The Earth exploded when Sam was five. It was the sort of thing that tended to put a damper on the rest of your life.
"Hurry it up with those drinks, Sam!" T'lak bellowed, words contorted around his accent to the point that Sam could hardly recognize them as Standard. "We've got some celebrating to do!"
"Coming!" Sam called back, wincing as the glass overbalanced and a slide of viscous red liquor burned down the length of his finger. He shook his hand and hefted the full tray, weaving through the bar towards the table at the back where T'lak and the rest of his work crew were waiting.
"A toast!" T'lak declared.
Sam deftly avoided his swinging arms as he passed out drinks, just as wary of wandering hands as he was of spilling ouquo all over the table. T'lak's men weren't really much of a threat - they'd all been around long enough to know that Sam was really off limits - but it never hurt to be careful.
He'd hardly finished distributing drinks when a waving appendage beckoned him across the floor to take another order. Sighing internally, Sam spared a moment to curse the server who'd jumped station with a Mongali transporter three clicks back, her absence forcing Sam to tend bar and wait tables. For no extra pay, of course.
There were three new orders on his pad by the time Sam made it back to the bar - impressive when the room was barely half full. He stalked to the taps and got to pouring, wearing an expression that anyone with even half a brain would have known to keep well clear of.
"Hey there, sweetheart," a voice said, in lightly accented Standard. "Any chance of a drink?"
"In a minute," Sam answered, not turning away from the taps. "Gotta wait your turn in here."
"No worries," the voice said, sounding amused. There was the creak of a barstool as whoever it was leaned back. "I'm sure you're worth the wait."
Wonderful. Sam rolled his eyes and very deliberately didn't turn to look at the jackass who thought he looked like a convenient bed warmer just because the human race didn't exactly have the luxury of being picky these days. He swept off with the drinks, dawdling as long as he could without being too obviously rude, then headed back to the bar and the resident Don Juan.
"Sorry," he said as he drew up, his tone making a lie of the words. "Busy night. What can I get -" The guy turned his way and Sam stared, surprised despite himself.
He was human.
The human leaned forward and flashed a winning smile. "Depends. Is it cliché to ask for your number?"
"Yes," Sam answered after a too-long pause, shaking off his shock like an unwanted coat. He circled behind the bar and immediately busied himself with restocking glasses, deliberately not looking towards the occupied chair.
The man was undeterred. "How about your name then, sweetheart?"
After a quick glance to make sure that his boss wasn't lingering by the staff teleport, Sam gave in to the urge to lean forward and fix the stranger with a flat smile.
"I can turn you down in eighteen different languages," he said sweetly, reluctantly noticing as he did that the stranger was young, fit and devastatingly good-looking in a rakish, Han Solo kind of way. "Which one would you prefer?"
That earned him a beat of startled silence and, surprisingly, a grin. "Oh, stick with Standard," the man said. He tossed Sam a wink. "My Cryllic's not what it used to be."
T'lak chose that moment to hail Sam again in his Cryllic-tainted Standard and the man's grin widened.
Sam glared at him. "Alright then. Fuck off." He turned to the taps to refill T'lak's order and stalked off without looking back.
Despite Sam's best death wishes, the man was still at the bar when he got back from the drink run. His expression brightened when he saw Sam retuning.
"Do I need to look more pathetic to get a drink?" he asked, somewhere between amused and earnest. "Cause I can do that."
Sam resisted the urge to grit his teeth. "Oh, I think you look pretty pathetic as it is," he lied easily, pleased when it made that smug composure falter. "Whaddaya want?"
"Whatever you drink on your nights off," the man answered without missing a beat, and Sam had never been so tempted to serve someone water in his life. He reined in the urge with a force of will and reached instead for the taps.
"Here. It's beer, mostly," he said, thunking the full glass down at the man's elbow. "Enjoy."
That grin flashed again. "Thanks, sweetheart." He took a sip, then a more enthusiastic one once he determined that Sam was not, in fact, trying to poison him or melt his throat from the inside. "Didn't expect to see a human working here," he noted conversationally, with a nod to the rest of the bar's decidedly non-human clientele. "A little far from most of the drifter colonies aren't you?"
Sam shrugged, taking a dish rag to the bar top with perhaps a little too much force. "You too."
"Yeah, but I'm only passing through."
"Transporter?" Sam asked, and could have cursed himself for encouraging the guy.
He got an elegant shrug in response. "More or less. M'looking for someone."
"Good luck then."
The man fell silent then, seemingly content to drink his beer and stare at Sam. For his part, Sam did his best to ignore him.
His reprieve didn't last long.
"Hey," the man said when he was about halfway through his drink. "You, uh, might want to lay low for a couple of days."
Sam's lip curled. "And I bet you know just the bunk I can bed down in, huh?"
The stranger blinked, then chuckled. "Not actually what I meant," he said. "Though I wouldn't argue if you were offering."
Sam was willing to wager that his own expression aptly conveyed the likelihood of that ever happening. "What did you mean, then?"
For the first time he saw the stranger hesitate, tongue darting out to run nervously across his upper lip. Then he grinned.
"Y'gotta promise not to tell," he said, in a loud, sloppy whisper that could probably be heard in the hallway. Beer sloshed on the bar as he beckoned Sam closer. "S'a secret. C'mere."
Against his better judgment Sam leaned forward, bracing himself for another come-on as the man tilted in, mouth brushing oh so lightly against Sam's ear. When the words came, secret-soft, they were about the last thing Sam expected to hear.
"The Deamhanan are on a human hunt in this quadrant."
Message delivered, the man sat back and took another drink. Sam gaped at him, legitimately speechless. The man's grin arched. "You know," he said. "You can really work the strong, silent stereotype."
"Stuff it," Sam said automatically then, quieter, "Are you serious?"
Green eyes caught and held Sam's. "As a heart attack. They swept Stan-4-C last click and Stan-4-B not two clicks before that. Which means this place is next on the list. You here alone?"
"No," said Sam distractedly. Then, "How do you know this?"
"Cause I'm awesome that way. Oh and the name's Dean," he said, with a wink. "In case you wanted to know who to thank in your prayers tonight."
The guy, Dean, grinned at him. "I like you. You sure there's no way I could convince you to tell me your name, sweetheart? Make it a fair trade?"
Sam sighed. "If I tell you, will you stop calling me sweetheart?"
Dean's smile flashed. "Only one way to find out."
Well, Hell. It wasn't like Dean couldn't learn it from a dozen different people between here and his ship. "It's Sam."
The smile slid off Dean's face like water. "Sam?" he repeated. "Sam Winchester?"
Sam stiffened. "How do you know that name?" he demanded, mentally calculating the distance to the door. His size and his training would normally give him more than enough of an advantage to get away, but there was something about the solid set of Dean's shoulders that suggested he was a lot more dangerous than he played at.
The flirty once-over Dean had given him earlier was nothing compared to the steady appraisal in his eyes now. "Well I'll be damned," Dean said at last, with a laugh that Sam couldn't read at all. "That just fucking figures."
"What does?" Sam demanded, then watched as Dean visibly shrugged himself out of whatever thought he was having and pasted on a shotgun grin that looked infinitely at home on his handsome face.
"I gotta say I wasn't expecting to find you so fast." Dean leaned back slightly in his chair, one hand pressed flat against the bar to keep him level. "Hiding in plain sight, eh Sam?"
Sam frowned at him. "I'm not hiding."
"Well you should be." He fixed Sam with a look. "Better pack your bags, kiddo. You're leaving with me even if I have to drag you out by the hair."
"What?" Sam leaned in close, fighting to keep his voice low. "Where do you get off, man? I don't even know you!"
Emotion flicked across Dean's face faster than Sam could read and melted immediately into a stony poker face that was all business. "Yeah, well, you might wanna get right the fuck off your high horse before someone shoots you in the face." Dean stabbed a hand towards the door. "That sweep? It's for you. The Deamhanan are looking for Sam fucking Winchester and he doesn't even have the good sense to be hard to find. Now you might not know me from a hole in the wall but I'm the best damn chance you have of getting off this pathetic excuse for a transport stop without getting ventilated. You get me?"
"You can't seriously expect-"
Dean's hand flew up, cutting Sam off mid-sentence.
Sam barely resisted the urge to throttle him. "The hell's your problem?"
"Shh, shh, wait," Dean said, head cocked to one side. Sam made an impatient noise and Dean made a face at him. "Seriously, shut up. You hear that?"
"I don't," Sam started, then paused, distracted by a faint buzzing. His eyes flicked involuntarily up, taking in the flicker of the lights with an almost abstracted sense of horror. "Oh god, you were telling the truth."
Dean was nodding, a satisfied grin spreading across his face as though there weren't fucking Deamhanan in the transport stop. "So you're not completely useless. Good to know."
"I am not-"
"Shut it. Can you fight?"
Sam huffed out a breath. "I serve drinks to drunk aliens in a backwater transport stop. What do you think?"
"Awesome. We're leaving now." Dean finished his drink with a tilt of his wrist and stood, remarkably calm considering what an absolute disaster this day was turning out to be. "You think your boss will notice if you go on break early?"
"The whole fucking bar's going to notice," Sam said, shedding his apron. "I'm the only one on shift."
Dean opened his mouth and Sam held up a hand to forestall whatever inanity he might spout next. "I'll take care of it. Just don't - say anything okay? Follow me and look like you usually look and we won't have a problem."
"Like I usually look, hmm?" Dean said with a cheeky grin, because it was apparently impossible for him not to be an ass. "How's that, devilishly handsome?"
"No." Sam rounded the bar and took a deep breath. "Smug. Come on."
He hadn't got more than three steps from the bar with Dean in tow before the shouts started, lewd suggestions and raucous wolf whistles coming from every side. Sam could almost feel the bemused curiosity leaking off Dean and made it a point not to falter or turn as he led the way to the staff teleport, teeth gritted and back ramrod straight.
"Anyone sees Garth tell him I'm taking my lunch break," he announced to the room at large and the clamor doubled, several of T'lak's hires even going so far as to stand and clap, slow and obvious.
"Geez," Dean murmured, all but inaudible in the din. "Do you ever get laid?"
Sam ignored him and punched in his code for the teleporter.
The noise of the bar fell away between one heartbeat and the next and Sam breathed a sigh of relief when the grease and the heat gave way to the slightly dingy hallway that housed the staff quarters and the ground crew access to the loading docks.
"Well," Dean said. "That was subtle. Remind me to have you plan my next surprise birthday party."
Sam scowled at him. "I didn't hear you coming up with any bright ideas."
"Well gee, Sammy, you should have told me you were actually a damsel in distress; I would've been a lot more proactive with the dramatic rescue."
"It's Sam," Sam shot back. He strode off down the hallway, not really caring whether Dean followed or not.
"Hey," Dean said sharply, voice echoing in the narrow space. "Where do you think you're going? The docking bay's the other direction."
Sam refused to be impressed by Dean's sense of direction. "So? You must be an even bigger idiot than I thought if you honestly think I'm going anywhere with you."
Behind him, he heard Dean huff. "Shoulda know you were shit at following orders."
Sam ignored that.
Heavy boots scuffed on the tiles as Dean jogged after him. "Don't tell me you're going to hide under your bed with your teddy bear or I'm going to have to revoke your man card."
"Has anyone ever told you you're a complete jackass?" Sam asked.
"It's been said." The lights flickered again, longer this time, and the exasperated look Dean shot him was faintly tinged with worry. "Seriously, Sam. Is there a reason we're heading in the wrong fucking direction? Cause getting toasted by the Deamhanan really wasn't on my list of things to do today."
Sam didn't slow. "Then go. I can handle myself."
"Look," Dean said, like he was talking to a child. "You might not be so good at listening, but try and get it through your head that I came here for you. Why in God's name do you think I'm just gonna fuck off and leave you to get your moronic self killed after I spent all this time looking for your sorry ass? Now," he said, in an impressively even tone of voice. "What are we doing?"
"I'm not alone," Sam admitted, after a moment. The lights flickered, at a closer interval than the last time, and Sam lengthened his stride. He was slightly irked to find Dean still keeping up just fine. "So you can take your escape plans and shove 'em up your ass; I'm not leaving without-"
Sam jerked his attention away from glaring at Dean and couldn't help a relieved sigh at the sight of Jim hurrying towards him, competent and worried all at once.
"Sam!" Jim said again, catching Sam by the elbow. "The lights, Sam, have you seen the-"
"EMF reaction, I know," Sam finished, smiling faintly. "That's why I," he faltered, glanced back at Dean who was watching them with the strangest expression, "We, came to find you."
Jim looked at Dean. "And this is...?"
"Dean," Sam answered, belatedly realizing that he had nothing else to add. He turned to Dean. "Dean this is-"
"Pastor Jim," Dean said, shocking Sam completely. Dean inclined his head respectfully. "It's good to see you, sir."
"I- and you as well, son," Jim said, clearly caught just as flat-footed as Sam. "Though I haven't gone by that title in a long time."
"Not many parishioners keen on making the commute?"
"Not really, no." Jim squinted at Dean, though Sam knew his eyesight was as sharp as ever. "I'm sorry, have we met?"
Dean just smiled, as though he got asked that question a lot. "No, sir. But I believe you knew my mother once. Ellen Harvelle?"
The confusion in Jim's eyes cleared abruptly. "Ah, yes. I'd heard she'd taken in a boy After Earth. You're the pilot of the Impala, yes?"
"Yes, sir," Dean said, with what sounded like real pride. "She's a hell of a ship."
A wistful smile curved Jim's lips. "I remember. I suppose you're here for Sam, then?"
"Wait, what?" Sam rounded on Jim, hardly able to believe what he was hearing. "Jim, what the hell are you talking about?"
Jim looked evenly back at him. "The Impala's your father's ship, Sam. You should have remembered that."
"I - that's... what?!"
"I see you been raising this boy right, Pastor," Dean said, with a wry little grin. "Very articulate."
"You!" Sam shoved at Dean's chest. "You fly with my dad and you didn't think that might be something I'd want to know?"
Dean shrugged, tipping Sam the edge of a grin. "Wasn't sure it'd help my case. Way he tells it, you two didn't get on even when you were in diapers. Just seemed like a better conversation to be having aboard the Impala. Especially," he added, with a pointed glance at the stuttering lights. "Considering that we're currently in a dead-end hallway in a space station crawling with Deamhanan. Can we go?"
"He's right, Sam," said Jim. "If they find you, it's all over. You've got to get out of here."
"What, with him? How do we even know he's who he says he is?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Hey here's a crazy idea: you could ask." He held up his right hand and something glinted in the light. "Look familiar?"
Sam looked at the plain steel ring on Dean's finger, down at the steel ring on his own hand that had 'Samuel' spelled across it in clear, even letters, then back up at Dean's. "They match."
Dean's mouth quirked into something that wasn't quite a smile. "Almost." He flipped his around, showing off the ring's smooth finish. "No name on mine. But your daddy made it and it's DNA locked, same as yours. Which means there ain't no way anybody but me could have it. Now can we stop pussyfooting around and get the fuck gone, already?"
"Sam," Jim said, as sober as he always was when teaching Sam the right way to do something. "You've got to trust him."
"Only as far as I can throw him," Sam muttered, but it sounded resigned even to him. He sighed. "Fine."
Dean grinned. "Hey, with those Sasquatch arms you ought to be able to fling me pretty far." His head tilted down the hall. "Back the way we came?"
Sam nodded. "This hall leads to the loading docks. You can get to the commercial parking through there."
"Great." Dean led the way, moving with a deadly combination of grace and swiftness that was all the more intimidating for the fact that he'd drawn a wicked-looking blaster sometime when Sam hadn't been watching. Sam fell back to take the rear, pausing briefly to pull the short knife from his left boot. It wouldn't do much against the Deamhanan, he knew, but it made him feel better.
"The Impala's in docking bay eight," Dean said back over one shoulder. "My crew's pretty used to leaving on short notice so it won't take 'em to get her ready for takeoff."
"I wonder why," Sam muttered, no longer quite as surprised when Dean's only response was a wickedly amused grin. "The loading docks run alongside the commercial lots so we've only got to go down about halfway to get to dock eight."
"Good to know."
They passed the bar teleport and Sam felt only the slightest twinge of guilt at skipping out on his shift. He'd have felt worse if he didn't suspect the bar probably wouldn't be standing for much longer.
They'd made it another twenty yards when Dean's stride hitched. "Well shit," he said. "I should've known this was too easy."
"Dean?" Sam asked, looking from Dean's frown to the empty hallway and back again. "Something wrong?"
"This way's out," Dean said, already hustling them back the other way. "We got any other options?"
"What are you-" Sam started, then faltered as a wisp of air ghosted down the hallway, carrying with it the smell Dean had already noticed.
Death and rotting flesh. And there was only one race in the entire galaxy that smelled like that.
Behind him, Sam could hear Jim alternatively cursing and praying, fervent and low. Which was pretty much how Sam felt.
Dean was biting his lip as he glared at the floor, clearly thinking hard. "I'm guessing there's no way out back the way we came?" he asked.
"I'm afraid not," said Jim. "All the other teleports are beyond this point. The living quarters are the only thing at the other end."
"Figures. Guess we're gonna have to go back through the bar."
"They might already be there," Sam objected.
"We're gonna have to risk it. At least down there we can try and blend into the crowd. Well, as much of a crowd as there is in that dive. So," He looked up at Sam, his gaze clear and focused. "Any ideas for getting yourself out of work twice in one night?"
"I-" Sam ran a hand through his hair, mind coming up blank.
Jim's head cocked. "I can think of one option," he said, his tone and a significant glance at Dean offering all the hint Sam needed to see the obvious solution.
Sam paused. "Oh, no."
"You've got no time, Sam," Jim argued, damnably reasonable. "This will afford you enough distraction to get out."
"Yeah," Sam sighed. "Let's go."
"Don't suppose you feel like telling me your master plan there, Hannibal?" Dean asked as they moved quickly back to the teleport for the bar.
"I'm sure you'll pick it up as you go along." He flicked a glance at the blaster in Dean's hand. "Put that away," he said, sliding his knife back into his boot. "Not the kind of attention we want to attract."
"Just out of curiosity, what kind of attention do we want to attract?" asked Dean, blaster fitting neatly into the holster on his thigh.
Dammit. "This kind." Sam stepped right up into Dean's space. "Don't think this means I like you," he warned.
Then he kissed him.
For a long moment, Dean resisted the press of Sam's mouth, body tense and closed off. Sam kept his movements light but firm, hands coming up automatically to frame Dean's face while his lips and tongue worked in a slow, languid coax. Let me in.
And then, with a shuddering sigh, Dean did.
Sam fought back a shiver as Dean's tongue darted out to flicker teasingly against his before retreating, an invitation that Sam willingly took. Dean's mouth was pliant and warm as Sam swept languidly through, Dean's lips soft and surprisingly giving under Sam's. Sam pressed that advantage until Dean's mouth was slick and wet then pulled away, nipping sharply at Dean's lower lip on the way out.
"Warn a guy next time," Dean said, his voice whisky rough and his colour high.
"Suck it up, princess," Sam told him, mussing Dean's hair and tugging Dean's jacket half off his shoulders before stepping back to eye his handiwork. "You ready to start a bar fight?"
The wickedness in Dean's grin looked positively obscene on his kiss-swollen lips. "I am always ready to start a bar fight."
"Awesome. Have fun." Sam shoved Dean into the ring of the teleporter and punched in his code. "You next," he said to Jim, unbuttoning the top of his shirt and running his hands through his hair to make as much of a mess of it as possible. "Do your best to get clear before people start throwing chairs."
"Sam." Jim said and Sam froze because he knew that tone of voice, just like he knew the fond, patient smile that Jim was wearing. "You really think I'm not going to do everything in my power to keep you safe?"
"Jim," Sam started, worry and rebellion and care all tangled up together, but Jim didn't give him the space to try.
"If they follow you, you'll be trapped. I'll stay here and disable the teleporter so they can't use it."
"But, Jim," Sam tried, just as the tromp of feet echoed down the hall. A group of mismatched figures rounded the corner towards them, the cloying smell more than enough to identify them as Deamhanan.
"No time," Jim insisted, hustling Sam onto the teleporter. "Take care of yourself, son. Good luck."
And then he punched his code and Sam couldn't do a thing to stop him.
The world blurred, shifted and reformed as Sam found himself in the bar once again. Eyes swung towards him from every corner and Sam was abruptly conscious of his deliberately rumpled appearance as he registered the hostility and dark intent on every face.
Clearly, Dean had done a bang up job of warming up the room.
"There's my boy," Dean purred, in a tone of voice that left absolutely no doubt as to what sort of claim he was laying on Sam. Sam fought the urge to stiffen. "You wanna tell 'em how it felt to have a real man to show you a good time, eh sweetheart?"
Sam let his own expression melt into a lazy smirk. "Hey, just because they wouldn't know how to use their dicks with a manual doesn't mean you should rub it in."
A patron nearby made a guttural, angry sound and fisted a handful of claws in Sam's shirt. "Little bitch!" he growled, which Sam thought was pretty laughable when he had a good three feet on the guy. "Sounds like you need to be t-ugh!"
The guy hit the floor with a bone-jarring thud, Dean standing over him with blood on his knuckles and a grin on his face. Silence reigned throughout the bar for a long, ugly moment.
And then all hell broke loose.
Sam took advantage of his greater reach to knock back the first guy who rushed him, a well-placed heel to the groin taking care of the next. After that it was nothing but ducks and punches and elbows as he fought to hold his own in the melee. A glance in Dean's direction proved him to be busting faces with an almost childlike glee, fists flying and body flowing through the chaos like water.
Someone's fist snaked under Sam's guard and he stumbled away, putting his back to Dean's almost instinctively.
There was blue blood streaked across Dean's face when he twisted round to grin at Sam. "Nothing like a good bar fight, hey Sammy?"
"It's Sam," Sam growled and laid into the next guy who lunged at him with rather more force than was really necessary. "And you would be the type who likes bar fights."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean demanded, knocking one guy into another and sending them both to the floor.
Sam broke someone's nose with his elbow. "Guess."
The fight was rapidly devolving into a free-for-all as people staggered into each other and the rest of the bar's rather inebriated patrons joined the fray. Sam and Dean held their ground in the middle of the chaos, protecting each other's backs, and Sam was chagrined to realize that they made a decently good team.
"Uh oh," Dean said suddenly, cartilage cracking under his hands as he snapped the wing of a very drunk Harop. "Company."
Sam glanced at the door to find a pair of Kvorki looming in it, the oily shine of their black eyes betraying the monsters lurking inside.
Dean's hand clapped on Sam's arm. "Let's go."
He ducked under a wildly swinging arm and started weaving them through the throng with Sam at his back, dodging fists and flying bodies without ever taking his eyes off the pair of Deamhanan in the door. Sam had no idea how Dean thought they were going to get past them.
Then Sam glanced down to see that Dean's blaster was back in his hand and abruptly wondered if the man was actually suicidal.
"Are you insane?" he hissed, seizing Dean by the elbow. "That won't even slow them down."
"Don't need it to." Dean shrugged his shoulders back, dislodging Sam's grip. "Watch this."
Dean straightened abruptly and fired two bolts at the Deamhanan. The shots hit them dead on, burning their clothes without harming the skin underneath.
The one on the left glanced down absently at the hole in his shirt, scowled, and glared out across the room.
"Nothing like being the de facto rulers of the universe to make you hate shows of resistance," Dean said smugly, ducking behind a Wrgrm as the two Deamhanan waded into the throng and started literally throwing their weight around. "Now let's get out of here before they run out of aliens to toss."
"Yeah, good ide-"
A flash caught in the corner of Sam's vision and he reacted instantly; he plowed into Dean's side, and a line of pain burned across his shoulder as he took the knife slash meant for Dean's neck. Blood gushed freely from the wound and Sam was mostly just grateful that the knife hadn't gone deep enough to hit bone.
His fist slammed into the guy's throat at the same time as Dean drove a knee into a fleshy gut and the guy collapsed like a sack of bricks, knife skittering harmlessly across the floor as he fell.
"Fuck," said Dean succinctly. "You okay?"
Sam tested his arm, finding it sore but not unbearable. "I'll live. Let's keep moving."
To his credit, Dean simply nodded and started moving again, leaving a wide buffer zone between them and the Deamhanan.
They got out the door without any more rogue knives or the notice of the Deamhanan making their lives difficult and Dean veered immediately to the right, heading for the landing bay. Sam kept his right hand pressed over his wounded shoulder, trying to staunch the bleeding.
The communicator strapped to Dean's wrist beeped and he hit a button before bringing to his mouth.
"Hi, Bobby," he said, easy as you please. "I hope you're ready for us."
"Just hurry your ass up," a gruff voice answered him. "We've got about five minutes before they lock down the whole transport."
"Got it." Dean cut off the transmission and threw a grin at Sam. "You heard the man. Move your ass!"
Sam rolled his eyes even as he lengthened his stride into a run. "You know, you're not really doing much to improve my first impression of you."
"At least I'm hot."
"And modest, clearly."
Dean grinned. "Always."
They burst through the doors of the landing bay at a dead run and immediately lunged for cover behind a slat of shipping goods when three Deamhanan opened fire at them.
"We're heading for that one," Dean shouted at Sam over the whine of blaster fire. Sam glance over to find him pointing at a black-hulled ship two berths down from their hiding place.
"Uh huh. And we're going to get there how?"
Dean's grin flashed again and Sam wondered whether the man had any other settings besides serious and foolhardy. "Running very quickly. Try not to get shot."
"Thanks," Sam said flatly, and then they were running, bolts raining down all around them as they closed the distance to the ship's lowered ramp.
They were not quite halfway there when Dean hissed out a pained breath, his stride hitching briefly. Sam caught a glimpse of blood staining the side of Dean's shirt and then it was his turn to swear as a blaster bolt took him right through the thigh.
He staggered heavily, pain spiking in his veins, and then Dean was there, one arm wrapping around his waist to steady him.
"Go, go, go!" Dean shouted and Sam couldn't tell if he was talking to him or the communicator but he forced his rapidly stiffening leg to hold his weight, lurching the last few feet to their goal.
His vision was swimming by the time they reached the ship and Dean practically had to wrestle him inside. They collapsed into a pile as the ramp drew closed behind them, gunfire still flaring outside. Sam heard the hum of the ship's thrusters and felt the ground rolling underfoot and then the world went black.
Sam came to lying on something flat and hard, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling. His thigh was burning like a son of a bitch.
"Urgh," he managed and failed spectacularly at sitting up.
Dean's face appeared above him. "Dude, you suck," he said, cheerily. "I can't believe you got taken down by a measly little energy bolt."
"Fuck off," Sam panted at him. He shifted to take another stab at this being vertical thing and Dean's hand pressed down warningly on his hip, fingers warm against bare skin. Sam had to wonder why he was naked.
"Hold still unless you want a really funny looking scar to show off the next time you get laid."
Sam craned his neck. "What are you doing?"
"Fixing up your sorry hide." Dean waved a regen needle at him, bending his head to the task. Sam belatedly recognized the not-quite smooth drag of the thread as it pulled and tucked his skin back into place, the wound knitting itself neatly closed with every pass of Dean's hand. "You slept right through the shoulder."
"Really?" Sam twisted his head towards the shoulder in question, only to hiss out an aggrieved breath when Dean's short nails dug into his skin.
"Sit the hell still before I knock you out again, you impatient bastard." The needle hummed and flashed in Dean's hand and Sam resigned himself to the steady pinch, pull, tug of the stitches as silence fell between them.
"There," Dean said finally. He shut the needle off and set it aside, then ducked in and snapped the thread with his teeth. Sam was just glad the wound had been on the outside of his thigh. "Good as newish. Stitches'll dissolve in an hour or two."
Dean turned to wash his hands in the sink set against the far wall and Sam pulled himself carefully upright, gritting his teeth against the momentary swirl of nausea. A glance at his leg showed that the wound was all but gone, nothing but a row of neat, even stitches and the jagged pink of new scarring to indicate that he'd taken a blaster bolt through the leg in the last click.
"Thanks," Sam said, checking his shoulder and finding the same result. "You're good at that."
"Lots of practice." He turned and Sam flailed when he got hit in the face with a bundle of dark fabric.
"Pants," Dean told him, belated and unhelpful. "Might be a little short in the leg but they'll do until we can buy you some in giant size. Now come on."
"Wait!" Sam jerked up the pants, which hung a good inch above his ankles, and lurched after Dean's retreating back, pausing briefly to snatch the matching shirt off the counter. "You mind telling me what the hell's going on? Where am I?"
Dean tilted his head just enough to let Sam watch him roll his eyes. "I thought you were supposed to be the smart one." He gestured grandly. "Welcome to the Impala. One of the fastest ships this side of the Scarlet Nebula."
"One of?" Sam couldn't help but ask, following Dean down a broad hallway.
Dean shrugged. "I haven't seen all the ships in the galaxy, now have I?"
Sam glanced around curiously as Dean pressed his palm against a security pad and let them through a door that opened into a wide central terminal. Doors were spaced at even intervals around the circumference.
"I'll give you a tour later," Dean promised, heading for the door three down from where they were standing. "Right now you've gotta meet the crew."
"What, all of them?" Sam asked, following behind as Dean led the way through the door and up a staircase.
Dean's grin flashed. "It won't take long. Trust me." He veered right at the top of the stairs and Sam made to follow him, only to bowl right into something low and solid that nearly knocked him back down the stairs.
Somewhere to the side, he heard Dean sigh. "Way to make a good first impression, Sam."
"Wha-?" Sam blinked down at whatever he'd hit and then blinked again when he realized that a bearded, mottled face was glaring back up at him.
"Sam, Bobby," said Dean, sounding amused again. The bastard. "Bobby's a Venator, in case you were wondering. Worked with your dad on Earth for a couple years. He's our resident weapons master and disgruntled mother figure."
"You shut your mouth, boy," Bobby growled, not as rough as Sam would have expected. "Or I'll put you over my lap."
"Kinky," Dean deadpanned, and dodged when Bobby mimed a swing at him. "Bobby, this is-"
"I know who he is." Bobby turned his attention back to Sam with an intensity that made Sam want to fidget. "It's good to see you, Sam," he said finally and the smile on his face made him look startlingly different.
"Um," said Sam, most of his attention caught by Bobby's multiple sets of arms and the strange rounded... somethings he had instead of legs.
Bobby didn't appear put out by Sam's lack of tact. "You probably don't remember me, seeing as you were just a kid when last I saw you, but I'm glad Dean found you. Your daddy would have been proud to see you."
"Thanks," said Sam, mind dredging up vague half-memories of a gruff face working alongside his father back on Earth. He paused. "What do you mean, would have?"
Bobby threw a sharp glance at Dean. "You didn't tell him?"
"We were kind of busy," Dean defended. "Not to mention that he's been unconscious for the last tenth of a click."
"Where is he?" Sam asked, though he had a sinking feeling he already knew. "This is his ship, right?"
Dean sighed. "He died," he answered, an edge of real grief shading the words. "About ten years ago. Burned the body myself."
"He-" Sam swallowed around the lump in his throat. "But I thought you said you were just the pilot."
"Yeah well," Dean's shrug was far too rigid to be convincing. "Captain's not a job I'm really itching to step into." He coughed, shrugging his attitude back into place. "Come on, let's go introduce you to Cas."
Bobby fell in with them as they headed for the door at the end of the short hallway, rolling along without giving any sense of how he was propelling himself forward. Sam had to remind himself that it was rude to stare.
The door whooshed open on an impressive looking bridge, the control consoles dated but obviously well cared for. The vastness of space stretched out beyond the windscreens in a way that Sam was never going to get used to and standing in front of the navigation board, his back turned towards them, was-
"An Ange," Sam breathed, more than stunned. The Ange turned at his words, its long, glittering wings dragging across the console and the crystal chips of its eyes glinting a brilliant tanzanite blue.
Dean rolled his eyes. "That's Castiel. Cas, this is Sam Winchester."
"A pleasure," Castiel said, the words oddly stilted like he wasn't sure they were the right ones to be using. "I have heard much of you."
"Thanks?" Sam tried, still having trouble wrapping his head around this. "You're an Ange," he said, a little helplessly.
Castiel nodded. "That is correct."
"But- I thought Anges only trusted each other."
Castiel nodded again. "Usually. My situation is more... complicated. I have been a member of the Impala's crew for some time."
"He's our navigation guy," Dean interjected, like there wasn't anything unusual about having a fucking Ange on his payroll.
Sam shook his head "I can't believe a member of the Intergalactic Police race is your 'navigation guy'."
Dean snorted. "Intergalactic police, my ass. More like intergalactic vigilantes with a god complex. Fucking douchebags, the lot of 'em." Dean jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Castiel. "He's not so bad though."
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel said, his tone so dry that Sam honestly couldn't tell whether he was being sarcastic or not.
"Right," said Dean. "Grand tour, food, bed. What order do you want 'em in?"
"What about the rest of the crew?" Sam wanted to know.
The question made Dean grin, like he'd been anticipating it. "We're it. Told you it wouldn't take long."
Sam blinked at him. "Just the three of you? On a ship this size?"
Dean winked at him. "We're just that good. So. Back to the tour, food, bed issue."
"Actually," said Sam, despite the fact that food and sleep sounded very tempting right about now. "First I'd like you to tell me what I'm doing here."
Dean leaned back against the console, crossing his legs at the ankles. "Well first, you're avoiding being turned into a Deamhan's meat suit. And second, you're gonna help us start a revolution."
Sam sincerely hoped he was hearing things. "I'm going to what?"
"Start a revolution."
"Right. And how am I going to do that?"
"By helping us find the Titan."
Sam stared at him. "The what?"
"Seriously?" Dean sighed. "Pain in my ass." His shoulders squared. "Right. Do you know why the Deamhanan destroyed the Earth?"
"Because that's what they do?" Sam hazarded, which was true.
Dean's hand waved dismissively. "More specific than that. Why did they target Earth?"
"I..." Sam frowned. "I don't know. There's an actual reason?"
"Yeah," Dean said and took a breath. "They attacked Earth because your dad invented something. A weapon. One that could kill Deamhanan."
"What?!" Sam gaped at him. "That's not possible. You can't kill the Deamhanan, they're..."
"Inhabiting the bodies of the dead, I know. Don't ask me to explain how it works, cause I don't know. Your dad was the genius, not me. But it's legit."
Sam slumped back against the wall, trying to process what Dean was telling him. "The Deamhanan can be killed," he said, almost a question.
Dean nodded. "Sure looks that way. They were scared enough to blow up the whole damn planet just to get to your dad and that was the better part of a billion people they vaporized. The Deamhanan wouldn't waste that many potential vessels without a damn good reason. And that's not even counting the money they could have earned by selling off the Earth's resources."
"But," Sam objected. "Dad escaped the explosion. If he had this super weapon, why are the Deamhanan still running the show? Why aren't we fighting back?"
Bobby answered that one. "Because John was more interested in getting the hell out of Dodge and hiding the weapon somewhere the Deamhanan couldn't find it than starting a revolution all by his damn self. He wanted to make sure that, when the time did come when the universe was ready to fight back, his weapon would be there, ready and waiting."
"And that's now?"
Dean nodded. "It's about to be. Your dad spent more than a decade laying the groundwork: gaining contacts, making alliances. Now all we need is the weapon. Which is on a ship called the Titan." His eyes were serious as he held Sam's gaze. "A ship that we need your help to find."
"Me?" Sam echoed. "Why? I haven't seen my dad in seventeen years. What the hell could you possibly need from me?"
"You wanna field this one, Cas?" asked Dean and Sam lurched back violently when Castiel was suddenly right up in his personal space, close enough that Sam could feel the heat radiating off his skin.
"When John Winchester hid the Titan he took with him no crew and left only one record of its whereabouts," Castiel explained, apparently completely unbothered by the closeness. "May I see your right hand?"
"Um," said Sam, which Castiel apparently took as permission because Sam immediately found himself holding hands with an Ange, Castiel's hair tickling his chin.
"Your ring," Castiel said, turning Sam's hand from side to side. "Is capable of sending a reciprocal pulse designed to replicate and isolate the unique energy signature of the Titan."
"Basically a Titan-seeking GPS," said Dean. "Once Cas activates it, we'll be able to find the Titan anywhere in the universe."
"Couldn't I just give you the ring then?" Sam wanted to know, trying to edge back from Castiel without making it look like he was doing so.
He obviously didn't do a very good job because it made Bobby snort at him. "Better get used to that," he said wryly. "Anges don't have personal boundaries."
Castiel looked up and nearly hit Sam in the nose. "Am I being inappropriate? I apologize."
"No problem," Sam managed, breathing a quiet sigh as Castiel dropped his hand and stepped back a much-appreciated few feet.
Dean looked he was trying not to laugh at him. "I can tell you're a real tough guy," he grinned. Sam scowled at him. "And a good sport, clearly. As far as your question goes," he continued, and it took Sam a moment to remember what he'd asked. "The answer's yes and no. Yeah, once the ring's activated it'll work even if you're not wearing it, but we won't be able to focus it as precisely. And that's not the only reason we need you."
"There's more?" demanded Sam, already heartily sick of this entire mess. "Don't tell me he expected me to fight in this revolution of yours too."
"Nah," Dean said dismissively. "Doesn't seem like your kind of thing."
"When he hid the Titan, your dad locked the whole ship into his own genetic code so that if anyone found it who wasn't supposed to, they wouldn't be able to get in."
"And now he's dead so you need me," Sam said flatly.
Dean's smile was strange. "You do share his DNA, Sammy."
"I told you not to call me-"
Klaxons blared, echoing across the bridge, and Dean blurred into motion, practically vaulting over the railing onto to the upper deck. "Cas!" he bellowed.
"A moment." Castiel was hunched in front of one of the central computer towers in an instant, eyes blank as information scrolled down the holofeed faster than Sam could follow.
"Dean?" Sam asked, looking past the wide drape of Castiel's wings to see Dean sliding into the pilot's chair, a quick pass of his hand bringing the control board to instant, glowing life.
"Not now, Sam. Cas!"
"Telacorax," Castiel told him, which apparently meant something to Dean because he immediately entered a string of numbers as long as Sam's arm into the guidance system.
"Telecorax?" Sam shifted to stand behind Dean, reading the code sprawled across Dean's nav screen. "It's a... star?"
"Planet," Dean corrected, punching in the last number and shifting his attention seamlessly to the engine system. His hands danced across the controls like he'd been born in the pilot's chair, flicking switches and charting routes with a smooth facility that Sam couldn't help but be impressed by. "About two and a half clicks from here. Easiest to chart to the nearest star. I'll narrow the parameters when we're closer."
"Closer to what? What's on Telecorax?"
"Someone who needs help," Dean answered, brusque and completely unhelpful.
Sam stared at him. "What about all that stuff about the Titan? Defeating the Deamhanan, saving the galaxy?"
"Don't worry Sammy, we'll get to it. But rescuing people comes first. Cas?" he called over his shoulder. "Any more info on that distress call?"
"It's coming from Verron," Castiel told him, not looking away from the screen in front of him. Sam couldn't tell whether he was reading it or having a staring contest with it. "A township in the lower northeast quadrant. The citizens appear to be under attack from a nest of rogue Cruorvores."
Dean whooped, a delighted grin splitting his face. "Fuck yeah! We haven't hunted vamps in ages!"
"Vamps?" Sam asked and wasn't quite prepared for the force of that bright grin turning his way.
"Cruorvores," Dean said. "Blood eaters. I mean, they rip their victims' heads and limbs off instead of puncturing their necks but still. Alien vampires. How cool is that?"
"And you're going to...hunt them?" Sam hazarded.
Dean's smile actually widened. "That's what we do - saving people and hunting the evil alien fuglies. We're like the intergalactic cavalry."
"Oh," said Sam, not sure what to say to that.
Somewhere behind him he heard Bobby sigh. "I suppose now you'll need me to get the kid settled?" he said to Dean.
"That'd be great, thanks," said Dean, before Sam could protest being called a kid. "Wouldn't want to run into a planet on the way out of the quadrant."
"No," said Bobby wryly. "We certainly wouldn't want that. Come on, Sam," he said then,. "Let's get you fed and then I think you'll be just about ready to collapse."
On any other click, Sam would have argued against the coddling, but he could feel the fatigue lingering at the back of his head, the aches left over from his freshly healed wounds.
"Yeah," he said. "That sounds good. Thanks, Bobby."
"Don't mention it," Bobby told him, rolling away as Sam fell in beside him. "Good to have you aboard."
Sam wasn't sure he agreed.
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