Cas made sure Sam didn’t fall into an expected routine. They both ate three meals a day and started the morning with a round of breathing and balancing to focus their minds. After that, he did his best to vary what and how he taught Sam and the types of physical activities they did.
Twice they trekked to a far-reaching lake for water-related exercises. It was farther than Sam had ever gone in Dagobah’s wilderness. Cas happily explained this was a clean water lake and held no dragonsnakes or creatures that would harm them. Sam gulped and took Cas at his word, not wishing to inquire what a dragonsnake was or if it’d been residing in the murky swamp water he had briefly swam through when he’d arrived on Dagobah.
Castiel taught him fight exercises with and without his lightsaber. They dueled, they grappled, and Cas showed him how to defend attacks hand-to-hand with and without a weapon. He instructed him how to use the Force to strengthen his moves – to run faster, jump higher, hit harder. Sam practiced whirling his lightsaber in a deadly combination of strikes and parries, honing his speed and technique.
Each night, Sam crashed into bed exhausted, his head bursting with new information. Each morning, he rose and did it all over again, rain or shine. He wasn’t really a fan of training when it was pouring rain and cold out, but Castiel reminded him it was all part of the training: the environment Sam might find himself in would not always be a friendly one.
“You don’t think the moss and the mud and the mist are enough?” Sam shouted over the rain cascading in heavy sheets around them. He had been doing much better at balancing on the rocks, but the rain was making it virtually impossible and he kept sliding off. He shoved his wet hair away from his eyes, for all the good it did, as water falling from above spattered on his cheeks.
Castiel laughed, looking annoyingly at peace in the rain, perched on his own rocks in the warrior pose. Sam envied the ease at which Cas did everything.
“No,” the former Jedi answered with a wide smile.
Sam shook his head but returned the smile and worked to focus on staying atop the slick stones.
The rain remained tepid for most of the day, which Sam could’ve appreciated if it didn’t mean staying drenched in it for hours on end. Sam’s hands and feet were bumpy and wrinkled, and there were red marks on his thighs and ribs from where his soaked clothes pulled and chafed.
As twilight drew nearer, the rain did not let up. It grew colder and colder until Sam and Cas were shivering. The former Jedi blessedly called it quits and they retreated in the direction of the warm, dry hut where fresh clothes and food awaited.
They were traversing a fallen tree over a thin, boggy creek, when one of the massive winged creatures Sam often saw hovering around came swooping in much lower than usual. Startled, Sam yelped and nearly lost his balance, flinging his arms out to steady himself. Castiel ducked to avoid the beast but in doing so took Sam’s arm in the neck and tumbled off the log.
The animal flew on, oblivious to the humans and Sam hopped down into the muck immediately to help Cas up.
“Oh God, Cas, I’m sorry,” he apologized, gently pulling Castiel to his feet.
Cas coughed and winced, wiping at the mud on his face. “It’s fine, Sam.”
They tromped up the mossy bank together and it wasn’t until they were almost at the hut that Sam realized the dark stain on Cas’s back wasn’t just mud.
“Cas, you’re bleeding!” he exclaimed, but the former Jedi waved his hand dismissively.
“I scraped it on some branches when I fell. It’s not bad.”
Sam clenched his jaw and his stomach twisted with guilt.
Cas chuckled and blinked the rain from his eyes as he ducked into the hut. “Really, Sam. I promise I’ve had far worse.”
They retreated to separate corners of the hut to change into clean, dry clothes before settling in the living room for dinner (a blackish savory stew that smelled like potatoes and rosemary). The fire in Castiel’s fireplace was never more welcome then that night, as the chill from the hours of rain started to evaporate from Sam’s limbs.
He set aside his bowl as soon as he was done. “How’s your back?”
“Actually,” said Cas, swallowing the last of his meal and putting his bowl to the side as well. “I couldn’t quite reach – you wouldn’t mind sticking some bacta on there, would you?”
“’Course not,” said Sam, hopping up to retrieve some bandages.
Cas doffed his shirt and moved from the chair to the couch, sitting down cross-legged. The injury indeed wasn’t as bad as the blood soaking his shirt earlier had made it seem. There was a ragged but relatively shallow dark red line slashing across one of Castiel’s tattooed wings.
Sam used a cloth to clean away the dried blood before applying the bacta. His eyes lingered on the wings; he couldn’t help himself. They were even more detailed up close, so finely inked they seemed like real feathers. He bit his lip, once again filled with curiosity about the tattoo but unsure if it was still too personal a question for him to ask, even after more than a week of spending every day together.
Cas ducked his head with a smile and thanked Sam for the help.
“No problem,” said Sam. “And I’m really sorry about shoving you off the log.” He grimaced.
Cas shrugged and tugged his shirt back on. “Dagobah is a very slippery place, Sam, it was an accident. I mean it: don’t worry about.” He settled into his chair with a pleased sigh and then regarded Sam thoughtfully. “You still want to know about the wings?”
Sam’s eyes brows went up. “If… only if you want to tell me.”
“Though we are not in the Temple, a part of the Order, or truly doing anything official here in this swamp, you are technically my Padawan learner,” said Castiel. “Which means certain levels of trust and friendship must exist between us. It’s only fair that I am open and honest with you, as that relationship requires.”
His wording was formal, but Sam could tell he meant it warmly and earnestly. Castiel already knew almost everything there was to know about Sam through their days of training and nights of deep conversation and reminiscing. Sam meanwhile, knew about Cas’s history as a Jedi and more recently as a Rebel, and little else.
“In my culture, when one comes of age,” Castiel began, folding his hands over his knee. “We are required to travel back home and spend a year immersing ourselves in our history, culture, traditions, and so forth. It is uncommon amongst the Jedi to leave during their training as I did, but there are some exceptions for certain cultures and races. I departed the Temple, bound for my one year at home.”
Sam leaned back into the couch’s old cushions, listening intently.
“Most, at the end of their year, do something to commemorate what they learned, how they grew. Often by adoring themselves with a symbol of some sort,” Cas continued. “That year was incredibly important and I never wanted to forget it – never wanted its importance to me as a person, and as a Padawan striving to be a great Jedi, to be diminished. I chose to commemorate my year with a tattoo.”
“Why wings?” asked Sam quietly.
“My ancestors were Diathim,” explained the former Jedi.
“You’re an angel?” Sam blurted. “I mean, sorry – it’s just that I used to hear the old spice traders in the market and the junkers in the yards talking about the angels all the time. Bobby always said they were a myth, but I read tons about the Moons of Iego and the winged angels, the Diathim, who lived there. Garth swore he met one once, but I think he just had a crush on some unsuspecting woman passing through Anchorhead.”
Cas chuckled. “It is not a fact I tend to spread around – people act strangely when you mention you are part angel, even distantly.” He smiled wryly. “The wings on my back are meant to be angel wings. I chose them to remind me to strive to be good and pure and kind, as my ancestors endeavored to be. To seek justice and truth, and to uphold the ideals of the Jedi.”
He swallowed and glanced away then, his features darkening. Sam could tell he was thinking about the years of the Purge when he fled, and Sam didn’t know what to say or how to help his friend and master overcome his demons. There was a long pause in which Sam searched in vain for words of comfort and Castiel watched the fire burn down.
“Well,” Cas eventually broke the silence with a sigh. “Now you know, Sam Winchester.”
“Cas… I don’t know what else to say, but thank you for telling me,” said Sam. “It means a lot that you trust me like this.”
“You’re Mary’s son and Dean’s brother.” Castiel smiled. “Of course I trust you.”
And there was that look again – the one that implied the fate of the galaxy was in the palm of Sam’s hand. The one that made Sam feel hideously ill prepared to be the second Winchester, the one that made him squirm and feel entirely unworthy of such unyielding faith.
Sam turned away from that look and rose from the couch, bidding Cas goodnight. As he lay down in bed and pulled the covers up to his chin, he only hoped he was able to live up to a fraction of what Castiel believed him to be.
Luckily for Dean, Bela, and Ree, the trip to Bespin was not an eventful one. They ran into no trouble, Imperial or otherwise, and took turns manning the cockpit while the others continued with minor repairs and calibrations. If Dean and Bela were occasionally gone for an overly extended period of time and one of them returned to the cockpit with mussed hair, red marks peeking out from under their collar, and a sloppy grin on their face, Ree tactfully did not comment.
“So,” said Dean, plopping down in the co-pilot chair and smoothing his hair back. “Anything interesting?”
Ree shook her green head. There was a weird heat signature that cropped up, but it was gone when I doubled checked.
Dean frowned. “Yeah, that happened to me once too. Probably the damn engines misfiring.” He raked his fingers though his dark blond hair, messing it up again. “I’m going to be glad when Baby is back to normal.” He sighed and looked out at the stars.
The co-pilot peered at him curiously. You okay? I mean, other than your ship basically chugging on fumes to go see the guy who gave your ship to Bela…
He chuckled. “Thanks for that, by the way. You didn’t try to stop him?”
She put her hands up defensively. Hey, I wasn’t there – I can’t take the blame for this one. I only found out about it later when I rejoined her at a pit stop in Smuggler’s Run.
“Sure, sure,” he waved her off.
After a stretch of companionable silence, Ree gently prodded, So?
Dean sighed again. “I just… I have a lot on my mind.”
When he didn’t elaborate, it was her turn to frown. That’s very specific, Dean, thanks.
“C’mon, you know I’m not good at talking about stuff…” he said, trying to shrug her off.
Winchester, I swear I’ll beat it out of you if I have to. You know I’m good for it.
The corner up Dean’s lips tilted in a soft half-smile. It was true – he’d seen Ree tear an arm off a rabid, blood-thirsty Ye’lik, saving his own hide from gaining some new holes.
“I’ve got to get back,” he finally said, his tone heavy and serious. He kept his eyes fixed on the console before him, because somehow talking to the air was easier than talking to an old friend. “I have to get back to Jo, and we have to take down the damn Empire. Billions of lives depend on it – on me. And I can’t…”
He faltered, trying to gather together the words he needed. “They’re capable without me, it’s not that, it’s just… I jeopardized so much back then. I can’t do it again. I can’t do it to them, and especially not when we’re so close to ending this.” Dean rubbed his hand over his face. “Bela… she…” he trailed off, unable to find the words he wanted.
Ree waited for several moments before she clicked softly, You love her.
Dean made a scoffing noise and a thousand ready-made protests sprung to his lips. Of course he didn’t love Bela – he couldn’t love her. She was conniving and selfish, always ready to do whatever was to her own greatest benefit regardless of anything or anyone. Ree had run with her for years, she knew her as well as Dean did. Bela drove him nuts, he hated her, she pushed his buttons effortlessly, and he couldn’t stand that arrogant smile she wore whenever she’d one upped him in some way yet again.
He didn’t care about her, not really, not anymore, not after everything they’d been through over the years. And he sure as hell didn’t love her.
He stared at his hands. Dean whispered, “It’s nice while it lasts.”
He knew that all this was essentially a bubble, ever since they’d blasted away from Hoth. He and Bela had found what they’d once liked in each other, but it couldn’t last, they couldn’t sustain it. They’d already tried, multiple times. As soon as they regrouped with the Alliance, she’d get her reward – always her number one priority – and vanish into the black. Everything would go back to the way it was, and the bubble would pop.
Perhaps it was eternally foolish of him to enjoy it – he was really only setting himself up for heartbreak – but he couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t stop himself from believing that maybe she would come around this time, that maybe she would understand his cause, and she’d stay and fight with him in the end. That was likely even more foolish than relishing this time together, but he let himself believe it anyway.
A faint beep alerted Dean and Ree that they were approaching Bespin. The moment was over, and Dean cleared his throat, thrusting his emotions down as deep as they would go. Ree didn’t comment further, becoming all business and making flight adjustments. She knew Dean almost as well as she knew Bela.
Bela joined them in the cockpit when they broke atmo.
Bespin was a gas giant mostly covered with layers of completely toxic, inhabitable space. That space, however, happened to be an excellent source for tibbanna gas and so the planet was full of mining colonies. Cloud City, their destination, was one such colony, and the biggest. It was so named, as it was literally a city floating in the upper atmo where the air was breathable and non-life threatening.
Dean nudged the Impala over and around the massive, billowing pink clouds, towards the shining behemoth in the sky. It’d been a long time since he’d been here last, but the giant hovering city was a sight that never got old for him. It hung amongst the clouds like some deity’s magnificent jewel, huge and imposing, glittering and beautiful.
The trio encountered a bit of roadblock when Cloud City’s security scouts refused to let them land without a permit or an appropriate landing code, despite Dean’s fervent declarations that they were friends with the owner of the mining colony. Bela eventually managed to sweet talk one of them into putting her through to their superior, who went radio silent for several tense minutes before returning and granting them permission to land.
“Thank you,” Dean replied tersely and jabbed the comm off with unnecessary force.
“They’re rather cagey, aren’t they?” Bela said, sitting in the navigation chair.
“I would be too if we showed up out of nowhere,” he grunted. “Especially since I’m going to kill him for giving you my ship – ”
“Don’t declare that so loudly, darling, they’ll be liable to shoot us on sight.”
“You stole it.”
“Won,” Bela corrected lazily.
“By way of stealing,” Dean pressed. He was never going to let her live that one down – it was Baby!
Ree moaned. I would literally give anything to never hear this pointless argument ever, ever again. I’m seriously going to maim the next one of you who brings it up, I swear.
Bela and Dean exchanged amused looks, but wisely changed the subject.
Dean expertly landed the Impala on the empty pad they’d been directed and escorted to. The cloud cars that had been badgering them peeled off and went back to their patrol. He was very glad to see them go.
He followed Bela and Ree down the corridor away from the cockpit. Dean activated the landing ramp and let out a long sigh of relief. They’d made it without blowing up, falling apart, or getting trapped by Imperials again. He was afraid to jinx it, but it seemed like finally something was going right.
The landing pad was deserted. No personnel, no bots, nothing. Dean felt the hairs on his neck stick up.
“Where is everybody?” he asked.
Ree glanced up at the pink and orange sky, painted with the shades of a sunset nestled somewhere in the voluminous clouds. Maybe they’re done work for the night, she suggested. Maybe that’s why those guards were so tetchy.
Dean glanced at Bela, who looked as unconvinced as he was.
The doors at the end of the landing platform opened and out came a group of uniformed people. In the lead was a man about as tall as Bela, with brown hair neatly combed away from his face. He strode towards them with purpose, his blue cape billowing out behind him.
“Well, well, well,” Gabriel Calrissian said loudly as he neared. “Would ya look at what the cat dragged in.”
“It’s been a while,” Dean smiled in greeting and held his hand out for Gabriel to shake.
Gabriel stopped before Dean’s hand and didn’t take it. The group of aides and guards trailing behind him stopped too.
“Oh no – heeell no,” said Gabriel, crossing his arms over his chest. “Winchester and Talbot? Yeah, this isn’t gonna work me.” He signaled over his shoulder to some of the guards. “Arrest them.”
Dean balked and stumbled backwards as Bela put her hands up, and the pair of them launched into a string of protests.
“No, don’t – ”
“There’s been a mistake – ”
“Gabriel, don’t do this – ”
“I can pay you – “
Gabriel burst out laughing and Dean realized that the officers had merely stepped forward then fallen back into ranks.
“Relax, kittens!” said Gabriel, grinning. “I’m just joshing you!”
Dean exhaled and Gabriel stepped forward to give him a quick, backslapping hug.
“Ah, I love seeing you two look terrified like that, it really brings me joy,” Gabriel chuckled. “I’d ask what you’ve been up to, but the headlines and warrants floating out there kind of do the talking for you.”
“Yeah…” Dean rubbed at the back of his neck. “We’re kind of in a situation.”
“Why else would you have come to me, my fair Dean?” He turned to Bela and gave her an exaggerated once over. “And may I say you are looking particularly ravishing.” Gabriel grasped her hand to plant a kiss on top of it and Bela laughed.
Dean tried not to glare but when Gabriel shot her a suggestive side-smirk and she was giving him bedroom eyes, he couldn’t help it. Dean cleared his throat and Bela slid her hand away. Gabriel stepped around them with another laugh to introduce himself to Ree.
“You and him?” Dean mumbled.
“Jealous?” she murmured back.
“No,” he said much too quickly.
Gabriel reappeared and waggled his eyebrows at them, then turned his attention to the docked Impala. “So, what’s the situation, kids?”
“Repairs,” answered Dean. “Hyperdrive mostly, but other stuff too. We’ve, uh, been through a few tight spots recently. Tried to patch ‘er up, but we need a lot of parts.”
“Not a problem at all, pal.” Gabriel nodded, looping his arm over Dean’s shoulders. “I’ll get my best people on it, and we’ll get her fixed up lickety-split. In the meantime, how about a tour? I own this place, you know.” He gestured for his staff to head back inside, and winked at Dean, Bela, and Ree. He gave Dean’s shoulders a pat then released him.
“Yeah, about that,” said Dean, falling into step with his old friend. “I’m pretty sure I explicitly told you to keep my ship safe here, while I was… occupied, Mr. Owner.”
“Mission. You were on a mission,” corrected Gabriel. “It’s okay to say it, buckshot – pretty much everybody in the galaxy knows who you are at this point. No point in being coy.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Fine. But is your definition of keeping your friends’ ships ‘safe’ handing them over to heartless mercs in a game of – what was it? Sabaac?”
“Ah. So she wasn’t actually returning it to you,” said Gabriel, sounding completely unsurprised. The doors to the landing platform slid shut behind them with a soft swoosh.
Dean whipped his head sideways to pin Bela with a fiery glare, but she merely smiled.
“She said that and you believed her?” Dean demanded, turning back to his supposed friend. Gabriel knew how slippery and dishonest Bela could be when she so chose.
Gabriel winced. “Weeelll… I maybe was sort of in a large debt myself at the time.”
Dean scowled at Gabriel this time. “You bartered Baby away?”
“You know, it’s all very… complicated and a long time ago,” Gabriel said, waving his hand dismissively at Dean.
They descended a set of winding steps as they talked and argued (mostly) good-naturedly, passing large circular windows that looked out into the busy city. Inside the complex, everything was clean and brightly lit. Shafts of orange sunset streaked the walls across from the wide windows.
At the bottom of the first set stairs, they reached a main plaza and all but one of Gabriel’s staff split away from them to tend to other duties. The last man trailed wordlessly after them wherever they went. Dean wondered what it’d be like to have a personal assistant following him around all day, ready to fulfill his every whim.
There were a handful of people, droids, and aliens bustling about this way and that. Many were dressed in the same blue uniform as the staff that had met them on the landing platform. They tapped at computer stations embedded in the walls or hurried by with tools and clipboards.
Dean and the others crossed the plaza, passed under a tall archway and descended another set of stairs. They squabbled more about Dean’s ship. He couldn’t get a straight answer from Gabriel (who kept changing his story) about what had really happened to land the Impala in Bela’s possession. In the end, Dean remained convinced that Bela had indeed stolen it, knowing it was Dean’s, and Gabriel was too proud to admit he’d blown it by letting her.
Gabriel showed them through plaza after plaza, which all looked pretty much the same to Dean, though Ree was fascinated by the smooth, modern architecture. She ran her long green fingers along the columns here and there or the doors edged with various designs.
Bela projected vague interest, but he could tell from years of knowing her that she was continuously on the lookout for the exits in every area they passed through. Dean kept his fingers casually close to the blaster on his hip in case they ran into some trouble, Imperial or otherwise, unable to shake the feeling that something was about to go wrong.
Gabriel talked about how the colony and the gas mine came to be and his duties in running them. He spoke about supply issues and labor difficulties, and seemed both pleased and bored to be dealing with such large-scale matters.
“It’s like I’m a responsible adult now or something,” he huffed, though there was a twinkle in his gold-brown eyes that betrayed how he really felt. “My brothers would be so proud.”
Dean knew Gabriel was a fun-loving, mischievous, flippant son of bitch, but he was also brilliant, calculating, and had clearly had taken well to running this outpost.
The tour kept going and eventually Dean couldn’t take any more.
“Look, Gabe, I appreciate all this, but it’s been a long week, or so, and I really need to kick back for a few hours.”
“I was just getting to the good stuff,” Gabriel pouted, but Dean could tell he wasn’t serious (was Gabriel ever serious?). “You’ll like the living quarters – they’re damn swanky, if I do say so myself. Well, then again, I did design them,” he added oh-so-modestly.
He brought them to the stretch of luxury apartments and living quarters he’d mentioned. There were plenty of empty ones to choose from in this sector, he explained, as it was newly built. Dean wanted three separate adjoining rooms, Bela said they could easily make due with one. Ree thankfully agreed with Dean.
We just spent how long in close quarters together? she clicked and squeaked. Some space would be very welcome.
“Oh, very well,” Bela gave in.
Gabriel glanced between Dean and Bela. “Trouble in paradise?” At the twin glares they gave him, he threw his hands up defensively. “All right, all right, sorry I asked. Sheesh, I forgot how you two can be. Here’s your fobs and there are your rooms. If you’ll excuse me, I have a high-stakes pod race to go bet on. Call me or someone on my staff if you need anything. Enjoy, boys and girls.” He offered them a short bow and headed away whistling.
Dean could feel Bela’s eyes on him but didn’t spare her or Ree a glance as he made for his room. He shut the door behind him and surveyed the living quarters he would be staying in. It was open, spacious, clean, and white.
There were artsy looking sculptures in the kitchen area and on the big glass coffee table in the living room. The windows and skylights were smooth geometric shapes of varying sizes. Dean assumed it was for artistic flair. Nothing in the place was what he was used to nor was it his taste, but it was admittedly pretty nice, and Dean hoped he didn’t break anything during his stay.
He headed for the shower first – it took a few minutes to figure out the fancy, multi-option panel and get a regular stream of hot water going – then he crashed in the gigantic, exquisitely soft bed. He collapsed with a heavy sigh. Much as he loved flying Baby, it felt good to not be sleeping on a cot and not be drifting in space.
Out of habit, he slid his blaster under his pillow. He was asleep in minutes.