“Focus,” Castiel instructed softly.
Sam breathed in, slow and deep. The crates were floating individually this time and Sam was doing a handstand on a set of slippery stones. He took another slow, long breath, concentrating, letting the Force pulse through his veins.
At first, it was just a feeling. Dread, pain, something dark, sliding through his chest, over his eyes. He blinked it away, exhaling.
“Good,” Cas said. “Sam, you’re doing so well.”
His voice sounded peculiarly distant and then the sinister feeling was back, stronger. It coiled around his ribs and Sam felt his arms begin to shake, the threads of light wobbling and splitting. What’s happening?
Then he saw it:
A city in the clouds. Magnificent and shining in the sunlight, surrounded by thick, beautiful billows.
Inside. White walls, light, beings rushing about their day. Massive round windows, views of the charming city beyond.
A room. Dark, foreboding. A blonde woman standing in the corner, in the shadows, arms crossed over her chest. Watching impassively, but her fingers twitch for the dagger at her belt.
Stormtroopers. Someone in an Imperial uniform. Terse instructions.
A man in black. Yelling. Anger – no, rage. And… delight? Sadistic glee.
Sam was frightened, his stomach was in knots and he was terrified the man would turn around and look at him.
Screaming. Pain – incredible pain –
The man in black moves. Beyond him, Dean is strapped down and being held over some sort of device. It is sparking and poking at his chest. Dean’s voice, raw from screaming, his features twisted with agony.
“Dean!” Sam called out, horrified and scared.
Bela. Her lip bloody, her eye swollen shut. The man in black strikes her again and again. Demanding and unyielding.
“No!” Sam shouted, as if they could hear him. “Stop! Let her go!”
Ree. Unmoving on the floor of a dim room. Green skin splotched with something dark.
Dean again, and there’s blood – far too much blood – and more screaming.
The man in black turns around. He’s laughing. His eyes are a toxic shade of bright yellow.
Sam collapsed on the ground and retched. There wasn’t a part of him that wasn’t trembling. He tried to blink away the images he’d seen and he gasped for breath.
“Sam? Sam?” Castiel was at his side and Sam had no idea how many times he’d said his name.
“Cas, what the hell…” Sam pressed his palms to his eyelids and fought against a fresh wave of nausea.
“What did you see?” the former Jedi demanded. “Sam, listen – tell me what you saw.”
Sam shakily recounted the images. Cas looked grim as he sat back on his heels.
“What happened? What the hell was that? It was like…” Sam shoved his hand through his hair, taking a long breath to help his heartrate return to normal. “Like an incredibly vivid nightmare. But I wasn’t asleep.”
“You’ve had a vision,” explained Cas. “It happens sometimes. When you are in touch with the Force, sometimes you see things – the past, present… old friends, family… strangers. The future.”
Fear grabbed at Sam’s insides again. “Present? Future? Are you saying – ”
“Not necessarily,” Cas interrupted and shook his head. “Sometimes visions are… sometimes they mean something else.”
“Like what? What meaning could I possibly draw from watching my friends being tortured? Other than the obvious?”
Cas frowned. “It’s not for me to say. I don’t know why the Force chose to show you those things.”
“But is it real? Are they really being tortured?” Even as he asked, Sam wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer. He held his breath while Castiel closed his eyes.
The seconds dragged on until Cas opened his eyes and shook his head. “It is too hazy. The future is always in motion – it is incredibly difficult to see into it with any form of certainty.”
Sam’s gut turned over. But what if they were? What if Dean and Bela and Ree were being tortured at that very moment, and here was Sam hanging out in the dirt, moving some crates around? Or what if they hadn’t been captured yet, but were about to be? Sam could warn them. He could leave right now and track them down…
“It is not certain, Sam,” Castiel repeated, as usual speaking as though he could sense Sam’s thoughts. “And it may not mean what you think.”
Sam exhaled. He wanted to believe Cas, but Dean’s wrecked screams were still echoing in his ears.
The former Jedi passed Sam a canteen of water and they sat in silence for several minutes while Sam drank and worked to shake the hellish vision, if that in fact was what it had been.
The pair went for a run, followed by more combat training, and by the evening Sam was feeling a lot less unsettled. He put it out of his mind and lay down to sleep.
He is dreams were plagued by the same images, twice waking him in a cold sweat. After the third time, he simply lay awake until the room began to grow lighter. Sam threw off the covers and went out into the hut to prepare breakfast.
Cas was surprised to find him up first and Sam explained about the recurring nightmares. Cas was somber again, but assured Sam that his mind had been disturbed so much by the original vision that it hadn’t been able to let it go.
Sam felt unnerved as they moved through their morning exercises. He was apprehensive about working on focus and concentration activities lest he be hit with another nightmare vision. At Castiel’s gentle prodding, however, Sam went ahead. He was relieved when no visions impeded his training.
That afternoon, Sam decided he wanted to take another crack at hauling his ship out of the water.
“Think I can do it?” Sam asked, tossing his master a wry smile.
Castiel gestured to the sunken ship. “Only one way to find out.”
Sam stood at the water’s edge and squared his shoulders. He raised his hand out towards the ship and employed all the breathing techniques Castiel had taught him. Sam pictured light wrapping around the X-Wing, imagined the threads sliding it out of the water, wrapping around the engine and the wings. He convinced himself it wasn’t heavy – it was no heavier than the crates – and the Force was the one lifting it, not him.
A cold feeling bloomed in his chest. He could feel himself start to waver, and he worked harder to stay focused.
The feeling grew, something dark and dreadful sliding around his bones, and Sam felt panic spike his heartrate. No, not again –
A city in the clouds. Magnificent and shining.
Inside. White, clean, full of people.
A room. A stone-faced blonde. Troopers.
“No!” Sam shouted – he couldn’t bear to see it again.
The man in black. Dean. Blood. Screaming and pain and horror.
Dean being choked – his fingers scrabble at his neck, his eyes bulge, his face turns purple. His legs kick uselessly in the air above the floor.
“Let him go!” Sam called and he tried to run to his brother, but his feet would not move.
Evil laughter from the man in black. Piercing, poisonous yellow eyes.
Dean so helpless, so hopeless. Dying.
Sam reached for him, screamed for him.
Yellow Eyes flicks his wrist and Dean’s neck snaps with a sick crack.
Sam was on the ground. The X-Wing was bubbling back under the water, and Castiel looked as nauseous as Sam felt.
“He killed him,” Sam cried, tears sliding down his cheeks. “He killed him, Cas. He murdered Dean and I couldn’t – ”
“It wasn’t real,” Castiel reminded him softly. He was pale and visibly upset.
Sam rounded on him. “What if it was? What if it will be? I have to find him and save him!”
Cas shook his head. “Sam, you’ve come so far, but you still have so far to go. Even if these visions are real and you do find Dean, you do not yet have the strength to conquer Darth Azazel.”
“I can’t leave him to die, Cas. I have to try.”
Cas sighed. “If we consider the possibility that these visions are truly real, and you rush off to rescue them, you may be able to help them. May. If you arrived in time to prevent what you saw. But you would cut short your training. You would destroy what they have fought and suffered for. You would not be ready and you would very likely die at the hands of Azazel too.
“You have said yourself, you must be strong to aid the Alliance in ending the Empire,” his master continued. “Stop now, and you will not be ready. You will not be able to help them how you need to. The Empire will not only have killed the Winchester they know about, but they will have unwittingly ended the other as well. All will be lost.”
Sam tears stung his eyes again. Castiel was right and Sam hated it. He couldn’t bear the idea of resigning Dean to the hands of Azazel, but that was only assuming the visions were real views into the future. Suppose they truly were only nightmares – paranoia and inner fears manifesting as something more tangible? Suppose these images were simply the Dark Side of the Force trying to lure him into making a catastrophic mistake?
The problem was, he had no real way of knowing. He desperately wanted to take off and find out for himself. But Castiel was his master, wise and gentle, and he did not seem to believe the visions were true representations of the future or the present. Sam trusted him. At this point, he trusted him more than anyone in the galaxy.
So Sam nodded. He breathed in slow and steady and he nodded. He worked to put the grisly images out of his mind and move on with his day.
While the Impala was being repaired, Gabriel treated Dean, Bela, and Ree exceptionally well. He let them have free rein over his personal, private, luxury sector. It included a bar, a lounge, a pool, and a recreation area all for just their enjoyment. Dean worried over the hours passing by but still took pleasure in the perks of being friends with the owner of a well-off mining colony.
Gabriel and his shadow, the expressionless man who seemed to trail him everywhere, came and went. They checked in periodically to see how their visitors were doing, and Dean badgered his friend about how repairs were coming along. Gabriel was vague, but promised that things were progressing well, before he was pulled away to some meeting or minor crisis.
“Crisis, sure,” Dean grunted, knocking back some Idlewil liquor. It burned as it went down and he wondered how much the stuff cost. He decided he was probably better off not knowing.
Bela, in the pool chair beside him, toweled her hair and smiled at him. “I’m guessing a shady game of space poker is more likely.”
He wasn’t sure what Ree had gotten up to; though earlier she’d been talking about visiting the archives in the complex. His eyes drifted around the expansive room, the massive skylight splashing sunlight down onto the glistening turquoise pool. Hot guilt stabbed his gut.
Here he was, having a damn holiday when he should’ve been regrouping with the Rebels. He wondered how much progress they’d made with the Death Star plans, and again thought about who amongst his crew and friends had died on Hoth.
He dropped his gaze to his empty glass. His message to Jo had sent automatically as soon as they exited the asteroid, but in the days they’d hobbled on to Bespin, he’d received no reply. Did that mean she was gone? Had his message not gone through? Had something more major happened after he’d jetted away with Bela?
“What are you thinking about?” asked Bela, lounging beside him.
Dean blinked, having forgotten for a minute that she was there. “Hm?”
“You look sad and sullen,” she told him. “It’s at war with how very lovely it is here. I’m not sure how you can be so miserable with all of this at our exclusive disposal.” She waved her hand lazily before her, indicating the lavish setting.
When Dean didn’t reply, she sighed. “Oh, do cheer up, darling. We’ll be out of here in no time.”
Dean nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He hadn’t meant to sound quite so sharp.
Bela bit her lip. After a moment, she stood and came over to Dean’s chair. She plucked his glass out of his fingers and set it aside. He looked up at her until she straddled his lap and leaned down to kiss him.
He pulled away. “Bela, what’re you doing?”
“I should think that should be quite obvious,” she said softly then trailed her lips along his jaw.
He planted his hands on her hips. “What are we doing?” he tried again.
Bela sat back slightly, her damp hair framing her face. “Taking advantage of the situation.” She grinned at him, then added in a more serious undertone, “While it lasts.” She leaned forward to kiss him again, but he stopped her.
“And when it’s over and we’re with the Alliance, then you’re gone.” He’d meant it as a question, to gauge her reaction, but it came out a bitter statement instead.
Bela huffed out a sigh. “Darling, if you’d rather get all moony and heartbroken, then by all means – ”
Dean reached up behind her neck and jerked her close for a fierce kiss. He was pissed at her and didn’t quite know why, and he kissed her angrily. It was like back on the ship, that night in the maintenance closet, when he was terrified he’d never get the chance again, when he realized he was still an addict aching for another fix.
As soon as the ship was repaired, as soon as they regrouped with Rebels, she was off to square her debt with Lillith. He saw it coming from a thousand miles away and yet he still managed to feel prematurely angry about it.
Abruptly Bela broke away from him, and with a teasing smile, she dove into the pool.
For the rest of the afternoon, Dean was reminded of his and Bela’s time in Jiroch. Of course for her it’d apparently been one big long con, but for him it’d been something real. They swam in Gabriel’s pool, swapped stories, clinked glasses, and shared memories of their more colorful adventures together.
He stole kisses and made her laugh, caused her to roll her eyes and shoot him dirty looks. She made cutting remarks and insulted him, used sultry innuendo and gazed at him from under her eyelashes in a way that made his heart race.
She made him forget about his mission, the Empire, and everything that went with it. For a few hours, he was able to relax and not feel the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders – a weight he’d carried since he was a child. It was a strange, imperfect but extraordinary little bubble and he found himself hoping it would never end.
That night, as he draped his arm over Bela’s bare stomach and closed his eyes with a small smile on his lips, he noted that her bed was as comfy as his. Just before he was fully asleep, he felt Bela press a soft kiss to his forehead.
“I still don’t care, you know,” she whispered. “Not even now.” But she wriggled a little closer to him and snaked her arm under his, contradicting her quiet words.
He was too close to sleep to respond. He figured he probably dreamed the whole thing anyways.
The next day, Gabriel was still way too vague about how the repairs on the Impala were progressing. His assistant was ever stone-faced and trailing silently behind him.
“You put her through the ringer, Dean-machine,” he laughed. “There’s a lot more than just the hyperdrive to fix, which by the way is totally banjaxed. She’s riddled with blaster holes, fried to hell…”
“Thought you had your best people on it,” Dean teased then nodded his chin at the shiner Gabriel was sporting on the left side of his face. “What happened there?”
“This souvenir?” Gabriel gestured to the purple and red bruising. “This is what I get for trying to stop a not-so-friendly game of Dejarik. I know, I know, I should’ve let my detail handle it, but I was there, and I’m the owner, and you know I can’t help playing the good Samaritan.”
Dean barked out a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“Well, there may have been some chips and credits involved,” Gabriel admitted flippantly. “They may have been my chips and credits.”
“You cheated, didn’t you,” Bela mused, sipping at the yellow drink in her hand.
“Let’s not call the kettle black, Ms. Talbot,” Gabriel retorted smoothly.
Bela lifted a shoulder in acknowledgment and asked if he’d seen Ree around lately. “She went to check out the archives early yesterday and we haven’t seen her since. I wasn’t worried about it until today – she’s supposed to be having lunch with us.”
“I haven’t no, sorry,” said Gabriel with a quick shrug. “The archives are pretty gigantic though, you sure she just didn’t get lost?”
Dean frowned. It wasn’t like Ree to disappear without at least leaving word of where she’d gone to, though it wasn’t like the three of them really had any place to be. In all likelihood, they’d simply missed her – she’d come in late and left early again.
“Well, if she’s not around to dine with you, can I interest you schmucks in having lunch with me?” Gabriel offered with a wide grin and a waggle of his eyebrows.
Dean looked to Bela who shrugged and set aside her drink. “Why not,” he answered.
Gabriel clapped his hands together. “Excellent. I have this chef – oh, you guys are gonna love him. Six arms, and he can make anything you can think of. Literally. I’ve tried to stump him by asking for the most obscure thing I can think of, but damn it, he can even make Selopedrian stew.”
“Why the hell would you – why would anyone ask for Selopedrian stew?” Dean asked with a chuckle.
“On purpose,” Bela added in the same tone.
“Exactly my point,” said Gabriel.
He chattered on about his fantastic chef as he led them away from his private wing, back through bustling corridors. They were far busier than the last time he’d brought them through, with dozens and dozens of humans and aliens making their way around the city.
Dean cut into Gabriel’s food-related ramblings to ask after the Impala again.
“Has anything changed since we were upstairs fifteen minutes ago?” Gabriel shot back. “Geez, you’re impatient.”
Dean frowned at him, irritation rising. “Gabe, it’s kind of important. Nice as your place is, we can’t keep sitting around like it’s some damn holiday – ”
“Relax, bro,” Gabriel held up his hand. “I get it. Calm down and untwist your panties. You have places to go, people to see. I’ll go down and personally check on the thing as soon as we’re done lunch, all right? Is that satisfactory, your rebel highness?”
Dean breathed out through his nose but nodded. He couldn’t exactly do anything but wait at this point, frustrating though it was.
“Thank you,” Gabriel said with a mock bow.
Bela bumped her shoulder against Dean’s. “Take a breath, darling, and unclench your jaw before you snap your pretty bones. It’ll be done when it’s done, yeah?”
He rolled his eyes at her and continued after Gabriel, who began regaling them with a story about the time he’d been stabbed over a prank and misunderstanding.
Gabriel led them around a corner into a spacious dining room with a long table. For a split second, Dean wondered who they were dining with – there were people already seated at the table. In the next, he was yanking his blaster out of his holster and shooting as fast as his fingers would let him. Bela gasped and went for her gun too.
Azazel held up his palm and the blaster bolts pinged harmlessly into the wall. With a sickening grin, he twitched his fingers and their blasters went flying. Azazel caught them, one in each hand.
“Hey Dean,” the Sith growled. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Hot and cold shocks rippled all over Dean. A horde of troopers filled up the corridor behind him and Bela, cutting off their only exit. Dean spun to face Gabriel, ready to see the same horror and astonishment on his features. Instead, his friend was uncharacteristically grim, and suddenly everything made sense.
Gabriel had been stalling. He’d betrayed them.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, barely meeting Dean’s eyes. “I had no choice.”
Dean sneered and lashed out, landing a heavy blow to Gabriel’s face before the Imperials swarmed them. Dean was grabbed and shoved. He tried to run. A fist smashed into his head, a boot connected with his shin. He heard Bela cry out and he struggled to get away from the hands forcing cuffs onto his wrists. He shouted and a second later, he was on his knees with a trickle of blood seeping from his nose onto his lips.
Azazel strode around the table, covering the length of the long room as if he were savoring every second. He stopped directly in front of Dean, leaned down and grabbed a chunk of Dean’s hair forcing the rebel’s head back so he had to look straight into those menacing yellow eyes.
“Oh, Winchester,” Azazel bared his teeth in another gut-twisting grin. And as he’d said snidely the last time he’d captured Dean: “We’re going to have so much fun.”