Sam threw himself into his training with fervor. He still couldn’t lift the X-Wing out of the water, but he was stacking crates while levitating rocks at different heights, while his hands were on the damp ground and his feet were in the air. Sweat trickled down his neck into his eyes making them burn, but he focused on Castiel’s voice and concentrated on the light he imagined holding up the rocks.
“Good,” Cas murmured softly. “Another stone… good, Sam, excellent. That’s it. Feel the stone… feel the Force around it…”
Sam’s arms began to shake and he breathed in slowly, taking his mind away from the strain in his body. He’d felt pretty ridiculous when Cas had made him do a handstand at first. This many hours later after multiple attempts to stay in this position for longer and longer stretches of time, it no longer felt strange.
Sam felt himself tilting, felt the rocks sliding out of his mind’s grip.
“Concentrate,” Cas instructed. “Hold on.”
Sam gritted his teeth, but the threads were breaking apart, and his arms couldn’t take it – the crate stack tumbled to the side, the rocks fell with dull thumps, and Sam collapsed in a heap. He sat up, swiped his moist arm across his dripping forehead, and tried to catch his breath.
“Why is it so… hard?” Sam panted.
Cas stood from the wooden stump he’d been sitting and came over to settle on the ground beside Sam. “Because if it were easy, then everyone could do it,” he offered with a smile.
“You must remember: normally Jedi begin their training almost as soon as they are able to walk and talk,” the former Jedi explained. “Additionally, you do not have the advantage of being immersed in the Temple. The fact that you have come this far – ” he gestured to the rocks, crates, and sunken X-Wing – “is nothing short of extraordinary.”
Sam supposed Cas was right. Except he didn’t really feel that extraordinary – he felt like he should be better, should know more. He felt like he needed to master all this Force stuff right now so he could help Dean. The longer it took Sam to learn, the longer he was away from Jo, Dean, and the Rebels. That meant more time for the Empire to attack the person they thought to be the only remaining Winchester.
“I do not say this lightly, Sam, but I think there are a rare few Jedi out there who would be able to start at your age and pick things up this quickly.”
Sam nodded, wanting to believe Cas. But his eyes darted to the X-Wing, and feelings of inadequacy and discouragement wrapped around his shoulders again.
Cas gave Sam a gentle pat on the back. “You will get there – it takes work. It won’t happen overnight. You must learn to feel the Force everywhere – between everything. Every creature, every object, every atom.” He swept his hand out at the swamp. “Its energy surrounds us and binds us together…”
Sam nodded again and stood, tired of feeling sorry for himself. The best way to help Dean was to keep trying and to work harder, not to sulk in the mud. He rolled his shoulders.
The former Jedi stood as well, brushing himself off. “We can take a break,” he offered.
“No,” said Sam, his lips set in a thin line. “I’m good. Let’s go.”
“Sam,” Cas leveled his gaze. “We can take a break.”
Sam opened his mouth to protest, but Cas was already heading back to the hut. Sensing he didn’t actually have a choice in the matter, Sam smiled and followed. Once they were settled in Cas’s tiny living room and Sam had downed half a canteen of water, he regarded the other man thoughtfully.
“Cas, why were you on the Death Star? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I was on a mission for the rebellion when my ship was attacked,” Cas answered, his tone somber. “We were all taken prisoner. Of course, once Azazel realized who he had…” His sigh was so heavy that Sam thought he could feel the weight of it from where he sat across the small room.
“Did he…” Sam tried to ask and found he couldn’t.
“Torture us?” the other man finished hollowly, then nodded, making Sam’s gut flip and twist. “He knew who I was – knew I was close to Dean. He wanted me to give him information about the Alliance, about Dean, anything he could use. He tried the others first. Then moved on to me.”
Cas looked away and his voice became empty and distant. “He killed my crew in front of me after that. And when I still would not break, even months later, they changed tactics. Healed me, left me in a cell to rot. No contact. Food through a hole in the wall.” He scrubbed his hand over his face and sighed again. “I believe they always intended to use me against Dean, but we escaped – you saved us – before Azazel chose to play that card.”
Sam swallowed, swirled the water in his canteen, and pictured what Cas had been through. He wished he hadn’t asked. “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have…”
“It’s all right, Sam,” Cas said softly a moment later. “It’s in the past.”
Sam kept his eyes fixed on the canteen in his hands. It was anything but all right. That brought the total number of people he personally knew who’d been tortured by the Empire up to a stunning four. And that was only counting two who’d specifically told him, one he’d assumed, and one he’d guessed. He felt his hatred of the Empire growing in his chest, hot and deep and twining around his ribs.
As if he could read his thoughts (something he was proving to be quite adept at, Sam noticed), Cas said the younger man’s name in warning.
“Do not go down that path,” the former Jedi cautioned. “I can sense the anger coming off of you in waves.”
“It isn’t fair, Cas,” Sam bit out, his fingers tightening around the canteen so hard his knuckles went white. “People like you and Jo, Dean and Mom… Ellen… people like your crew. Tortured, killed, chased, and hunted – terrorized! It isn’t right and isn’t fair – God, how can you not be angry about it?” He glanced up at Cas then.
“You are right, it isn’t fair. But becoming furious about it changes nothing,” said Cas, leaning forward in his chair. “Sam, bad things happen. Terrible, uncontrollable things. But dwelling on anger will lead to hate, and hate leads to suffering. It accomplishes nothing – pain begets pain.”
Sam held his jaw tight, trying to understand. “But…”
“Anger, hate, pain, aggression – these are all tools of the Dark Side, of Azazel and the Sith. It is easy to find those emotions, easy to let them flow and control you, and you must not let them,” Cas told him earnestly. “No matter how unjust something is, you cannot reach for these emotions first.”
“How?” demanded Sam. “How do you stop it, or…” He waved his hand in a helpless gesture.
The corner of his teacher’s mouth quirked into a small half-smile. “With practice. An incredible amount of practice. That is not to say you will never feel angry again. Or pain or hate and so forth. But you will learn to control those emotions, to wield them and separate them. To let go of the past, to be passive, to defend rather than attack.”
Sam considered this as he sipped some more water. He still couldn’t see how it was possible to be so at peace like Cas clearly was. Right now he was certain if he had the chance to face off with Azazel, he’d do everything in his power to cut the bastard into ribbons, everything else be damned.
Cas climbed to his feet and gestured to the door. “Come, Sam. Let’s practice.”
“I must say, this is actually rather clever. Especially for you.” Bela flipped her hair over shoulder.
“I’m sorry, was that a compliment?” Dean retorted. “I might die of shock.”
“Hmm, well, don’t get used to it.”
The Impala was attached to one of the Star Destroyers in Azazel’s fleet, and had been for a few hours, confirming that they remained undetected. The Destroyers had, one by one, exited the asteroid field and moved into a regrouping position.
What’s the next move? inquired Ree. We just gonna stick here until we pass a good planet, or what?
“Well, see how the fleet’s beginning to break up out there? Finally.” He gestured out the viewscreen at the ambling Destroyers drifting apart. “If they’re the good little Imperials I know them to be, they’re gonna follow protocol and dump their garbage before they take off.”
Bela made an ah sound of understanding. “Because they think we’ve escaped. And they’re going to jet off and find us now.”
He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at her. “Bingo.”
And then we float away with the rest of the garbage, added Ree, clicking happily. I like it.
“Apt,” said Bela, her voice colored with amusement.
Dean rolled his eyes and forced himself not to rise to her bait.
“That… actually really is quite clever,” she added, sounding honestly impressed.
Dean turned in his chair to glare at her. “Okay, simmer down – no need to sound so surprised, sweetheart. I can have a plan go right once in a while, you know.”
“Emphasis on ‘once in a while’, I should think.”
Dean maturely repeated her words in a mocking undertone, and shook his head, returning his attention to the viewscreen.
“Why don’t you do something helpful and go stand by the manual release for the landing claw, huh?” Dean told her.
“Why don’t you – ” Bela began.
Oh for the love of all that is good, Ree clacked and stood. Clearly the honeymoon is over.
Dean spun in his seat as the green co-pilot headed for the door. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ree fixed him with a look. Please. I’m not that sound of a sleeper. Thank God for soundproof doors.
Bela flushed bright red and coughed. Dean, too, had the grace to be embarrassed. He turned his back on Bela and became very, very interested in the readouts on the console to his right.
Bela had been really flirty with him following their dalliance in the main maintenance closet, stopping him in the corridors to hook her fingers around his belt loops and pull him in for a surprise kiss or two. He hadn’t stopped her, even if he felt pangs of guilt in his chest each and every time. He’d made a promise never to go there with her again, yet there he was tangling his fingers in her hair and tasting her lips...
Since they’d blasted out of the mystery asteroid beast, it was as though Bela had remembered how they were supposed to be acting towards each other, and had returned to her usual cutting remarks. Dean had been torn between feeling hurt and used, and relieved that she was back to normal.
It occurred to him, not for the first time, just how screwed up ‘normal’ was between him and Bela.
I know the drill, Ree continued with a series of clicks. I was there for Atzerri and Kalabra City. I was concerned for a minute there that you’d never get back to tearing each other’s throats out, she added sarcastically.
The quiet that followed Ree’s exit was deafening.
“So,” Dean said after an awkward couple minutes, desperate to fill the painful silence. “We need to find a safe place to limp to so we can get Baby fixed.” He definitely was talking louder than he needed to but he couldn’t help it.
“Of course,” Bela replied with another clear of her throat. She leaned forward to view the navigation charts Dean brought up.
She very carefully ensured her elbow was not touching his and he tried not to feel irritated by that. He did take pleasure in the fact that her cheeks were still burning – Bela did not embarrass easily. Selfishly, he hoped she was feeling guilty too.
“Whereabouts are we?” she inquired.
Dean tapped the screen a few times to zoom out. “Anoat system.”
“Anoat? Oh, bloody hell, there’s nothing in the Anoat system.”
He grunted in agreement, tapping the screen a few more times, scrolling for anything helpful. “Hey, wait a second…” He flicked the chart back, eyes narrowing. “Well, there’s that.” He leaned back in his chair and gestured.
“Bespin?” She gave a humorless laugh. “No, I don’t think Bespin is good idea at all.”
Dean smirked at her. “Why, what’d you do? Steal some guy’s ship?” He raised a taunting eyebrow at her.
“Cute,” said Bela. “But as I said before, I won it – it was a fair deal.”
“I swear, I want to go there just to take a strip off of him,” he growled.
“Mm, it really might not be a bad idea, though,” she mused.
He frowned at her. “Me taking a strip off…?”
“No, you darling idiot,” she rolled her eyes at him. “Bespin. Port in the storm. I mean, we both know the place, know the owner… Gambling, flirting, card-playing asshole though he may be. I see why you two were friends.”
Bela’s lips quirked up in a teasing smile. “Do you think we can make it?”
Dean exhaled slowly, studying the nav chart. He flicked his eyes to the fuel gauge and the other readouts by the main pilot console. “It’s far, but I think we can. We really don’t have a better option.”
She sat back in her chair and hmmed her agreement. “I don’t trust Calrissian, you know.”
Dean chuckled. “Neither do I, but he’s no Imperial and has no desire to be, so that gets him some points in my book.”
There was a loud clunking noise and Dean glanced up at the viewscreen to see the fleet was preparing for the jump to lightspeed. He pressed the comm button to connect to Ree.
“Okay, standby, it’s happening,” he said and held his breath. In the distance, he could see some of the other Destroyers jettisoning their waste. There was another noisy clunk, and the ship vibrated. “Now Ree – detach!”
The next moment, the Impala was floating out into space amongst the Destroyer’s discarded debris. Dean couldn’t help the satisfied grin that spread across his face. When the Destroyers began disappearing one by one, roaring into hyperspace, he let out a whoop of triumph. He got to his feet and faced Bela, spreading his arms out wide.
“Huh?” he grinned.
Bela shook her head but he could tell she was trying not to grin right back as she pursed her lips. She stood. “Oh please. I could’ve done better.” She flicked her hair over her shoulder and turned to exit the cockpit.
“Liar,” he shot back, his tone low.
She gave him a sultry, coy smile before disappearing around the corner. He took it as a win and that this – whatever it was between them the past several days – wasn’t over yet. He settled back down in the pilot chair to make flight preparations for Bespin.