Sam enjoyed a mild, warm breakfast of porridge-esque protein at Bobby’s bedside. The older man had come to during the night and was deemed to be doing well. Although he was awake when Sam came to visit, he didn’t have the energy to be for long, and went back to sleep. Sam soon dozed off at his friend’s bedside and was woken by a rough shake from Dean.
“C’mon Sammy, rise and shine,” he said.
Sam rubbed his eyes. “I told you not to call me that,” he grumbled.
Dean simply laughed. “Put on some more layers of clothes – we have important things to do outside and we need all the hands we can get.” Jutting his chin at Bobby’s snoozing form, Dean asked more seriously, “Has he woken up yet?”
Sam nodded. “A few times. They said they’ll be moving him to a repulsor chair soon so he can get around, and they’ll continue injections and bacta to restore the use of his legs. He’s kinda pissed about being confined to a chair, but at least it’s only temporary. And it’ll get him outta the bed.”
A muscle in Dean’s jaw twitched and cast a sad look at Bobby. Then he cleared his throat and told Sam to hurry up.
Once Sam had put on several layers of thick, made-for-Hoth clothes and headed out into the chilly ice hallways, Jo and Dean informed him what these ‘important things’ were that needed doing. There were sensors that needed to be set out at intervals across Hoth, and with so many teams analyzing the Death Star’s plans, they needed more hands to put them out.
Jo zipped up Sam’s puffy gray coat and handed him a set of thick, heavy gloves. “Last night’s blizzard’s finally let up, but these things tend to roll in fast and frequent, so we need to seize this window while we have it.”
She led him over to a set of strange, furry creatures. “You’ll be riding these,” she informed him.
They had short, stubby arms in the front and sturdy, muscled legs with wide, reptilian feet ending in large claws. The animals had snuffling snouts, small pointed ears, beady eyes, and a set of ribbed horns that came out of their cheeks and curved towards their faces. Sam stared as they whipped their long tails back and forth and made strange calls, a sort of gurgling moan.
“I’ll be what?” said Sam incredulously.
Jo laughed at the look on his face. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to them. They’re called tauntauns, and until we can calibrate our repulsorcraft to deal with the extreme cold, we’re stuck using these guys.”
Sam wasn’t thrilled about getting close to the things, much less climbing on them. They stank like they’d rolled in decaying feces. Dean laughed at him, but loudly agreed that their smell was absolutely their worst quality.
Jo helped Sam into the saddle of his appointed tauntaun, which wiggled and gurgled beneath him. Sam gripped the reins tightly. By the time Dean, Jo, and the rest of the rebels on sensor duty had climbed onto their mounts, Sam felt more at ease. The thing seemed completely unbothered by Sam being on his back, the saddle felt secure, and though Sam had never ridden one before, the thing responded to his tugs instantly.
He cracked a smile behind his scarf as he nudged his tauntaun up beside Dean’s.
“No sweat, right?” the other man grinned, and tugged his scarf over his mouth. “Oh, by the way, keep your eyes peeled. There are these nasty sons-of-a-bitches out there called wampas – giant, white, huge teeth and claws – and they love tauntaun meat.”
“Uh, okay, what do I do if I come across one?” asked Sam nervously, trying to picture how big these wampas might be.
“Kick your tauntaun into high gear and get the hell outta there,” said Dean oh-so-reassuringly. The bay doors began to crank open, letting in a rush of frigid air and weak sunlight. “They like to sneak up on their prey, so like I said, keep your eyes peeled.”
Sam gulped. “Got it.”
“Let’s ride!” Dean hollered, and led the way out.
The majority of the sensor arrays had been placed and replaced by the time ominous dark clouds crept over the horizon. Dean called over the comms to finish up and head back as soon as possible. He hopped down from his tauntaun and grabbed his last sensor, using a variety of tools from his pack to jam it into the frozen ground. A few seconds of calibration later and Dean grinned behind his scarf. Everything checked out.
He glanced up at the incoming storm clouds. Son of bitch. They were coming in a hell of a lot faster than he’d expected.
Dean hastily repeated his earlier command to retreat to the base’s safety. “She looks extra nasty,” he said, watching the heavy, low-hanging clouds.
“Copy,” came Jo’s voice. “I’m almost there.”
A number of other confirmations came through following Jo, and last to call in was Sam.
“Just placing my last one,” he reported. “Heading back in a minute or less.”
“Sounds good, kid,” Dean replied. “Just make sure you stay ahead of those clouds.”
Satisfied, Dean packed up and climbed back onto his tauntaun. He nudged its ribs with his feet and it took off for home.
Sam sat back panting, having just finished placing his last sensor. They had turned out to be a lot harder to work with than he’d expected and the cold didn’t help anything. His face and fingers were starting to feel numb, despite the protection of his goggles, thick scarf, and hearty gloves. He was thankful this was the last sensor he was required to set. He hastened through the calibration process, mumbling under his breath for the device to hurry – as if it would help. He needed to get back before the blizzard swooped in.
Calibration done and sensor placed, Sam clambered to his feet. He slid his goggles off to clear the gathering frost off of them, and his eyelashes glazed with his breath.
The hair on the back of his neck prickled. He heard a crunch of snow behind him, just as his tauntaun gave a wild, terrified shriek. Sam whirled and realized that this was probably the wampa-thing Dean had warned him about, when the giant, white furry beast lashed out with big dark claws. Sam reared back, though not quite far enough, as the tips of its claws caught him across the face, tearing off his scarf and leaving behind stinging gashes.
Sam scrambled backwards in the snow, blinking blood from his eyes. The wampa took another swipe, this time at the wailing tauntaun entangled in its reins and trying desperately to escape. The wampa’s claws sliced across the animal’s neck. The tauntaun collapsed with a whimper and stopped moving. Sam fished frantically amongst his layers of clothing for his lightsaber.
The wampa advanced, growling and roaring. It lunged again and Sam dove out of the way of its incoming paws. He rolled through the snow away from the beast and fumbled with the switch on his lightsaber. The monster bellowed, spit flying from its massive black mouth, brimming with sharp wide teeth. It charged and Sam attempted to roll out of its path again.
The wampa pounced with another terrifying roar. It collided with Sam, sending his lightsaber skittering across the ice-crusted snow. A shock of red-hot pain shot through Sam’s left arm where the beast’s fierce claws connected. Sam cried out and blindly scrambled away, narrowly missing another mad swipe from the wampa.
He spotted his lightsaber and jumped for it, ripping off his glove so he could grasp the hilt properly. The creature rounded on Sam, and this time when it leapt for its prey, it was met with a vibrant column of blue light. Sam swung and sliced, the wampa screeched and wailed. Its crimson blood spattered on the brilliant white snow. Sam sprang to his feet, stumbling and clambering through the deep snow as hard and fast as he could, leaving the severely injured wampa and dead tauntaun behind.
Sam didn’t slow his pace for what felt like a very long time. He kept imagining the wampa limping after him, even well after the thing’s pained bellows had faded into the distance.
Don’t stop, he thought. Keep going. Don’t stop. Stop and you’re dead.
He slowed his pace to a walk to catch his breath; a stitch tore mercilessly at his ribs. He sucked at the icy air and coughed. He glanced down at his arm, which was still stinging and caked with snow and frozen blood. It was impossible to tell how bad it really was, but it seemed swollen and very bloody beneath the shredded layers of clothing.
Worse, the electronic compass he’d been relying on to show him the way home once he’d put enough space between him and the wampa, was completely smashed.
Sam gulped, but wasn’t ready to lose hope. He shoved his lightsaber into his pocket with his uninjured right hand and reached for his comm. All he had to do was radio Dean and Jo, and they’d figure out what to do next. They’d find him, they’d bring him back, and they’d…
Sam felt his heart sink in his chest and settle like a cold rock in the pit of his stomach. His comm was gone. It must’ve come off in the struggle with the wampa. Sam cursed over and over as he patted himself down, searching every pocket and fold, to no avail.
This can’t be happening, he thought desperately. This cannot be happening!
His frantic search came up empty. Sam swallowed and struggled to tamp down the fear rising inside him. He was alone, bleeding, freezing, and lost, with no way to find his way back, and no way to call for help. Sam looked up at the building clouds overhead – and he was probably moments away from being caught in a massive blizzard.
No big deal.
Dean exhaled in rush and shook the snow off of his hood. “Whew! She’s an ugly one, all right!”
He hopped down off his grumbling tauntaun and led it over to a caretaker in charge of feeding them and brushing them down. The bay doors were open a mere crack for the rebels still coming in from the sensor mission, but even so, the blizzard was sending intense gusts of snow and wind through the opening, clogging it with building piles of white stuff.
Dean breathed deep, thankful to get rid of the scarf and goggles. Though necessary to avoid frostbite and other exposure-related injuries, they were annoying to wear, making him feel claustrophobic. Jo approached him, her cheeks pink with the cold.
“Thank goodness we missed that, hey?” he said, gesturing with his thumb at the bay doors. He shivered at the sight.
Jo nodded with relief. “Hell yeah.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Sam come back with you?”
Dean shook his head. “Naw, he just had that one sensor left to set and then he was on his way.”
Jo’s brows crinkled with concern. “You were farther out than he was, though,” she said, looking around the massive hanger bay as if she’d spot Sam somewhere nearby. “He should’ve been back by now.”
Dean fought off a flutter of worry. “It’s a hell of a storm, Jo, maybe he just got slowed down by it. He’s new to this,” he reasoned. “Give him a minute.”
She didn’t look convinced as she bit her lip. “I don’t know, Dean.” She rubbed her arms, eyes drawn to the snow swirling in through the crack in the bay doors. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Truth be told, so did Dean, but there was no reason to further worry Jo. “Look, maybe he came in the south entrance,” he suggested. It was pretty unlikely, seeing as how the kid didn’t even know where the south entrance was, but in the event that’d gotten turned around, he might’ve found his way there.
Jo nodded and hurried to go check. Dean furrowed his brow and grabbed the nearest tech officer.
“Hey Charlie, has Sam Harvelle checked in yet?” he asked. Maybe the kid had managed to get in before Jo and Dean, and was already relaxing somewhere.
“Who?” the tech consulted her datapad.
“Sam Harvelle,” Dean repeated impatiently. “Stupid tall with shaggy hair and puppy dog eyes. He came in yesterday on the Impala.”
“Oh, him.” Recognition swept over Charlie’s features. “No, sorry – not yet.”
“Are you sure?” Dean pressed.
The redhead pierced him with a sharp look. “My job is to keep track of every person who goes in and out the only two entrances to our secret rebel base on an a uninhabited planet, so yeah, I’m sure.”
Dean backed off and Carlie rushed on her way, shaking her head. He checked his watch and frowned. He’d give Sam a few more minutes – he probably just fell behind. Dean fought off the surge of worry curling up his chest. The kid was probably totally fine.
Sam tumbled down into the snow.
He was ice cold – no, colder, he was sure. He couldn’t feel his feet anymore, could barely feel his arms. He’d tucked his injured arm against his chest and held it tense for so long, he thought it might have frozen there. He was past shivering. His body ached in pain. There wasn’t a part of him that didn’t feel touched by the snow around him.
In every direction, all he could see was white. There were no distinguishing features anywhere, and the blizzard, with its blowing snow and cutting wind, had only made that infinitely worse. Sam estimated he could only see maybe twenty or so feet before him, if that. Just before the storm had rolled in, he’d taken his best guess at which direction the base was and started for it. But now, he was worried he’d strayed wildly off track, or worse, simply been fumbling around in circles.
Sam struggled to his feet, fighting every instinct that told him he was done, that it was easier to just stop and lay down. He tried to focus on Jo’s face in his mind, use her as the reason to force one foot in front of the other. His world had narrowed to wind slicing at his exposed skin, to watching one frozen foot dredge through the snow, then the other. Then again.
Come on, he thought. Jo needs you to keep going. Step. Drag. Step. Keep going, just a little further. Step. Drag. Step. A little more. Step. Drag.
Sam didn’t simply fall to his knees in the snow this time, but instead walked right to the edge of an unseen incline. He tumbled and rolled painfully down, end over end, his head banging against ice, limbs slapping through the snow. He finally landed in a snowy heap at the bottom and didn’t move for several seconds, trying to get his breath back.
But the cold was cutting at his lungs and his arm was pulsing with renewed pain and he just… couldn’t… get… up…
“He’s not anywhere,” said Jo frantically. “I checked the south entrance, I tried his quarters and the med unit – Bobby hasn’t seen him since this morning. I paged him – Dean, no one has seen him since he left.”
Dean swore colorfully and raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. Damn it, Sam, he thought.
“We have to go after him,” said Jo, already getting her gear back on.
“No way,” Dean shook his head. “No freakin’ way, Jo. Look how bad it is out there! There’s no way we can find him in this storm and you know it.”
Jo glared at him, her eyes flashing with fierce rage. “There’s no way I’m going to leave him out there to die! He’s my brother!”
“He might already be dead!” Dean countered.
“You don’t know that,” said Jo hotly, shoving past Dean towards the tauntauns.
“Damn it, Jo,” Dean growled and caught her arm, spinning her around. She yanked herself out of his grasp, but he grabbed her again. “You can’t go out there – hey, I’m not risking my best people in this storm. It’s too damn dangerous!”
Her cheeks flushed with anger and she opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off.
“I’ll go after him, okay? I need you here.”
“He’s my brother – ” Jo began, still fighting him.
“Jo,” he pleaded, low and serious. She met his eyes then. “I’ll find him. But if I don’t make it, I need someone who can take care of things. I need you, here.” He waited a beat then added, “Please.”
Jo clenched her jaw and he knew her well enough to see that she was furious and that she was this close to going anyway. When she pulled her arm out of his grasp this time, she didn’t barrel on towards the tauntauns. Instead she stared him down with the most intense gaze he’d ever seen her use.
“You better come back,” she said, her voice tight and brittle.
Dean nodded. On impulse, he leaned forward and planted a quick peck on her flushed forehead before racing away and saddling up the nearest tauntaun. Moments later, Dean forged out into the blizzard in search of Sam.