Azazel narrowed his eyes at the hologram of Captain Metatron giving his report.
“That’s the last we saw them our scopes. M’lord,” he explained. “Considering the level of damage we doled out to them, and considering the level of damage our fleet is taking, such an inferior ship was surely crushed. M’lord.”
Azazel curled his lip. Always with the belated “m’lord”, as though it were a hasty afterthought. As if the guy’s voice wasn’t grating enough – it was just the right pitch of annoying to make the Sith lord want to choke him out simply to make it stop – then there was that borderline disrespect. He held back, grinding his teeth. Foul voice, dishonest smile, and beady eyes. Azazel was glad not to deal with this insect on a regular basis.
“They’re alive, Captain,” Azazel growled. “Until I have the wreckage of that damn ship and Winchester’s scorched bones in my possession, we keep looking. Whatever it takes.”
Captain Metatron grimaced. “We shouldn’t risk the fleet further. We’ve already lost a do–”
“Don’t remind me of the casualties,” the Sith cut in. “I command every ship to continue the sweep of the asteroid field. They’re there somewhere, Captain, and we will find them.” He fixed the twit with a dangerous glare, daring him to argue further.
“Yes. Of course, sir,” said Metatron. “M’lord.” He gave a swift bow and the hologram faded as the transmission cut out.
Azazel let out an aggravated sigh. He didn’t care if they had to search every freaking asteroid inch by inch. They were going to find the Impala. Winchester was the key to crushing the rebels, Azazel knew. He curled his fingers into a fist at his side and the burnt flesh still healing beneath his glove pulled and stung.
“Sir?” General Roman cleared his throat.
“What is it?” the Sith growled.
“The Emperor, my lord,” General Roman explained, his voice trembling. “He requests an immediate audience.”
“Move the ship out of the field,” Azazel commanded. The screwy refraction of the signals in the asteroid field was already doing a number on their sensors and ship-to-ship transmissions, Azazel didn’t want to subject the Emperor to the static and sputtering of poorly connecting holograms.
“At once, my lord,” Roman nodded curtly and seemed immensely relieved to have delivered his message.
Azazel swept out of the command chamber, trusting General Roman to command the fleet in his stead. He hurried to his private chambers and initiated contact with his master. A massive hologram of the Emperor flickered to life before Azazel, who knelt as soon as it appeared.
His master wore dark robes, his hood up to obscure his features. He slid it back to reveal a once-handsome face marred by red scars on his cheeks and forehead, as though his skin had worn too thin in some spots and never quite healed. His cold blue eyes shone from darkened, sunken eye sockets.
“What is thy bidding, my master?” Azazel asked, keeping his head down but his eyes up.
“Azazel, what are you doing?” Emperor Lucifer asked blandly. He tilted his blond head, regarding his apprentice with a patronizing air.
“Because it seems to me, that you’re wasting a helluva lot of time and resources chasing down one itty bitty ship when you’re supposed to be handing me the Rebel Alliance on a silver platter.” His tone was flat and flippant as usual, but Azazel could feel the anger bubbling beneath. “I mean, that is what you promised me, isn’t it, big boy?”
Azazel swallowed. He had. Twice, in fact. When he had Winchester in custody, he’d made contact and promised he was going to disintegrate the bastard, procure the Rebels’ location, and stamp them out. Then after that damn Winchester had escaped, he’d promised – on the way to Hoth – that they had the Rebels’ location and were about to destroy them.
“My master, I… circumstances have…” While Azazel fumbled for a suitable answer, Lucifer huffed.
“You know I hate broken promises, Lord Azazel. Why do I get the feeling your little Winchester vendetta is clouding your vision?”
Azazel bristled. “He has done nothing but undermine our cause, Master, just like his father, and I can’t allow him to keep breathing.”
“Yeah, weren’t you supposed to deal with that like twenty years ago? Now he’s the trashiest rebel of them all,” said Lucifer. “And I want the Rebels gone. The base, the core, the lifeblood – not just some outlier who you have a history with – all of them.”
Azazel tensed his jaw. Winchester was more than an annoyance – he was practically the Alliance’s leader. Certainly he was the face they rallied around. Turning him to dust would demoralize them, Azazel was sure.
“The damn Alliance has done nothing but piss me off, day in and day out, mucking things up, and frankly, I’m over it,” Lucifer continued, crossing his arms over his chest. “I want them dealt with. I want them obliterated. No more promises of destruction.”
The look he gave Azazel then was the kind that could melt skin off bones.
“You’ve had two strikes, ‘Zaze. Fix this. End them. Or else it’s lacy, gently wafting curtains for you. Don’t fail me a third time.” The Emperor reached forward and ended the transmission before Azazel had a chance to reply.
The Sith lord swallowed hard again, and touched shaking fingertips to his neck. For a second he could’ve sworn he’d felt an iron-like grip constrict his windpipe – just enough to drive home the Emperor’s anything-but-idle threat.
As Azazel stormed out of his chambers, he began to formulate a plan. The quicker that Winchester shit was found, the better. And since his own fleet wasn’t working fast enough, he’d arrange for hired help.
He would find that ship and lay waste to the Rebels, if it was the last thing he’d do.
“How goes the battle?” Bela asked, leaning against the doorframe of the main maintenance closet.
“She’s built to take some pretty hefty hits,” said Dean, gesturing with his power calibrator to the exposed machinery before him. “Just not this heavy, so close together, without repairs. Those Imperial bastards tore her up good. The power coupling on the negative axis is polarized, so we need a new one – ”
“Which we don’t have,” she informed him, twining a lock of her hair around her finger.
“And the secondary compression coil is fried all to hell.”
“Which we also don’t have.”
Dean frowned. “I know. That’s the problem. We can only put a bunch of band-aids everywhere and hope it holds until we can make it somewhere and do some serious, actual repairs.” He sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face, fingers brushing the mechanic’s goggles perched on his head. “Where’s Ree?”
“Sleeping. She was a little fried after the whole… asteroid field thing.”
“Once again, anything was better than getting caught by the Imperials,” Dean rolled his eyes. “You’re welcome, for the fiftieth time,” he added bitterly.
She smirked at him, infuriatingly well aware that her refusal to thank him for saving their hide was driving him nuts.
“Oh Dean, be honest, you just wanted Azazel to chase you,” Bela teased. “I know how you two love to play cat and mouse.”
“Hah, hah,” said Dean flatly. “Look, the sooner – ”
The floor rumbled and shifted and Bela stumbled sideways. Dean caught her as the whole ship shook and tilted one way then the other. For a few breathless seconds, they waited for the movement to subside.
The noise ceased and the ship leveled out.
“What the hell was that?” Dean murmured, glancing around the engine room like he might see a clue to the cause of the quake. Her shirt had ridden up slightly and his fingertips were pressed against the skin of her stomach.
“I… don’t think this cave you picked is terribly stable, darling,” Bela replied quietly. “There was some shifting earlier, but it was minor – I thought it was just the ship settling.”
He suddenly was conscious of the fact that his arms were still wrapped around her, that he was touching her, and he hastily let go, practically shoving her to her feet. She glowered at him and adjusted her shirt while he returned his attention to the valves by his head.
“Hand me the torch,” he muttered, gesturing to the pile of tools that had rolled across the floor when the ship pitched.
He cleared his throat and ignored the look she was still giving him when she handed him the welding torch, smacking it into his palm. He steadfastly denied the fact that his fingers were still tingling.
“If the asteroid is unstable, then all the more reason to get out of here,” Dean continued. He popped the protective goggles from his forehead onto his eyes and used the torch to weld the damaged valves. “The sooner we get Baby in decent shape again, the sooner we can get out of here. Ash found a hole in the plans, and I need to get back to Jo.”
“She can handle things while you’re gone,” said Bela, shielding her eyes, her head turned away while Dean welded.
“I know, it’s just…” He switched off the torch, removed the goggles, and handed them both to Bela. “I need to get back.”
He chewed his lip and regarded his handiwork. Now theoretically, all he had to do was turn the lever to reengage the system, and they’d be in a lot better shape. If it did fully reengage and there weren’t a bunch of other problems standing in his way, of course. He wiped his hands on the grease-stained rag hanging out of his pocket and tried the lever. Damn thing wouldn’t budge, so he heaved harder.
“Would you like some help?” asked Bela, her voice colored with amusement as she watched him struggle.
“No, I got it,” Dean grunted and gave another hearty shove against the lever. His hand slipped and he banged his fist sharply into the metal housing compartment behind the lever. “Son of a bitch!” He shook his smarting hand.
“You sure?” Bela giggled.
Dean scowled at her. He got a bottle of lubricant from the toolbox and applied some to the lever’s connecting point. Bela stood back and watched.
“You could maybe go do something useful, you know,” he grumbled at her. “Instead of standing there, being judgey and irritating.”
“No, I’m good right here.” She smiled maddeningly.
He shot her another dirty look before giving the lever another go. He pushed and twisted, and felt it shift a tiny bit. He was moaning with effort when Bela appeared on his left and slipped her hands over the end of the metal lever to help him shove. She screwed up her face and huffed air through her teeth, and finally the damn thing gave. They both stumbled at the sudden lack of resistance, and received bruised knuckles and pinched skin for their trouble.
Dean pressed his throbbing hand to his mouth and Bela laughed at him.
“Stupid, damn thing!” he groused, and she cupped her hand around his and began gently massaging his fingers.
“Oh, poor Dean and his battered Baby,” she teased, and he very maturely stuck his tongue out at her.
“This is your fault, you know,” he mumbled. “Dragging her into this mess. At least you’re finally admitting it’s my ship.”
She shook her head at him, though her smile stayed in place.
He watched her fingers make slow circles on his skin and felt his heartrate climb. Dean flicked his eyes to her and then back to the inexplicably tender way she was rubbing his fingers. He wasn’t sure how many minutes had passed before he realized she’d been rubbing his hand for much longer than necessary and his breath caught in his chest.
“Better?” She looked up him a moment later, eyes wide and far too pretty.
“Yeah, whatever.” Dean tugged his hand out of her grasp. He gave his head a shake to clear it from the fog Bela was clearly trying to put him in.
He turned to check the readouts, hoping several hours worth of work hadn’t been wasted. The displays showed that the system was holding for now, but it wasn’t great. The schematics lit up like a Mekzatorian festival, with blinking red critical areas everywhere and just as many attention-needing orange and yellow spots. Though he, Ree, and Bela had made some progress, the ship was still in pretty bad shape.
“Damn it!” He thrust his hand through his hair.
“You must stop doing that,” Bela scolded and bent down to retrieve a non-greasy rag from the toolbox near his feet.
She smiled at him. “Putting grease in your hair.” Bela reached up and gently wiped at the grease clumping in his hair.
“Did you see the readouts? We’re screwed!” Dean gestured and exhaled with frustration.
“Don’t be so cynical,” she chided and scrubbed at the grease smear on his cheek. “You’ll patch this bucket of bolts together enough that we can limp to a suitable port – you always do.”
He frowned, not appreciating the insult she’d thrown at Baby, and not wanting to agree with her, though she was right.
She moved the rag to his other cheek, her movements slow and soft, and her gaze drifted towards his mouth. He could feel his heartrate climbing again and didn’t like where this was headed. Experience told him he was veering into dangerous territory, so he tried to steer them to colder, more familiar ground. He grabbed her wrist and pushed her arm away.
“Okay, you got it, thanks. Now, stop playing nice,” he said sharply, hoping to shrug her off. “I know how this game goes.”
For a moment, he thought he’d offended her as intended, but then she blinked at him innocently. Her mouth was tilted up in another familiar teasing smile when she replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, darling.”
“Like hell,” he huffed. “This is exactly how I ended up with no money, no speeder, and no pants the first time. Go be useful somewhere – I mean it.”
Bela bit her lip, ignoring his shooing motion. “And the third.”
“That one was on purpose,” said Dean, waving his finger at her. “It was all part of my plan. Now, go.” He pointed towards the door.
“Thief,” he shot back, dropping his arm.
“Mm, I only lied about being a thief.” She twirled the rag in her hands. She was enjoying this way too much. As usual.
Bela rolled her eyes. “Always with the tone.”
“I don’t have a tone,” he scoffed.
“If I have a tone, I have a damn good reason for it – after all these years of dealing with a bitch like you.”
Bela tossed the rag aside and moved closer to him, her green eyes locked on his. “Oh darling, please. Be honest: you like me because I’m a bitch.”
“Like hell,” he repeated. Except his voice came out all low and not even slightly convincing. “Go,” he tried instead and it wasn’t any better.
“Make me,” she retorted, so very eloquently.
Dean fought to keep his emotions in check. He could feel himself standing at the precipice and he knew that he had to walk away right now (since she clearly wasn’t going to), lest things spiral out of control. He wasn’t going to do this with her again, he wasn’t going to cross that line. They’d had an agreement, they’d stopped with their on-again/off-again mess once and for all. He hadn’t left her behind on Clia just to fall into their old habits.
Part of him wondered if they already had and it was too late to pull back.
“We have had some good times, you and I, haven’t we?” said Bela. She was pressed almost completely against him, her features startlingly open. That vulnerable expression was more dangerous than any other look she had ever thrown his way – like she would crumble to dust should he turn away.
Her hand settled on his chest as it rose and fell, the other curled around his neck. He knew he’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and he was slipping towards the edge. She was tilting her lips up to meet his, and he was supposed to stop and back away…
“Bela,” he breathed, and God, she smelled exactly how he remembered – all spice and sin and a mistake he simply had to make. Damn, she made him feel powerless. She was never more beautiful to him than when she finally dropped her guard and let him in, let him see her like this.
He realized she hadn’t come in here to see how repairs were going.
Dean closed the distance between them, meeting her lips with his, unable to hold himself back any longer. She kissed him back hungrily and her nails dug into his chest, trailed up onto his neck. He wrapped his arms around her back, pressing her tight to him, his heart beating a fierce rhythm against his ribs. He slid his hands up into her hair, down her shoulders, grabbed her hips. She kissed him harder and her fingers snatched at edge of his shirt.
He was in free fall.
They separated so Bela could tug his shirt over his head. He helped her shuck her vest, quickly followed by her shirt. Dean tangled his hand in her hair and brought her back to him like he couldn’t bear the lack of contact.
He planted kisses along her jaw and down her neck. Bela moaned softly and tilted her head back as he moved along her collarbone. His lips brushed over a soft ridge of scarred skin by her shoulder and he hesitated, hot guilt making his stomach clench.
“Don’t,” Bela breathed.
Dean leaned back to meet her eyes, and a thousand apologies jammed in his throat and weighed down his tongue.
“Don’t,” she repeated, and captured his mouth with hers as if to stem to flow of rehashed guilt she knew was coming. She kissed him intensely, pushing her tongue past his teeth. He responded with fervor, but jumped back with a hiss when she poked her thumbnail sharply into his ribs.
“Ow – what the hell!” he snapped, glancing down where she’d jabbed him.
She ghosted her fingers over the long, thin scar on Dean’s ribs leftover from a vibroblade several years ago. He’d gotten bacta on it too late for the scar to completely heal, same as the old scar on Bela’s shoulder. A wave of goosebumps erupted over his skin at her touch.
“We’re even,” she whispered, breathing heavily. Her eyes were blazing with lust and memories, and Dean imagined he was probably wearing a very similar expression.
He took a moment to drink her in: tousled hair, flushed cheeks, bright lips. She waited, her gaze focused on his mouth as she tried to catch her breath. He was suddenly terrified he wouldn’t see her like this again, that he would lose this last chance, so he grasped the back of her neck and pulled her in close.
Dean and Bela crashed together. He scrabbled at the clasp on her plain grey bra and she fumbled for the zipper of his pants. They cleared the workbench off next with a couple hasty swipes that sent tools clattering to floor.
He was on fire and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t touch every part of her fast enough, couldn’t stand how much he needed her in that moment. He’d forgotten how incredible it felt to hear her say his name, to moan and sigh into his neck, to feel her skin against his – how much he’d missed it. He didn’t mind that she was leaving nail scratches on him because he was leaving fingerprints on her.
Dean kissed her long and tenderly when they were finished. His smoothed his thumb over her cheekbone.
“This doesn’t change anything, you know,” she said quietly, as if she were afraid to break the spell between them but unable to keep the words from coming out anyways. “I don’t care… I can’t care the way you want me to.”
Dean sighed through his nose. “I know.”
Bela slid off the workbench and picked her clothes up from the floor.