That night, Sam woke with start. He thought he’d had another vision or nightmare, until he heard Cas calling out. Sam was on his feet and stumbling into the hut’s small common area before he realized Cas was asleep and muttering Dean’s name.
Sam sucked in his breath and knelt down beside his master, gently shaking him awake. “Hey, Cas, wake up. It’s okay…”
Castiel’s eyes snapped open and there was no mistaking the pain and shock in them.
“You had one too?” whispered Sam.
Cas swallowed and he sat up, scrubbing his palm over his face. “I… I’ve been having them.”
Sam scrunched his brow. “What do you mean?”
“I…” The other man ducked his head. “Before you… I saw it too.”
Sam sucked in his breath sharply.
The former Jedi gazed at the fireplace. The dying embers cast a faint orange glow on them. He seemed so small, so helpless, so sad.
There were several long moments of silence. Cas buried his face in his hands and his shoulders slumped. Sam tried to breathe. If his master had been having visions of Dean and the others being tortured and killed, surely that meant there was truth to them? Why else would both of them be plagued with the same images if not to try to prevent them?
“I have to go,” Sam finally said.
“Sam, you can’t,” Cas shook his head. “You must complete your training.”
“I can’t get those images out of my head!” Sam burst out, hopping to his feet. “And if you’ve been seeing it too – Cas, I can’t sit here and move rocks around while my brother is tortured!”
“We don’t know for sure – ”
“But what if, Cas, huh? What if they are true? And we stay here and do nothing?” Sam paced, his heart crashing against his ribs. Every second he stood here arguing was another second he wasn’t on his way to Dean. “What if they die?”
“We have no way of knowing what these visions represent,” Cas tried again, sounding incredibly weary. “What if they’re already dead?”
Sam pressed his lips into a hard line. “I can’t accept that. I won’t.”
“Suppose you do go after them. You are not strong enough to defeat Azazel, not yet. I told you.”
“Then come with me,” said Sam earnestly. “Maybe I’m not, but you are.”
“No,” Cas replied, his tone flat. “My place is here. This is where my path leads and I must – ”
“Screw your path!” Sam burst out. “Screw destiny and saving the galaxy! If I can’t stop Azazel from killing my brother, none of it matters!”
Cas was on his feet then too, shaking his head again. “Sam, listen to me.” His voice was as hard as transparisteel. Sam had never heard him sound like that before. “You must have patience. You must calm your mind, take a step back, and understand what it is you are – ”
“Pull the ship out,” Sam snapped, cutting him off.
“My ship. Pull it out of the water.”
“I can’t – ”
“If you can’t, then why the hell have you been trying to get me to!” Sam threw his hands up, his frustration and desperation bubbling over.
Castiel sighed. “That’s not what I meant.”
Sam spun on his heel and headed for the door, letting the wood bang against the outside of the hut. He stalked over the rocks and mud in the dark, heedless as he slipped and stumbled, until he was at the bank of the swamp. He held out his hand, took a few breaths, and tried to reach for the Force to raise the X-Wing.
He was too angry, too muddled, and after a few minutes of trying, all he managed to do was make the water near the submerged ship ripple and bubble.
“Come on!” he shouted. He reached down and scooped up a handful of pebbles, flinging them into the black water, then some more, then bigger rocks, over and over until he the fight seeped out of him. He sat at the edge of the water with angry tears in his eyes, feeling trapped and terribly helpless.
Castiel settled beside him some time later. For a while, they simply sat in silence until the first blue tendrils of dawn grew above them in the misty sky.
“It would be reckless,” the former Jedi said softly. “You’re not ready.”
“Cas, I can’t stay,” Sam replied, his voice breaking at the edges. “I can’t sit here and see those things and not try.” When Cas said nothing for several moments, Sam added, “Cas, please.”
His master sighed. “This isn’t what Mary would have wanted.”
Sam ducked his head and thought about the blonde woman he’d seen in holo-photos, the woman who’d appeared to him in the snow on Hoth. And he thought about Ellen.
“Mary gave birth to me, but I didn’t know her,” he said slowly. “Ellen… Mom would’ve…” He chuckled a little. “Mom would’ve cuffed me upside the head and asked me why the hell I was still on Dagobah.” He chuckled again at the thought, but he knew it was true as soon as he said it. He turned to his master. “I can’t stay. I have to try.”
Castiel hesitated. His brow furrowed and a muscle in his jaw twitched. His expression eased as he rose. Sam scrambled to his feet at once.
“You won’t be able to leave for a few hours at least,” Cas warned. “The ship will need to dry out first.”
“Dry out?” Sam echoed with a small, wry laugh, gesturing to the moss and vines and mist all around them.
His master gave a slight shrug and half-smile before straightening his shoulders, planting his feet, and raising one arm out towards to the sunken ship. Cas closed his eyes and breathed slow and steady.
Nothing about the former Jedi changed. He was still, peaceful, his arm was relaxed and his breathing even. Yet the water began to bubble and then bit by bit, the X-Wing rose out of the slimy swamp. Sam watched in awe as it emerged, long pieces of water plants hanging off the hull and wings. The ship was black and silent, yet it glided high over his head. Cas turned his body to follow the ship’s gentle trajectory and slowly lowered his hand. The ship settled onto the soft ground with a squelch, water dribbling out of all its crevices.
Sam approached the ship and realized his mouth was hanging open; he closed it with a snap. Cas opened his eyes and offered his friend a smile.
“Cas…” Sam ran his fingers over the glistening hull, still stunned by how utterly effortless his master had made that seem. “That was incredible. I can’t… how did you do that?”
“With many, many years of practice,” he replied. He was worried and saddened all over again by the prospect of Sam running off to find Dean.
Sam frowned. “Come with me. Help me.”
Cas swallowed, still conflicted, but shook his head. “My place is here, and so is yours. But I will not stop you.”
Sam leveled his gaze at his master. “I’ll be back,” he promised. “As soon as I find Dean and get him out… of whatever the hell is going on. I’ll come back and finish my training. I promise.”
His master didn’t seem reassured, and though it made Sam’s stomach twist uneasily to see his friend look this way, he was determined. He had to leave – he had to find Dean.
First, it was some kind of electric table. They strapped him down and tilted him towards a large square device. Silver needle sent harsh shocks of electricity snapping into his chest and sizzling through his limbs. Dean gritted his teeth and tried not to scream, tried not to give Azazel the satisfaction. But Dean could only take so much before he couldn’t hold his cries in.
They threw him back into his cell and he lay on the cold damp floor, his muscles twitching and his nerves scorched raw.
Then Azazel tried questioning him, even though they both knew Dean wouldn’t give him a damn thing and Azazel was only giving himself a proper excuse to smack Dean around a bit. They tossed Dean back in his cell after a long afternoon of ‘questioning’. He curled against his aching ribs, cupped his bruised jaw with his bloody hand, and worked hard not to dwell on what the Imperial bastards might be doing to Bela and Ree.
If they’re even still alive. Dean shuddered. He hadn’t seen them since Azazel’s troopers had led them away from the dining room and shoved them into these prison cells.
After that, they let him rest for a while – Dean wasn’t sure how long, the only light in the cell was artificial in the grates above his head – until the troopers drug him back out for more of Azazel’s entertainment. The Sith really liked that electric table.
He gave up the pretense of trying to get any information out of Dean and moved on to straight out torture. It was pure revenge, his personal Winchester vendetta.
“It’s all right if you don’t want to talk,” Azazel hissed in Dean’s ear. “This is much more fun.”
“I don’t care what you do, Azazel, I’m never giving you a damn thing, you fu– ”
Azazel flicked a switch and Dean’s body was wracked with electrical pulses.
“And I don’t know how many times I have to remind you: it’s Darth Azazel,” the Sith sneered. He bumped the intensity dial up a notch.
The son of a bitch laughed while Dean screamed. His demented yellow eyes glittered with delight and malice while Dean writhed. When the pulses stopped, Dean couldn’t help himself and gave another glib remark and Azazel, in turn, flicked the scorching needles back on.
Dean hurt all over when they kicked him back into his cell, he was pretty sure, late in the second day – maybe the third. It was too difficult to keep track, especially when he passed out from Azazel’s throat hold. Dean groaned and gingerly poked at his swollen lip with his tongue. He’d endured much worse before. Azazel was definitely taking his sweet time – he knew he had Dean trapped with no escape in sight, and he was going to savor it.
Even if he’d had worse, it still hurt like hell.
When Dean heard the door to his cell open, he stayed still, hoping the troops would think they’d accidentally killed him and leave him be for a little while. Instead, they shoved Bela in to join him. She stumbled to her knees with a grunt and he squinted at her before relief bloomed in his chest. She was holding her wrist and was sporting a black eye, but otherwise didn’t seem too worse for the wear.
“Bastards,” she sniped at the troops who retreated and sealed up the cell.
“Nice of you to join me,” Dean said, his voice scratchier than he’d have liked.
“Oh, darling,” Bela sighed, getting to her feet to cross the room only to kneel down before him. She reached out to ghost her hand over his bruised cheek. “What have they done to you?”
“Ah, you know,” Dean offered her a one-shouldered shrug, which made his chest hurt but he did it anyway. “The usual Imperial tell-us-stuff-or-we-beat-you jack-assery. Azazel. Though the electric torture device is new, and he really likes it…”
She shook her head, her eyes raking over him. “Have you considered giving him what he wants?”
Dean chuckled. “Like hell. He’s going to kill me whether I give him anything or not.”
Bela pressed her lips together briefly. “I could – maybe if you told me…”
He narrowed his eyes at her, suspicious for a moment. Were they trying to use her now?
“I just mean…” she trailed off with another sigh and raised her hand to gently wipe at his hairline.
“I appreciate the sentiment, really, but he’s not gonna to stop. He has me now. Nobody except you and Ree know where I am – there isn’t a rescue party, there isn’t a Plan B, there’s no escape route. I’m done.”
“You sound like you’re giving up,” Bela said and he glanced up at the sharpness in her tone.
“No,” he assured her. “I’m not done fighting – I never will be. I’m just telling you why giving that son of a bitch anything means absolute shit.”
A coughing fit made him double over and Bela rubbed his back. Her tenderness struck him, as did the utter pity in her eyes. And it scared him. Did he really look that bad? Was she genuinely that worried and upset over their situation? His situation? That was unlike her.
When he’d recovered, before she had the chance to say anything, he nodded his chin at her and waved her off. “What’re they doing to you? Have you seen Ree?”
She sighed again and removed her hand from his back, sensing his defensiveness before he’d even said something insulting. “Yes – they had her knocked out cold in the cell they put me in. When she came to, she told me she’d been leaving the archives, took a wrong turn, and saw Gabriel talking to Azazel and the Imperials. She tried to come warn us, but they caught her before she had the chance.”
She settled with her back against the chilly stone wall, her shoulder nearly touching his. “They wanted to know information about the Rebels, of course, but they didn’t try very hard. Either they know that I don’t know anything new and useful, or they don’t care because they have you.”
Dean scrunched his brow. “Then why haven’t they killed you?”
“I really didn’t think it prudent to ask,” she replied, but he didn’t miss the way her eyes flickered.
“Bela,” he growled.
She tilted her head back with another sigh. “There’s no point lying at this point, is there?” She tossed him an empty smile. “Lillith, darling. One of her bounty hunters – this blonde bitch I’ve had dealings with before. I imagine she’s going to have the greatest payday the Empire has ever seen, what with nabbing you for Azazel and me for Lillith.” She gave her head a shake. “We’re clearly in the wrong business.”
He chuckled a little and rubbed at his sore ribs. “No kidding.” Dean groaned.
She clicked her tongue, looking him over again. “Did you piss him off?”
“No more than usual.”
She shook her head. “You do have quite a way with people, don’t you?”
Minutes later, the troops dumped Ree into their cell as well. She was spotted with dark green and black bruises and had a nasty looking wound high on her forehead, but she assured them she was all right.
“You don’t look all right,” Dean observed with a worried frown as Ree settled down cross-legged on the floor beside him and Bela.
Neither do you, she countered.
Dean leaned his head back. “He’s been chasing me for years. This isn’t going to be over any time soon.”
The three of them were quiet for several moments before Ree asked, Why’d they put us together?
Before Dean or Bela voiced an answer, the cell door slid open again, and Gabriel strode in followed by his ever-present assistant as well as a handful of Imperial guards. Gabriel, Dean was pleased to note, had two bruised black eyes and looked sufficiently miserable.
“Well, if it isn’t my good pal Gabe,” Dean said acidly, struggling to his feet.
Gabriel’s frown deepened. “Look, I’m sorry – my hands were tied. I had to make a deal and unfortunately, they beat you here. I stalled as much as I could. I tried, but there wasn’t a way out of this.”
“You’ll forgive us if we don’t seem terribly grateful.” Bela stood as well, followed by Ree, whose green fingers curled into fists at her sides.
Gabriel’s eyes flicked to them and back to Dean. “Yeah, and this is only about to get oh-so-much worse before it gets better.” He winced and Dean’s stomach gave an uneasy twist. “I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that your buddy Azazel keeps changing the terms we agreed upon – we’re now up to him handing Bela over to the bounty hunter, and Dean, he’s taking you with him.”
“No surprise there,” Dean mumbled.
What about me? asked Ree, clicking with worry.
“Currently, you’re allowed to stay here in Cloud City with me as long as you never leave, ever again.” Gabriel coughed uncomfortably and continued, “This is… after… he puts Dean in the carbon freeze chamber.” He glanced between them all with a nauseous sort of smile.
Bela swore, Ree let a series of furious squeaks and hisses fly, and Dean stared with wide, angry eyes. Carbon freezing was used for preserving inanimate objects. He was no expert, but he was pretty sure doing it on a living being would kill it.
“And you?” Dean burst out hotly. “You, what, stand by and watch?”
Gabriel’s jaw ticked. “I’m sorry – ”
“Yeah, me too,” Dean growled, and lashed out at his former friend.
He was able to land a punch near the other man’s mouth before the guards were on him, hauling him away and brandishing their guns. One of them cracked him upside the head, and Dean dropped to his knees, blinking to clear his vision. Ree was in a similar position, on her knees with guns her face. Bela glared at Gabriel with fire and loathing. He rubbed his jaw where Dean had struck him and once again mumbled his pointless apologies.
“They’re here to take you and Bela while I take Ree,” he added glumly, gesturing to the Imperials in the cell. “I wish I could do more.”
The guards hauled Dean to his feet none-too-gently, and he sucked in his breath at the sharp ache in his ribs. They wrestled his arms behind his back and slapped a pair of cuffs onto his wrists. He shot Gabriel a dirty look.
“Yeah, you’re such a hero,” Dean spat.
The guards roughly led him out of the cell and into the adjoining hallway. The other Imperials followed, tugging along Bela, also in cuffs. Gabriel, his assistant, a couple more guards, and Ree trailed after them. Azazel was waiting for them with a wolfish smile that made Dean shiver. He raised his chin defiantly in front of the Sith.
“You ready?” the yellow-eyed man asked, eager and smug.
Half of his face was red and scarred. It was clear it had been badly burned recently and was still undergoing regular bacta treatments. It only made him all the more hideous to look at, especially up close.
Dean smirked. “You first. Azazel.” He emphasized the titleless name and didn’t miss the way Azazel’s eyes flashed furiously.
Gabriel split off, heading to the right, Ree in tow. Probably unable to see what was about to happen to his former friends. The freaking coward.
“Just a minute, Calrissian,” Azazel said, raising his gloved finger.
Gabriel stiffened and turned around slowly.
“Her too.” The Sith pointed at Ree.
Gabriel blinked. “Lord Azazel, the agreement was that she would stay here with me.”
“And now the agreement is that she comes with the other two shits to the chamber,” said Azazel.
Dean ground his teeth. The cuffs holding his hands behind his back weren’t conducive to slugging the Sith, nor was the presence of so many armed Imperials and troops around him. Dean was this close to trying anyways.
“Sir…” Gabriel began uneasily.
“We are in agreement, aren’t we?” Azazel pressed, his voice turning flinty.
Gabriel’s hand jumped to his throat as if there’d been a sudden squeeze of pressure there. He gave his head a swift shake. “No, I mean, of course. She’s all yours.” He spread his arm out towards Ree and smiled, though it didn’t touch his eyes. The guards holding Ree marched her forward away from Gabriel.
“I thought so,” said Azazel, and spun on his heel, his black cape swirling out behind him. He started down the hall, and the Imperials gave Dean a shove, forcing him to follow, leaving Gabriel and his assistant behind.
Sam steered the X-Wing over and through the puffy clouds towards the gleaming, floating city in the sky. It was enormous and magnificent, nothing like anything Sam had ever seen before, and he couldn’t help the low noise of awe that escaped his lips. Seeing glimpses of it in a vision was thing; seeing it spread before him was something else entirely.
As he came closer to the city, he noticed it seemed oddly quiet – there were no ships buzzing around, and he couldn’t see people or aliens on any of the walkways and platforms. He furrowed his brow and his stomach twisted. Beyond his knowledge that Dean was in trouble, something else was wrong – shouldn’t a city like this be bustling? Where was everyone?
His bad feelings about the situation only intensified as he steered the X-Wing to land on an empty platform. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled when he disembarked and made his way through the adjoining corridor. The halls were as still and empty as the platform. He gulped and snatched his blaster out of its holster.
It was strange to think that only a week ago Sam had only the most minimal knowledge of the Force. Now, thanks to Castiel, Sam could feel it in his bones, coursing in his blood, and if he took a moment to breathe and reach out, he could feel it pull him in the right direction. He knew he’d barely scratched the surface of what he could do, what a real Jedi could do, but he couldn’t help feeling amazed by how far he’d come in such a short time.
He darted from hallway to hallway, crossing large empty squares. Twice he saw screens mounted to maintenance hatches that were cheerily blinking the words “LOCKDOWN”.
That explains the lack of people, he thought as he rounded a corner and descended a wide set of stairs. The décor changed from pleasant and artsy with plenty of windows and white walls, to dark and industrial, with sliding transparisteel doorways. He saw signs for “Authorized Personnel Only” and the metal grate-like doors ahead parted when he neared.
Sam glanced over his shoulder at the stairs behind him, and with his heart battering his chest, he darted forward.