her words were followed by the sound of another person entering the shop and Castiel turned to look at the door. His heart lightened as the person made their way to the entry but it dropped into his gut as the door swung open.

Michael stood there, his face an impassive mask, but Castiel could see a rage burning in those deep slate eyes. For a terrifying moment, he thought the attempt to free Anya had once again gone horribly awry and he felt his breath freeze in his lungs. I thought I would find you here, Michael said in a strained clipped voice. I have just come from speaking with Azazel. He told me what happened. About your rejection. Your humiliation of him. Your vile tryst with this lowly soldier.

Castiel felt a flood of relief as he realized that meant Dean and Sam had not been discovered but Anna stood immediately and raised her chin. You are no more welcome in this house than I was in yours. Get out. Her hackles raised as Michael took a challenging step inside.

Castiel rose to his feet as well and stared defiantly at his brother. Azazel is a disgusting monster.I will never understand why you desire to be like him and I have no shame in my actions. You also have no right to speak ill of Dean. He is a better man than you ever will be."

I know he murdered a senator on my front steps last night. That doesn't sound like any great man to me, Michael stated coldly.

That is a lie, Castiel retorted, Dean is innocent of this crime. He has been pardoned and your opinion is not welcome here. Please leave.

Michael shook his head. I knew you had been poisoned by our less savory siblings but I had no idea to what extent. Castiel hated the disappointment in his brothers voice but it was different than before. He no longer felt guilty over it, instead it only irritated him. Michael took a deep breath. This is foolish. Your childish crush on this soldier is ridiculous. Now come along. We are leaving.

No, Castiel stated flatly.

Michael froze in the doorway. Castiel, he said warningly.

I said no, Castiel repeated with more emphasis, I am tired of taking your orders. You care for no one but yourself. You have sacrificed our family for your own gains and I will have no part in it anymore.

Michael stalked over and drew himself up to his full height, looming over Castiel in all his intimidating glory. Do not make this difficult, Castiel. A strong hand closed around his wrist.

In response Castiel swung hard with the other, clocking his brother across the left cheek and snapping his head back. Michael stumbled in mute shock, his hand flying to his face and his eye watering from the blow. He stared dumbfounded for a moment before lunging to return the swing. Castiel sidestepped it and slammed a punch up into Michaels gut. His brother cracked an elbow down into Castiels spine before hurling him across the room. Anna screamed for them to stop as Michael threw himself onto his brother but Castiel caught him in the midsection with a brutal kick and he came to his feet swinging. He

bounced Michaels head off the doorframe and earned a vicious elbow to the throat for his troubles. Strong fists wrapped into his tunic as Castiel tried to regain his breath and Michael tossed him through the open door into the shop. Castiel skidded to a stop before a wall of booted feet and when he looked up he saw four armed men whom he recognized as working for Azazel.

No!

Hands reached down and grabbed him from the floor. His arms were jerked painfully behind him and rope was secured around his wrists as he struggled. Michael, no! Do not do this! His words were cut off as a thick strip of cloth was shoved between his teeth and tied behind his head. He wriggled and jerked at the arms holding him, staring at his brother with wide pleading eyes, but Michael watched him coldly from the doorway. Anna grabbed her brothers arm and screamed at him. Michael, dont! You overstep your bounds. You cannot do this! This is kidnapping! Even the rights of Patria Potestas dont allow you to do this! Michael shoved her away and she stumbled back a few steps as he wheeled around to face her. Lucien defied me and fled when he knew he couldnt win. Urial followed him, choosing our brother over the rest of this family. Gabriel put his selfish desires above our honor and you would not even attempt to put your body to some use to gain our rise us above our current station. ONE OF YOU IS GOING TO LISTEN TO ME FOR ONCE! he shouted angrily, ONE OF YOU IS GOING TO OBEY ME! I WILL NOT BE BETRAYED AGAIN! Anna recoiled in horror, drawing back from the crazed rage she saw in his eyes. If you take him back there, she said pleadingly, you know what will happen. You know he doesnt want to go. He will never give himself willingly to Azazel now. What do you hope to accomplish? Michael gathered himself back into his usual air of forced calm. Azazel has assured me he still wants Castiel in his home. Castiel will do as he is told. And if he doesnt? Anna asked incredulously, What then? Will you let that monster keep him captive against his will? Michaels dead stare told her more than any words he uttered. He is incapable of making rational decisions right now. He has spent too long around the likes of you, Gabriel, and now this murdering soldier whom he professes to care for. I will do what is best for him. Castiel is no longer your concern. With that, Michael turned on his heel and strode from the house. Anna snatched up a knife from the table and rushed at his back with an angry scream but he whipped around and caught her hand, twisting her wrist until it popped loud enough to hear. Castiel cried out around his gag as Michael shoved his sister back into the house and pulled the door shut behind her. A nod from Michael spurred the men holding him and Castiel struggled as he was dragged out of the shop to a waiting litter outside. He kicked

out at his captors until his ankles were grabbed and he was shoved unceremoniously inside. Ropes were secured around his legs as Michael climbed in and once Castiel was all but immobile, the four guards let the curtain drop, sealing off both men from public view. The litter shifted as the workers at each corner picked it up, flanked by their armed escort, and they made their way back toward the wealthy section of town. Chapter 21: The second attempt at freeing Anya of her enslavement had gone far smoother than the first and by the time Dean and Sam found their way back to Annas house, Dean was feeling pretty pleased with himself. Sure, hed been captured the first time around and Castiel had been forced to save him but at least this time he could waltz in as the victor. Dean could already imagine the joy on his lovers face when he finally laid eyes again on his surrogate mom and it tugged up a smile on the corner of his mouth as he hurried to the shop entrance. Hed lost some blood during his fight and was tired from the whole ordeal but his pace quickened nonetheless in his eagerness to be back at Castiels side. He shot a celebratory grin back at Sam who shook his head. His brother couldnt hide his own smile though. Despite Sams reservations over trying to sneak Anya out again so soon after the last horrible attempt, the whole thing had gone off without a hitch. Michael hadnt been home and theyd found Anya quietly cleaning the steps out front so they didnt even have to go inside. Shed simply bundled herself in a cloak and then followed them out into the city.

It seemed ridiculously easy considering their luck so far but Dean was happy that at last things were going according to plan. His joy was short lived however as he knocked on Annas door. Hed expected Castiel to be the one that answered but instead the door was yanked open by a short man with sharp hazel eyes and a scowl on his face. Well its about damn time, the man snapped at them before turning and storming back to his recently vacated seat at Annas side. The young womans wrist was tightly bound in a wrap and she was favoring it, cradling the injured arm to her chest. She looked up at Dean with a mixture of anger and sadness. There was something very wrong with this picture.

Anya pushed past Dean and rushed into the room. Anna and her mysterious companion cheered slightly at the sight of her and hugs were passed around as if the trio hadnt seen one another in a long time. Master Gabriel, Anya crooned, hugging the man with the hazel eyes.

Dean vaguely remembered Castiel mentioning a brother with that name and the familiarity he showed toward Anna seemed to suggest that this was indeed the same Gabriel. The thought of Castiel made Dean look around the room expectantly and he felt his heart start scrambling in his chest when he caught no sight of his lover. Wheres Cas? he asked as calmly as he could. He had a horrible feeling he was about to get an answer he didnt want and he prayed silently to the gods that he was wrong.

Anna closed her eyes and leaned on her uninjured hand, pulling herself from Anyas embrace. Taken, she said with a surprising amount of anger, by Michael.

Dean stopped breathing for a moment. The world couldnt be this unfair. Hed just finally gotten everything right. Castiel had been safe, his mother was now free, and no one would have been able to hold anything over his head. They were supposed to live happily ever after now in each others arms. Dean scowled. What do you mean taken? Why the hells would Cas go with that asshole now? He knew we were getting Anya. Why didnt you stop him? he said a little louder than he meant to.

Anna glared at him. I didnt say he left with Michael, she reiterated angrily, I said he was taken and I DID try to stop him. She lifted her injured wrist and Dean stared at it, feeling his anger rising to a boiling point.

Hehe took Cas? Dean ground out. His head hung to his chest for a moment and he felt guilt rise like bile in his throat. Hed left Castiel here alone. He should have taken Cas with him and then they all would have been safe and on their way out of the city. Instead, the miserable bastard that dared call himself Castiels brother had come and taken the young man with him by force. The very idea made Deans gut wrench and his shoulders tightened with the anger bubbling up inside. Took him where?

To Azazels, Anna said bitterly.

The minute the words left her mouth, Dean realized hed already been expecting that answer. It didnt make him any less angry to hear it. Sunnuva BITCH! he yelled, his fist finding a spot in the doorframe with a sickening crack. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wood, his hands knuckle white around the edges of the frame as he tried to calm himself. He was going to skin Michael alive for this. Theyd come so close to being home free.

He came with Azazels men, Anna continued quietly, I couldnt stop them. I tried Her voice broke off in a whisper and Gabriel leaned over to give her arm a firm squeeze before finding his feet.

Ok, you two, lets go, the older Novak said with authority. Dean shot him a questioning glare. Or, you know, you can stay here and have your emotional breakdown, Gabriel added dryly, But Im going to get my little brother back. And if you want my blessings on continuing to nail Castiel, then youd better pull it together and come with me. Sam made an unpleasant face at the crude reference while Dean drew back and looked over this odd newcomer in surprise. The man wasnt much on size but there was something commanding about his presence that said he wasnt someone to mess with lightly. In light of all that hed been through thus far though, Dean was far from impressed.

Oh, Im going to get Cas back, he snapped, pointing a finger into Gabriels chest, and Im gonna kill that sunnuva bitch you claim relation to. Dont get in my way.

Gabriel smiled at him. Maybe you arent such a complete waste after all. Good. Cause my brother deserves someone willing to fight for him. Now lets go. That means you too, tall, built, and fuckable.

Sams eyes grew wide as saucers as Gabriel marched between the brothers and he jumped slightly when he was handed a swat to the ass for good measure on the way out. The Winchesters exchanged shocked looks before storming out in Gabriels wake. They hadnt gone far when Anna caught up to them, falling in step beside her brother with her chin held high. Anya was hot on her heels and took up a position behind the redhead as they walked. The hells do you think youre going? Dean asked.

Anna wheeled on him. Castiel is my brother, Dean. I love him just as much as you do and Im going with you. I owe Michael something as well, she said, flashing her wrist in explanation. Gabriel just grinned and waggled his eyebrows at his sisters fiery temper and Dean was too angry to bother arguing.

So whats the plan? Sam piped up as they continued on their way.

The plan is we go in there, get Cas, and kill every asshole who gets in the way, Dean growled.

Pretty much, Gabriel concurred, Michael lost any footing he might have had the minute he dragged Castiel out of here against his will. We couldnt touch him when he was just blackmailing us but he actually broke the law when he kidnapped our brother. Far as Im concerned, hes free game now, and before you kill him, Winchester, Im kicking his ass.

The group made their way up through the city toward Azazels home and it was all Dean could do not to break out in a run. He alternately cursed the gods for this situation and begged them to keep Castiel safe. He tried his best not to think about what his love was going through, whether Azazel had harmed him or not, since those thoughts only fanned the panic already trying to claw its way through his heart. He could hear Sam bantering behind him with Gabriel, who apparently was taking delight in flirting shamelessly despite the situation, and he would have been amused to see his brother so flustered if it werent for the fact that he would rather everyone just shut up and walk faster. By the time they entered the street where Azazels house sat, Dean was well in the front of the group, moving with a single minded determination and a look of utter murderous intent on his face.

He screeched to a halt though when a patrician woman stepped right into his path. She was beautiful, wrapped in a flowing gown with a veil drawn tightly around her head, but Dean had no time for this. He already had the only lover he wanted and right then all he could think about was trying to rescue him. He tried to skirt around her only to find himself blocked again. LADY, he said warningly.

Youre Dean, the woman replied with a half smile, her eyes raking over his body with open interest.

Behind him, Gabriel spoke up. And youre Lady Megara. The word lady was curled with sarcasm and a flicker of irritation twitched across the womans face. Azazels wife, Gabriel continued in explanation, Could you do me a favor and bed your husband better? He keeps trying to fuck my brother. There was a bitter hostility that passed between the two of them for a moment before Megara dropped her eyes and let out a small sob.

Its true, she said unhappily, I cannot please him. Hes

Lady, spare me the waterworks, Dean snapped irritably, if you were married to that asshole, then I dont believe any of those are real. What do you want?

Meg immediately stopped crying and straightened herself out, brushing at the folds of her dress. Fine, she said flatly, I want to help you. I can get you into the house and past the guards.

Dean gave her a disbelieving scowl. Right. And why would you want to do that?

Megara pulled at the veil around her head and Dean heard Anna let out a little gasp. The womans golden hair had been cut incredibly short, its locks hacked at so that it stood in uneven tufts. I want revenge, ok? she snapped, I want you to kill that bastard. Now do you want to save your darling Castiel or not? Hes in there. I saw them carry him in, and let me tell you, you dont have much time. Azazels been drooling over getting his claws on your sweetheart ever since he saw him. So whats it going to be?

Dean fought down the urge to strangle the woman in the street. Fine, he growled, but if you lie to us, youll be the first one I kill.

Megara smiled as if the threat were a particularly steamy compliment. Ooo, I like it when you talk rough, she said mockingly, Now, I can get you in there but youre going to need some back up to get back out once Azazels men are alerted so someone needs to get the city guard.

Yeah, cause theyre gonna get here in time to be a whole lot of help, Gabriel quipped, uh, Im not waiting around out here for the guard while your creep of a husband has my brother.

Youll be surprised how fast theyll move when you tell them that you have the murderer of Flavian Appius Megara smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes, Im a witness to his confession. Azazel told me what he did. I can personally testify to it.

The group looked at each other for a minute before Anna spoke up. Ill go, she said firmly, her eyes locked on Megara as if looking for some sign of a lie, Im not going to be as much use in a fight. She kissed Gabriel on the cheek and grabbed Deans arm. Go get my little brother back. With that, she turned and ran in the opposite direction with Anya close behind her.

No lets go, Dean said as he pushed past her toward Azazels house.

Werent you listening? I said youre never going to get back out with out backup

Deans arm shot out and he wrapped a hand around her wrist with bruising strength. You know what else you said? You said we dont have much time, so you can take me to Cas or I can put you down right here. I usually dont hit ladies but in your case I dont think thats an issue.

Megara scowled at him but she dropped her veil to the ground and pulled her arm free before hurrying across the road and disappearing down a small alleyway that led between two houses up the street from Azazels. Dean hesitated only a moment before following her. What shed said had him worried and he wanted to get to Castiel as quickly as possible before something happened that hed rather not think about. He could hear Sam right behind him as they rushed along and he followed as Megara darted into a bath house across the next street. Dean frowned but didnt slow as he chased her through the steaming rooms. They were followed by the eyes of curious on-lookers who were startled to see a woman, two men in armor, and an orator sprinting through their midst.

They wound their way around until Megara suddenly pressed open a door in the wall and darted down a dark set of steps. The air below came as a shock of cloying, damp earthiness in contrast to the humid fog theyd just run through and Dean welcomed the refreshing change as he descended. Could you possibly make any more noise? Gabriel griped at Sam from behind him, you sound like a herd of elephants falling down the stairs.

Maybe I wouldnt be stumbling down the steps so much if you would stop trying to pinch my butt! Sam retorted.

Gabriel! Stop molesting my brother and keep up! Dean snapped.

Hey, its not my fault it's right there. If he didnt want it appreciated, he shouldnt wiggle it in my face!

Im not! Sam said indignantly, its not my fault youre short!

Both of you shut up! Dean said in exasperation.

Megara sighed overdramatically. Gods, this is what I have to work with. She led them down to a wall that Dean figured must face the street above and then pulled aside a small work bench that was in the way. With a shove, the wall split and a section of it swung open on hinges. It was an ingenious hidden door and had Dean not had it shown to him, he never would have known it was there. The brick had formed a seamless illusion, effectively tricking the eye into seeing nothing but a flat surface, and Megara slipped into the cold dark beyond it. Azazel had this built when he bought the house, she explained as she lit a torch on the wall, he doesnt know I know about it. He uses it to slip out unnoticed when he wants to do something illegal and doesnt want attention.

Dean had no doubts that the tunnel was used more often than anyone might believe. They wove through a set of turns and down a long hall that echoed the street above before the tunnel finally veered left and began to rise. Megara passed the torch to Dean and pressed open a short door at the end. The group spilled out into a storage room and above them Dean could hear the heavy thump of several sets of boots. Hes probably getting ready to leave town, the coward, Megara said bitterly, he knows what they just did is illegal. Hell want to get your lover out of the city as soon as possible.

Dean bristled at the words and shoved the torch back into Megaras hands. Over my dead body, he said threateningly, and he marched past her into the house. He took the stairs up two at a time with Megara right behind him and as he entered into the main part of the home above, she yanked on his sleeve and slipped past him to lead the way again, a look of annoyance on her face.

"You're going to get us all killed if you just barge in," she griped before turning and tiptoeing along the wall they had emerged from. She paused to peer around a corner before waving the others on. They made their way from room to room this way, ducking behind furniture and around corners when groups of soldiers or slaves would bustle past them on some urgent errand. Most of the slaves were carting precious goods, giving credence to Megaras claim that Azazel was trying to leave town.

They were nearing Castiels chamber at last when a cry rang out through the house. Dean froze in place, his heart hammering in his chest with that sound. Cas? he asked breathlessly. In the next instant he was on the move, heedless of the cries of protest from behind him. He knew that cry, hed recognize that deep gravelly voice anywhere, and to hear it raised in distress was enough to have Dean leaping over furniture and skidding recklessly through the house in his desperate need to reach Castiels side.

_______________________________________

Chapter 22:

It had been the longest ride of his life as Castiel was carted back to Azazels house. Michael didnt bother to speak to him since the gag pulled cruelly across his mouth would have prevented him from answering anyway but Castiel contented himself with glaring unflinchingly at his brother for the duration of the trip. Michael only met his eyes twice, during which the man had the good decency to at least look a little unhappy about having his youngest sibling trussed up like a lamb for slaughter. Castiel felt his stomach clench as they finally pulled to a stop and he stared at the curtain in dread as it was ripped back to let Michael out. Rough hands jerked him out once his brother had departed and he was draped unceremoniously over the shoulder of one of the guards. He tried to struggle as he was carted inside but his bindings refused to give and he eventually forced himself to relax and bide his time.

He knew the Winchesters would be coming to get him the minute they got back and he took some comfort from the fact that Michael had been too busy with him to have stopped Dean and Sam from their rescue attempt on Anya. Now he would just have to wait until they could come and get him as well. Castiel had no doubts now that Dean would do precisely that and he tried to hold on to that idea as cold comfort in light of his situation. He barely noticed the rooms he was carried through though he did look up as they passed by the veiled garden where hed first been introduced to Azazels sick desire for him. The garden slipped from view and eventually he found himself back in the room that started it all, the place where Michael and Azazel had come their mutual agreement about Castiels future. How fitting, he thought bitterly, that this should be the place it would end. He was carted across the space before being dropped onto his butt on the hard tile floor and he grunted unhappily at the pain that lanced along his hip.

His captors dragged him back against one of the pillars that decorated the room and a knife cleanly sliced the ropes around his wrists. He swung out and neatly decked the closest guard but the others quickly secured his hands again, jerking them up over his head and binding his wrists on the other side of the pole. The position was awkward and it gave him little room to move his arms. As the guards moved away and took up their positions around the edge of the room, one of whom glared as he clutched his bleeding nose, Castiel finally caught sight of the one person in the world hed hoped never to see again. Azazel smiled at him in a way that made his spine tingle unpleasantly. Michael had taken a seat on the nearest couch and his head was dropped into his hands in open misery. Where did I go wrong? he was mumbling to himself and Azazel sauntered over to place a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Oh come on, its not your fault. You did all you could. You were a good brother, a good model, a good mentor. You cant help it if your brothers and sisters dont share your vision. Azazel patted Michaels back awkwardly as if the act of comforting someone was utterly foreign to him.

I have had to kidnap my own brother because he refuses to see the entitlements I have made available to him, Michael said angrily, and he shot a fleeting snarl in Castiels direction.

But its not really Castiels fault either, is it? Azazel crooned like some hypnotic serpent, He was everything you could have hoped for before all this started. Loyal. Obedient. Generous. No, its Dean Winchester you should blame for this. Castiel couldnt help it. He fell for Winchesters seductions. He was naive, unprepared to deal with the debauched advances of a seasoned warrior. The senator slid off the couch and leaned down to whisper his promises near Michaels ear. But I can fix him. Dont worry. I can undo all this damage. Youd like that, right? Your devoted brother back to what he should be He sat up as Michael raised his head to stare at him and the senator smiled happily now that he had the eldest Novaks full attention. I have an estate out in the country, near the coast. We cant keep him here, someones going to come looking and if they take him now, well never undo the spell this Winchester has put on him. Let me take him out of the city. A few months in my care at my summer home and hell be good as new.

Castiel watched in horror as Michael nodded his ascent. Youre right. Castiel was always my most loyal. I should have done more to protect him from outside influence. Do what you need to. I would be most grateful to have those fantasies about this lowly soldier out of his head.

Azazel practically beamed and a nod from him sent Tennen rushing back out of the room to make preparations. Well have to leave as soon as possible. I dont know who saw you take your brother but I dont think the city guard will understand what were trying to do. Tennen will pack my things and well leave within the next few hours.

Castiel felt like hed been punched in the gut. If Azazel took him out of the city, Dean might never find him and his hopes of rescue would be crushed. He struggled and pulled harder at his bonds, his fingers stretching to find some knot he could undo, but nothing loosened despite his attempts. He closed his eyes and drew his knees up, his thoughts winging to his lover as he prayed that Dean and Sam wouldnt be too late. He was mercifully left alone as Michael and Azazel sat down to enjoy a quiet meal before they were set to travel, and he took the time he was given to carefully retest every part of his ropes for

weakness. To his continuing dismay he found none and when Tennen came back to say the preparations were almost done, Castiel had to bite back a scream of frustration.

Azazel gifted him with an oily smile. Youll need to come back here for your election, he said to Michael, and Ill need someone to take care of my affairs. Who better than the new Quaestor? He looked up to find that his offer was happily welcomed by the oldest Novak. His position in the senate would be utterly assured if he were to do something as important as act in Azazels stead during his absence. Tennen can go over a few of the more important details while were waiting to leave. He gestured over the slave who bowed submissively. Show him to my office and acquaint him with my personal finance stores and ledgers. Hell need those to do his duties.

Michael puffed up his chest proudly, his concern and guilt over Castiel conveniently forgotten under the all too powerful temptation of Azazels offer, and he stood quickly to claim his new rights. Thank you, he said, clutching the senators arm, you have been a great patron of my family. Your generosity will not be forgotten.

The same could be said of you, Azazel purred, his gaze flicking to where Castiel sat helpless. Michael turned and strode out of the room behind Tennen, ignorant of the pleading look his younger brother was throwing at his receding back. Castiel did not want to be left alone with Azazel. The man never had a pleasant reason for wanting them away from prying eyes and he doubted that had changed any. He hid his worry as best as he could and glared at the senator as he slithered across the room, hopeful that his heart wasnt beating hard enough to be seen though his tunic. Azazel sank down next to him and Castiel withdrew subconsciously as far away as his bindings would let him. The back of a too-warm hand slid down the side of his face and he jerked away from the contact, throwing an openly defiant stare at his tormentor. Tennen will keep your brother busy for quite a while so no one will interrupt us this time.

The gag was tugged from his mouth and Castiel worked his jaw to ease the soreness there. You will not succeed in this, he growled stubbornly, Dean is coming for me.

Azazel chuckled patronizingly. Dean is coming for me. By the gods, thats so romantic I could vomit. You really believe that, dont you? he said mockingly, Well, heres the reality, kid. Winchester doesnt care about you. You were a sweet piece of ass and he got what he wanted already. You arent worth the effort for him anymore.

The words were meant to hurt, to break his confidence for Azazels amusement, but Castiel merely smiled knowingly. Then why are you in such a rush to leave? Why the rush to claim your prize? he asked rhetorically, You know Dean is on his way. You lost. No matter where you go, the Winchesters will find you. Release me and you may yet walk away from this alive.

Azazel snarled at him. I dont think so. Youd better hope Winchester stays far away from here because if I cant have you, Ill make sure he doesnt either. Youre mine. Youve been too much trouble for me to just give up now. Oh no, Castiel, Im going to get my investment back from you. The space between them disappeared as Azazel pressed their lips together and Castiel let out a muffled noise of protest. He wasnt about to let this happen without a fight though and he caught Azazels lip between his teeth, biting hard enough to taste the coppery tang of blood on his tongue. Azazel yelped and pulled back clutching his mouth. His eyes turned dangerously angry and he punched Castiel with a surprising amount of force.

The senator did not pause in his assault and he fisted a section of Castiels tunic, pulling and ripping the fabric at the seam. Castiel let out a startled cry as his clothing was torn and Azazel hurriedly shoved the gag back in place lest Michael hear. The senator grabbed the other shoulder of Castiels tunic and made to tear it free as well when the sound of boots skidding into the room caught his attention. Azazel turned to look and Castiel peered over his shoulder. The sight flooded him with relief as he took in Deans proud form filling the doorway. His lover stood frozen in the opening, his eyes flicking from Castiels ripped clothing to Azazels hand still guiltily clutching the remaining fabric. The blank shock on Deans face morphed into a terrifying rage as comprehension of what he was seeing finally set in. Oh hells no, Dean growled so lowly that it could have been mistaken for thunder. Get. Your. Hands. Off. Him.

Dean lunged forward, intent it seemed on ripping Azazels throat out, but he was blocked swiftly by the remaining guards in the room who rushed to their masters aid. Sam and Gabriel appeared behind him a moment later but Dean was already cutting an angry swath through the men between him and his lover. A shout from Azazel brought more guards running and Sam moved quickly to close the doors, sealing them out of the room. Gabriel ducked around most of the men fighting Dean, using his smaller stature and incredible agility to zip through the press of bodies like it wasnt there. Sam had to grudgingly admit some respect for anyone who could move like that and he found himself pausing to watch for a few seconds before he rushed in to help his brother. Gabriel easily ducked a swing coming at him and slid through the guards legs, popping up on the opposite side and deftly stabbing the man in the rear without a backward glance. With the Winchesters on one side and Gabriel on the other, the guards quickly thinned until Dean was finally able to slip through and make a rush for Azazel.

He was so blinded by his anger that he didnt see one of the guards stepping out from his hiding spot behind a pillar and Sams shout of warning came too late as a sword slashed a deep line along Deans already injured ribs. He cried out and stumbled to the side before a heavy boot collided with his shoulder, jarring it so harshly that his fingers went numb. His sword clattered to the ground and he kicked out blindly behind him, taking comfort in the cold wet snap of a kneecap giving way when he connected. The guards leg twisted unnaturally and he fell into a screaming heap. Dean started to struggle back to his feet and his fingertips had just brushed the grip of his weapon when suddenly he found a sword tip jutting under his chin. His head was tipped back and he stared angrily up into the face of Azazel. The senator smiled victoriously and pressed the blade harder. Youve been a pain in my ass from day one, Dean, Ill give ya that, but its all over now. Castiel is mine. If it makes you feel better, I promise Ill get him to scream your name for me later.

Dean made to lunge at him but was stopped by the blade pressing against his throat hard enough to draw blood. Good bye, Dean, Azazel said pleasantly. The sword pressed a fraction harder and Dean closed his eyes as he waited for the inevitable. He flinched at the sound of metal piercing flesh but when his throat remained intact, he risked a peek up at Azazel again. The senators body jerked violently and his eyes grew wide as he stared down at his intended victim.

You will never threaten him again, came a deep gravelly reply over Azazels shoulder. Another thrust shoved the end of a sword all the way through until the blood stained tip burst out the front, staining the white senatorial robes with a spreading circle of crimson. Azazel turned as far as he could and found himself staring into a set of fierce blue eyes. Beyond Castiel, he could see Gabriel waving happily, the dagger hed used to cut his brothers bonds still shining in his hand. It was the last thing Azazel saw as he slid lifelessly to the floor. Castiel released the sword under the weight of the body it was still impaled through and rushed to Deans side. He dropped down next to him, frantically checking the wound and looking for something to stop the bleeding.

Dean grabbed his shoulders and pulled Castiel to a halt, dragging him close to look at him. Cas? Cas, you ok? You hurt? He pawed at the thick dark curls at the base of his lovers skull and thumbed across the cheekbones hed come to love.

Castiel shook his head. No, Im fine. You are the one thats bleeding, Dean. Let me

GodsWas so damned worried about you, Dean cut him off emphatically, and he ignored his lovers protests as he tugged Castiel down into a tight hug. Can we not do this shit anymore? he asked pathetically, his face buried in the crook of the other mans neck, Im gettin tired of getting the crap beat out of me every time I have to save your butt.

Castiel chuckled against his shoulder. If I recall, I have had to save your butt as often as you have had to save mine. In fact, I believe you may owe me one.

Anya counts, Dean muttered against his lovers neck, drawing another chuckle out of Castiel.

Agreed. Castiel pulled back finally, reluctant to let go, and he set to work trying to bind Deans wound with strips from his already ruined tunic.

The clang of swords still echoed through the room, accompanied now by the frantic pounding of fists against the outermost door as reinforcements struggled to gain entry but Dean was too tired at that point to care. Most of the remaining soldiers that had greeted them upon their arrival had been effectively cowed beneath the blades of Sam and Gabriel anyway. Dean looked up to see the pair working back to back in perfect unison, Gabriel using Sams height as an advantage as he darted out and around the other man for a few quick, devastating strikes before disappearing again behind the larger mans body. They swiftly killed the last of their enemies and stood leaning against one another, both panting but looking content that the fighting had stopped for the moment. Their relief was short lived however as the sound of footsteps approached a door Sam had missed the first time around. Sam bolted forward, reaching to close the last entry into the room, and had almost slammed it shut when Michael suddenly appeared in it. He glanced around, his brow furrowing heavily as he took in the carnage that had been waged in his absence.

Michaels eyes finally rested on where Castiel sat crouched next to Dean, Azazels limp form not far off, and Dean instinctively wrapped an arm around his lover. He shot a look of pure challenge at the other man and Castiel placed a reassuring hand on the back of Deans neck. He stared down his brother as he watched horror and anger flit over the mans face.

Castielwhat have you done?

What has he done? Gabriel chimed in, How about we discuss what YOU just did. You know, I always thought you were a pushy, arrogant ass but even I never thought youd stoop to something as low as kidnapping your own flesh and blood. As for what Castiels done? Uh, I do believe he just grew a set, told you and your plans to get fucked, and then killed the bastard that assaulted him. That about right, Dean? I mean, youre the only one who knows what Castiels set looks like.

Sam groaned and shot a chastising look over at Gabriel who seemed utterly unfazed while Dean just stared at him incredulously. Castiel sighed in disapproval. I am not going to dignify that with an answer, Dean said flatly.

I believe my brother is trying to say that this is over. I am no longer under your control, Michael. Now leave, Castiel deadpanned. He stared hard at his brother, ensuring he had the other mans full attention, before turning and claiming a searing kiss from Deans lips.

Dean let out a small surprised noise that quickly turned into a moan of appreciation as he pressed up into the kiss. I think I like it when youre pushy, he said with a bashful smirk as they parted.

Michael glowered at them for a moment before screaming over his shoulder. THEYRE IN HERE. The sound of the men at the door faltered and boots began to ring out down the hallway that would lead them to the other door. Sam jerked Michael inside and slammed the entry shut, pressing his back to it in a bid to keep it closed against the onslaught of men heading that way.

Michael stumbled a few steps and quickly refocused his attention on Castiel. His face twisted into a mask of rage and he swelled up to his full height. You ungrateful little child. I gave you everything. I kept our household intact, put food on our table, ensured our place in this city after our father abandoned us and THIS is how your repay me? Michaels voice bellowed out into the empty space and Dean felt Castiel tense next to him. All of you are the SAME. Every one of you! Ignorant children! While you were still being nursed by that pathetic slave you care so much for, I was trying to make sure our family would still be in good enough standing to carry out the plans our father had laid for us. Now look what youve done!

Dean was on his feet in an instant and he was grateful when he found Castiel at his elbow a moment later because the blood loss and fatigue had him swaying dangerously. He steadied himself and did his best to stare down Michael. Dont you dare talk to him like that, you pompous, self righteous bastard.

My father left Sam and I too but that doesnt excuse what you did. I would never sell my own brother for personal gain. Never. You dont even deserve to be in the same room with him, Dean spit.

It doesnt matter, Castiel murmured as he stepped between his lover and his brother, Its over now.

No! Michael shouted angrily, This is not over! You are NOT leaving me, Castiel! Every other member of this family has abandoned me. I am not losing you too. He marched threateningly across the room toward Castiel. One way or another I am going to make you see. I am going to make ONE of you see! As he reached out to grab Castiels arm, Dean moved like a flash, slipping in between them and laying the other man out with a solid punch.

Michael hit the floor and as he tried to get back to his feet, the tip of Gabriels sword tapped him on the shoulder. Not what I would call a good idea, Gabriel quipped, so heres how things are going to work now. Youre going to turn over all rights of the family to me. Youre going to pack your things and leave town tonight. I dont care where you go but youre never coming back here again. Fuck with me, Michael, set even one foot out of line, and Ill inform the city guard that you were an accomplice to the murder of Appius.

Thats a lie, Michael said, his voice dripping with indignity, Youll never convince them of that.

Uh, Orator, Gabriel said as if his brother were a complete moron, all I have to do is convince the rest of my fellow mouthy Romans that its true and wordll spread like wildfire. Even if they never convict you, your precious reputation wont be worth the price of a Grecian whore. And if they DO convict youwell, youll be coming out of the wrong end of a tiger.

Michael seemed to think it over for a few minutes, glancing between his brothers before his shoulders finally slumped and his anger deflated. So I am to be banished then?

Gabriel shrugged. Sounds about fitting, unless you prefer death of course. He pressed the blade in his hand against his brothers throat and smiled coldly. Go aheadtempt me.

The two stared at each other for a few minutes until Michael finally bowed his head in defeat. All I ever did, I did for our family.

Yeah, Im touched. Remind me never to ask to ask you for a favor if kidnapping is how you show you care.

Uh, this is fascinating guys but we still have a problem, Sam interrupted as the door behind him shuddered under the weight of the men trying to get in.

Crap, Dean muttered, How the hells are we going to get out?

Almost on cue, the sound outside in the corridor seemed to increase ten fold and the pressure against the door stopped. It sounded like a full out war going on in the hallway and everyone inside froze as they listened for sign of who would be the victor. After a few minutes, the noise died down and there was a strangely polite rap at the main door. Sam looked over at Dean who just shrugged. The younger Winchester hefted his sword at the ready and moved the bar that had sealed the intruders out. He tugged open the door, fully prepared to fight, but his body relaxed into confusion at the sight that greeted them. A young, slightly pudgy soldier in full armor stood in the entry and glanced around inside.

Centurion Samael Winchester? the soldier asked.

Sam stood up straight and let his sword drop to his side. Umyes. Who are you?

The soldier pushed the door open the rest of the way and Dean could see that a whole garrison of armed men was marching through the house picking off any remaining enemies. Hello Sir! My name is Resnick. Ronlus Resnick. Im really happy to meet you. Im from the 32nd Legion. The one youve been assigned to? Weve heard a lot of great things about you. Resnick seemed overly excited to meet Sam and he offered an enthusiastic salute.

Sam raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Dean who was even then biting his lip so as not to laugh. Uhthank you, Sam said, returning the salute, but what are you doing here? How did you even know I was going to be here?

Is that your brother Deanarious? Resnick peered over at Dean and grinned as if hed just been introduced to a famous gladiator, utterly ignoring Sams question. He looked as if he were about to venture over for a formal introduction when a hand clapped onto his shoulder and instead veered him around and back out into the hallway.

The frazzled looking soldier that took his place patted him on the back as he shoved him out of the room. Thank you, Resnick. Im sure theyre glad to see us. Go findsomewhere else to be. He turned back to Sam and stared into the broad chest in front of him before slowly craning his head up until he reached Sams face. Hi, he said lamely, Im Cicurinus. Yeah, I know, hard to pronounce. Its ok. People just call me Chuck for short... he paused in his ramble and stared off into space as if dredging up some horrible memory, I think its because Im smallyou know, easy to throw? Chuck? Get it? Yeah. It was only funny after the fifth time they did it. Sam blinked at him with a raised brow as Chuck rambled on like a small dog with a nervous tick. Anyway, your girlfriend told us you were here. We thought wed come help out our newest member. Sam frowned in confusion. Girlfriend? You didnt tell me about any girlfriend, Gabriel piped up accusingly. Sam shot him a look that said clearly to shut up. Thats because I dont have one. Uhredhead. Very pretty. Kinda bossy? Chuck added.

Oh, thats Anna, Sam pointed out, thats his sister. He thumbed at Gabriel who waved.

Lets go back to the part where you arent currently attached, Gabriel said with open glee but Sam promptly ignored him.

Look, I dont care who sent you or why youre here, Im just happy to see you. Now can we go? Dean said in exasperation, Im tired, I stink, Im bleeding, and I still have sand in the crack of my ass from the arena. All I want is a bath, some food, and some rest. He paused and glanced over at Castiel. Ok, maybe not ALL I want Dean grinned at Cas who returned the smile full force.

Yours, Castiel whispered softly and to Dean that simple word said more than any others his lover could have picked. The memory of their first night flooded back to him and Deans lips curled into a small affectionate smile. For the rest of my life. I love you, Dean Winchester. Dean pressed a kiss to Castiels lips. I know.

Epilogue: Two years had passed since the events at Azazels house and Castiel sat on the thick plaster railing of his brothers new home. He stared out at the sea, listening to the sound of Sam and Gabriel arguing over some new philosophy text Sam had picked up while Anna cooed softly to her newborn child. A hand settled on his shoulder but Castiel didnt spook even though he hadnt heard Dean walk up behind him. Hed come to recognize his lovers scent and the feel of his skin with such familiarity that he could tell who it was from nothing more than the calluses on his fingers. Hed spent many a night mapping out every inch of Dean with nothing but the dark between them. Castiel sighed happily and leaned back into Deans chest. Theyre at it again, Dean said from above him and Castiel hummed in agreement.

You know they wouldnt be happy if they didnt have something to argue over.

Dean chuckled and nuzzled into Castiels hair. Youre awful quiet. More so than usual. You ok?

Just remembering, Castiel said quietly. He closed his eyes and let the ocean breeze flutter across his face. So much had happened so quickly in the meager time that had passed and sometimes it was a little overwhelming when he thought back on it.

In the days that had followed the fight at Azazels house, Castiel had nursed Dean back to health, caring tenderly for his wounds until they were little more than a thin, angry red line along his lovers ribs. They had spent their days enjoying the sunshine and sea air of Gabriels new villa, making love on the beach and taking long walks. Gabriel had sold the family home in the city and used the proceeds to buy himself a sprawling place on the western coast, taking Dean and Castiel with him. Anna had moved her family down at her brothers insistence and the three siblings spent many mornings staring out at the Mediterranean and talking about old times. Anya had also found a place in Gabriels home but as a paid and well loved housekeeper. He had freed her right away but she refused to leave the side of the only family she had ever known. They had finally laid her to rest after last winter and Castiel had taken comfort in knowing shed died peacefully in her sleep as a free woman.

Sam had also moved in and after a lengthy and turbulent courtship, he finally relented and became an item with Gabriel. The two often stayed up long into the night bickering over the works of Plato after Gabriel had introduced his lover to the writings and Dean took to having loud sex with Castiel as a means to shut them up when he wanted rest. It wasnt long before the health leave the boys had been granted was over though and when they returned to the city to check in with their new unit, Castiel had gone with them. He joined the ranks, at last fulfilling his dream and the three of them became quickly known as a force to be reckoned with. At the moment, all of them had been granted some leave much earned over the past two years and theyd blessedly made it back to the coast in time to witness Castiels new niece come into the world.

He let out a long quiet sigh and Dean rubbed at his shoulders. Youre thinking about him again, arent you?

Castiel wanted to say no but he knew his lover wouldnt be fooled that easily. Yes, he said solemnly, I just feel sorry for him sometimes.

He kidnapped you and sold you to a monster, Dean said indignantly.

Hes my brother.

Dean had no real counter for that. He hated Michael and never really understood why Castiel continued to care what had become of his eldest sibling but he couldnt argue something as simple as that statement of blood relation. Youre too nice, he sulked.

You like that Im too nice, Castiel said with a smile, I let you get away with a lot.

Dean chuckled. Yeah, but I never said I wasnt selfish. I just want you to be nice to me. He stooped and nuzzled his face into his lovers neck.

Castiel chuckled and leaned into the kisses along his throat.

Hey Cas

Mmm?

Yours, Dean whispered.

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