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COLONICAL CORE TERRITORY NEWS


Number of Suicides Still Rising Despite Improvements In Health System


Author Tamara Jones                                                           Published: May 11, 2212

COLONIAL CORE TERRITORY——Last year, 2156 people committed suicide within the Colonial Core territory. In comparison to the billions of citizens on Earth and the Lunar settlements, this number seems awfully small, but still made me question why nobody notices when someone chooses to end their life in a society that prides itself on the tightly knit ideal of family, pack, and the support of a free health system.

On my hunt for an answer, I found that about two-thirds of the suicides in the last year have been committed by pack-less men and women, outcasts of their family because they could not fit themselves into the role they were meant to fill, driven by shame and fear. And as I looked up the numbers to find out if this striking majority was accidental or already part of the problem, I found myself more than surprised to see that of the 3.4% of the Colonial Core territory population officially dependent on the financial basic support system, about half had indeed registered as an “outcast.”

This downright alarming number showed me that there must be something wrong within the oldest and most important structure in our society: the pack. In the beginning, that core structure of community was ruled by instinct; it was what made an Alpha the dominant and a Beta the submissive, but nowadays we find ourselves departing more and more from our instincts and relying on the technology around us, and maybe that is where the problem can be found.

The C-test, named after Doctor Francis Cheng, an often-criticized geneticist living and working in the Eastern City States almost 80 years ago, is one of these technological aides humanity has come to rely on. No longer does the instinctual socialization during childhood, puberty, and adolescence decide who and what we become in our adulthood, it has come down to a simple prenatal test of the amniotic fluid, or amniocentesis, to determine the rest of our lives. Back in the 2140s, in a time of strict control on how many children a pack was allowed to have inside Colonial Core territory, means to determine what secondary-gender a child would inherit seemed like the only way to make sure a pack’s family line would continue, especially in those City States still holding on to the archaic concept of total dominance of the Alpha.

In the end, the trend to prefer an Alpha child above any other secondary-gender led to the registration laws that limited abortion to medical reasons only. But how can so many people still find themselves lost in a world in which our secondary-genders are tested and tested again, practically from the moment we are not more than a cluster of cells? And where is the support system for those who get lost in the first place?

I have visited Doctor Jim Murphy, one of the leading specialists on the field of secondary-gender therapy and founder of the Colonial Center clinics, to discover the answer to this question, or at least gain some insight on what is going on out there.

Technology is our greatest aid, and our greatest curse,” said Dr. Murphy. “We just trust too much in what the C-test dictates and stamp our children with a label long before they’re even born. However, we are not just the sum of our genes and what a child’s position in pack will be, might remain a mystery until much later in their lives. Most of our patients suffer first and foremost from a condition called Gender Dysphoria. The condition is the unhappiness with one’s biological sex or its usual gender role, sometimes even a conflict between primary and secondary gender, often with the desire for the body and role of another sex which basically means that something in the establishment of their gender role in society has gone terribly wrong. Symptoms can be such negative effects as, for example, severe depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and many more, often influencing their lives to such an extent that these people become virtually unable to participate in a pack’s daily life. Casting them out seems like the only option left to many of these families—especially with the Colonial financial support system in place to take care of pack-less people.”

In my naivety, I asked at this point why people don’t rely more on their instincts then, if all the testing doesn’t work out so well. Our instincts, after all, have always been hardwired into our bodies and souls, and still determine as important matters as the choice of a mate.

But that is exactly the problem,” Dr. Murphy added. “I would go as far as to propose that casting out has become something of an instinctual immunological pack reaction to Gender Dysphoria which abandons troubled family members rather than helps them. And besides, technically, the chances of an actual wrong diagnosis are very slim, and almost always caught on one of the recommended exams through childhood and puberty—at least inside Core territory. But our actual secondary-gender is not always what our biological secondary-gender dictates. For example, back in the day, a genetic male Omega could have the male Beta function in a pack and more actively aid a family in their struggle for survival, nowadays, male Omegas have sadly been named completely useless by society. For going on three generations, we have become dependent on the C-test, and forgotten how natural gender orientation works and that secondary-gender can be a mutable thing with its own dynamic.”

With that in mind, I can only come to one conclusion: a large number of last year’s suicides could have been prevented, if their packs would have turned to the professional help offered within our health system instead of casting out their pack members. But why did these people not seek help actively?

Sadly, it is usually unlikely that an outcast dares to seek help,” Dr. Murphy elaborates. “Mostly because the shame and the fear are so incredibly great, they would rather choose isolation than contact outside of their pack. And that is exactly were the Center Institute comes in and tries to help.”

+------------------------------+

My story is one of many thousands, and the world will not suffer, if it ends too soon.

~ Intro Assassin’s Creed Revelations

+*+

 

-SICK ROLE-

/sik rōl/

 

The protective role given an individual who is physically or mentally ill or injured; it may be assumed by the individual or it may be imposed as a part of social custom.”

__________

 

1.

 

Dean used to remember the sun.

 

In his youth, he had painted a flaming, yellow ball on the expanse of empty gun-metal gray wall beside the water-recycling tanks to not forget. There were two moons as well. Two blue dots the size of a five-year-old child’s palm, high in the sky above streaks of green and yellow, which had been meant to be the sunflower fields around Lawrence.

 

He had remembered faintly how his five-year-old self stood there for a long time, hands sticky with paint and large green eyes narrowing in concentration, contemplating if he should add the stars too. Then he had shaken his head and had painted a few red and blue flowers instead, just like those in his mother’s garden, and a dozen small, white cubes meant to be their settlement’s houses.

 

His father had made him wash off the paint again a few weeks later. His father had been furious and screamed the order with alcohol-tinged breath, pulling Dean around by his thin arm, tight grip having left fingerprint-sized bruises, to make him never forget that this world was gone. Lawrence had burned, together with Dean’s mother, and there was no going back.

 

He had told Dean in no uncertain words that an engine room was no place for childish scribbling, and he should make himself useful somehow, instead of causing a mess. Their home was gone for good, and if he had wanted to keep what little shelter Uncle Bobby provided for John and his son, Dean should have remained on his best behavior. But by then, the paint’s molecules had been baked so deeply into the metal’s anti-corrosive protection by the engine room’s heat, that years later, in the black-light of the emergency bulbs, the sun still had shone above the long-gone sunflower fields and the garden of his mother.

 

In Dean Winchester’s world, the sun was not yellow; it had the same white-brown hue of bleached bones, as had the moon and the grass and the flowers, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t remember their true colors or his mother’s smile. 

 

Most of the time, his father was gone for weeks, sometimes for months, and Dean was left behind on Bobby’s junk-freighter. As a kid, he had busied himself with sweeping up dirt in the halls and the cargo holds, and as he had grown older, he had started to man the engine to keep the old lady in working order, true to his father’s orders of making himself as useful as possible.

 

2.

 

Dean Winchester had soon learned that there was only so much he could do to keep an over-sixty-year-old engine running. Especially if most of the freighter was held together by a mix of creative use of the welding equipment, rusty spare parts, and volition. Every time they fired up the thrusters to push off a station in geosynchronous orbit  fully loaded and heavy, Dean would lovingly pat the console controlling fuel pressure and engine speed and, more often than not, murmur a silent prayer of thanks to whatever divine being dominated the system they were in at the time. This was his life, his world. His whole universe had been packed into a fifty-by-thirty-foot engine room and a tiny control room on the gallery above where he slept and could overlook the controls.

 

It was a world cast in the reds and oranges of the engine, the greens and yellows of the fuel and water tanks, and the brilliant white-blue of the emergency lights.

 

Age had shown most in the engine room though, where the acidic, highly poisonous fuel fumes were no longer properly filtered from the air. Over the years, the system had burned out more than once, and all he could do was keep the filters running and live with what little air they actually managed to clean. It was enough to breathe and the low quality air could be contained in the engine bay, and so he had figured it wasn’t so bad as long as he wasn’t breathing too deep. Plus Bobby had tossed a mask one day to protect his lungs; its filter tissue was old and moldy, but it had still been good enough for Dean.

 

But, as time went on, year after year facing the same pale sun and fading sunflowers, with Dad gone for months at a time and Bobby trying really hard to include Dean into some of the daily business on board, but failing at helping him face life outside their freighter, even that little protection the mask had provided had become surprisingly easy to forget.

 

It took almost a year, but as Bobby had finally figured it out, he was furious.

 

“You’re killing yourself kid,” he had chided him, like Dean was still that five-year-old Omega boy finger-painting the walls.

 

Bobby, ignored that Dean was well into his late twenties and more than a foot taller than him, and that, although he was an Omega and submissive by nature, had long since started to make his own decisions. Bobby had encouraged what little independence Dean had developed, had encouraged him every time Dean had shown a little bit of a backbone, but now Bobby’s regrets played out upon his face.

 

Dean had been poisoning his own body slowly to the point where he would almost certainly face a slow and painful death, and it had been one of the few decisions Dean could make all on his own. And frankly, he had done it without thinking twice about it. He was just an Omega, and, as his father had never tired of pointing out, useless if not for that small talent to charm their engine into running.

 

“It works,” Dean had stated gravelly, looking away. His eyes had been red and burned from the fumes, and his throat was perpetually dry from the heat and the acidic air. “What else matters?”

 

“Idjit,” his uncle had huffed exasperatedly. “Your life does.”

 

Bobby had balled his fists. If he was Dean’s father, standing tall and angry and graying around his beard and temples, he would have beaten the shit out of Dean for rendering himself useless. And Dean, the good little Omega that he was, would have ducked his head and obediently accepted the punishment like the submissive little shit he was supposed to be. He would swallow everything John threw at him without a word of complaint or announcement of pain.

 

But Bobby was not his father, luckily, and had steered their freighter straight for the next port no matter the timeline for their cargo’s arrival. Dean had felt too exhausted and hadn’t really cared for the long rant Bobby had worked himself into on the way, he had heard most of what Bobby thought about John Winchester’s A+ parenting strategies a dozen times before.

 

Months later, with his father still gone for the seventh month in a row, Dean had stopped taking the tiny yellow pills his uncle kept on buying for horrendous sums on the black-market. He would concentrate on the smile, and his mother laughing as they had walked along the fields to their house, and had attempted to do his very best to work his part until one day he would follow the memory into the darkness.

 

As he had finally felt too sick to stand, weeks later, the moment he realized he would die soon had felt like salvation from something that had weighed him down for all his life, and he had welcomed that freedom with open arms.

 

3.

 

 

At thirty, Dean Winchester is only sure of three things in his life. One——that he is a male Omega, pretty to look at, but basically worthless to his pack. Two—that all he has ever been good at, all he can do to help his father find the Rogues who killed Dean’s mother at what later will be known as the Raid on New Kansas, is keeping Uncle Bobby’s old junk-freighter going on the long and lonely flights along the Colonial borders. And three—that in a life in which you are meant to be a complete submissive, just someone to follow orders and make no decisions for yourself, the only thing you can actually decide for yourself is when to die.

 

 

+*+

 

-ABREACTION-

/ab·re·ac·tion/ (ab″re-ak´shun)

 “ The reliving of an experience in such a way that previously repressed emotions associated with it are released.”

 ________________________

 

 

1.

 

John Winchester had once been a happy, dark-haired little boy. He had grown into a strong-willed young Alpha among the hard-working men on a mining moon close to one of the Horseshoe Nebula’s gas giants. It was a black, dead world without breathable air and no real night or day; there was only the green-blue gas planet with its swirls of black and yellow taking up most of the sky. 

 

He must have felt like it was his lucky day as the recruiters set down on the tar-black rock of the settlement’s landing area with their brilliantly white troopship. Their white and green uniforms must have incorporated everything John’s life had lacked up to that point, so bright in comparison to the dirt and darkness of a mine.

 

And so he had taken a chance and signed up, making himself a whole year older on paper than he actually was at the time. He had assumed that by the time he would touch down at training camp six months of space-travel in stasis would have gone by, and that year he had added would no longer matter with all those he was about to lose in future transfers.

 

He had also claimed that in stasis one couldn’t dream, but as so many other things John had talked about when drunk and out of his mind with pain-killers after a job gone wrong, it was a lie.

 

2.

 

It was as testament to how fucked up his whole life really was that nobody had ever found out about Dean’s true nature until he had nearly died. That nobody had bothered to ask what he thought or felt, or even if he was happy with who and what he was.

 

Then again, outside Colonial territory, only very few settlers had the means to seek out Colonial Hospitals, and even fewer had bothered at all with testing beyond that one legally required pre-natal health test when it would mean traveling for days. And Dean’s father… well, let’s just say he and the government had been in a somewhat tense relationship most of the time.

 

Once upon a time, Dean’s father had been a Colonial soldier himself, had enlisted to secure colonized worlds in the uncharted territories quite early on in his life, until he had met his mate and settled down with her. Then Dean’s mother had died in a Rogue raid, burned alive, and the system John had been part of, the system he had believed in and fought for all of his life, had done absolutely nothing to catch the Rogues responsible.

 

Dean couldn’t blame his father for avoiding Colonial territory after that.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

 

“What?” he asked and sat up a little straighter.

 

His mind had been so many miles away, so many solar systems away from the planet he was on right now. With his father and his uncle on their crappy little junk-freighter somewhere in a distant system, forever trying to track the Rogues who had killed Dean’s mother more than twenty-five years ago.

 

“I asked if you are feeling alright,” the therapist asked once more.

 

The dark-skinned woman was in her early fifties, soft-faced and a little overweight. She was a stern but motherly type, and had somehow worked her way around the conditioning Dean’s father had instilled in him within the first five minutes of them knowing each other. How exactly this woman had managed to get him to talk at all, Dean wasn’t sure, but she had somehow done it and kept on pushing his father further back.

 

Never trust a stranger, dad would say.

 

John was just a whisper in the back of Dean’s head.

 

Never talk to someone outside pack.

 

His father’s persistent voice still stood its ground most of the time, firm and gruff, but it became fainter nowadays.

 

Follow my orders.

 

“You seem distant.”

 

Speak only when you’re asked to. 

 

“I am fine,” Dean answered eventually.

 

She nodded at his words and tilted her head just a little to the left. Missouri wore her curly hair in a bun on the back of her head, and glasses, which dean was pretty sure she didn’t need, low on her nose. Her Center Clinic uniform was closed up to her throat, hugging her body well. It was a white, ankle-length dress with two thick, leaf-green stripes down the left side of the front, made from soft Eco-friendly material. Everything was Eco-friendly around here; they even recycled the air.

 

No dirt. Nor the sweaty synthetic fabrics Dean was used to. Not the browns and blacks he had grown up with either. All the people out there wore warm, bright colors, and had no need to blend in with the shadows in their environment. He wasn’t used to the peace and the quiet, the lack of loud noises, missed the traces of acidic exhaust fumes in stale ship air.

 

The air here was mostly fresh and clean, filtered by thousands of environmental filtering systems all over the world instead of trees and greenery.

 

Dean licked his lips and looked away, anywhere but at her, anywhere but at the world out there——a world that had a sun and a moon, a sky full of stars, and no shadows to find comfort in.

 

“I am glad that you do feel well, Dean,” she said next. “But you still seem bothered by something today.”

 

Bothered, she could say that. He balled his fists on the stuffed chair’s armrests. Of course he was bothered. They had snatched him right out of Feroria’s Colonial Hospital despite his uncle’s vehement protests. Had taken him away from his family, away from home, away from his pack, and put him into stasis for a six month travel period back into human core territory.

 

His father had told him he wouldn’t be capable of dreaming in stasis, but he had. In his head, he had been with his mother, playing at the edge of that sunflower field, and he had been happy. Then the Center’s doctors had woken him, and he had glanced up into the face of some random stasis technician, and everything Dean had ever known was gone.

 

 

As his Uncle Bobby had noticed, it was already too late. All he could do was package him up in a bundle of emergency blankets, taking the next best high-speed shuttle, bringing him straight to the nearest outpost with a Colonial Hospital where the doctors had taken one look and whisked him away from his pack forever. 

 

Not that the Colonial doctors had treated him badly or anything, not at all. In fact, just the opposite; they had stopped the acute failure of his lungs, liver, and kidneys, had purged his system of the poisonous fuel traces (which had nearly killed him to begin with), and had even regenerated the scars caused by over twenty years of practically living in the freighter’s engine room.

 

As he had woken up from the stasis in the Center’s hospital on Earth, his entire skin, from head to the bottom of his feet, had been baby-smooth and new. His teeth had turned all smooth and white, and he had gained a whole lot of weight compared to his malnourished former self. They had fucked him up, made him smooth and new and weak, and he hated being weak more than anything.

 

He had always been weak and useless; nature had designed him that way. And these damn Colonial Center doctors had made everything even worse by taking away his very nature. He hadn’t liked who or what he was, but it still had been a part of him. Of course he was upset; he was fucking furious. Dean unclenched his balled fists with visible effort, cringing inwardly at how disgustingly obvious his body language had become.

 

“Do you want to talk to me about what is bothering you,” she asked after a long pause. 

 

He looked over to the window. The windows reached from floor to ceiling, stretched along the outer wall, and the only thing he could see was a landscape full of glass and silver spires and some shuttle traffic far up in the azure sky. Shuttles came in many shapes and sizes: some big enough to transport goods or many people at a time, others were just big enough for two. They zipped across the sky in layers of never-ending lines of traffic and light. 

 

Watching those shuttles and imagining their engines’ vibrations was one of the few things that calmed him down in all this chaos. An anchor in the perpetually confused state he was caught in. 

 

“No,” he said, and lord was that a strange thing to say. His father had beaten that type of response out of him so long ago, the ease with which rebellion had come back to him was surprising.

 

She hummed quietly in acknowledgement of his answer. No screaming, no punishments. Her response was nothing like what he had expected. She allowed him to watch the traffic between the spires outside for a while, fine with whatever he chose to do. They had time; there was no hurry.

 

These stupid appointments with her had become something they did for him, not for her. While he was here, Missouri would simply adapt to what he wanted to do. It was part of the therapeutic effort to allow him control over himself and his time, to set the rules of what was going on within these sessions. It was all part of adapting to his new position in society, and that was more than hard for someone who had spent his life believing to being an Omega.

 

“We can talk about anything you want,” she said after another few minutes. “This is your time. You set the rules within this conversation.”

 

He closed his eyes and exhaled. Dean would love to just sit here and watch the shuttles outside. Maybe see the sun go down beyond the horizon and enjoy the multitude of colors spreading across the otherwise blue sky. It was something he had never seen outside of his faded memories, or at least not since his mother had died and his father had left the settlement behind and gone to join Bobby.

 

And his therapist would have been completely fine with that.

 

He had noticed early on that she would just sit there and watch the sun go down alongside him until it was dark and time to go home. And even then, if he wanted to stay longer, sit there watching stars instead, maybe even talk about those he’d seen closer out there in the uncharted territories; she would sat alongside him and listen. Not that he had actually talked much back then.

 

And that was the true problem of this setting, because she would indeed just watch the sun go down with him, or sit there for hours until he had enough and would end the session. Over the last months, she had made it clear that he had to take control of his life——it was part of this whole fucking secondary-gender therapy, and it drove him crazy.

 

Part of him had really wanted to go back to the strict rules on the junk-freighter. Waking up at five, eating at five-thirty, then working until one, lunch, more work from one-thirty to late in the night, and finally off to bed. Usually, that whole schedule was just theory, and he would work pretty much for as long as he needed. Day in day out, with no exceptions, unless he was too sick to stand, and, once he had stopped taking his medicine, he had gotten there pretty fast.

 

It hadn’t always been fun; far from it, actually. At least he had done something useful with his time. Sitting around here was anything but that, and he just didn’t understand how that would help make him better.

 

“Or we can not talk at all,” Missouri said after another ten or so minutes. “If that's what you really want.”

 

He opened his eyes again and peered over at her from lowered thick lashes. She was still sitting there with her hands folded and her eyes fixed onto the shuttles outside in the sky. She was not irritated in the least by his lack of response, not even disturbed by his lack of submission to her persistent invitations to begin a conversation with her.

 

His father would have been furious at the way Dean had just sat there, fighting so hard for every word—as if keeping the words inside would give him back the control this place was steadily sucking out of him.

 

“Why are you keen to talk?” he asked, frankly a little surprised at his own words. He hadn’t even planned to open his mouth, but lately his patience kept on running away from him. “I mean, why do you even bother?”

 

She turned her head away from watching the window and fixed her eyes back onto him. She smiled that annoying motherly smile once more, saying, “I want to help you.”

 

“Help me,” he gruffly repeated her words, sarcasm-heavy and acidic in –tone—another new bad habit dying to come out at inopportune moments. “I don’t see you helping me at all.”

 

Missouri seemed just the slightest bit surprised at his voice and narrowed her eyes, tilting her head to study him. Just like a ship-rat watching what he would do from between the pipes and wires of the engine, peering at him and waiting until he was enough to leave his food unguarded. He had almost regretted that analogy as soon as it crossed his mind.

 

“Why?” she inquired. “What makes you think I would not want to help you with what I am doing?”

 

“Because I am still here,” he answered, crossing his arms over his chest. He fell back in the stuffed gray chair, narrowing his eyes at her and tucking his chin close to his collarbone. “If you truly mean to help me, you would never have taken me away from my family.”

 

“Dean,” she sighed.

 

“And, and…” He growled. He gestured with his hand toward his head, scrunched his face up in a grimace, and then snapped at her, “You would stop trying to confuse me.”

 

The previously present smile slipped sideways as she understood where he was heading with his words. Her lips opened slightly, closing again. For a moment, she seemed to search for the right words. Then, finally, she straightened up in her own stuffed chair. She leaned forward, balancing just there at the edge of the cushion, and placed both hands on the armrests.

 

She was no longer smiling.

 

“I do not try to confuse you,” she said calmly. “Just the opposite, I want to help you find your way home.”

 

“My way home leads me straight back to my father and my uncle!”

 

Her eyes darkened and all traces of softness in her voice fell away. “You can not return to your father. I am sorry Dean,” she said with stern voice. And maybe she really was sorry; it was hard to tell. “It is better for you to remain inside Colonial territory until you are better,” she added.

 

“But I am fine!”

 

“No, Dean.” She shook her head. “You have made remarkable progress with your recovery over the last months, but you are not fine.”

 

Dean felt his lips pull back from his teeth in something almost like a snarl. It was hard to hold back the anger nowadays. It seemed as if every bit of self-control his father had taught him was just fraying at the seams and ready to slip tear free completely if he wasn’t extremely careful.

 

“I am an adult and you can not keep me here against my will!” He growled.

 

“I am sorry, but the Center has custody of you until you are released as healthy,” she stated. “It doesn’t mater how old you are.”

 

She had told him a billion times already, but he couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up, and his feet ate up the distance between his seat and her chair in less than a heartbeat. He roughly tore at the sky-blue shirt they had put him in and pulled it over his head. He threw it angrily across the room where it landed in one of the tall, thick-leaved potted plants and remained hanging in the branches. This certainly was a move she hadn’t seen coming, and for a moment it clearly showed in her eyes.

 

“You see this?” He held his arms out for her to see, palms down and lower arms practically right under her nose. “There should be a scar where I ignored an order and hurt myself on a leaking fuel pipe! I was twelve, and it hurt like hell.” He turned his arm and used the other arm’s hand to point to the smooth skin just below his elbow, and she followed the movement closely with her eyes. “The shielding misfired, and I got an electrical burn here, and another time I fell off a freight container watching dock workers load cargo and broke my arm. The bone poked out right here,” he snapped. “But do you notice something?”

 

She looked away from his arm and up to his face, up directly into his enraged green eyes.

 

“No, what am I supposed to see?” she asked calmly. The calm of her voice was just an illusion though, because Dean could almost smell her surprise in the air, could almost feel her need to flinch away from him. In the past, nobody had been afraid of him, nobody had even looked at him twice, and he tried not to feel excitement at the change.

 

“Exactly,” he snapped, visibly deflating. “You took all my marks away, made me healthy! I am completely fine now, and you can just let me go. I will find my own way back home.”

 

Her mouth turned into a thin, tense line. “You are not fine,” she said with calm, but determined voice, never breaking eye contact with him, not even for a moment, even though Dean knew she wanted to back down. “Your father has grossly neglected you, has not bothered even once to bring you to a proper hospital, no matter how badly hurt you’ve been in the past.”

 

It’s too dangerous. They will take you away from me, just like your mother was taken away from me. I can’t allow this to happen.

 

“He has isolated you from human contact, has not noticed how you have become gravely depressed because of your living conditions,” she continued. “Because of the way he treated you as a submissive without rights while he must have known what you truly are.”

 

You’re only an Omega, kid, too weak to survive out there!

 

  1. “He allowed you to poison yourself slowly with years of unprotected work with artificial-fuel, and then you purposefully stopped taking the medications meant to contain organ decay.” She shook her head slowly and added in a soft, questioning voice, “How is that caring for his only child?”  

 

Your Mother died to protect you.

 

“He cared,” he growled and pointed at her. “He was good to me, gave me a place and a job, and never allowed anyone to touch me!”

 

She would never forgive me if you’d gotten lost out there.

 

He balled his fists and turned around on his heel, marching over to the window. This wasn’t true. They had lost their home, and John had lost his mate; where should they have gone after that? Uncle Bobby had taken them in, but there hadn't been much space for a kid and nothing to do on a Junk-Freighter, mush less for a Omega who was more or less useless when it came down to fighting.

 

Omegas were pretty to watch, obedient and submissive in a pack, but beyond that not able to do much to add to the household. And, for a brief period in Dean’s teenage years, he wasn’t even good at that; he had needed more physical discipline to understand his spot in the pack than any other Omega he had ever heard of. His father could have just sold him—many people out there did that with unwanted male Omegas.

 

People use children like you, son.

 

Omegas had been scarce out there beyond human territory, sought after as something special and interesting, but his father had kept him and protected him. 

 

Just do what you’re told, and I won’t let anything happen to you.

 

“You have tried to kill yourself because you were desperate to get out of the life you led, Dean,” she said calmly. “If not for your uncle bringing you to a Center hospital in Colonial territory, you would be dead now.”

 

Dean balled his fists and if not for that last thread of control he was holding to, he would have started striking  the window’s glass until it splintered, cutting open his skin. Dean had found a way to repay John for his protection, for the work he had put into keeping Dean alive and safe. He had maintained the ship’s engine, had taught himself everything to know about it, and had proven what a good member of the pack he could be.

 

Their freighter may have been one of the oldest models out there, but it was able to outrun a Rogue bird when push came to shove. Maybe not fully loaded, but they could stand their ground when called for.

 

“I am an Omega; I’m useless to him when I can’t work, and he is my Alpha. He cared the only way he could,” he recited as if he had been programmed to utter the words sometime in the past, had them engraved deep into his bones. They felt heavy and wrong on his tongue, and he needed to swallow hard, nearly choking on the well-rehearsed words.

 

She calmly stood and all the kindness, all the empathy and motherly concern was right back there on her face. It took all the fight right out of Dean to see her reflection in the glass; the look was worse than any of the punishments his father had ever used on him in his rebellious teenage phase.

 

“And that is where you are wrong, Dean,” she said softly. She reached out and put warm, soft hands on his shoulders. She was a good two feet smaller than him, and even although she was not exactly slim, she seemed so much more fragile in comparison to the meatiness the last few months of constant care and physical therapy had added to Dean’s frame. Still she was stronger than him at the moment, and it was easy for her to move him around to face her.  “You are not an Omega,” she explained and shook her head softly. “You never were.”

 

The muscles in his jaw clenched and he swallowed hard. Every fiber in him was strung tight, ready to run, ready to hide from her words.

 

“The C-Test has been wrong; it is scarce nowadays, but it does happen,” she continued in a feather-soft voice. “And although you have been hurt so very often in your life, your father has never once brought you to a proper hospital in which a repeat test would have been standard procedure. Maybe he knew all along, I don’t know, but if he had done so even once in the last twenty-five years, we would have found out about your status many years ago, and you would feel so much better now.”

 

He closed his eyes, he couldn’t take that. She twisted his father’s good intentions around to her liking, lied to him, he was sure—except, he wasn’t anymore.

 

“I only want to help you adjust,” she said after another moment.

 

He could barely hear her over the noise of his thundering heart.

 

“You are not an Omega, Dean, you are an Alpha, and you have to learn to respond to your instincts and your nature. That is why I am here; that is why the rest of the Center and I try so hard to help you with these sessions and the management of your daily life.”

 

He swallowed once more, his jaw aching from the way he ground his teeth.

 

“We want you to find yourself and abandon your wrong conditioning and fears.”

 

They stood there for a couple of minutes. She rested her hands on his bare shoulders, and he kept his eyes closed tightly, desperately trying to ignore her words and the reality of the world he had woken up in.

 

“I think I've had enough for now,” he said eventually, voice weak and powerless.

 

She nodded and smiled again. It wasn’t kind or pleasant, it was full of pity.

 

Dean hated that smile so much.

 

“Very well. This has been a hard day for you; you must be very tired now,” she said softly and let go of his arms. “I will call a shuttle for you. It will bring you directly home, and I will inform your caretaker.”

 

He didn’t open his eyes, didn’t watch her walk around the room.

 

“Just remain here for a moment and relax, I will return shortly,” she said and left.

 

He listened to her steps fading in the direction of the door and allowed himself to exhale the breath he had held for so long. His newly repaired squeaky- clean lungs burned from the effort, familiar and hot, and that grounded him a little. As he opened his eyes and looked back toward the window, the sun just started to color the sky purple and red beyond the spires. Another day in a perfect, clean world, and he hated every single every moment of it, hated it so unbelievably that it hurt more than any broken bone ever had.

 

3.

 

 

 

Dean had remembered his mother too.

 

Her smile was as brilliant as the sun, her hair the color of sunshine. He knew her eyes had been as blue as the sky over New Kansas, her face full of freckles like the stars in the sky over Lawrence’s sunflower fields.

 

He had also remembered how he had played in the sunflower field with a toy shuttle made from a couple of pieces of metal. A neighbor pack’s member, an old Omega with a wrinkled face and crooked back, had welded the pieces together and painted it white and green.

 

Dean had been running through the fields, holding up his toy in the air to pretend to fly right up until the day the sky exploded into sparks above him, rail-gun fire making short work of their defenses.

 

The old Omega had burned in the town hall together with most other settlers.

 

Together with Dean’s mother.

 

Only Dean had survived.

 

 

 

*+*

 

-RATIONALIZATION-

[rash″on-al-ĭ-za´shun]

An unconscious defense mechanism in which a person finds logical reasons (justification) for his or her behavior while ignoring the real reasons. It is a form of self-deception unconsciously used to make tolerable certain feelings, behaviors, and motives that would otherwise be unacceptable. Everyone uses rationalization at some time or other and in most instances it is a relatively harmless behavior pattern; the danger lies in deceiving oneself habitually so that eventually harmful or destructive behavior comes to be justified in one's mind.”

__________

 

 

1.

 

He had felt strangely distant for a while, had barely been aware of his therapist’s goodbye and the flight with the shuttle, until he had stumbled out of the transport and into the fresh air. It was cold outside, although the sun had set only minutes ago by the time the Center’s shuttle had dropped him off at his current home. Or maybe he was only cold because of the physical exhaustion setting in after such sessions like today's.  It had been a messy one, but wasn’t the first time a meeting with Missouri had gone downhill like that.

 

He shook himself and looked around. His current home was one of the many tall silvery towers, reaching high enough that the top levels stood high above the cloud layer. The shuttle traffic whizzed past the top, and he stood there on the landing platform watching for a while. Far below them was the ground, more than two miles down at least and nearly completely in the dark. It reminded him of space.

 

The shuttle driver remained on the platform until the caretaker appeared. Her name was Ellen, a tough woman in her late forties who had somehow mastered the art of keeping her uniqueness in an ocean of colonial uniformity. She carried the scars of a life at the rim of colonial territory, had even survived one of the Rogue raids years ago while her mate had died. Obviously, the Center had helped her through the hard time, that and the fact that she had still had her daughter to take care off. And now she took care of cases like Dean, playing the caretaker in their assisted living arrangements.

 

She scrunched her face up in a grimace of displeasure as she finally joined Dean by the shuttle, giving him a critical once over with her eyes.

 

“You look like shit warmed over,” she stated.

 

His lips quirked; her tone reminded him of his Uncle Bobby. The life outside colonial territory did that to your language.

 

“Had a lovely day,” he answered sarcastically.

 

The Center shuttle left, satisfied that Dean wasn’t about to do something stupid like throw himself off of the platform. Not that he would have actually been able to do that with the shielding in place, but obviously they wanted to make sure. As if there weren’t plenty of other ways to do this, if he really would have wanted to do it.

 

“Come on,” Ellen said and started to walk back into the direction of the lift. He followed, after a last look into the darkness below.

 

She didn’t press him to continue talking like his stupid therapist, making her a whole lot more sympathetic than most of the stuck up people he had met until now. The Center was full of too many caring, constantly worrying people who looked at him as if he was made from some fragile kind of polymer, and not a guy who had known the hard life in the outer territories. Ellen knew what it was like, knew the freighter traffic and the mining colonies out there, knew the type of people who had killed Dean’s mother and the threat they had posed.

 

Finally, back in their flat, Ellen left him to his own devices, instead of fussing over him. She went back into the study at the end of the hall, which also served as her office most of the time, and left him there at the door. For a female Alpha, she was actually genuinely awesome, but he would rather die than to tell her that.

 

He fell back against the sliding door behind him and closed his eyes, glad to be away from the Center and finally home—although this really wasn’t like home at all for him.

 

The vibration was missing. Back home on the junk-freighter, the walls and the floors had been alive with the vibration of that fine-tuned engine. He had been able to hear it hum and had known when the old girl was sick, when something was wrong, or when the fuel was too thick or thin. He had felt her in his scars, breathed her in with the air, even slept in the engine room most of the time.

 

For his father, that had all he’d been good for. A male Omega was a burden, nothing more, not even fertile—not even able to have kids. Back in the day, his mom and dad would have had plenty of other chances to have a proper, useful child after he was born, if not for the attack and his mother’s death. 

 

Maybe it was better like this. Maybe it was better when someone else had to deal with Dean instead of his father and uncle. It would spare them the money for food and clothes and medicine, not that he really needed anything right now, not after his almost complete regeneration. And good mechanics were not too hard to come by; a lot of men needed work out there. He shook himself, opening his eyes again.

 

Castiel stood only inches away from him and peered up at him curiously, nearly scaring the living daylights out of him. Dean jerked backwards against the door, knocking the back of his head against the hard surface.

 

“You are back,” Castiel said softly. “I am glad.”

 

Dean rolled his eyes toward the ceiling then scrubbed a hand across his face. “Jeez, Cas, didn’t we have this talk?”

 

“We had many talks,” Cas said.

 

“The one about personal space,” Dean clarified.

 

“Yes,” Castiel said with a slow nod of his head. “We have had the discussion many times.” He remained standing just inches away and didn’t move away at all.

 

Dean sighed, pushing Castiel away gently with his hand flat against the other man’s chest. “Great,” he said. “Then remember what I told you and get out of my way.”

 

“I can do that,” Castiel said and stepped aside.

 

Dean used the opening, walking away hurriedly from the front door and his creepy flat-mate. Castiel was like a child, curious and always questioning, watchful. Sometimes Dean sat on the couch in their living room and stared outside the window or into the plasma screen of their entertainment set, completely immersed in what was going on until he would notice something move in the corner of his eye. He would turn and nearly fall off the couch from the shock of finding Castiel staring intently at him from inches away. His eyes were all big, blue, and inquisitive, his hair tussled and dark, and his clothes rumpled and in disarray most of the time. Strangely enough, he never did this with Ellen.

 

The Beta was completely annoying, but it wasn’t Castiel’s fault that he had no idea what personal space meant. For the longest time, and not much unlike Dean, his interaction with other people had been limited to the absolute minimum. But while Dean had at least his Uncle Bobby and his father to interact with, Castiel had been completely devoid of any human contact at all.

 

As the youngest of a passel of sons and daughters, his father had kept him well contained in a place at the top of one of his business towers, out of sight of everyone and with only a few service bots as company. This had been because poor Castiel had only been a Beta, unlike all his elder brothers who had turned out to be Alpha, strong and independent right from the start, but also because young Castiel could see the world with different eyes and had never behaved like he was supposed to.

 

He was very pretty, even Dean had to admit, and, if he had known better, Dean would have pegged the guy for an Omega the first time he saw him. He had a very lyrical voice and often would sing to the plants outside on the balcony. It must have rubbed the few people Castiel had encountered in his time the wrong way because of the mixed signals he gave off, and maybe that difference had been why not one of Castiel’s brothers had bothered to get their youngest sibling out of isolation, too busy with their own lives and spending their father’s money.

 

In short, Castiel’s family had been as messed up as Dean’s own, worse even, and that was about the only thing which kept Dean from punching the guy when he surprised him like that. Well, no, it also was the training Dean’s father had all but beaten into him, forbidding the unusual aggression Dean had harbored inside him. 

 

An Omega was supposed to be good and listen to what he was told, be quiet and out of the way when he wasn’t needed. Dean hadn’t been quiet, hadn’t been particularly patient, not until he had found the work in the engine room to channel the energy inside him. And in the end, he couldn’t even do that anymore.

 

Dean wandered into the living room, kicked off his shoes on the way and flopped down on the black comfy couch. It was dark outside by then, or at least as dark as it was going to get within a city that was spanning a whole continent. Castiel had kept the apartment light off and Ellen hadn’t bothered to disturb him. That wasn’t unusual, not at all.

 

Castiel felt content when he could just watch the world around himself; he wasn’t really too interested into actually interacting with it most of the time. A quality which would have probably made him a perfect match for Dean’s therapist, he thought bitterly.

 

Castiel wandered into the room behind him and quietly followed Dean to the couch. After a moment of hesitation, he sat down on one of the armrests and did what he could best: stare at his roommate with his usual curious big-eyed stare. Dean simply chose to ignore it. He had enough for today, really. He rested his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes, wishing for nothing but a little quiet after such an exhausting day.

 

“I am hungry,” Castiel said after a few minutes of silence.

 

“Then go eat,” Dean muttered, eyes still closed.

 

Castiel contemplated the words for a while. Long enough to make Dean almost believe the man would stand up and go get something to eat by himself, but it was Castiel after all, and, if the last months had shown Dean anything, then it had been that Castiel would do things his own way. It was what made him as unique and likable as he was.

 

“And what should I eat?”

 

Dean groaned, saying, “Just something,” then he went on, “Don’t ask me, I can’t cook.”

 

He hadn't cooked much, but he had made a valiant effort. As a kid, Dean had tried to take care of his father and Bobby by preparing their food, thought he would make himself useful like that, but he had soon figured out that there wasn’t much he could do with the protein packs they kept on long distance freight runs and that messing with what precious little they had was a surefire way to get himself in trouble.

 

“I can not cook either.”

 

“Then ask Ellen,” Dean muttered.

 

Castiel leaned closer, whispering, “She will be displeased when I ask her.” 

 

“Then don’t eat!”

 

The room fell quiet. Dean couldn’t hear a thing but the faint breathing of his roommate not too far away and his own heartbeat. He wished he could sit there for a while, pretend not one single day in the last few months had ever happened. He could imagine that they had just docked on a station, that Uncle Bobby was busy loading the cargo containers while Dean’s dad had gotten provisions and maybe some information about the Rogues they were still searching for. And any moment the freighter’s engine would spring to life again, would cough and sputter and spit, and then the vibrations would return to Dean’s world and begin to lull him away to a deep dreamless sleep.

2.

2.

 

The order of things in Dean’s life was easy.

 

His father was always angry, always drunk, and always harsh with his words whenever he bothered to speak to Dean. The few words he exchanged when he was around, where hardly ever more than a repetition of the age-old vow to find the Rogues, to beat them up and lock them up in a tiny, badly ventilated room and then set the building or station on fire, exactly how they had done it to Mary.

 

Dean had never been able to figure out if John had blamed Dean for being a constant reminder of what was lost that fateful day so many years ago, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. Dean had lost his mother, but unlike John he would never be able to help avenge her death, and that made it all even worse, if that was even possible.

 

3.

 

“Dean?”

 

Someone shook him gently.

 

“Dean, it’s late. Let’s go to bed,” a male voice said.

 

Dean needed a long moment until he recalled the voice. It wasn’t Bobby or his father, not even Castiel, but it rung deep within him.

 

“Huh?” he mumbled and opened his eyes. He had to blink a few times until he could really see the shadow above him. It was another one of his roommates, the only one halfway adjusted to what craziness was going on around them.

 

“Sam?” Dean mumbled, pushing himself upright. “What?”

 

Dean looked around; he had fallen asleep on the couch, too tired to go to bed. The emotional and physical exhaustion had simply been too much.

 

“You’ve fallen asleep on the couch,” Sam stated the obvious in a hushed voice.

 

“I see that,” Dean grumpily replied.

 

Sam was a giant. Everything on him was bigger—his hands, his broad shoulders, his massive upper arms, and in his other life, Dean would have been petrified. Every single fiber in his body, every part of him that believed he was an Omega and submissive to everyone stronger than him, would have told Dean to just go rigid and curl up into a scared little ball in a corner. Dean wasn’t small. In fact, for an Omega, he had been unusually tall, but even he had needed to look up at Sam, and had felt puny and vulnerable compared to him.

 

When they had first met in the Center’s corridors, introduced to one another by their respective therapists, Sam had smiled all friendly and open. His dimples had disarmed Dean, punched a hole through every defense he had, erasing any fear of Sam. Instantly, and without any warning, Dean felt drawn to Sam. A strange calm had settled over his frayed nerves, and the shock of waking up in the Center, loosing his family and being told that whatever he had once believed about himself had been wrong, faded a little. A wry sense of familiarity had set in, blossoming into what Dean thought of as a sense of pack which helped him to cope.

 

Right now, Sam had exactly the same effect.

 

Dean felt instantly better. He gradually sat up, swinging his legs off of the couch as he looked around. The small clock on the side-table beside the couch showed him that it was already close to midnight and that he had unintentionally slept for several hours. He found himself surprised about how tired he had really been, but also embarrassed at simply conking out here in the open. Then he remembered something, something he hadn’t even thought about as he had come home hours ago.

 

Sam hadn’t been there to greet him. 

 

“Where have you been?” Dean looked up at Sam, instantly worried.

 

“You weren’t here.” This worry, the need to know where Sam was and what he was doing, was another thing that confused Dean—as if he didn’t have enough on his plate already.

 

Sam shrugged and flopped down beside Dean on the couch. He hung his head with his bangs hanging into his face to hide his eyes. He seemed to feel a little bit uneasy, awkward even. “I was at the library and forgot the time,” he admitted.

 

“You forgot the time,” Dean repeated.

 

Sam sighed and nodded guiltily. “Yeah, sorry,” he said.

 

For such a big guy, he was surprisingly awkward when it came down to interacting with others. If anyone had seen him on the street, or on a station out in space, nobody would think of him as a Beta. His simple size and muscles made people think of him as an Alpha, and his casual friendly way of interacting with everyone had accidentally provoked other Alphas more than once. So the younger man had learned to fight, had built up even more muscle, had shut down and drifted away from his outgoing and friendly character until he couldn’t take it anymore. In the end, he had almost completely isolated himself from the outside world and had eventually sunk deeper into the darkness of depression.

 

The ugly scars on his wrists, hidden away below leather wristbands, were long gone. Regenerated skin betrayed the fact that, a while back, Sam had tried to slit his wrists with a broken bathroom mirror. He still wore the wristbands as a reminder of his deeds, but therapy in the Center had helped him to find new confidence in himself. Now he was studying again, coming out at the top of the Pre Law program, and had learned a thing or two about standing his ground. Of course, the Center encouraged this as a part of the healing process, and mostly allowed Sam unsupervised use of the public library as long as he kept his other appointments.

 

Sometimes the kid just forgot the time, too deep into what he loved to do.

 

Dean rolled his eyes. “At least you’re home now,” he said. “I think Castiel needs feeding, and I don’t think Ellen’s going to do it.”

 

Sam snorted in amusement. “He already ate,” he replied easily. “I think he prepared three bowls of different cereal before deciding to pour it all into one big bowl and feed it to the potted plant on the balcony.”

 

Dean groaned and fell back against the couch. “Awesome.”

 

Both knew they should get up and go to bed, or clean up the mess to avoid Ellen’s bitching in the morning, but neither of them felt like moving. Sitting here on the couch, close together and in the half-dark quiet of the living room seemed fine with them. But Sam had been able to pick up on what had unsettled Dean before, had maybe even heard about it at the Center. For an institute meant to help numerous patients with secondary-gender problems, all in private and in accordance with patient confidentiality, the rumor mill could be as fast as sub-light engines.

 

“Spill it already,” Dean said eventually. “I know you want to.”

 

Sam shifted on the spot, the bangs over his eyes dangling precariously; he shook them away with a swift movement of his head.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, true to what Dean had expected.

 

Expecting it didn’t mean Dean liked it, though, and he groaned once more. He really didn’t want to talk about this whole thing, not at all. But if he had to pick, if he had to talk with anyone, if felt better to speak with Sam than with his therapist.

 

“Not really,” he admitted.

 

Sam leaned back too, looking over at Dean. For a while, he just watched his friend stare into the thin air before him and said nothing. Again, the room fell quiet. After what seemed like a very long time, but probably no more than a moment, Sam reached out and placed a hand on Dean’s knee, squeezing reassuringly.

 

 “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s all going to be okay.”

 

Dean had never liked the touch of people. The only one who had ever touched him kindly had been his mother and he could barely remember that. His father had hardly been the type of man to hug it out, and although Uncle Bobby might have tried the occasional physical reassurance of his affection, Dean had been able to feel the untypical awkwardness the interaction between them caused. Of course, if Dean really was an Alpha and had only been conditioned to behave like he was an Omega, that awkwardness was nothing but the natural dislike between rivals in a pack. What had possibly made Dean’s father and Bobby argue a lot, sometimes even to the point when guns were drawn on each other, but still made them hold together tightly. They were pack. Unbalanced and dysfunctional, but pack.

 

Dean seemed to have a new pack now, a pretty crazy and unconventional one—at least it had started to feel like one over the last few months.

 

“You’re going to find your way,” Sam added almost as an afterthought. He was quite close to Dean by then.

 

Their shoulders and upper arms were touching; Sam's thigh brushed Dean’s from hip to knee, and Sam’s hand still rested in the same spot. Dean felt even less inclined to move and get up to leave for his bedroom with every passing second.

 

Over the last months, Dean had found a strange solace and peace with the Beta, and had come to the conclusion these casual touches were a form of reassurance. Then the touches had become more prolonged and more intense; the hand on his knee was just the latest step of this weird spiraling into an abyss Dean couldn’t name. He wasn’t even sure Sam actually knew what he was doing when he was touching so freely. As tired and confused as he was right now, Dean only knew it felt good to have his friend close. 

 

Dean knew that later on he wouldn't be able to tell what exactly had compelled him to do what he did next. In one moment, they had simply been seated there beside one another, close on the couch in the darkness of the living room like a dozen nights before, then, in the next moment, Dean had leaned over just a little more, pushed up a bit closer against his Beta friend. And, although he had no idea what exactly he was doing, he had closed his eyes, pressing his lips on Sam’s. Dean had never kissed anyone before, and, as Sam froze below him, he really wasn’t sure what to do. Part of him had expected Sam to pull back and run, but as the time passed without either one moving, Dean was the one who came close to running.

 

In reality that moment may have been less than two seconds, but for Dean it felt like an eternity and he didn’t dare to open his eyes. 

 

“What are you doing?”

 

With a yelp, the two pushed away from one another, surprised and confused. Dean ended up on his back on the carpet while Sam just barely held on to the couch, nearly falling off in the same instance. Castiel stood, unperturbed by the sudden flurry of movement behind the couch, leaning closely to witness what they had done just a moment before. He had not meant to interrupt, just had been curious – as usual – but the spell had already been broken.

 

Whatever had compelled the two to get that close had disappeared. Instead, a sudden heaviness had settled over the room. They looked at one another in irritation and with maybe a little fear surfacing; before Sam could say anything at all, Dean sprang to his feet and ran straight to his room.

 

Sam slumped in his spot on the couch, hanging his head while Castiel straightened and looked down the hall that Dean had all but run away through.

 

“Have I done something wrong?”

 

4.

 

Dean had cried for hours after the sun and the moons and everything else he had painted had swirled away through the grates of the floor. His arm had stung from where his father had held him too tight and when he pulled his sleeve up, he could still see the red and purple marks.

 

Part of him couldn’t understand why John had reacted like that. Dean had merely tried to bring a part of home back to him, make him feel better after Mommy was gone.  However, John had dragged him down the grated stairs and across the engine room, yelling at Dean to do something useful, not cause a mess. He had dragged him further down along the corridors and toward the tiny living quarters, had thrown a bucket at him and told him to clean it up. 

 

“I told you this isn’t a place for a kid,” Bobby had said, arms crossed in defiance.

 

Dean hadn’t dared to look up as he left the room with the bucket in his arms, but Bobby had watched him.

 

“Wouldn’t he be better off with some of Mary’s relatives?”

 

Dean had heard Bobby ask, and then John had growled, hitting something hard with his balled fist. Dean could hear the thin paneling give with a groan, flinching away from the sound and his father. 

 

“They don’t want an Omega around,” John had spit out with vitriol, making Dean hurry away fast, crying at just wanting, and needing, his mommy back.

 

 

*+*

 

Denial

[d ɪ `na ɪ əl]

a . A refusal to accept or believe something, such as a doctrine or belief.

b . Psychology; An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.

________

 

1.

 

 

Dean’s room was small. As the Center had sent him here, there hadn’t been any other patients yet. No Sam and no Castiel, only Ellen. He had been allowed to choose a room, one of the many decisions his therapist thought of as important. Baby steps for someone who had barely made any decisions in his previous life, with maybe the exception of ending it prematurely.

 

Dean had taken the smallest room with the smallest window, but only after sitting there in the hall for almost a day, confronted with the problem of actually picking his own path for a change. The smallest room seemed like the best solution. It was close to the small space Dean’s life had played out in. He would take up the smallest amount of space and could easily stay out of the way of whoever else was supposed to join them.

 

In the first couple of weeks, with only Castiel around, he had kept the lights to a minimum, and he didn't bother anyone else. He would rather have slept in a cozy corner between the bed and the far side of the wall instead of in the actual bed—if he had slept at all. 

 

Decades of staying out of the way of his father’s business had not only taught him how to be useful in his own way, but also how darkness could sooth an upset mind when there was nobody else to do it. The only touch of color in his room was a piece of paper with yellow and brown smudges, pinned to the far wall opposite to his wall—a fair representation of the sun and landscapes he had lost.

 

Just a few weeks out of stasis and away from his father had broken that security and the order in his life, had stripped away every bit of his self-defense mechanisms easily and had left him frightened and alone.

 

It was like he was a little boy again, hiding under empty cargo containers while Rogue soldiers had plundered, raped and killed at their heart’s desire everywhere around him. Mary, his mother, had seen the shield collapse above their settlement, a rainbow-colored firework before all hell broke loose, had snatched up her little son and had placed him into a dark corner, securely hidden away below a stack of empty cargo crates.

 

The Rogues had burned down half the buildings of the settlement, taken any female Omegas and some of the unclaimed Betas in sight and then had set fires on the rest of the population in the settlement’s makeshift town hall. Dean’s mother had burned alive, along with dozens of others—men, women and children. Dean had survived, frozen in his spot below those crates for two days before his father had returned and found him.

 

 

Then Sam had come into his life. And suddenly it no longer seemed necessary to hide away in the corner beside the bed. Tonight, though, he sat down in the small space between bed and wall, pulling the comforter off of his bed to wrap up in.

 

It was all too much; he just wanted to go back home.

 

There was the sound of a knock on the door to his room, once, twice, and then a third time.

 

“Dean?”

 

It was Sam. Of course it was Sam. He was just loud enough to be heard, probably to avoid drawing Ellen’s attention. The woman listened in anyway, always did, simply because it was her job to keep an eye out, but that didn’t mean they had to provoke her involvement on purpose. Usually, she held herself back; it was all part of this stupid self-finding trip their therapists had put them on: find yourself and your spot in the world.

 

“Dean,” Sam asked again.

 

“Go away,” he muttered.

 

Sam hesitated, and Dean knew. He knew him pretty well by now, knew Sam was fighting with the urge to pry open the door and force Dean to talk. He did walk away eventually, finally leaving Dean alone. Dean rested the back of his head against the wall behind him, closing his eyes, just hoping the night was going to be over soon.

 

The next morning was an awkward affair. Ellen had been sitting there at the kitchen table with her hands clasped around her usual mug-full of tea, eying the assembled men with narrowed eyes. She only had a vague idea what exactly had gone down between them, but Dean had known her expression well enough to understand that she wouldn’t rest until she could find out the whole story. What had made the whole scene uncomfortable was that she would use far sneakier methods of finding out what she wanted to know rivaling the stealthier tactics of his therapist, ones that Missouri could never dream up on her own.

 

Dean sat at one end of the table, pushing around the food on his plate with his fork, showing very little interest for eating breakfast. He hadn’t really slept, just had ended up staring through the small window toward the sky, like one of those many bad nights prior. And it must have shown in the dark rings below his eyes.

 

Sam sat at the other side of the table. He ate his breakfast, but avoided looking at the other people at the table, keeping himself busy with one of his books. Mostly, he acted awkward, not really angry, or so Dean hoped, but he couldn’t be sure.

 

As always, the only one unimpressed by the sudden tension in the room was Castiel. Concentrating on the two boxes of cereal placed in the center of the table, he sat in front of several bowls lined up along his side of the table, attempting to decide which cereal would go where, which to pick, or if he should combine them again as he had done last night. Dean had recalled the incident with the balcony’s potted plants and scrubbed a hand through his hair, his nails scraping his skull. Someone would eventually have to clean that up before Ellen could find out.

 

Months ago, Dean would have simply done it. Now he would probably try that game Sam had shown him – “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, he had called it. Most of the time he had ended up cleaning the mess anyway, but Sam would usually help and they would have talked and laughed while fishing the cereal out of the planting granulate.

 

Castiel and his plants; a never-ending adventure.

 

Normally, there would have been conversation over breakfast too. Sam would talk about the books he had read, about his studies or an interesting case he had heard of. He was always extremely enthusiastic with his topics, had sometimes talked about maybe going into Gender Rights after finishing the Pre-Law program he had signed up for with the Center’s help.

 

Dean was a man of few words; he had known when Sam really wanted an answer and when he had better shut up before he had gotten into more trouble. Today, he felt like he really needed to talk, but didn’t even know the words to use.

 

Today, not even saying good morning felt right.

 

After breakfast, he returned to his room, sorting through some of his clothes. They were all  the same type of shirts, pants and button-downs: plain and simple, without rips or tears, without dirt. When he wore those clothes he looked just like every other human being out there on the walkways, commuting to their jobs in the mornings and back in the evenings, but he wasn’t like them. He never had been, and right now he felt like there was a whole universe between who he was and who the Center thought he was.

 

Dean almost felt relief as the Center shuttle appeared an hour later to pick him up. He didn’t need to see his therapist every day, not anymore; he was prepared to behave as normal as possible to not attract her attention. After the talk yesterday, she had kept an eye out for him in the group area, and would make herself available in case he had wished to discuss things further.

 

He made himself look forward to the daily business at the day clinic, consisting of being busy with some, in his eyes, stupid activity, one after another. They had termed it as therapeutic measures to find his place in a social group; he called it even more useless shit than usual.

 

Sometimes they had to paint:  a form of occupational therapy in which they were supposed to express what was going on inside them with paint and brush, and then show each other what they had produced. Sometimes they had to listen to music, which would help them somehow, to describe what they were feeling in a circle of other patients. By far, the best activity was the few hours of sports they were allowed to participate in. He had begun to enjoy running more and more, not just because it was an activity which led him outside into the Arboretum at the center of the Center’s day clinic area. If he was lucky enough, he would be able to avoid the stupid group activity program somehow, go straight for the sports program and clear his head, maybe find a way to sneak away deeper into the park area and just sit there for a while.

 

He liked being in what little nature this world had left. Another thing he hadn’t seen much of in his life; not since his earliest years in childhood. Once more, he closed his eyes, thinking about the little pond the architects had put in the middle of the park landscape, and the pier he liked to sit on. Typically, the chubby orange-black and white-red koi swam in the cool water, circling around each other almost as if they danced to phantom music.

 

Fish were very sensitive to certain frequencies, a lot more than the average human. Dean had read about that in one of the books his uncle had given him for one of his birthdays. Maybe the fish felt the vibrations of the shuttles flying past not too far above the Arboretum’s fragile glass dome; he wasn't too sure. At any rate, he would be alone for a while, somewhere where nobody would bother him, and maybe he would be able to put his thoughts in order.

 

Something shook the shuttle and quickly brought him back to reality. It happened once more just a second later and the metal groaned in protest all around him. 

 

Something wasn’t right.

 

Usually the shuttles’ engines were quiet and barely made a sound; these particular engines had very low level vibrations compared to what he had been used to from the freighter. Now that Dean was paying attention to it, he noticed that this shuttle shook and shivered. He placed one of his hands on the wall closest to him and felt the tiny tremors quake through the hull.

 

It hadn’t been as bad as they had started off a few minutes ago. He hadn’t noticed anything unusual, but now it became steadily worse.

 

The pilot was busy with several red error messages popping up across his front window. Some simple software errors which didn’t do much else than report that somewhere a sensor was spitting out gibberish the system couldn’t understand. His freighter had spit out errors practically non-stop, most of them only unimportant crap. The pilot certainly knew what could be ignored and what would need attention, and what he had to do to solve the problem, but whichever protocols he had employed obviously weren’t helping at all.

 

 “Hold onto something,” the Pilot said gruffly. “We’re going down now.”

 

Shuttles in general were far from aerodynamic. Advanced technology had made it unnecessary to require wide, streamlined wings to glide through the air; most models nowadays relied entirely on their engines and magnetism to stay in the air. Most of the models the Center used where small, semi-cylindrical ships with angled fronts. The pilot's compartment was separated from the passenger area by a sliding-glass door, while the passengers sat strapped in the back seats along the sides of the cabin. The windows were at the top sides of the shuttles, allowing a relatively good view of the sky above.

 

The glass doors separating passenger area from pilot's cockpit rattled loudly, loud enough to nearly overpower the pilot’s constant curses.

 

Dean held onto his seat and looked up toward the line of windows. The shuttle wasn’t exactly falling, but they were losing altitude quickly. Zipping past the various levels of traffic, plummeting further down, and down, past the living areas, past shop and entertainment levels and straight on into the lower areas almost exclusively reserved for Industrial use.

 

For a couple of seconds, the only thing he could hear was a string of  expletives coming from the cockpit, coupled with the spluttering engine, until, finally, they hit a landing platform and everything went quiet.

 

Dean still watched the sky and the distant shuttle traffic far above them. There was a heavy freighter shuttle which slowly came into view, looking a little like someone had strapped a Center shuttle’s front to a Colonial standard freight container. It blocked out the light, coloring the insides of the shuttle in gray-blue shadows for an extremely long moment, before the light returned.

 

They must have nearly reached the ground level, far below walkways, bridges and parks, and away from all the clean and proper places. Possibly close to the container ports south, somewhere between the place Dean lived and the Center’s clinic area. From here, these freighter shuttles shipped the containers into the atmosphere where freighters, similar to the one Dean had lived on, would dock and load.

 

“You alright young man?”

 

Dean looked away from the windows, finding the pilot watching him with a worried frown on his face.

 

“I am fine,” he stated, answering the pilot’s question.

 

The pilot gave a slight nod of acceptance.

 

Dean imagined that a near crash with a patient in the back must have been one of the worst scenarios for someone like him – stuck with a crazy in a tiny tin-can.

 

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” the pilot muttered, turning away with his back to the instrument panel. “I just got it back from the garage.”

 

Dean watched him flop down in the pilot seat again. He was a plump elderly man with not much hair left on his head, visibly frustrated with the lack of cooperation by the shuttle’s advanced technology. If this would have been the freighter engine Dean was used to, he would have bet all his rations on a clot in one of the thruster conductors. Then again, his freighter had been built more than forty years ago, and technology certainly had advanced since then.

 

After another moment spent aimlessly poking at the flight dashboard, the pilot got up from his seat again and pulled out a box below a console to his left. It looked like one of the standard toolboxes Dean had been familiar with. The usual set contained a number of tools, a pair of gloves and a breathing mask.

 

Dean had owned the protective gear as well, but had never really used it. What use was there when he knew that his lungs and skin had already been damaged enough as it was? The mask and gloves had just been unpractical after a while.

 

“Don’t worry, young man,” The pilot said, placing the toolbox down a few feet away from Dean’s seat. He opened the box, took out the mask, and offered it to Dean.

 

“Here, boy; it’s protocol,” he said.

 

Used to decades of doing what other people told him, Dean willingly accepted the mask, but didn’t put it on right away.

 

The pilot walked toward the back of the shuttle and pried open a lid of a side compartment, exposing a handle. He pulled it and, with a long and shrill groan, the rear hatch lowered.

 

The pilot turned back around, saying, “The shuttle’s sent a signal to the Center as we went down. They’re going to send a replacement to pick you up in no time.” He meant it reassuringly, no doubt.

 

Absently, Dean nodded at hearing the words, too preoccupied with the sight beyond the shuttle door. There, outside that hatch, was a part of society he knew.

 

Workers mingled around cargo crates at the far end of the landing platform. Every one of them wore jumpsuits, not unlike the one Dean had worn sometimes, and stacked grates and parts of machinery. He had seen dock workers like these every time they had docked and taken on freight. His father had kept him away from society, had kept him securely hidden away in the engine room of their freighter. But for twenty-something years, Dean had watched them from the dark corners of his home and wished nothing but to be one of them instead of a useless little Omega. These people were part of the world out there; the dirty world where people didn’t always wear their protective gear and didn't have baby-smooth skin.

 

He hadn’t seen this world in over a year. Sure, he had yearned for it, hoped to see his father and his uncle again soon, but here and now, suddenly confronted with an actual chance… he found himself frozen in the seat.

 

“You’re going to be at the Center in no time,” the pilot said after another moment.

 

Dean pried his eyes away from the world outside and looked at the pilot. The pilot had put on the gloves and was bending to roll the carpeting of the shuttle’s floor to the side and expose a lid in the shuttle floor. It must have been the access to the shuttle’s conduct system and engine, and, as the lid came off, Dean was surprised that he could easily identify most of the parts.

 

It was good to know that some things never changed.

 

“Great,” the pilot muttered as he crouched down, poking at the neon green and purple pipes tentatively with a gloved finger. He didn't seem too enthusiastic about putting his hands into the potentially lethal insides of his ship.

 

“I think it is the thruster’s conductor. It sounded like a fuel clot,” Dean said before he even was aware he had opened his mouth.

 

The pilot looked at him in surprise. “Don’t tell me you know something about engines,” he chuckled.

 

Dean huffed and unbuckled his belt. He got up with a smile on his face and knelt down beside the pilot. “I have grown up taking care of an Impala engine,” he informed the pilot proudly. “And this set up isn’t so different from that.” 

 

“I don't think they've made that type of engine in over thirty years,” the pilot said in surprise, not moving from his spot to prevent Dean from joining him on the floor. “Kid, I take it you aren’t from around here, then.”

 

Dean briefly looked up toward the cargo workers outside, then back down at the engine. “No, not really,” he said.

 

“I see,” the pilot said, and maybe he really understood. “Then how about you show me what you think is wrong.”

 

Dean grinned. “Sure.”

 

Policy demanded that the pilot keep passengers buckled in their seats at all times, away from stress and danger. But instead of obeying the etiquette of the shuttle, he watched with a curious expression how the Center patient he had been shuttling the day clinic picked an appropriate tool from the box and started to knock across the various feeding pipes of the engine to locate the clot he suspected had to be there.

 

And that was where the replacement shuttle’s pilot found them a little more than two hours later, engaged in a serious conversation about engine parts and tools, while reassembling a freshly-cleaned conductor system. It was forbidden entirely, but the second shuttle patiently waited until they had finished the job, too surprised by the picture he had stumbled in upon.

 

2.

 

Dean was thirteen when things had become complicated. For a kid whose father had instilled a perpetual fear of everyone outside their pack into his son, curiosity about the world outside was still surprisingly strong when given the chance.

 

Someone had messed up the orders in the cargo hold, and against the usual protocols, dock workers had to comb through what they had already loaded to find the misplaced crates. It had taken forever, and his uncle had long since lost his nerve with the mess and had left the docking bay to have a word with the chief of operations on the station.

 

Dean hadn't even noticed.

 

As a kid, he had learned to navigate the air vents to stay out of the way of trouble when the docking was going on; he had also learned that he could watch the workers by the hangar doors perfectly that way, too. These few hours of watching other people, and what meager entertainment files Bobby had stored away on the archaic hard-drives of their ship, was all the contact to the outside world he had gotten.

 

Back in the day, Dean hadn’t cared much for the people in particular, just for what they were doing. In time, he had begun to focus on some of them, periodically. It was as if a tiny little voice, far back below his father’s gruff growl, perked up and took notice of one or several of the workers, and Dean couldn’t help but follow.

 

This day he had seen a young tall guy, a kid maybe sixteen or so, who must have been new to the dock and the workers there. His laugh and voice had left Dean queasy and distracted, and dangerously curious to see more. He had followed the kid around the hangar, jumping from container to container, far above them and out of sight, until the kid had glanced up right the moment Dean had looked down. It must have been that brief eye-contact, a strange connection made in a second of time, which was why Dean had lost his balance, crashing right off the container he had aimed for and to the ground.

 

The only thing more painful than the broken bone, worse than the open wound where the jagged bone’s edge pierced his flesh, and even worse than the burning hot embarrassment, the fear of facing a dozen dock workers, all Alphas and Betas, had been the guilt he had felt as his father had heard about what happened and had turned all his disappointed anger upon his teenage son. 

 

3.

 

As the repaired first shuttle finally arrived at the Center’s shuttle platform another hour later, Dean’s therapist was surprised, to say the least, to find him exit that one instead of the second one.

 

Dean was sweaty and dirty up to his elbows, and the fuel, albeit less toxic and dangerous than the stuff the old freighter had flown with, had irritated some of the skin along his forearms and hands enough that the skin had started to peal. His flesh hurt, and the ridiculous shirt and wide pants they had given him were pretty much a lost cause, but he didn’t even care.

 

He exited the shuttle with a broad smile on his face, closely followed by the pilot and even shook hands with him as a means of goodbye; something he certainly hadn’t been used to before.

 

His smile faltered a little as he saw his therapist standing there, her arms wrapped around herself against the breeze on the landing platform and her hair in disarray. She looked worried and her eyebrows had reached her hairline in surprise at the state he was in. She was even more surprised at the sight of his hands as he joined her, shaking her head in displeasure.

 

“You are late,” she said. It wasn’t an accusation directly, more of a statement of a fact. “I have been worried.” And she still was by the way she seemed tempted to touch his hands, looking the red and irritated skin over more closely.

 

 

“Maybe you should see a doctor anyway.”

 

Dean rolled his eyes, but allowed her to usher him into the Center and toward the lift. Dean found himself not in the mood to protest much. For just a while, he had felt useful and needed; he had done something with the abilities he had and it had proven to him that everything he’d learned was still there somewhere deep inside him. As the lift doors closed and kept Dean apart from the shuttles and the world he’d been so familiar with for so long, he noticed that he hadn’t used his chance at all.

 

It startled him more than kissing Sam had.

 

Other than the excitement of the shuttle's malfunction, she might have noticed that something had happened on the way, still guiding him wordlessly along the halls toward one of the treatment rooms in the lower levels of the day clinic. Patients sat in the waiting area, and the light from the Arboretum at the center of the building came in through a line of tall windows at one side of the waiting room. His therapist got him settled in a spot far away from the window, far away from any chance to see the green down below, having him sit in a chair.

 

He remained there for a long time, wondering why he hadn’t just run. His father had friends in many places; although most probably didn’t know who he was. The world out there was scary, but he could have made it home somehow. Why hadn’t he just done that? Why had the thought to run been wiped from his mind almost as fast as it had come?

 

It took another hour until he was finally called into an exam room, and he still had no answer for his question. He had sat there with his hands hidden out of sight for most of the time, and had forgotten about the state of his skin. His therapist had remained somewhere close, always in reach to talk, but not close enough to pressure him into talking. Still, she looked generally confused and failed miserably at hiding it underneath her usual calm and caring demeanor.

 

The exam itself was brief and nothing special. A doctor quickly looked over the skin, deciding it wasn’t really grave—which Dean could have told him, he was sort of an expert on that type of injury after all—and bandaged the worst sports up.

 

“How do you feel now,” the Doctor asked. “Has the pain subsided?”

 

Dean shrugged, curling his fingers against the palms of his hands. The ointment they had used on most of the skin soothed the burning and itching down nicely; he barely felt a thing. It would heal without leaving any scars in just a few days time.

 

“Sure,” he said, smiling slightly as he glanced down at his own hands. Not that he liked the pain, he didn’t. He had never really liked the pain of burns, broken bones, or of irritated skin when it got exposed to toxic fluids again and again. He simply had accepted the pain as the price for being useful, for doing something he had liked.

 

“Good,” The Doctor said and shared a look with Dean’s therapist.

 

Dean only watched them from the corner of his eyes, not really caring what silent conversation was going on between them, and only looked up and at his therapist after the Doctor had stepped out.

 

“I have been worried,” she said, repeating her earlier statement.

 

“It was nothing, really. Just a small engine failure,” he said and shrugged, then looked back at his hands. God it had felt good to do something with them besides finger painting. Maybe he had just forgotten to run because of that?

 

“I was just a clot in a conductor, nothing too dramatic,” he added. “Was really easy to fix too.”

 

“You know a lot about engines,” she continued. “You have never shared this fact with me.”

 

“I think I did,” he stated, face scrunching up in irritation. “I told you a couple of times that I worked on my uncle’s freighter.”

 

She licked her lips slowly, giving him a quick once over. Dean was pretty sure there was something going on in that sly, clever head of hers; he wasn't too sure if he liked it or not.

 

“Indeed you have.”

 

He wondered if she would make him talk about this again, and hoped deep down she wouldn’t. 

 

“I do think you should forego your art therapy for today,” she said after a rather long pause. “Maybe it is best you take a little pause from your schedule and rest.”

 

She stepped over to him and put her hand on his knee. It was meant to be a reassuring gesture, another of her motherly touches. But it was also an echo of last night, and maybe the answer to his question why he hadn’t left today. “You may return home if you wish and we will see one another again on Monday,” she said, and he just nodded along, still staring at her hand.

 

Hours later, Dean sat in one of his usual spots too deep in thought to pay much attention to the world around him. The balcony of their apartment wasn’t really that big, just large enough for a bench and a few chairs in one corner, a few potted plants Castiel regularly abused and a stretch of empty sun-warmed floor perfect for Dean to stretch out on his back. That patch of warm ground was Dean’s favorite spot on this whole damn world, coming in close after the peer in the park.

 

It was anything the dark, smelly hole on their freighter hadn’t been. He could see the blue sky and the shuttle traffic; sometimes when it was getting dark, he could even see the afterburners of the larger interplanetary ships as they pushed away from the loading-stations and higher in the atmosphere, then eventually into space. It was easy to remember home there.

 

Now, sprawled out in the sun, the view actually made things even harder.

 

He laid there and had lifted his arm toward the sky, staring at the bandages around his hand in stark contrast to the afternoon-sun. Okay, so he would have had the chance to run, and maybe find his way back home. And he hadn’t taken the chance. Okay, so it might have been a stupid plan to begin with – his father may have friends, but without credit and no idea where his father actually was, and, more importantly with the way most of these people out there treated Omegas, he would have ended up God knows where.

 

Back in the beginning, just after they had woken him up, he had wished for Bobby or his father to come and get him out of the Center. He had been too scared, still too much an Omega, to try anything himself, but he didn’t have a real chance either. He figured, as desperate as he had been back then, his stubborn side, or the part his father had tried to beat into submission in his early teenager time, would have tried anyway.

 

He would have taken that chance to run, and he would have hidden away somewhere in the industrial district’s maze of halls and warehouses until he could have hitched a ride with a freight container. He was a master when it came down to staying out of sight – always had been. It had been the only thing keeping him alive as the Rogues had come.

 

He had hidden away while they had attacked, and they had only gotten his mother instead. Things were different now though. He hadn’t adjusted to what everyone said he was, still didn’t truly believe he was an Alpha like everyone kept on saying, but his mind had become a whole lot clearer.

 

So, maybe he hadn’t run because his subconscious was aware by now that it would have been practically suicide for an Omega to try. And if not that, he must have been aware that running would have, at the very least, landed him somewhere on the slave market.

 

Then again, maybe it really was something else and he had used the chance to work with the shuttle engine as a welcome distraction—a cheap excuse not to run.

 

But no, that wasn’t it.

 

He saw one of the Center shuttles banking away from the traffic above, heading for the landing platform down below, and knew instantly that the main reason to stay was about to arrive. And in that light, even the mess that had happened last night made sense. Dean huffed and let the arm fall to his side.

 

God, it hadn’t even been the first time that something stupid like that had happened. They had practically been right from the start. Glued together from the moment they had been introduced to each other in the Center. Last night had just been more intense than some of the other moments.

 

Dean had done something stupid he hadn’t thought about.

 

And today?

 

Well, everything was simply completely fucked up, chaotic and confusing. Today had added another layer of crazy to the mess. He heard the front door slide open and shut, the steps head down towards the living room and further towards the hall, leading to their rooms.

 

“Dean?”

 

“Here!” He lifted his other arm to wave it through the air. Sam’s steps changed direction. Once he was sure Sam would find him, Dean covered his eyes with his arm. He wasn’t too certain he would be able to face Sam right now.

 

“Man, are you alright? I heard you were hurt!”

 

“Word travels fast, huh?”

 

Sam flopped down right beside Dean on the sun-warmed balcony and took hold of the arm resting on the ground. He lifted it, getting a closer look at the bandage and the reddened skin peeking out from the bandage’s edge. Dean could imagine the concentrated frown on Sam’s face, the narrowed eyes, and the bangs hanging in his face. He felt the other man’s fingers tracing across his arm’s skin and shivered even though it was warm in the sun.

 

“What the hell did you do?”

 

Dean sighed. “I repaired a shuttle,” he said quietly.

 

“Without any protective gear?” Dean knew Sam was glaring at him. “But you know that artificial fuel is poisonous, don't you?”

 

Dean had to snort. How right Sam was; Dean’s old organs could have served as evidence for how bad the crap could really be when you had been exposed to it on a daily basis. For a world that liked to call themselves advanced, their choices concerning the main energy source for vehicles was truly left to be desired.

 

“I know,” he admitted.

 

“Why did you do it then?” Sam asked in obvious annoyance. “Do you really still want to hurt yourself that badly?”

 

“Strong words coming from you,” Dean said and peeked out from below his arm.

 

Sam looked even more annoyed now but didn’t let go of Dean’s bandaged arm. Just the opposite, he started stroking along the bandaged skin in soothing manner, as if he could heal it just by touch. Prior to this moment, Sam would have stood up and left, hiding the leather wristbands he wore with the overly long sleeves of his shirt. But now he wore a short-sleeved shirt when he was home, and only ever covered up his arms outside their apartment. He had come a long way, probably even further than Dean had.

 

Sam had grown so much and Dean still felt like he was drowning in this world, lost and disorientated. Most of all, he was confused. Because of his own reactions, the changes he had gone trough, and also by how people around him reacted to what he was doing. He felt his eyes sting and his throat constrict full of unwanted emotions.

 

“You could have really hurt yourself,” Sam said after a long moment. He sounded genuinely worried, not irritated or annoyed. The distance which had been present between the two of them this morning was gone, and, despite what had happened last night, their closeness had remained.

 

Dean nodded and covered his eyes back up with his arm. He felt exhausted and tired. Sam must have felt it, must have felt how much Dean needed comfort right now, and that what little his touch could give was not enough at all. So instead, Sam lifted the hand to his mouth and pressed a soft kiss to the irritated skin on knuckles.

 

“You should be more careful,” Sam whispered against his skin, and Dean couldn’t do much else other than grasp the Beta’s hand and hold on.

 

“Yeah I should.”

 

As much as Dean disliked admitting this fact, maybe he hadn’t run this afternoon because he never really had wanted to run to begin with. As much as he missed his father and his uncle, maybe he wasn’t even willing to go back to a life in which he had voluntarily hurt himself just to be useful.

 

 

*+*

 

-GENDER DYSPHORIA-

/dys·pho·ria/

unhappiness with one's biological sex or its usual gender role, with the desire for the body and role of the opposite sex.

____________

1.

 

Most of the time, weekends were quiet. Sam was busy studying and Castiel wandered around the apartment busy with whatever he found interesting at the time. In the beginning, Dean had slept a lot on the weekends and would barely eat anything, and, for a brief moment, he had fallen back into sad old patterns.

 

After most of Friday evening had been spent with sitting quietly on the balcony and not-crying while Sam had watched over him, exhaustion had finally claimed Dean. He had fallen asleep on the balcony, and would have remained there if not for Ellen’s gruff suggestion to move their asses inside before they would catch their death in the cold air.

 

She was caring like that in her own special way.

 

Dean fell into bed, still in the dirtied clothes he had worn all day and slept for almost fifteen hours straight. And even then, after sleeping that long, he still felt a bone-deep exhaustion which he couldn’t shake. It wasn’t so much physical as emotional and left him hollow and unable to think much about anything at all. And quite frankly, he didn’t even want to think about the mess his life was, didn’t want to think about his chance to run or all the other things which had made a once simple existence as an Omega so damn complicated.

 

He showered, dressed in a clean set of clothes and ambled out into the hall, still somewhat numb from the previous days, and ate enough to ward of Ellen’s annoyed stare. Eventually, he found Sam sitting on the couch, and went straight for the empty spot beside him. The Beta was studying for an upcoming test, and didn’t even blink twice as Dean flopped down alongside him. Sam scooted closer to one side’s armrest, and balanced his book on the armrest instead of his thighs. This spot was now reserved for Dean, who wordlessly followed the invitation. He lay down and curled up in a ball, his head almost resting on Sam’s lap. Dean was shivering, and felt cold, but the chill came from within and not from the air around him.

 

After all that, he'd fallen asleep again with the Beta’s hand resting warmly on top of Dean’s upper arm, Sam’s thumb gently caressing along the seam of Dean’s short-sleeved shirt.

 

As evening approached, Castiel had joined their little round, watching a random show on the plasma television with them. Dean couldn’t really pinpoint what was going on in the show, and wasn’t even interested that much in it to be honest. Castiel, though, had continued asking things and Sam had tried his very best to explain concepts and behavior of the various characters as best he could. It was almost normal, but only almost.

 

He eyed Ellen as she started putting various books Castiel had pulled out over the course of the afternoon back into the shelf by the screen, and she looked over from the corner of her eyes. She wasn’t like his therapist, would not press him to talk, or employ any of the strange methods the Center’s therapists and doctors used to get him spilling his guts. She was sneakier, more subtle, and most of the time she remained in the background, out of sight in her office. But if they needed anything, she had an uncanny sense in appearing right when they needed her. He guessed it was something that came with years of experience and must have been some form of motherly instinct.

 

Once she was finally finished with sorting out the books, she left only to return with a warm blanket in her hands. It was red warm wool, a material more common to the colonies in the outer territories, and she simply spread it out over Dean’s curled form as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Then she sat down on her stuffed chair to the left of the black couch and joined them in watching their show.

 

Dean closed his eyes, still feeling tired, but at least he was no longer cold.

 

2.

 

“You’re an idiot, boy,” Bobby muttered somewhere above him. “I never thought it was possible, but you’re an even greater idiot than your asshole of a father is, do you hear me?”

 

Dean only saw the blue-green lights above him, heard people quietly talking around him. It was crowded and full; the air was stuffy and hot. The vibration below him was all wrong, not the engine at home, not his bed on the gallery above the engine room, and when he turned his head, he couldn’t see the sun and the moons, no sunflower fields shining in perpetual blue-white.

 

“I should have done something; I should have kicked some sense into him a long time ago…”

 

He saw Bobby. He looked unhappy and pale, holding onto Dean’s hand with an iron grip. Around them were a dozen or so people standing and sitting, all faceless, shadowy people Dean couldn’t even clearly see. 

 

“Stay with me, kid,” Bobby said and squeezed his hand. “Don’t you dare do this to me! We touch ground in a minute or two, and they already called ahead to the hospital!”

 

Dean closed his eyes, tried to let go of Bobby’s hand, but his uncle just wouldn’t let go. His mother’s smile was fading and the darkness was coming, and this wasn’t what he had wanted at all.

 

3.

 

Sunday didn't start out much better. Everything stayed quiet, and in the afternoon, they ended up on the balcony again: Dean sprawled out in his favorite spot like a cat trying to catch as much sun as possible while watching the shuttle traffic above, Sam following him outside not much longer after.

 

Dean’s silence betrayed how things inside him brewed and bubbled unbearably close to the surface. He continued to bite the urge back again and again, but eventually his mind won out. It had to come out, now more than before.

 

Eventually, Dean sat upright, crossing his legs under him.

 

Sitting like this, he was close enough to Sam to press their legs against the other, feel their respective warmth. There was a container transport far out to their left, pushing up into the sky toward a docking station, and he watched the fire of its engines cut lines through the thin layer of clouds further up. It went higher and higher and finally became one with every other moving light up there. Somewhere out there was his family: his father and uncle, so far away.

 

“My dad isn’t a bad person…” Dean started then paused, actually not even sure why he was talking at all. But now that he had already opened the flood gates, there was no turning back. He licked his dry lips, closing his eyes, then tried again, “Everyone makes him out to be a selfish asshole, but he isn’t.”

 

Sam looked up from his book, wisely keeping his mouth closed.

 

“He is just…” he said then paused again. He couldn’t say it. “He has other priorities than me. You know, finding the Rogues who killed my mother.”

 

The Beta remained quiet. He was aware that if he talked now, Dean would probably shut up again, and that wasn’t good for anyone.

 

“I am an adult,” Dean continued. “And even if I was just an Omega, being that and not more for everyone out there, I tried to help him find my mom’s killers.”

 

“By poisoning yourself,” Sam said in a soft voice, unable to stop himself.

 

Dean rolled his eyes.

 

“Dean,” Sam sighed. “You stopped taking the medications which protected your body from organ failure.”

 

Dean hung his head. Oh who was he kidding, Sam was right. “I would have died anyway.”

 

“Your father should have made certain you were healthy, Dean, not hidden you away in an engine room while he went off to follow his own need for revenge. And he shouldn’t have allowed you to work without any protective gear or proper medical care.”

 

Dean covered his face with his hands for a moment. Sam was right, and deep down Dean had known that he was slowly killing himself. Part of him had accepted that fact long ago; it had allowed him to forget what he wanted. Had enabled him to ignore that he was lonely and tired of hiding all the time; no longer taking the meds had been simply a means to an end.

 

And now? Now he was no longer confined to an engine room, no longer poisoning himself on a daily basis, and he had Sam. It was too confusing and too much for someone who had once had nothing at all. But it was even worse than that, could get even more confusing if Dean would just allow his brain to follow all the questions Missouri had inspired in him. Had his father known he wasn’t an Omega? Had Bobby? And if his father had not known in the beginning, why had he never tried to investigate why Dean had been so bad at being an Omega?

 

All these questions, and there were even more where they came from.

 

  1. He let his hands flop into his lap, still hanging his head. “I don’t know what to do.”  

 

“Dean,” Sam sighed.

 

“I don’t even know who or what I am anymore.”

 

Sam put his book aside and scooted a little closer. He shifted to ease some weight off his leg, and somehow that made him come even closer to Dean. “Things will get better,” he said, very close to Dean. “Less confusing-“

 

“-maybe for you.”

 

“I’ll help you,” Sam promised, just inches away.

 

And there they were again, close enough to feel the warmth of one another’s body through the thin material of their clothes, all but drowning in that confusing state of closeness which had been there from the start.

 

Dean’s heart beat so hard, it felt as if it was going to pry its way out of his ribcage at any moment now, and something deep inside him screamed at him to do it and kiss Sam already. He felt sick and light-headed, but all of that melted away as Sam closed the distance before Dean had found the courage to use the moment.

 

This time the closed-mouthed press of lips against lips lasted only a moment, before Sam pulled back. He hadn’t closed his eyes, and neither had Dean. Insecurity—and possibly a little fear—was clearly written in Sam’s eyes. For a second, the two of them just stared at each other, color high on their respective cheeks and their breathing absurdly loud in their ears.

 

Castiel was nowhere to be seen, and Ellen wasn’t in sight either. Nobody was there to interrupt the moment, nobody to keep Dean from leaning in again, slow this time, and with slightly opened lips. Sam met him almost half-way, his lips warm, and soft against Dean’s own.

 

Dean’s eyes drifted shut, and all senses concentrated entirely on what his lips were doing. The touch of tongue on tongue was almost accidental, a product of a slight adjustment to avoid bumping their noses against each other, and was just the funniest feeling at first.

 

Something to get addicted to, Dean decided, something which let him forget all the shit going down around him over the last days. He held onto Sam with his bandaged hands, felt the Beta’s longer hair catch against the graze. This closeness lifted him up and up, beyond the heavy sadness in his chest, and as Sam pulled back, breathing heavily from what they just had done with each other, he smiled a brilliant smile Dean couldn’t help but return. 

 

“Trust me.”

 

And Dean did.

 

 

4.

 

The next Monday came a little too fast for Dean’s taste. He hadn't slept well, but at least the few hours he had actually gotten some shut-eye had been devoid of nightmares. He had even abandoned his corner beside the bed again, and, after spending most of the evening on the balcony with carefully exploring his new favorite past time of kissing Sam, he had fallen face first into his bed and stared at the window.

 

The confusion was still there, but when he looked at Sam, cupped the other man’s cheek and pulled him closer into a soft, slow kiss, the mess seemed less unbearable.

 

When he woke, he felt better, still exhausted but better.

 

Breakfast started the day off nicely; there was at least a little joking and bantering between them. Castiel watched their exchange as if it was one of the ball-games on their television and not a true-to-life conversation. Sam’s smiles were just that little bit more bright and hopeful when he glanced at him, and Dean returning almost all of them.

 

Sam sneaked in a brief kiss between getting ready for his day and the arrival of the shuttle. Since Mondays were Sam's therapy day as well, they could make the brief travel from their home to the Center together for a change.

 

However, once they were there, they had to part. Dean had to see his therapist again, just like she had asked him on Friday, and Sam had to see his own. Sam’s therapist was a balding, tall and lanky man with glasses and a perpetual frown on his face, usually waiting for his patient in the lobby of the office level as if Sam wouldn’t be able to find his own way to the man’s office. Dean disliked him, but Sam got along well enough with the guy, and that was the important part.

 

Dean stood there for a minute, watching Sam and his therapist on their way down one of the long corridors, until they rounded a corner and vanished out of sight, then walked on to find his own therapist. She usually waited for him in her office, sitting in her stuffed gray chair until he would arrive and sit down on his spot. 

 

His mood became unpleasant the moment he sat down and had all her attention fixed in on him. What fragile calm had coated over his inner chaos over the weekend seemed ready to melt away as soon as she would open her mouth and as he questions. For a couple of random minutes, the two of them just sat there.

 

She was waiting for him to begin their conversation, and Dean tried to avoid talking about whatever they had been discussing over the last few visits. He knew it wouldn’t stop her from talking—it was just part of the protocol to offer him the chance to begin.

 

“You look better,” she started after some stretches of silence. “How do you feel today?” 

 

“Good,” he answered, and to his surprise she actually seemed to believe him.

 

“That is very good to hear,” Missouri said next. “After the upsetting events of the last week, I was very worried.”

 

He had figured that much. He also figured that his therapist must have had a talk with Ellen sometime yesterday evening as the door to Ellen’s room had been closed. He should have asked Castiel what they had talked about instead of just ignoring his usual craziness.

 

“I have also talked with my superior about your case,” she informed him. ”And we have come to the conclusion that it is time to change tactics within your therapy.”

 

“Change tactics?” He sat up. “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

So it wasn’t enough to take him away from his home, put him through an unwanted regeneration of his body, confuse him thoroughly about whom and what he was, now they had to add another level of crazy?

 

“That we will have to adjust your daily schedule according to what has happened in the last week,” she explained and scooted forward in her seat, just that little bit closer to him.

 

The last time she had announced something like this, he had been released to the apartment and into Ellen’s care. This could mean anything: from changing what boring tasks he had to occupy himself with during his time in the day clinic, up to where he was living at the moment. A thought struck him like a knife in the back; they could even change his living arrangements, could put him back into the clinic and part him from Sam, from Castiel, even from Ellen.

 

“No,” he said firmly.

 

The firmness in his voice came as a surprise to himself as much as to her, but the shock was only momentarily.

 

“You do not even know what the adjustments will be,” she said.

 

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, crossing his arms defiantly. “I’m fine. I don’t need you to change anything.”

 

When he saw her stand, Dean found himself ready to defend what little stability there was in his chaotic life, then went to stand as well. She seemed pleasantly surprised at his reaction, but not inclined to back down.

 

“Fine, Dean. But I must insist, at the very least, that I will explain to you what the change would entail.” She sidestepped her patient, walking toward the door. “Would you please follow me now?”

 

Dean stood rooted to the spot, with arms still crossed and face dark, brooding. He wasn’t going to give his new pack up. He wasn’t. She must have seen the clear refusal to comply in his face, and came back a step toward him.

 

“Please, Dean, at least come and let me show you. It will be a pleasant surprise.”

 

As pleasant a surprise as waking up from six months stasis, brand new and healthy, still thinking that he had closed his eyes for good just moments before because his organs had ceased all function? He still didn’t trust her which was why he was hesitant in following her anyway. What choice did he really have?

 

She led him down the corridors and toward the lift, beckoning him to follow her on the journey to wherever they were going.

 

The surprise, as it turned out, was actually something Dean had never expected. Not after the way his therapist had reacted to what he had done last Friday. And especially not after the way he had been so upset a few days ago in the wake of the one year anniversary.

 

Before he truly understood where they were heading, the two of them exited the lift on a level Dean had never been to. It didn’t look as if it was part of the Center, not of the public area anyway, and lacked the general cleanliness and order the rest of the place radiated. Crates were stacked up to the wall on one side of the corridor she led him down; there were no real windows in the walls, merely slits cut into the surface, letting in thin slivers of murky daylight. They must have been so far down already, they must have left the clinic levels far behind.

 

“Where are we going?” he asked once they rounded the corner, coming to a halt in front of a large sliding door, red letters marking it as Main Hangar 89. There was a sign reading “authorized personal only” and, as it slid open with a tired hiss, Dean finally understood where they were.

 

“This is the garage and hangar bay,” his therapist said. “I have arranged a meeting with the Chief Mechanic for you.”

 

Dean still couldn’t follow. “You did what?” He stood there, shocked and unable to move. Something deep in his gut was clenching down hard, making it suddenly harder to breathe.

 

She stepped closer to him again, gently touching his shoulder as she rubbed slow circles across his shoulder blades. “After last week, I do think it is time to give you the possibility to do something constructive,” she explained. “You have stated that you wish to be a functional part of society, and it will help you adjust to your new position when you can make yourself, as you put it, useful.”

 

He stared wide-eyed at the world around him. The hangar was gigantic. Large enough to fit at least a dozen shuttles beside each other, from wall to wall, with plenty of space left to work around them. Workbenches, shelves stacked with replacement parts, and piles of crates lined the walls to the left and right of the door, and all sorts of mobile equipment and toolboxes stood strewn about the room. Women and men worked on the assembled shuttles, wearing their masks, their gloves, and dirty overalls, while some of the pilots sat assembled in the far corner in a cubicle around a table. On the far side, opposite to the entrance, was the hangar opening, allowing a good view of the main landing platform and half a dozen Center shuttles parked and ready to be boarded by their pilots.

 

“Dean?”

 

He blinked and looked down to his therapist. She smiled wide, feeling very pleased for him.

 

“Yes,” he mumbled.

 

“Do you want to see more?”

 

He just nodded and followed her along. They walked to the left, past shuttles and workers, and straight toward a dark-skinned man with a beard. He was busy talking with two of his mechanics, at least until he saw Dean and his therapist approach. His face was marked by the exposure to chemicals, but not as bad as Dean’s had ever been. He had narrowed his eyes critically, not exactly coming across like the friendliest person Dean had ever encountered.

 

“Ah, and there you are,” he greeted them, then fixed his dark eyes on Dean. “And that’s the young man who single-handedly repaired one of my biggest trouble-makers?”

 

“Yes he is,” Dean’s therapist said proudly, somehow still touching Dean.

 

“I’m Rufus Turner, Center Chief Mechanic,” the mechanic introduced himself and held out his hand for Dean to take.

 

Dean tried really hard to keep himself from falling back into old patterns, from stepping back and submitting, and instead manned up to it and shook the offered hand. It seemed to be the right reaction to Turner’s greeting, and the man’s frown morphed into a pleased smirk. 

 

“Rufus has agreed to take you into one of the mechanic crews for a few hours a week,” Dean’s therapist said.

 

“And if you prove that this one shuttle you got back into working order wasn’t just a lucky shot,” Rufus added. “I might hire you for a real job.”

 

“I’d like that,” Dean croaked, at a loss of words. “I’d really like that.”

 

“Of course, only if your health status allows,” Dean’s therapist added from the side with a critical look at his still bandaged hands. “If I see that you neglect your health in favor of your new work, we will have to reduce your participation here.” 

 

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t forget,” Rufus said, making Dean certain, just from the man's look alone, that he wouldn’t tire of reminding him over and over, if need be.

 

Dean didn’t even care if he had to sit in with his therapist more often now, if he had to go through all the stupid art-therapy and group talk things, or if he had to wear gloves and full protection gear – he had never ever really wanted to do anything as much as this in his life.

 

“Then come on,” Rufus said and jerked his head toward another shuttle at the far side of the hangar. It was partially disassembled and most of its engine was spread out on a black tarp on the ground toward the front portion. “Let’s fit you with some gear and get you started.”

 

 

*+*

 

-Fusion-

/fu·sion/ (fu´zhun)

the tendency of two people who are experiencing an intense emotion to unite.

_________

1.

 

In the beginning, they had made him sit down with papers and with colors. There were other patients around the large studio, many of them with their therapist, or one or the other of the nurses.

 

They had painted, working on sculptures, and Dean had sat there trying to ignore the world around him. Ignore this new life in which they kept telling him he wasn’t who he thought he was. In a world so completely different from the one he was used to.

 

Missouri had started to sit with him back then, right alongside one of the nurses. Lisa, as Missouri called her, was a tall Brunette, who smiled at Dean an awful lot, but that wasn’t what made him focus in on her. It was the pots of colors she had been opening, one after the other, as she set them down before him on the table top. 

 

There were so many colors: yellow, blue, green and orange, so thick and glossy. She named the paints for him and set them down in a half circle. The yellow color pot had struck something within Dean, making him reach out and pick the pot up, unaware what he was even doing. He was in a trance of some sort as he had begun to stick his fingers inside, rubbing the cool sticky color between his fingers as if to call on a sensory memory of the last time he had done something like this.

 

His five-year-old self somewhere deep down inside him had started smiling, standing amongst sunflowers with his toy-plane clutched to his chest, as Dean had smeared the yellow paint all over the white, blank page. 

 

“Are those sunflowers,” Lisa had asked softly, bent low to watch him paint. She wasn’t angry at him for covering up the paper, for spreading the colors over the edge of the sheet of paper before him. She had seemed genuinely curious, a little like his mother had been when he had sat in their house with his crayons, painting things for her. 

 

He nodded, the ghost of a smile tugging the corners of his lips just the tiniest bit upwards.

 

This was his beginning.

 

2.

 

 

As Dean came home that evening, he wasn’t walking; he was floating on a cloud. It was amazing and he couldn’t help but still question if the day had really happened. He still felt the spot on his shoulder where Rufus had rested his hand as he said goodbye, still had the praise about what work he’d done on his first day ringing inside his ears.

 

As so many times before, he came to rest against the sliding door behind him just barely after it closed, sighing a heart-felt, deep sigh. For a couple of moments, he just stood there, eyes closed and hands flat against the door to his left and his right.

 

His hands itched still. He had sweat under the gloves, irritating his already damaged and still bandaged hands, but he hadn’t cared much. For one, the protective gear had been a condition Rufus had made him agree to, and secondly, Dean had promised to be more careful. And yes, he actually didn’t mind, wanting to wear the gear actually, to keep on working.

 

“You smell funny,” Castiel said suddenly. He stood way too close, as per usual.

 

Instead of jumping in surprise, Dean laughed as he opened his eyes. It must have been the last thing Castiel might have expected, because he stepped backwards, tilting his head to the left, his eyes curiously wide and brilliant blue.

 

“I’m sweaty,” Dean said, still amused. “I worked today.”

 

Castiel frowned, narrowing his eyes, then said slowly, “Working? What did you work, Dean?”

 

Dean smiled so hard his face was about to break in two, or so it felt like. The feeling was completely new, and scary, and he didn’t even mind.

 

“I got a spot in the Center’s garage,” he explained. “I’m going to repair shuttles a couple hours a week.”

 

Castiel nodded slowly, and then shook his head. Whatever was going on inside his head seemed somewhat confused about the change in Dean’s life outside Castiel's safe home, but the dark-haired man didn’t hang on to his confusion for long. Instead, he turned around, wandering back into the living room and towards the balcony while humming soft tunes under his breath. He started to sing out loud to himself as he reached the doors to the balcony, the lyrics a wicked scramble of bits of songs he might have heard throughout his life. They made no sense, but many things in Dean’s life hadn’t, so why should the soundtrack to it be any different?

 

Dean shook his head and laughed again, open and happy. He couldn’t remember when he had felt like this. Sam wasn't home yet, but the thought of telling him made Dean giddier, leaving a strange quivering feeling in the pit of his stomach. He would be home soon, though, so Dean decided to use the time, hurriedly heading to the shower to wash off the stink.

 

Dean let the hot water cascade down onto his head and neck, leaving behind a salty-taste from the recycling procedures as some of the drops beat onto his face and onto his lips. The liquid trickled down his body, across his shoulders and his back, taking away the sweat and grime an afternoon of working in the garage had created, but it also took along all the stiffening tension of the last days and washed it into the drain at his feet.

 

He grinned at the swirl of water, allowing the grin to widen at the prospect of telling Sam about this newest development, and at the memory of that goofy happy smile the Beta had, dimples and all. 

 

Sam’s hazel eyes would be bright and alive with genuine happiness for Dean—maybe he would be so glad about the newest developments. He would kiss Dean, too. Not just the soft, sweet kisses he had used to soothe away his pain, but maybe something deeper, something which Dean could not even name yet, not really, but yearned for deep down inside.

 

The idea of this nameless, intense kind of closeness stirred something else deep inside Dean, something he hadn’t felt for so long; he had almost forgotten that the part of his body was actually good for more than what he could remember. He felt his cock fill with blood just at the thought of Sam’s lips, of their kissing, and it took him completely by surprise.

 

This was new.

 

3.

 

After the debacle in the Cargo bay, Dean had avoided other people coming on board like the plague. It didn’t mean that the urges he had felt on that day had gone away.

 

Sometimes he would rest on his bed and his body would react to pictures in his head, far less innocent as the sun and the moon. He imagined the young dock worker doing things Dean barely knew from the limited file storage on his uncle’s hard-drives, and it drove him halfway-to-crazy sometimes. He had tried to not do it, had tried not to follow the strange urges and touch himself – no matter how much he had wanted it. He had attempted hiding the evidence of some of the nights when he would dream and his body would do things he hadn't wanted to do beyond his control.

 

As exposure to the engine's fuel and prolonged life in space did what it was rumored to do, finally, stopping his body’s reaction to the urges, he had almost felt relieved.

 

 

 

 

*+*

 

-individuation-

/in·di·vid·u·a·tion/ (in″dĭ-vid″u-a´shun)

1. the process of developing individual characteristics.

________

 

1.

 

The only decision Dean had ever made by himself was the one to die. Not because he really wanted to die, but maybe because he felt as if he had outlived his usefulness, and the only thing left in his life was the option to end it. What did he have to live for anyway, with the way it was becoming harder and harder to mend something that was broken for longer than he had been alive?

 

It wasn’t just the engine, in a way, it was his father too, who after decades of searching, was tiring visibly, but still relentlessly trying to get his revenge. It was futile; Dean had come to accept that the likelihood of finding that particular Rogue ship, that particular band of Rogues among the thousands of slave traders and smugglers out there was slim and growing even slimmer as the years had passed on.

 

Part of him might have always been aware that what his father did was wrong, and that Dean was probably little more than a reminder of a mate lost, a token equally hated and loved.

 

 

 

2.

 

Before Dean even knew it, he had fallen into a rhythm. Most of the days, he had to visit the day clinic and his therapist, but after proving his worth to the Chief, he was allowed to spend his afternoons almost entirely in the garage. Art therapy was replaced by group talks about what their daily routines had been and Dean was surprised to find that he could actually talk about something when it became his turn, instead of the continual awkward silences.

 

He took on a little bit more sports, running more to build an endurance and muscles required to keep up with his new occupation, and gradually he had released the fears which had made him yearn to return to the isolation he had been used to sometimes instead of company.

 

In the evenings, he came home sweaty and tired, but also in far better spirits than just months before, and there was Sam and Castiel waiting for him.

 

Castiel had fallen asleep on the bench on the balcony that night. The air was warm outside and there hardly was a breeze at all, so Dean didn’t feel particularly inclined to wake him up and bring him to bed. And besides, once Castiel was awake again, it could take hours until he would fall asleep once more – it was better to leave him where he was napping.

 

Ellen was already asleep too, the light in her study and room turned off for the night. She had said she didn’t feel too well and would turn in early, but Dean suspected it was all part of more of this therapeutic bullshit they were trying to impose to make him more independent and all – not that he was actually complaining to have her not nose around anything he and Sam were doing.

 

Satisfied with the states of his roommates, he had wandered across the living room and down the hall to Sam’s room. The Beta was seated in the blue gloomy light of the television, feet bare as he had just showered moments before, his longer wet hair clinging to his head. He had fiddled around with the remote, still only half-dressed with his shirt in his hands.

 

The sight had effectively paused Dean in his tracks. Sam had glanced up, smiling as he couldn't help but notice Dean standing there in the doorway. The Beta had no sense of shame at all, and Dean was happy about that development, but one day it would be the death of him.

 

“Where’s Cas?”

 

“Asleep on the balcony,” Dean had said. Even more glad of the fact than he had been moments ago.

 

“Okay,” Sam had replied, but let out an unmistakable frown. “Should we let him sleep there?”

 

Dean’s heart was thundering in his chest, and his mouth had become dry. He had to wet his lips before he dared to try and speak again. “He’s comfy enough,” he had answered hoarsely, “all but hugging his favorite plant.”

 

Sam had appeared to be okay with that answer, turning his attentions back to the television on the wall. He had begun to flick through various movies the streaming channels offered, not paying much attention to the way he was not dressed while doing so, all half-naked and glorious.

 

Dean had inhaled deeply, stepping into the room. The door had slid closed behind him with a quiet hiss and then the two of them were in the room together. It felt as if they were completely alone in the flat, completely alone in the world. Dean had to swallow hard, not really knowing what to do now.

 

“How about some old-school science-fiction?”

 

Dean had forced himself to move, sitting down on the edge of Sam’s bed. There was plenty of room left between the two, and right now that was a damn good thing. He had pulled himself up to the headboard as he had settled there, far enough away to avoid skin contact but close enough to make it casual.

 

“They have a 200th anniversary special,” Sam had added in afterthought. 

 

“Sounds good,” Dean had croaked and, for lack of something better to do with his hands, had snatched up one of Sam’s pillows, hugging it to his chest.

 

“There’s a special on with the Avatar movie trilogy from the twenty-tens,” Sam had informed him, following Dean's example by scooting backwards on the bed to sit down alongside Dean, ruining all of the Alpha’s careful planning by leaving only a few inches of space between his heated skin and Dean.

 

“It's fine with me,” Dean had said with a bit of a strangled breath.

 

Briefly scanning the movie's summary, Sam had scrunched up his face in dislike of what he must have read.

 

“Maybe we should see something else,” he had started to admit after a few minutes.

 

Trust Sam to pull Dean’s attention away from the physical attraction with the help of those infuriating powers to annoy the living daylights out of him.

 

“Just start the movie already, Sam," Dean grumbled.

 

Sam gave a quick glance to Dean, because something in the movie seemed to sit wrong with him, and Dean was utterly clueless to what it might be.

 

“What?” Dean asked. “What’s wrong with the movie?”

 

“It’s about an Omega who has to replace his Beta twin brother on a scientific mission to an alien planet because of his almost identical genome,” Sam had replied, looking back to the screen. “I think he’s falling in love with a native princess and starts a rebellion in the end.”

 

Dean had stared at the big, blue face on the screen for a couple of seconds.

 

“We can watch something else,” Sam had quietly murmured, ready to change the channel for Dean’s comfort.

 

Dean had begun to shake his head in disagreement. “I told you, it's fine; just start the damn thing already.”

 

Sam had still been hesitant, but eventually had pressed the button.

 

For a moment the room was plunged into complete darkness; then the movie began and Dean settled in.

 

Dean hadn’t had a chance to watch many shows and movies in his youth, just what meager entertainment his uncle had collected over the years. Most of them had been old movies, some of them so old the space travel depicted within those flicks was hilariously unrealistic in compare to the real thing. The movie Sam had picked wasn’t so much better.

 

The actor playing the Omega clearly wasn’t one in real life, and had to fake the instinctual fear of other people. He wasn’t even that good at what he was doing. The way Dean had seen the situation the guy had probably not even bothered talking to a real Omega about the role at all. And whoever had made the movie had also sugarcoated a lot of the hate and sexual harassment Omegas had been exposed to. Reality was worse, nowadays more so than 200 years ago. Dean had only encountered second-hand how bad it could be, thanks to his father’s isolation – even if he now knew that this isolation had been the completely wrong move – but still had known the difference.

 

He was crossing his arms across his chest, tugging his chin closer to his collarbone, watching with narrowed eyes how the Omega on-screen was changing into an Alpha practically overnight. No struggle, barely any confusion, let alone any of the mess Dean had been through. The guy had shed being an Omega and slipped on the Alpha nature of a half-alien avatar with downright surrealistic ease, leaving his old life behind. Then he fell for a space princess, and subsequently had started a rebellion against his own people without any sign of the mental and physical strain coming with shifting his orientation around.

 

Dean had groaned loudly, rubbing a hand across his face as he had realized he had sounded exactly like his therapist had so many times in the past. It was almost funny, if it hadn’t been a sign that he had spent entirely too much time in his new life with that woman.

 

 

“Sam?” Dean had whined, rolling his eyes. He had found himself wanting to see the movie to the end now. “What the hell?”

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“Yes,” he had pointedly stated, gesturing toward the screen, wordlessly demanding a continuation of the program. The flick was cheesy and stupid, but hadn't been that awful when he totally ignored how bad the characterization was.

 

“I really think you’re not,” he had answered, already pressing buttons to call up the on-screen menu to find something else to watch. “We shouldn’t have picked that movie.”

 

Dean had pulled himself upright, grabbing for Sam’s arm as the Beta tried to scoot away, closer to the screen. Sam had started to tense visibly, not because Dean had touched him, but because, in his eyes, it must have been a fundamentally stupid idea to pick that particular movie, and now he felt guilty. Dean could almost smell it on Sam.

 

“Look, I’m really okay, Sam,” Dean had said, meaning his words truthfully. “It’s just a movie,” he had added.

 

Sam’s tension was melting away. “Okay,” he had softly muttered. “Okay, but if you feel uncomfortable with this movie or want to talk-“

 

Dean had closed the few inches of distance between the two of them without warning, pressing his lips to Sam’s. He was still relatively new to this whole thing, to thinking himself as an Alpha and Sam as a Beta, as someone in a relationship with someone else, but he had learned all too quickly that kissing worked wonders to shut Sam up. Far better than anything else Dean could have come up with at the moment anyway.

 

Sam had begun to melt completely into the touch, opening his lips obediently to Dean’s prodding tongue. Dean had released Sam’s wrist and had sent a hand out to cup the other man’s cheek instead, pulling him closer.

 

Almost too late, Dean had realized two things. One, that Sam hadn’t bothered to put on his shirt back on, and two, they had never done this on one of their beds. It was only natural to fall back onto the sheets, getting a little bit more comfortable, and subsequently a whole lot closer in this setting as before.

 

What had been planned as a small distraction, something Dean had learned to use early on, was steadily heading for different territory and Dean felt like he was just along for a ride his inner voice, his instinct, dictated.

 

It was crazy, and confusing, but in a good way.

 

This instinct, this voice inside him, had always been there. It had gotten him in lot of trouble during his teenage time, had been silenced for a long while and overwritten by the gruff, angry voice of his father. Now, his father’s voice had almost completely lost its grip, and the little voice was getting louder.

 

To his surprise, following that little voice had made things so much easier. Following this instinct, this – and he was surprised to call it – Alpha side. So yes, maybe that was what he had buried inside.

 

Sam had thrown his head back with a moan, baring his throat to Dean, and he couldn’t help the groan falling from his lips. He had trailed his nose along strong jaw, from ear to chin, inhaling the strong scent. There was the smell of sweat, sticky and sweet on Sam’s skin, traces of the Center issued soap they all used, and below that something thick and uniquely Sam that had beckoned Dean like a siren’s call. He had pressed his lips down along the side of the Beta’s throat, tasted the sweaty skin with his tongue.

 

Sam was moaning loudly, curling one of his hands around Dean’s arm. This was strange, passion sharpening oversensitive feelings that had allowed him to take in the scene before him with surprising clarity; understanding immediately where this was going to lead.

 

This wasn’t just kissing.

 

Dean had understood the mechanics, had known what went where, God, he had actually fantasized about really doing this the whole way more than once in the weeks since Sam and him had started this, but right now, he felt all lost. His cock had filled as they had started to make out. It was pushing heavy and half-erect against the crotch of pants he was wearing, and every movement, even the slightest adjustment of position, had forced him to rub up against the material, making simple thought an impossible task.

 

There was the same voice again. The Alpha instinct that had always been hardwired into him, a part of him that he had never listened to in the past, although it had been clearly present, but now had materialized as his only guide in such situations. Right now the voice was whispering to try and get even closer to the Beta, getting rid of the cloth still parting them and feel skin on skin.

 

“Sam,” he had spoken, lips pressing against the other man’s pulse point. He helplessly made a fist of his hand in the material of the wide-cut the other man wore, tugging and pulling, but lacking the coordination to do what he had wanted.

 

And maybe Sam didn’t really understand what Dean had wanted, maybe Dean didn’t know himself, but their awkward jerky movements somehow kept bringing them even closer, and had lined their bodies up just right.

 

The first real spark of pleasure was more or less the result of uncoordinated attempt to somehow deepen their kissing more, taste more of the Beta below him. As the pressure and friction hit home, Dean couldn’t help the growl.

 

He rolled his hips forward again, cock against cock with only a little material of their pants parting them from each other. They lacked the capability of thinking and coordination to get out of the rest of their clothes, not at this point, there was nothing else but rutting against each other like their basic instincts told them to.

 

Oh God, they were really doing this, Dean thought, before a sharper, hotter kind of pleasure unfurled deep inside him. He felt his cock grow harder, yearning for something tight and warm and hot, deep inside Sam. The strange, sharp pleasure brought a rare sense of clarity, allowing Dean to see himself grind down against Sam.

 

This, here and now, felt right and real, and like something he wanted to keep forever.

 

Dean, the Omega, had died far away in a hospital, and Dean, the Alpha, had been born instead. It had been a long birth, a confusing and painful one, and he didn’t feel as if it was quite over yet, but he was going to get there and it would be good.

 

 

THE END