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Sam looked down at the list of books he would need for the new semester. Last term He’d managed to find second hand copies of everything but this time he wasn’t going to be so lucky. Prof. Darabont had apparently decided to switch to the latest version of the book for congressional history, and he’d need to subscribe to the periodical for his state law class. He was barely scraping by on scholarships as it was. Room and board was covered, but he’d had to use his book money for this term to try to salvage his laptop after his roommate had spilled coffee all over it.

He didn’t have any savings, and he was already taking two extra classes, so it wasn’t like he could fit a job into his schedule. Not that anyone would hire him without any references and no applicable experience in anything other than research and bounty hunting. Construction maybe, except there was no way he’d be able to work around his schedule, and the truth was, he was getting out of shape. He still ran in the mornings but he hadn’t been to a range in ages and his reflexes were getting rustly.

Which really only left a few options. He could set up a few fake cards, but he’d always hated that. It was one of the reasons he’d split with his dad. He didn’t want to live in that gray area anymore, not when it was the dark they were supposed to be hunting. No lying, no cheating, no stealing. Which left him with one last lonely option. At least it was an option that would solve both his problems.

 

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Sam rolled his shoulders and waited for his opponent to step into the ring. It had been a while since he’d needed the cash desperately enough to fight for it. This particular ring was new to him, but the feel was the same. Sweat and beer, the heat from the spotlights and too many people crammed between the concrete walls. The thin mat that was the ring was the only clear scrap of flooring.

The announcer already had the crowd riled up. He called out the stats and the odds between boasting about the beat down that was going to happen.  Sam stood and thrust one fist in the air when the announcer pointed at him. He didn’t care what the crowd thought of him but it was part of the ceremony of it all. Of course he wasn’t exactly fond of the moniker they had given him but Moose was better than some of the alternatives. The crowd booed and screamed and punched the air. He played his role. Sam brushed six foot six and had shoulders that had been compared to barn doors and brick walls. To play the tough guy all he had to do was cross his arms over his bare chest and squint.

Sam made a show of settling into his stance as his first opponent stepped into the ring.

The guy was blocky with scars along his shoulder and muscles that boasted a lot of time with a weight machine. Sam wasn’t worried. If that was all he had to deal with, this fight would be over quickly. Of course the fact that he was in the ring at all meant the guy wasn’t purely show. This kind of deal, and a new fighter like himself meant that they would throw him up against someone in the middle of the group. Maybe a bit on the lower end but not the weakest guy they had.

He was announced as the bulldog and he snarled on cue, shaking his head and growling as he cracked his knuckles. The announcer again read out the rules as the last bets were placed. Five minute rounds until someone got a knockout or a pin. Other than that it was anything goes. This wasn’t one of the nice fight clubs where they’d kick you out for hitting below the belt.

Sam centered himself and someone in the distance hit a bell. The crowd faded into nothing, and his opponent, the bulldog, charged.

In most fights Sam had to adjust his style to the fact that he was bigger than his opponent; aim a little lower, bend his knees a little more. This fight was no exception. He sank into his stance and pivoted his hips as the bulldog came at him. The other man didn’t know what hit him, only that his punch hadn’t landed and then something was wrapped around him and pulling him down.

Sam locked up the punching arm with a move that wasn’t quite Judo but wasn’t really Aikido either. Then got behind the bulldog and pushed him to the mat. He could have ended it there and in truth the fight was done. Sam had the measure of this guy and knew he was more skilled but there was an audience and part of what people paid for was a good show. Putting the guy down in the first minute wasn’t what they’d come to see.

Sam had agreed to three fights that night with a bonus if he won all three. From what he knew of places like this if he put on a show they were likely to give him an even larger bonus, given that it made them extra money.

So when the bulldog stood up after a four count. Sam let him catch his wrist and almost pull him down before slipping out of the hold and twisting into the reversal. They were rolling on the mat and Sam definitely had the advantage given the length of his limbs. The bulldog landed hard at Sam’s next pin, and he didn’t have the heart to draw it out any longer. Sam twisted the guys arm back and waited for the ref to count.

When his victory was declared Sam let the guy up and stepped back wearly of any last minute retaliation. The bulldog rolled his shoulder and popped his neck. He’d be bruised but nothing more and he realized it. The man was also smart enough to realize that it could have been worse.

There was a quick discussion in the back as Sam retreated to his corner and swallowed a few mouthfulls of water. It was a decent warm up but he knew the next guy would be much better; and if he was honest with himself that fight had shown him just how out of shape he was. A few years ago, when he’d still been running around with Dean and their dad, he wouldn’t have struggled to get out of that hold. He could almost hear Dean going on about how sloppy he was.

Sam took a slow breath. He focused on stretching the muscles in his back and arms. keeping himself loose while the local coach decided who to send at him next. There were a few catcalls from the women in the audience.

The announcer was called over to the side of the ring and there was a brief series of nods.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you’re ready for this because here comes round two. Odds are set at three to one. The fresh meat Moose versus the one, the only, DRAGON.”

The man who stepped into the ring clearly took his name from the tattoo curling over his shaved scalp. A green asian style dragon that matched his asian features. He was also wearing a heavy Gi with a worn down grey belt. Clearly they had decided to put him up against someone who had more experience with martial arts after he’d taken down that last guy.

The Dragon settled into a fighting stance and Sam matched him. They were circling even before the announcer finished shouting out about the betting. When the bell finally rang there was so much tension in the air that no one was breathing. The whole audience on the edge of their seats.

Sam took the initiative and stepped in disguising his reach and trying to take advantage of his speed to get through the guy’s defenses. A lightning fast one two twist of his arms and turn of his wrist and the Dragon deflected his strike with ease. Sam didn’t let himself stop moving. He danced in again and tried for a grab. Again he was deflected, but this time the Dragon retaliated. The kick came out of nowhere, up and snapping out sideways while Sam was still recovering. Sam tried to twist and roll with it. He ran into the edge of the mat before he managed to get back to his feet but apparently the ref had decided this was too good a fight to stop with a disqualification. Sam stepped forward and now it was Dragon’s turn to play to the audience. He raised a hand and made the classic ‘come get me’ gesture from all the movies.

Shit.

At least now Sam knew the guy knew Taekwondo. He could kick boards and bricks in half easily if Sam was any judge and that meant Sam’s reach was mostly nullified. Still this guy didn’t know his tricks. Sam rolled his shoulder as if he was going to try for a punch again. He fainted left then swung in right with a classic roundhouse punch. The Dragon saw the faint, tried to compensate and started turning. Sam barely brushed the front of his gi with the punch but Sam was still moving, turning. His back was to the Dragon now and Sam lashed out with a kick of his own.

The back kick was nothing to boast about, but it did the job. The Dragon was knocked sideways and there was the opening Sam had been looking for. Already off balance the Dragon couldn’t dodge the leg sweep that brought him to the mat.

Sam launched himself through the air catching his opponent and slamming him down a second time before he had a chance to properly rise. Sam didn’t bother with a traditional pin. This guy would be able to get out of them, but he couldn’t defend against the full weight of Sam laid out across his chest.

Sam waited an extra two seconds after the count was called before he rolled off the guy and back to his feet. He was breathing hard. Rather than watch his opponent exit or play up his victory, Sam walked back to his corner and emptied the rest of his water bottle over his head.

The crowd had gone wild after his last victory and the heat of a california evening had teamed up with the mass of people packed into the building to crank up the humidity. That plus the spotlights and thank god the adrenalin had fully hit his system now. One more fight and he’d be flying high for the rest of the night. All his books paid for maybe even enough to buy a new laptop. So close, just one more win.

The next guy to step into the ring got a round of cheers that went through the building and then echoed around the block. He was as big as Sam, heavyset with dark skin and a navy tattoo etched into his shoulder in blue ink.

Sam stepped forward and noted Idally that the odds were now one to one. The Dragon must have been one of their better fighters. This guy was called the Soldier, so original but the guy seemed to be in the ring for a lot of the same reasons Sam was; keep in shape and earn some cash.

They settled in and waited for the bell. This time Sam waited for his opponent to attack first. He had displayed his fighting style enough for one night, and frankly he was done playing to the crowd. He was going to end this as fast as possible.

The guy stepped in with a fairly standard straight left, and Sam twisted to not really dodge it but lessen the blow. It was a good strike and Sam could see how this guy was ranked higher than the Dragon. The Dragon was all flash but once an opponent got past his defences he was done. This guy had solid offense, and defense as well, as was proved when Sam struck back and the guy shifted just enough to catch the blow on his shoulder and keep on coming.

They traded punches twice more, feeling each other out before Sam went for a grab. The guy was big enough he was hoping he wouldn’t have much flexibility. Not the case. The Soldier turned with the hold and tried for an arm lock. Sam was forced to let go in order to break away.

Sam skipped back a step, then two, falling into a boxer’s light on his feet movement. It wasn’t much of an advantage but Sam was younger and therefore just a little bit faster. If this was going to be a test of endurance then all he had to do was land more hits then he took and wait for an opening.

Not many people could take a real beating. When you got to Sam’s level, fights were generally over quickly. Then again most people hadn’t grown up the way he had. With the father and brother that he had.

Sam settled himself, rolled his shoulders back and stepped in. He aimed for the Solder’s guts and got his side. The soldier landed a hit to his shoulder. He landed a blow to the side of the guy’s hip and he took a hit that brushed his jaw.

The crowd went wild as strike after strike was narrowly blocked or dodged just enough to limit the damage.

Sam didn’t realise at first what was happening when the first round bell rang. He only realized that the soldier was stepping back and the ref was there pushing them towards their corners. One minute break, then they were back in the ring. Sam took advantage to gulp down a mouthful of water and take several deep breaths. He could already feel where the bruises would be coming up tomorrow. He’d have to come up with some excuse or his classmates would start assuming the wrong things.

The bell rang and he stepped forward settling into his stance again. The Soldier attacked and defended. Sam managed to faint and land a solid punch that had the Soldier gasping for a full minute, but he also dropped his guard, letting his opponent land a shot that made his whole right side go numb briefly. At the end of round two they were both slowing down but still standing.

Sam didn’t bother with the water this time. He was afraid he’d throw it up if another punch like the last one hit. At least the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves. Half of them were yelling for him to die or burn in hell, but he was the new guy so he’d expected that. Except for one guy with tousled black hair and a long coat who just stared at him with a pair of intense blue eyes.

The bell for the third round rang and he stepped forward again.

Sam waited until they were a minute into the round, when the Soldier had settled into the pattern of strike and block before he moved to end it.

Sam let the Soldier land a solid strike to his solar plexus and rather than trying to dodge or block as they had been, he grabbed the man’s arm and slid in and under. Levering the man’s arm like a fulcrum, he brought the Soldier up and threw him bodily over one shoulder.

The man landed hard.

Sam had noted that the guy was like him. Well the one trick that Dean loved to pull on him ( that no one else dared to try ) was a throw. Most people couldn’t get him off the ground, he was just too tall, too much muscle. That was apparently the same for this guy. Sam swung a leg over the arm that he still held the wrist of and twisted. The Soldier cried out, and that was the match. Sam waited until the final count declared him the winner but he was already flying high.

The victories meant he had just netted a solid two grand. Enough to cover his books. Enough to let him afford to eat off the meal plan every once in a while. He was exhausted but this had been a good night.

He wetted down his neck with some more water and was considering dumping the bottle over his head again when a figure stepped into the ring and the room went quiet. Sam turned, wondering what was up. They were done. That was it. Except that strange guy with the tousled hair and blue eyes had stepped onto the mat and was calmly removing his coat. He folded it neatly and set it aside. Under it he was wearing only a pair of sweatpants and his chest and shoulders were tanned and lined with the muscle of a runner or swimmer, lean and functional.

Sam looked at the ref trying to figure out what was up. “I signed up for three fights. What’s all this?” If they were trying to cheat him out of his money….

The ref came up, and made  sure the mic was off before he leaned in. “Look you’ll get your money but you want to fight this guy. He doesn’t take on just anyone. There’s a $1500 up for anyone who can beat this guy. Standard rules.”

Sam looked at the ref, then glanced over to where the coach was standing by the door to the back. The coach nodded confirmation.

“Okay,” It was just too good to pass up. An extra $1500 and he might not have to get a job next term. The announcer started in and the crowd cheered at the announcement that there'd be one more fight. Only then did Sam catch the name Dark Angel.

It kind of fit. The guy did have that dark allure, but really? He was half Sam’s weight if that. Sam tried to remind himself that this guy had to be good if that kind of money was being offered. He knew people could get desperate and do things you’d never expect them to be able to do. He shook his head again and tried to center himself.

The bell rang and he stepped forward. To his surprise the Dark Angel formally bowed to him as if this was a dojo rather than a back alley fight club. Sam bowed back but didn’t let it distract him.

Sam started circling, and the Angel matched him. Sam was tired enough by that point that he knew he was getting sloppy. He couldn’t manage another long fight.

Sam threw a punch testing the guy and he dodged… but it was more than that. This wasn’t economy of movement and the typical shifting of a martial artist. That was in there somewhere but this guy flowed. He was weaving, graceful, as if this was some kind of dance floor rather than a fighting ring. Sam pulled back, warry, and the angel settled back, light on his feet. His arms weren’t even up, just kind of out, ready but unassuming.

Sam stepped in with a snap kick and then turned adding a quick one two punch. Not a single strike landed. The angel reached up and slid along his leg. He had clearly seen the kick coming though how was beyond Sam. After that the punches were useless. The guy was behind him somehow and the leg sweep hit Sam’s knees sending him down.

Sam tried to roll with it and ended up back on his feet but only because the angel hadn’t bothered to stop him. The Angel let his head fall to one side and took up that stance again.

Sam took a breath and stepped in. He aimed a left jab at the angel but was ready when the guy dodged, and lashed out with his right. The blow clipped his gaw. The Angel caught his wrist even as his eyes went wide in surprise.

Sam used the grab to bring up his knee but again the guy was simply gone. He noticed a flash of movement out of the corner of one eye and lashed out, spinning. The kick landed and left a mark on the Angel’s arm but it was too late. The guy was inside his reach again and this time he was expecting Sam’s attempt to turn the tables. The shoulder lock brought him to his knees and the world rotated in a spiral before Sam found himself face down on the mat.

He hadn’t had a chance. He could barely comprehend what had happened before the ref was calling it. Acting was out of the question. He’d never faced anything like it. By the time he was dragging himself to his feet the Dark Angel had moved to retrieve his coat and was calmly putting it on, as if it wasn’t a thousand degrees in here already.

This time Sam didn’t hesitate to dump the water bottle he was handed over his head. He went through a few cool down exercises mindlessly, and only then let himself guzzle down another bottle.

Who the hell had that last guy been?

Sam waited around for another half hour slipping out a side door to wait for the crowd to empty out before he went to bug the coach about the money and possibly ask a few pointed questions. The night was cool and the lights of the city bounced off the few scattered clouds to turn his dark hiding spot into only a moderate amount of gloom.

The figure surprised him when it cleared its throat. Even more so when he realized it was Dark Angel.

“Oh, um, Hey.”

“Hello.”

Only then did Sam realize the other guy had never actually said a word. His voice was deep, gravel and molasses. Sam tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t come up with anything sensible so he just blurted out the question that had been nagging at him since the fight.

“What was that?” He blushed. “Sorry. I don’t mean, it’s just, I’ve never seen anything like that style. It was incredible.”

“It was a combination of Capoeira, and then a bit of Aikido at the end.” He held out his hand. “My name is Castiel. Thank you for the fight.”

“Sam, and it was no problem. Not that it was much of a fight.”

Castiel let his head fall to one side. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, I was exhausted for one. I’m out of practice. Only agreed to it because I could use the cash.”

Castiel’s brows came together as if he was facing some difficult puzzle. “It did not seem like it was your first time at one of these events and certainly not your first time in the ring. Though you are new to this circuit. You are not a fighter?”

“Only when I need the cash. By day I’m just a poor college student.”

“Ah, I see. University of California? What are you studying?”

“Actually I’m going to Stanford Law.” Sam pushed himself up off the wall and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He never knew if he should be proud or embarrassed, what with how he needed all those scholarships and the way his family had reacted.

“That is impressive.”

Sam just rolled a shoulder. “Yeah well…”

Castiel gave him another of those long looks, then seemed to come to a decision. “Wait here.”

Sam blinked as Castiel turned back to the building and slipped inside. It was almost ten minutes before Castiel reemerged and trotted up to him, holding out a plain white envelope. “Your winnings.”

Blinking, Sam took the envelope, sliding the flap open and looking inside.

“Cas this is. This is too much.” He was holding just over three grand. Most of it in fifties with a few twenties thrown in for good measure.

“It’s yours.”

“but, I didn’t beat you.”

Cas shook his head. “It’s been two months since anyone landed a decent hit on me. At least five months since I’ve had an interesting opponent. Considering you were not at your best, you are certainly the most skilled opponent I have faced in some time. You earned that.”

Sam was about to protest again but Castiel held up a hand.

“I’m not really a fighter either. I do not need the money. I do this because of the skill required and the challenge it presents. Take it, and if you want to pay me back then perhaps we can spar some time.”

From the depths of one of his coat pockets he pulled a business card. The swirling pink and black lettering on the card spelled out: Angellic Delights. Sam started blushing thinking this guy was into something more kinky than sparing before he caught the subheading: Designer chocolates and pastries, Catering, Weddings, Deliciousness. Tasting room available by reservation. The name in a twisting spiral script on the back was Gabriel Erzengel.   

Sam looked up to ask about the name but the other man had slipped away while he’d been intent on the card. Effectively silencing any further attempt to give back the money. Sam slid the card into the back of his wallet and the envelope into an inner pocket of his coat.

He’d have to run by the bank in the morning. No wait, tomorrow was Sunday and classes would be starting on monday. His mind was lost in plans long before he got back to his dorm in the early hours of the morning.

When he woke up to his roommate slamming the door the next morning, the business card had completely slipped his mind.