Despite a lifetime of living like a galactic vagabond, Sam hadn't really spent a lot of time aboard spaceships. So the two and a half clicks it took them to reach Telecorax were, for him, something of a novelty.
Bobby gave him a perfunctory tour (mess hall through there, armory on your left, don't touch that) before turning him loose, polite but not particularly concerned about drawing Sam into awkward conversations. Sam found himself feeling profoundly grateful for that.
Castiel added him to the security grid early on, which meant that Sam could get into pretty much any door on the ship. It got him lost more than once, but it wasn't as though he had anything better to do and he liked the idea of becoming familiar with this ship that had once been his dad's.
The Impala was a decently sized ship (bigger than the Millennium Falcon but smaller than the Enterprise, Dean had grinned at him), and meticulously maintained down to the last switch and bolt. Most of the control boards looked to be nearly as old as Sam was and he had to wonder if it had been built on Earth or if his dad had commissioned it after fleeing to space to make up for the home he couldn't return to.
Sam had his own room, small but serviceable, with honest to god bed sheets and a bookshelf full of actual paper books, well-thumbed and yellow with age. They were nearly all fiction, everything from Treasure Island to Slaughterhouse Five, and Sam hoped that he'd have the time to read at least some of them before this mad adventure ended (Go right ahead, Bobby had told him. Be good to see someone reading 'em again).
There was a library on board as well, most of the material organized onto holopads and apparently devoted to research on alien cultures, planets and customs. (It is a utile collection, Castiel had explained to him, sober and unblinking. The holopads allow for the translation of nearly all foreign languages into Common. Dean and Bobby approve of being well-informed of the various species we interact with).
For the most part, the Impala's crew seemed to have decided that Sam was old enough to entertain himself and didn't go out of their way to break their normal routines. He saw little of Castiel and Bobby and even less of Dean who seemed to be practically glued to the pilot's chair. Which Sam found a little surprising given Dean's over-the-top flirting in the bar, but he decided it was probably better that way. The less time he spent with Dean and his charming, devil-may-care attitude, the less he'd have to remind himself that Dean was a hassle he didn't need.
Which worked pretty well up until the point where Sam came up to the bridge two and a half clicks after they'd left Stan-4-D to find Telecorax looming beyond the viewport and the pilot's chair unexpectedly empty.
"He's in his quarters," Bobby told him, all of his arms busy dealing with something at one of the far consoles. "Go tell him to get his ass up here and fly this old bird planetside. Cas' got the coordinates for him."
"But-" Sam tried, and quailed under the narrow-eyed look he earned for the attempt.
"I don't want to hear any 'buts' from you, Sam Winchester," Bobby said, in a tone that made Sam want to apologize and check for mud on his pants. "You're part of this crew for as long as you're on this ship. Now go. Get. Dean."
Sam held up his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright, I'm going."
"Fucking idjits," he thought he heard Bobby mutter as he clomped down the stairs.
Dean's quarters were only a short walk down the hall from Sam's. There was no answer when Sam rapped lightly on the door so he pressed his hand against the security pad and was surprised when it opened obediently to his touch. He hadn't expected his security clearance to extend to other people's bedrooms.
"Dean?" he called, stepping into the room. "Bobby sent me to tell yo-oh, gods, I'm so sorry."
"Dude," said the very wet, very naked Dean standing in the middle of the room. "Were you raised by barn animals or something? Shut the damn door already."
"I- did you want, I can..." Sam didn't think he'd stammered this badly since his voice broke.
Dean rolled his eyes and continued drying off his damp hair. "Jesus, Sam, s'not like you've never seen a dick before. Or do you close your eyes when you piss?" He waved a careless hand. "Come in if you're coming."
Sam did as he was told, eyes skittering around the room to find something safer to fix on than the acres of pale, scar-crossed skin that Dean was negligently toweling off.
That made Dean laugh. "You're like a blushing bride there, Sammy." He made an obscene grab towards his crotch. "All this manhood giving you the vapors?"
"I'm trying not to go blind from the glare off your pearly white ass," Sam snapped back, shoving his embarrassment aside.
Dean's grin flashed. "Atta boy. Gotta give as good as you get around here." Flagrantly careless of his own nudity, Dean dropped the towel and dug into his closet, offering Sam a particularly good view of the aforementioned ass. "What's Bobby want?"
Sam wasn't staring. He wasn't. "We've reached Telecorax. Castiel's got the exact coordinates for you to bring us in."
"Great." Dean reemerged with an armful of clean clothes and tossed Sam a wink as he started pulling on his form-hugging pants without the slightest regard for either dignity or underwear. An oddly shaped pendant thumped against his chest when he straightened and Sam cocked his head at it, curious.
"What's that?" he asked, stepping closer to get a better look. It shaped like a horned head and was, Sam thought, sort of grotesque.
Dean glanced down at his own chest like he'd forgotten the pendant was even there. "It's a necklace."
Sam gave in to the urge to roll his eyes. "I can see that. Where in the galaxy did you get it?"
"Earth actually." Dean yanked on his shirt with brusque movements, the ugly little head vanishing beneath the fabric. "Why?" he asked, strapping on his thigh holster and sliding his blaster home. "Don't you like it?"
"It's hideous," Sam answered honestly and startled a surprised laugh out of Dean.
"Yeah well," he grinned, strapping a knife to his arm and settling a second holster into the small of his back. "It was a gift from my kid brother and no one ever accused him of having good taste."
"You have a brother?" Sam asked, surprised.
Dean's expression shuttered. "Not anymore."
"Oh," said Sam. "I'm sor-"
"It's fine," Dean cut him off. "It was a long time ago." He plucked a second blaster out from under his pillow and slid it smoothly into the back holster with an ease that spoke of long practice. "Let's go," he said, shoving his feet into his boots. He snagged his jacket off a peg on the way out the door. "Bobby doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Sam followed Dean's heavy steps out of the room and towards the bridge. "I'm still sorry," he ventured finally. "It's not easy to lose people."
Dean shrugged, the tension in his shoulders belying the calm. "Everyone lost people in the evacuation."
"Jim said you got adopted After Earth," Sam said and was surprised when Dean nodded.
"Ellen. She has a daughter about your age, so I even got a little sister into the bargain. Not that I saw either of 'em much," he added, with a nod around the corridor. "Seeing as I pretty much grew up here."
"Don't you get homesick?"
Dean snorted. "Need a home for that. The Impala's all I need."
"What was your name?" Sam asked impulsively. "Back on Earth."
"Dean," Dean answered, short and dismissive. The door to the bridge loomed large before them and Dean didn't bother meeting Sam's eyes as he angled towards it. "Now enough of this maudlin crap. Let's go kill us some vampires."
As it turned out, Cruorvores were very little like vampires.
They were about ten feet tall to start with, and considerably more insectile than Sam really thought any self-respecting vampires would have been. To make matters worse, they were also damnably fast and had a centipede's worth of long, prehensile legs that let them scale trees, walls and buildings with equal facility. Add that to the fact that Verron was surrounded by a dense carbon forest and you had a death trap just waiting to happen.
A handful of the local men insisted on joining their hunt despite Dean declaring, loudly and at length, that he really didn't need their help. And Sam would have found that uncharitable to say the least were it not for the fact that Dean couldn't have been more right: two of the villagers were dead before they'd gone more than a hundred paces beyond the village wall while the rest seemed far better suited to panicking than fighting.
Although, Sam couldn't exactly blame them; it took him a considerable amount of effort not to vomit the first time he saw a Cruorvore drop down from the trees, literally tear a man limb from limb and let the twitching appendages fall to the ground while it feasted on the blood pouring from the ragged wounds. It hadn't been a pleasant experience.
Luckily, the crew of the Impala was clearly much better at this than the locals. Castiel attacked from the sky, his wings glittering in the faded light and the silver stinger in his hand wielded with expert precision. Bobby hoisted a blaster in every hand, his strange legs not slowing him down in the slightest as he picked off lunging Cruorvores and protected the surviving villagers with grim-faced competency.
And Dean? Well Dean charged right into the thick of the swarm like he was invincible, laughter in his voice as he warned Sam to stay close. He threw himself into the fight with a fierce exhilaration that Sam couldn't even begin to understand, untamed and devastating. The smile in his eyes each time they brought down a Cruorvore was infectious in its enthusiasm. Sam found himself glad of Jim's training as he bolted through the trees at Dean's side, his blaster hot in his hand and his senses primed for the fight.
It wasn't long before Sam realized that the brawl in the bar hadn't been a fluke; he and Dean really did make one hell of a team. They read each other's movements with an effortless ease, their fighting styles blending perfectly. Sam found himself reacting to Dean's actions like he'd been doing it all his life, some bone-deep awareness of the other man making his instincts crisper, swifter.
Which is why, when Dean reached too late for his knife after his blaster got sliced nearly in half by a razor-sharp foreleg, Sam was already there, shoving Dean out of the way and putting a blaster bolt straight through the Cruorvore's gruesome face mid-tumble.
"Nice moves, Sam," Dean complimented, launching himself at the next opponent with his blade singing in the dark.
Sam grunted, rolling out of the way of another Cruorvore and coming to his feet just in time to watch blood spray across the ground from the deep slash Dean had gouged in the thing's neck.
"You know," Sam panted, blasting another one before it could drop on them from above. "Your other blaster might be more useful than the knife."
"Nope," said Dean, finishing off the one he'd wounded with a ruthless stab to the abdomen. "That one's only for emergencies."
"And this doesn't count?"
Dean's grin flashed in the dark. "Not even close. Duck!"
And so it went, until Sam was cut and bruised and his limbs were aching from running and fighting and rolling on the ground and there was enough Cruorvore blood in his hair that it would probably never come out. Finally, nothing stepped in to take the place of their most recent kill and Sam allowed himself a sigh of relief.
Dean turned to him with a wide grin. "Dude, we are so awesome."
"Looks like it," Sam agreed, and was surprised to find he meant it. He unpeeled his fingers from around his blaster and shook out his hand. "You do this for a living?"
"You're totally jealous, aren't you?"
"I'm thinking you're insane."
Dean laughed. "Probably. But at least it's good fun."
All Sam could do was shake his head as they waited for Castiel and Bobby to catch up, impressed despite himself.
He was rather less impressed when he caught Dean taking money from the village leader in return for the work they'd done. Bobby wrestled him aside before he go make a scene.
"How else did you think we could afford to jet around the damn galaxy?" Bobby demanded, in a tone of voice that suggested he thought Sam was being an utter moron. "If we have to take rewards from folks now to let us save more folks in the future, then that's what we damn well do."
"Sorry, Bobby," Sam said, abashed.
Bobby nodded. "Let that be the end of it. Now come on. Let's get back to the Impala before that lot decide to keep the idiot."
A glance over at Dean revealed him to be surrounded by a crowd of yellow-skinned, multi-armed women. Judging from the smarmy grin on his face, Dean found this a more than acceptable state of affairs.
Bobby sighed in a very unsurprised fashion and tilted his head at Castiel. "You want to take care of that?"
Castiel nodded. "Very well." He spread his wings and launched himself into the air with a single, powerful thrust that nearly knocked Sam on his ass. Castiel swooped down on Dean, seized him by the armpits and glided back to them, Dean swearing at him the entire way.
"God dammit, Cas!" he growled as Castiel set him back on his feet. "I've told you not to do that!"
"Perhaps you should consider listening to Bobby in the future, then," Castiel answered, unperturbed.
Dean stared at him. "I hate it when you're reasonable."
Bobby cleared his throat. "If you ladies are quite done?"
"Now that you've spoiled my fun," Dean grumbled, straightening his jacket.
Sam arched an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you were seriously considering that."
Dean waved him off. "If I stuck to humans I'd never get laid." His grin flashed. "And then I'd be as cranky as you are."
"Oh, screw you."
"No thanks," answered Dean, breezy and unconcerned. "You're not my type."
Sam's eyes narrowed. The oh, really? hung unspoken in the air between them.
Dean ignored the hole Sam was trying to burn into the back of his head as they made their way back to the Impala, obviously having decided that if he refused to acknowledge him then Sam would eventually give up. Sam thought that Dean didn't understand him very well.
They were safely out into open space when Dean finally dropped the invisible-Sam act.
"Right," he said, turning away from the controls with a manic grin. "How about we find out where we're going. Cas?"
Castiel nodded and Sam found his personal space invaded yet again, Castiel dragging him over to the navigation console with the same effortless strength with which he'd plucked Dean off the ground back on Telacorax.
"Hold still," Castiel said, left hand tightening on Sam's hand while the other fiddled with the controls behind him.
A white-hot burst of pain zinged down Sam's arm and he yelped, Castiel's iron grip on his wrist the only thing keeping him from lurching away. The heat faded as quickly as it had come, leaving Sam's hand tingling and a multi-dimensional star chart rotating slowly in the ship's holofeed.
Dean leaned in over Sam's shoulder and Sam started. He hadn't even heard him approach. "That's the Andali Nebula," Dean said, eyeing the star chart.
"Which is halfway across the galaxy," Bobby said. "It'll take us at least eight clicks to get there."
"So we'll make a couple pit stops. S'never killed us before." Dean leaned in further, expression intent. "Any idea of where in the Nebula we're going?"
Castiel clucked his tongue thoughtfully, then twisted to look at Sam, nearly clocking Dean with his wing in the process. "Can you narrow the field of vision?"
"Me?" Sam asked. "I don't even know how-"
He cut himself off as the map shifted, zooming in closer. "Huh. Did I do that?"
"It's connected to you as long as you're wearing the ring," Castiel explained absently, eyes faraway. "These coordinates suggest that the Titan is somewhere in the ice rings of Tegrin."
Bobby made a thoughtful sound. "Good place to hide something."
"And inhospitable enough that no one's going to go poking around," Dean agreed. "Alright then. Let's get the show on the road."
He turned back to the console, already plotting in a course. Castiel released Sam's hand and, with nothing better to do now that his part was done, Sam went to take a shower. He needed to wash his hair. A lot.
Most of the time, Sam didn't have much trouble functioning on the standard click system. He vaguely recalled a time when there'd only been 24 hours in a day, when the rising and setting of the sun had accorded day and night, but he was far more accustomed to counting by clicks - 46 Earth hours apiece. There was no day or night in space, after all, and Jim had never stayed long enough on any alien planet for Sam to get used to a solar-based calendar.
Of course, thanks to a life structured by training, studying and a continuous slew of crappy jobs, he'd never quite realized just how long a click could be when you didn't have anything to do but wait. It hadn't really been an issue on the way to Telacorax; he'd had sleep to catch up on, a ship to explore and the novelty of an entire library's worth of research to keep himself entertained. He quickly discovered, however, that longer trips weren't nearly so easy to fill.
After three and a half clicks of reading and sleeping and reading some more, Sam was officially bored out of his mind. He'd gravitated to the library, as usual, but it was hard to concentrate when he'd been doing the same research for the last three clicks. He tapped idly through the holo pad he'd been working on - Vermacorin's Treatise on Aakrykyo Mind Trading - and wondered how anyone could survive traveling through space without going absolutely mad.
The hiss of hydraulics was a welcome distraction from his inability to give a damn and Sam glanced up to find Dean's familiar bulk filling the doorway.
"Dean?" he asked, surprised. He'd actually been starting to wonder whether Dean even knew where the library was. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for your bored ass," Dean answered, as though it was obvious. He beckoned, an impatient gesture. "I can feel you twitching on the other side of the ship. Move it."
Sam made an impatient sound that was completely undermined by the way he was getting up without even bothering to mark his place in the holo pad. "Where are we going?" he asked. "Planning on throwing me out the airlock?"
"Only if you piss me off." Dean made a hard left out the door and Sam trailed after him, their footfalls ringing in discordant off-tones with each other. "Which is always a distinct possibility."
Dean led them through another door and ducked down a hallway and Sam realized he knew where they were going.
He glanced at Dean. "The training room?"
"Yep. Nice to see that big brain at work there, Sammy."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Why are we going to the training room?"
"To work off some of that energy of yours before you shake yourself to pieces." Dean paused at the door and his mouth curled in blatant challenge. "Unless you're scared of getting your ass handed to you."
"Oh screw you," Sam said and pushed a laughing Dean through the door and into the room. "I'll kick your ass."
"Come on then," Dean said, stripping off his boots, socks, holsters and jacket and leaving himself in skintight black fabric. He left everything in a pile near the door and stepped onto the thick padded mat that took up most of the floor. "Show me what you've got."
"You don't want to warm up first?" Sam asked, dropping his own overclothes next to Dean's. He rolled his shoulders back, loosening up his spine.
"Hey," Dean grinned, "You can't keep up, that's your problem."
Sam narrowed his eyes and lashed forwards, driving a fist at Dean's gut.
Dean danced aside with a laugh. "Too slow, Sammy!" he crowed, countering with an elbow towards Sam's face. Sam ducked, feeling his muscles stretch looser as he used his longer reach to drive Dean back, pressing whatever advantage he could get.
Which, he quickly discovered, wasn't a whole lot. Dean didn't even bother avoiding Sam's lunge, just snaked in under his reach and drove in hard. Sam's back hit the mat with enough force that he bounced, breath knocked out in a rush.
"Dude, that was pathetic." Dean grinned at him, exultant and fierce like he'd been on Telacorax. "Again."
Sam ended up on the floor three more times in rapid succession before he started getting into the swing of the match. He'd grown up sparring with Jim, learning the limits of his body and how to use it, but Dean was at another level altogether. Where Jim had been the polished finish of formal training, Dean was the rough edges and instinct of years of experience, all wrapped around a core of fierce textbook precision. He goaded Sam with his every move, always a step ahead, and he moved like... Sam didn't know. Like steel maybe, all careful control and deadly grace: a blade wielded in the hand of a master.
He was also a fucking dirty fighter, which didn't surprise Sam in the slightest.
"Come on, Sam!" Dean taunted, panting lightly as Sam veered out of the way of a perfectly executed roundhouse kick. "Dodging's only half the game. Hit me already!"
"Do you ever shut up?" Sam growled, forcing Dean back with a flurry of punches. Dean gave ground easily, that smug grin still on his face, and Sam drove a knee at his gut, breaking their forward momentum. Dean blocked it easily but Sam was already countering, other leg clamping round Dean's waist to give Sam enough leverage to brace his hands on Dean's shoulders and shift forward, stacking all his weight onto Dean.
Dean bucked instinctively, fists driving at Sam's unprotected torso. Sam twisted sharply to the side, hooking his other ankle around Dean's thigh and driving down hard, throwing them both off balance for that single, crucial moment.
They hit the mat hard, Dean sprawled breathless on his back with Sam's weight across his thighs and Sam's right hand pinning both of Dean's to the mat. Dean's eyes were wide and endlessly green from this close and Sam was suddenly terribly aware of the heat of Dean's body, the faint sheen of sweat in the hollow of his throat. Dean was one long, lean stretch of muscle from wrists to waist, his chest brushing Sam's with every rapid intake of breath.
Dean looked like he'd turned to stone, eyes trained on Sam's face and his body lax in Sam's hold despite the tension Sam could feel thrumming through his limbs.
It wasn't with any conscious thought that Sam tilted his head closer, watching as Dean's gaze jumped immediately to his mouth.
"Dean," he murmured, not sure he really wanted to start this but just as certain that he wasn't going to be the one to stop.
Dean drew in a shuddering breath. "Let me up," he said, his voice rough. "Now, Sam."
The make me was on the tip of his tongue - how did Dean always bring out the worst in him? - but Sam bit back the impulse and shifted back, on guard as he released Dean from his hold.
Dean sat up smoothly, not even flinching as he sat up though Sam knew his ribs had to be killing him. His wrists would probably bruise.
"Not bad," Dean said eventually, overly casual. "Your follow through still sucks but maybe you're not a total loss after all."
Sam rolled his eyes. "I'm so glad you approve," he said, tamping down the impulse to call Dean on his bullshit. "Do you need everyone on your crew to be a better fighter than you are?"
Dean shoved him. "Fucker. I was going easy on you."
"Really?" Sam asked, climbing to his feet without offering Dean a hand up. He knew how well that would go. "Doesn't look like it to me. Getting worn out in your old age?"
"You're not nearly as funny as you think you are." Dean stood up without trying to wrestle Sam down to the mat in the process and Sam relaxed slightly.
"Neither are you," he said, keeping out of range just in case.
"Bullshit, I'm adorable." Dean threw an assessing glance over him. "You good?"
Sam considered. "Yeah actually." He shrugged, a little sheepish. "Guess it was good to get some exercise after all."
"That's what you get for hunching over a bunch of books all day," Dean said, only it sounded more like I'm glad than anything. Sam wondered which of them Dean was trying to fool. "Better watch it or your perky ass is going to get flat from all the sitting."
Which sounded a lot like flirting if you asked Sam and he was getting tired of trying to navigate Dean's hangups. "Hey, Dean?"
"Back on Stan-4-D, why didn't you kiss me back?"
"Hmm?" Dean responded, with a convincing display of absent confusion. A few clicks ago, Sam thought, it probably would have fooled him. "What's that, Sam?"
Sam didn't want to give Dean the leisure of pretending this time. "When I kissed you at the teleporter, you didn't kiss me back. Not really. I want to know why."
"You criticizing my game? I think I'm insulted." Dean turned towards the door, waving a careless hand Sam's way. "Also, busy, since I interrupted my schedule to deal with your emo ass. Go bother someone else."
"Come off it, Dean," Sam insisted, striding right up into Dean's space and looming at his back. "I know what a proper kiss feels like. That wasn't it."
"Well maybe I'm not into you."
Sam scoffed. "You really expect me to believe that after the way you were acting in the bar? You couldn't have been more obvious if you'd asked me to bend over."
"Gee, Sam," Dean ground out, rounding on him with a look that could have flayed flesh from bones. "Maybe because you'd made it perfectly clear that you didn't want to be kissing me, ever think about that?"
"Doesn't mean that you wouldn't have taken the opportunity to prove me wrong," Sam retorted. "I know you better than that."
"Do you now?" Dean said, with a smile that didn't tell Sam anything at all. "I don't need things getting complicated," he admitted after a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully. "A quick screw in a transport stop's not the same thing as bringing someone on board my ship and having to live with them for clicks on end."
"I don't believe you," said Sam immediately.
"Well that's tough," Dean shot back. "Cause that's all I got."
"Dean." Sam let the frustration drop and showed Dean a glimpse of the confusion and threatening hurt underneath. "Seriously. Why?"
Dean sighed. "Because you're Sam Winchester," he said, after a pause so lengthy that Sam hadn't thought he was going to respond at all.
"That's not a reason."
The look Dean gave him was heavy with a hundred things that Sam couldn't understand. "It is for me." He turned away again, hands clenching tight. "Leave it, Sam. I've got work to do."
Sam lingered for a moment, unsure. Dean didn't so much as twitch in his direction and Sam eventually sighed and stepped away. "Fine. Later, Dean."
Dean strode out of the room without looking back and Sam stood there for a long time, wondering how one man could affect him so much.
That night, Sam had a wet dream that involved him tying Dean to his bed and fucking him until he screamed. He woke up with his chest heaving and his cock achingly hard, the real life memory of Dean's body warm and solid under him in the practice room converging with the dream image of Dean writhing and desperate on the end of Sam's cock in a way that left no possible confusion in Sam's mind as to what he wanted to do with Dean fucking Harvelle.
Son of a bitch.
Sam did his level best to avoid Dean after that. He dove into the bookshelf in his room with single-minded intensity, starting on the top shelf and working his way steadily down. He worked out by himself in the training room, pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion again and again so he'd be tired enough not to wake up from his dreams. He spent hours in the library learning everything he could about the Deamhanan and then, when he'd exhausted even the Impala's extensive resources about them, he read books about whatever else caught his fancy. He wandered the halls in the quiet hours that counted as nighttime and watched stars and space dust ghost past the ship, thinking that he'd probably never have seen anything like it if the Deamhanan hadn't destroyed the Earth. He wasn't sure if that made him feel better or worse.
It was easier to keep out of Dean's way than he'd expected given the size of the ship, which led him to think that Dean was probably avoiding him too. Which wasn't really surprising, when Sam thought about it. He figured Dean was probably the type who could hold a grudge forever, mostly because he refused to talk about anything even vaguely important. And Sam wasn't really minded to try and make him spill whatever secrets he was hiding, not when all would get him was more of Dean's resolute stonewalling.
Which didn't stop him from pausing on the landing beneath the bridge when he heard Bobby and Dean arguing late on the fifth click, but Sam wasn't an idiot. If this was the only way he could get some information, then so be it.
"Dean," Bobby's voice was saying, tinny and serious. "You've got to tell him."
"Now that's where you're wrong," Dean's voice answered. "I don't have to tell anyone anything. Especially not Sam."
Sam hunched lower, any vague thought he might have had of sneaking away completely forgotten.
"Oh come off it, boy," Bobby growled. "He deserves to know the truth."
Dean's laugh was unpleasant to hear. "Oh yeah, that'd go over well. Sorry, Sammy, I've been lying to you this whole time. No hard feelings, kay? Hell, knowing my luck, it'd finally get the both of us killed and give the Deamhanan the key to the fucking galaxy. After Sam hated me forever."
"You got no guarantee of that."
Something clanged loudly, echoing the hoarse rise of Dean's voice.
"I don't need one! You think I haven't thought about it, Bobby? His life's already shitty enough without hearing how I've done nothing but let him down for the last seventeen fucking years." Dean took a breath that rattled down the stairs to Sam's hiding place. "I can at least do this right. Save the damn galaxy and give Sam a chance at the kind of life he deserves then ride off into the sunset like every other hero no one ever wants to hear from again."
"Don't 'Dean' me, Bobby. I'm done with this conversation. Some things are better off staying secrets."
Sam heard Bobby's answering huff and the telltale thrum of footsteps on the floor. He stumbled hurriedly away before they could catch him, head swimming with fewer answers and even more questions.
After that, he redoubled his efforts to stay away from Dean. The last thing he needed was a fight with the ship's pilot on top of his other problems, especially since he feared that any such fight could very easily end with him tossing the infuriating bastard out the airlock.
Unfortunately, it was his attempts to stay as far away from Dean as humanly possible that ended up leading the Deamhanan right to him. Because Sam's life was just unfair like that.
They'd made a pit stop at a drifter colony not quite two clicks outside the Andali Nebula and Dean had sent Sam and Bobby to pick up some supplies while he refueled the ship and Castiel did god only knew what. Sam had jumped at the chance to escape the tense confines of the Impala, even if only for a short while, and Dean had seemed just as happy to see him go.
Sam carried the boxes of foodstuffs without complaint as Bobby traveled from stall to stall through the bazaar, listening with only half an ear to the no doubt sage advice that Bobby was trying to give him.
"All I'm saying is you can't ignore each other forever," Bobby said, only the gruff sincerity in his tone keeping Sam from snapping at him to mind his own damn business. "You're gonna have to talk about whatever's going on between you two sooner or later."
Sam snorted. "Yeah, because that'll be easy. I'm starting to think that Dean doesn't know how to have a meaningful conversation."
Bobby regarded him evenly. "You gonna let that stop you?"
Sam's eyebrow arched. "I'm pretty sure you can't tie someone down and make them have a heart to heart."
Unexpectedly, that made Bobby smile. "Sam, you're more than capable of out-stubborning Dean. Don't let him fool you into thinking otherwise. Go get those delivered to the Impala," he said then, waving a hand at Sam's burden. "I want to see if they've got energy packs for our blasters on at a decent price."
"Right, sure." Sam left Bobby to the challenging task of flagging down the very large Sneed behind the counter and forged out of the store into the dense press of people wandering through the bazaar.
He found a shipping bot in fairly short order, getting all the boxes neatly settled and punching in the Impala's berth number. The bot scooted off and Sam straightened from his crouch, spine twisting as he turned to head back to the store he'd left Bobby in.
Something large and blue loomed in front of him and Sam reared back half a second too late; arms like steel bands wrapped round him, pinning his arms to his sides and choking the air from his lungs. A gag was forced into his mouth before he'd caught enough breath to yell and he found himself being shuffled along with the flow of the crowd, away from Bobby and the docking bays. He thrashed furiously but the hold on him was a good one; without a weapon, there was no way Sam was getting out of it on his own. He tried going limp but the alien just hoisted him up kept on walking, hauling Sam bodily along and letting his feet drag across the ground.
They ducked into a side street and down a set of stairs that opened onto a small courtyard. The alien released him abruptly a few steps from the bottom and Sam stumbled the rest of the way, arm lashing out instinctively at the figure waiting for him.
A hand caught the blow before it could land, fingers clamping down hard on his wrist and yanking him in close. Sam found himself staring into a human face made grotesque by a pair of sickly yellow eyes and he froze, belatedly recognizing the smell of death lingering all around him.
The Deamhan smiled. "Hello, Sam," he said and pain exploded in Sam's brain as those strong fingers snapped his wrist like a twig. "I've been looking for you."
Sam vaguely registered the feeling of the ground beneath his knees, the agony lancing down his arm leaving his mind muddled and blurred. He tried to curl his fingers away when he felt the Deamhan reaching for his ring, but the sudden spike of pain left him gasping and helpless to stop the smooth slide of the metal down his finger and off.
Yellow Eyes made a satisfied sound. "I'm glad we got that out of the way." He tucked the ring into a pocket and shifted his grip on Sam's broken wrist in a way that made Sam wish he had the leisure of passing out. His other hand tugged at the wad of fabric in Sam's mouth, pulling it loose with surprising care. "I always hate the physical parts of these meetings. I appreciate you not screaming, by the way."
Sam gritted his teeth, fighting for clarity. "Who the hell are you?"
Yellow Eyes laughed. It was a distinctively unpleasant sound. "Why, Sam, I'm hurt. Don’t tell me you don't remember me."
"Cut the crap," Sam bit out. "You're just a Deamhan in a meat suit. There's nothing to remember."
"Ouch. Aren't you a feisty one?" Those eyes fastened on him with a sinister sort of interest. "That always makes things so much more... fun."
Yellow Eyes' grip tightened as he spoke and sparks flared warningly in Sam's vision.
"Y-you've got the ring," he gasped. "Just... kill me already."
"Kill you? Oh, no, Sam, you've got it all wrong." Yellow Eyes leaned in, voice lowering as if to share a secret. "We want you alive."
Sam stared at him. "What?"
Yellow Eyes turned an indulgent smile on him. "I told you I've been looking for you."
"But- the ring, Titan..."
"Small fry," Yellow Eyes dismissed. "You're the one we're really after - the Titan is just a bonus."
Sam's voice sounded as lost as he felt. "Why?"
"Come on, Sam, is it really so hard to believe? That you belong with the Deamhanan? That there might be a place, just one place, in this whole universe where you belong? Where you'd be accepted?" He smiled gently. "Just because dear old dad didn't want you doesn't mean no one else does either."
Sam shut his eyes. "Stop it."
"Tell me, Sammy, what was it like, being abandoned by your only family? Your daddy might have cared enough to hide you away, but he didn't love you enough to keep you, did he?"
"Shut up!" Sam roared, the Deamhan's words echoing the dark mutterings in the back of his mind with frightening accuracy.
Yellow Eyes ignored him, still talking in that dark, dangerously smooth tone. "You know, most humans we don't care about so much. You're really not a particularly interesting species." He smiled. "But you, Sam, you're special. We've got great plans for you."
"What plans?" Sam demanded, proud of the fact that his voice didn't shake.
"Ah, ah," Yellow Eyes tutted. "Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise."
"I would," said a voice and Sam twisted his head round to see Dean silhouetted in the light from the stairwell, blaster in hand and reckless grin firmly in place. "Makes life more interesting, don't you think, Azazel?"
"Ah," Yellow Eyes, Azazel, said, not sounding the slightest bit put out. "And here comes the late John Winchester's pet pilot. Harvelle isn't it? I was wondering if you would grace us with your presence. Not keeping such great tabs on your charge, are you?"
Dean shrugged. "I'll get him a collar before we go. Now how about you fuck off back to wherever you came from before I break your wrists?"
Azazel's eyebrow arched. "A funny man, huh? Cute."
"I'm fucking delightful." Dean paused in his staring match with Azazel to dart a glance at Sam. "How you holding up there, Sammy?"
"Swell," Sam answered, with all the dryness he could manage under the circumstances. "I think you'd better ru-"
"Don't worry," Dean interrupted and actually winked at him. "It's all under control."
"This is all very touching boys," Azazel said. "But I'm sorry to say it's a wasted effort. Sam's coming with me, Harvelle. And if you try and stop me, well. I'm afraid I'm going to have to kill you."
Dean tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Yeah, no, that doesn't work for me. Think I'd rather just shoot you."
"Well," Azazel said, after a pregnant pause. "I must admit I hadn't expected John Winchester's protégé to be quite so stupid. But if it makes you feel better, go right ahead."
Challenge sparked in Dean's smirk. "Well alright then."
He surged forward and Sam cried out an instinctive, "Dean!", sure he was about to watch Azazel rip him limb from limb. But Dean didn't hesitate, just sighted down his blaster and pulled the trigger.
The hum of his blaster's retort echoed sharply through the air and Sam nearly swallowed his tongue when Azazel reeled, hand flying to his shoulder to staunch the sudden, impossible flow of something black and oozing down the sleeve of his shirt.
The fingers wrapped around Sam's wrist loosened fractionally and he wrenched himself free, staggering back a handful of steps when the resulting thunderclap of pain made his vision swim. There were hands on his arms a moment later and he thrashed instinctively before he realized they were Dean's.
"I gotcha," Dean's voice said against his cheek, strong and solid. "I gotcha."
"Dean," Sam gasped, more relieved than he would have liked to admit. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Hey," Dean protested. "I'm here, aren't I? Save yourself next time, you ungrateful bastard."
"Don't speak too soon, Dean Harvelle," Azazel said and Sam and Dean both straightened to see that the flow of black ooze had all but stopped, the skin of Azazel's shoulder knitting itself back together beneath the tattered wreck of his shirt. Rage shone in the glint of his yellow eyes and arched in the curl of his lip. "I am going to enjoy killing you."
"Sorry," Dean drawled, hand tightening on Sam's arm. "My calendar's fully booked this week. Try again in fifty years or so."
Azazel started forward, dark-eyed and intent, and Dean sucked in a deep breath.
"Cas!" he bellowed and Sam had a split second impression of wings before a hand wrapped around his bicep and the whole world whited out.
The ground returned just in time to keep him from falling over, though Sam still staggered back in shock when he realized that he was standing on the Impala's bridge, Dean and Castiel hovering on either side of him.
"Wha-?" he managed.
"Short range teleport," Dean explained. "One of Cas' tricks."
"Oh," said Sam. "That's handy. Thanks, Castiel."
Castiel inclined his head. "You're welcome. I am glad you are mostly unharmed."
"Me too." Sam's wrist throbbed in reminder of the 'mostly' and he grimaced.
"You okay?" Dean's hands reappeared and started steering him towards the chair at the navigation console. "Sit the hell down before you fall down. Bobby," he called over his shoulder. "How long before we're spaceborne? I want to get the fuck off this colony before that yellow-eyed bastard gets his act together."
"We'd be out of here sooner if you'd stop nagging me," Bobby retorted and Sam realized that Bobby was at the ship's controls, metal and earth sliding past the Impala's viewports as several pairs of competent hands navigated them out of the docking bay.
Bobby darted a sober look at Dean. "So it was him, huh? Azazel?"
Dean's answering nod was grim. "In someone else's flesh. I managed to ding him, but it healed pretty quick. Think the surprise did more harm than the blast."
Bobby nodded. "That won't work a second time," he warned.
"Well, I don’t." Sam glared at the pair of them, doing his best to look imposing while feeling like he was three steps shy of passing out. "Who's Azazel? And how the hell did you hurt a Deamhan?"
"Azazel's one of Lucifer's high generals," Bobby explained. "Stronger, meaner and more ruthless than your average Deamhan. And as far as hurting him goes," he tilted his head in Dean's direction. "It's that blaster."
"Blaster?" Sam asked, glancing at the weapon in Dean's hand. It looked different from Dean's normal blaster, long and unnaturally thin. "Your backup one?" he guessed.
Dean threw a slightly crooked smirk at him. "Told you it was only for emergencies." He twirled the gun once and slid it neatly into the holster at his back. "S'not enough to kill Deamhanan, but it packs enough of a punch to piss 'em off."
Sam made an absent noise of agreement. "Sounds like your kind of weapon," he remarked, then sobered. "He got the ring," he admitted. "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him."
"Don't worry about it," Dean said. He turned away from Sam's shocked face to look at Castiel. "Cas, get the nav points reconfigured as soon as we clear the air lock."
Sam blinked. "What?"
Dean barely spared him a glance. "You can set the controls to auto once Cas' got the coordinates adjusted," he said to Bobby who raised an eyebrow but didn't object.
"What the hell, Dean?" Sam demanded, his ire rising. "Aren't you listening? The Deamhanan have the ring! They know where the Titan is!"
"Well then I guess we'd better our asses in gear then, huh?" Dean's gaze flitted down to Sam's lap and away again, something sour twisting his mouth.
"God dammit, Dean!" Sam yelled, on his feet again and practically vibrating with the need to hit something. Preferably Dean. "We can't find the Titan without the ring, remember?"
"It's fine," Dean said.
"No it is damn well not fine, you secretive son of a-"
"It's fine," Dean repeated, as cold as Sam had ever heard him. "So shut the hell up." His attention flicked to Bobby and Castiel, who were very carefully not involving themselves in the conversation. "Are you two finished?"
Bobby sighed. "Dean..."
"I am so not in the mood for this right now, Bobby."
"You don't say," Bobby muttered. "Stubborn idjit." He punched a series of commands into the console then headed for the exit. "Auto-flight's set," he said over his shoulder. "You know where to find me when you decide to stop acting like a child."
He vanished down the stairs, muttering as he went.
A sigh rattled out of Dean's chest, eyes cutting sideways. "You gonna tell me off too, Cas?"
Castiel regarded Dean for a long moment. "I assume you know you're being foolish."
Dean didn't say anything.
Castiel nodded. "I thought as much."
He was gone between one blink and the next, which left Sam alone on the bridge with Dean, wondering what the fuck he was supposed to be doing.
Dean glared at nothing for a long moment, jaw clenched and hands fisted at his sides. Finally, he squared his shoulders and spun on his heel. "Come on," he said to Sam. "Let's get that wrist fixed up."
Sam followed along wordlessly as Dean led the way to the infirmary. When they got there, Dean gestured for Sam to sit and went to rummage in the cupboard.
"Push your sleeve up," he ordered, coming back with some medical tool Sam had never seen before and two rolls of gauze. The supplies went on the table next to Sam and then Dean's hands were spreading warm and careful on Sam's wrist.
"This is gonna hurt like a bitch," Dean cautioned. "Don't move."
"O-" was about as far as Sam got before Dean's fingers wrenched sharply and pain surged through his veins, driving the breath out of his lungs and sending his eyes to watering. "Fuck," he managed weakly.
"Just hold tight," Dean said, one hand leaving Sam's throbbing wrist to grab for the whatever it was. "Won't be much longer."
He jabbed the tool right against the break and Sam groaned, free hand curling round the edge of the table in a desperate bid to keep himself still. A new, tingling sensation threaded through the agony clouding his limbs, like an itch under his skin that made his whole body want to spasm.
"It accelerates the bone's knitting process," Dean told him, brow furrowed and expression intent. "So you're basically getting a couple months worth of healing in about three minutes."
"Swell," Sam gritted, blinking away the sweat rolling into his eyes. He panted at the ceiling, unable to focus on anything but the burning, itching pain crawling up his arm.
"...And that should juusst. About. Do it." The pain radiating from Sam's wrist cut off abruptly as Dean pulled the tool away and he all but collapsed onto the table, body shaking with the aftershocks.
"You'll want to give it at least a click and a half to finish healing," Dean said, fingertips rough but careful as he wrapped Sam's arm in gauze from his knuckles halfway to his elbow. "So try not to lose any more fights, okay?"
Dean released him and Sam flexed his fingers carefully, relieved when the move prompted little more than an absent twinge.
"Thanks," Sam said after a moment.
Dean nodded, packing the supplies away. "Don't mention it."
Sam frowned at himself. "No, that's not-" Dean glanced at him, one eyebrow eloquently crooked, and Sam huffed out a breath. "Not just for this, I mean... thanks. For coming after me."
"Like I said. Don't mention it." Dean huffed out a shaky breath, staring fixedly at the floor. "But you gotta be more careful, Sammy. I can't always be there to keep you safe."
Sam's first instinct was anger - did Dean think he was helpless? - until Dean looked up. There was genuine fear in Dean's eyes, poorly hidden behind a veil of frustration and desperate enough to leave Sam reeling. He hadn't known that Dean - larger than life, swaggering, blaster-toting Dean - could look that vulnerable.
"Dean?" he asked, off the table and several steps closer without a thought. Dean didn't move and it wasn't long before they were toe-to-toe, just shy of touching. "I'm alright, Dean. Really."
"God, Sam, if you got hurt," Dean was hardly talking to Sam at this point, all that desperation and self-loathing turning inwards. "I don't know what -"
Dean's words broke off sharply and Sam gave in to the impulse to reach out, curling one hand around Dean's neck and holding on. Muscles tensed then relaxed under his fingertips and Dean's face when he looked up was stark with a need that Sam couldn't even begin to unravel. Dean didn't move as Sam leaned in closer, angling his head down and tipping Dean's carefully up.
Their lips brushed, barely even a kiss, and Dean jolted back like he'd been electrocuted, nearly breaking Sam's other wrist in his hurry to escape.
"Dean," Sam said, plaintive and not caring.
Dean shook his head, his panic turning into firm resolve between one heartbeat and the next. "No. We're not going there."
"Why not? I'm not a child, Dean, I can make my own decisions."
"Yeah, well so can I," Dean shot back. "And I've decided we're not doing this. You want me to kick your ass a couple times to prove it to you?"
Sam scowled. "What I want is for you to tell me what the hell your problem is! I can tell you're interested and I don't for one second believe that bullshit about not fucking around with your coworkers so what. The fuck. Is stopping you?"
"It's none of your fucking business." Dean shut the cupboard door with a snap. "This conversation is over."
"No it is n-"
Dean was out the door before Sam could finish and Sam gaped for a long moment, trying to decide whether he was more pissed off or hurt by the rejection.
His fists clenched. Pissed off. Definitely more pissed off.
"Oh no it is fucking not." He charged out the door and headed straight for Dean's quarters, the hallway ringing with his rapid footfalls.
Dean's door was still unlocked so Sam barged right on in and found Dean sitting on the edge of his bed, head in his hands. Sam slammed the door shut behind him and Dean jerked his head up, the weariness in his expression buried in righteous indignation the moment he realized who was looming in his doorway.
"Sam," he threatened, but Sam was having none of it.
"No." Sam stood his ground, deliberately blocking the exit. "I'm sick of your bullshit. You don't get to fucking walk away from me this time, Dean. We're having this conversation whether you like it or not."
Dean sneered at him. "Have fun talking to yourself then."
"You can't avoid me forever."
"Watch me," shot back Dean blithely, the stiffness in his spine just barely betraying the nonchalance in his tone.
Sam valiantly resisted the urge to shake him until his teeth rattled. "I know you're hiding something," he said, careful to keep his words measured and clear. "I heard you talking to Bobby..."
"Not nice to eavesdrop, Sammy."
"Shut up," Sam snapped. "You're the one who's so determined to keep me the dark; you don't get to fucking complain if I find my answers some other way." Sam softened his tone with an effort, aiming for entreaty instead of command. "Dean. Just once, please. Tell me the truth."
Dean's expression was unfathomable. "No."
"What have I done to make you hate me?" Sam demanded, hating the way it came out bruised and vulnerable. "What's so horrible about Sam Winchester that you can't stand to be around him?
Dean sighed. "I don't hate you."
Sam nodded, clenching his jaw. "Right. You just don't trust me."
"No that's fine. Thanks, Dean, it's good to know where I stand. So I'm just along for the ride, huh? I already know you're planning to drop me off somewhere convenient once you didn't need my help." Sam spread his arms wide. "Well guess what ,Dean? Looks like you never needed me, after all. Not if you know how to find the Titan even without the fucking ring. So, what? You gonna find a transport stop to leave me at? Give me enough credits for a shuttle to the closest drifter colony? Or am I gonna have to turn tricks on the street in order to survive?"
"Stop it, Sam," Dean said, sounding weary and worn.
But Sam wasn't done yet. "Don't even know why you bothered saving me when I'm nothing but a burden. Should have just let the Deamhanan turn me into a meat suit - put me out of my damn misery."
Dean was across the room in an instant, hand fisting in Sam's shirt and dragging him down with bruising force.
"You fucking moron," Dean growled, fire snapping in green eyes. "I will do whatever it takes to keep you safe, you hear me? Keeping secrets is the fucking least of it. So don't even joke about the Deamhanan getting their dirty fucking hands on you because it's never happening."
"They're going to get to the Titan before us," Sam said, not quite challenging.
"No they won't."
"How do you-"
"They won't okay?"
Sam stared him down. "Not good enough, Dean. Why are you so sure you're gonna be able to find it without my ring?"
"Because I can use my fucking ring instead, okay?" Dean snapped and promptly looked like he wanted to swallow his tongue. "Fuck."
Sam stared, stunned. "You... it, what?"
Dean didn't answer, fingers slipping loose from Sam's shirt as he retreated across the room.
"How?" Sam demanded.
Dean lifted one shoulder in a lopsided shrug. "How else? Your dad set it up that way."
"But- why? And why didn't you say anything?"
"Because nobody needed to know. And it'd be up to you dad to tell you the first part." A fraction of Dean's usual smile lifted his mouth. "Although he was just as stubborn as you are so I doubt you'd have gotten an answer."
"I wouldn't know," Sam said bitterly. He sat down on the edge of Dean's bed without waiting for permission, feeling hollowed out and tired. "He's hardly even a memory at this point. Just another regret."
Dean sighed and the mattress dipped next to Sam. "Sam..."
"I always hated him," Sam confessed. "For leaving me. He was the only thing I had left in the universe and he just... left."
"He was only doing what he thought was best," Dean said, almost gently. "He was trying to keep you safe. Which is why you're alive and he's not."
Sam hummed noncommittally. They sat side by side for a time, and Sam took comfort in the strangely companionable silence that had fallen between them. He stared at his hands, wondering where his anger had gone.
"What was he like?" he asked eventually. "My dad."
Dean's smile looked like it cut from the inside. "He was a great man," he said simply. "And one hell of a taskmaster."
"That's it?" Sam asked. He looked into Dean's eyes from far too close. "That's all you can tell me?"
"Tell you what," Dean said, smoothing the jagged edges of his smile with obvious effort. His hand clapped down on Sam's shoulder. "When this is all over, if still want to know, get me very, very drunk and we'll talk. Now go the hell to your own bed," he added, releasing Sam's shoulder and shoving him off the bed. "We've got a busy few clicks ahead of us."
"Right." Sam turned to go, fighting the part of him that wanted to stay here with Dean and- god, Sam didn't even know if he wanted to fuck him or hold onto him until the rest of the universe went away. Maybe both.
But he kept walking, feeling the weight of Dean's eyes on him and knowing that there'd be little to no chance of getting a straight answer out of Dean while the task of saving the universe was still hanging over their heads. Still, Sam could be patient.
And when the dust cleared, he was going to pin Dean fucking Harvelle to the floor and make him talk.
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