The carbon freeze chamber was a large room, full of pipes and tanks and control stations. Orange light filtered through the metal grates on the floor, giving the room an eerie amber glow. A set of stairs led to a raised walkway ringing the room. A few figures stood at intervals on the walkway, cast in shadow, watching the proceedings below.
Azazel and his Imperials hauled Dean, Bela, and Ree past columns of steam to the center of the room and a hydraulic platform set inside a round pit. Dean’s heart slammed against his ribs. He knew there was a chance he could survive this, but he had no idea how big that chance was. He tried not to panic. It wasn’t his style, and even if this was truly it and he was done, he wasn’t going to feed into Azazel’s hand.
As the Imperials shoved the three prisoners into a neat line, however, something must’ve shown on Dean’s face, because Azazel’s lips curled up into a sinister, triumphant smile. Dean forced a smirk onto his own features, though he couldn’t hide the tension in his shoulders.
This is it, isn’t it… Dean’s eyes were drawn to the hydraulic platform that rose from the bottom of the pit. His mouth went dry, his skin rippled with chills, and he was too aware of the blood roaring in his ears. He flicked his gaze around the room, desperate for an escape route, but there were too many Imperials, troops, and guards. Not to mention Azazel and that arrogant-looking blonde behind him who was idly twirling a long, jagged-bladed knife. She seemed bored by the whole event.
“You know,” Azazel said thoughtfully. “I’d sure hate to cut short our playtime by accidentally killing you here and now, Dean.”
“Yeah, that’d be a real shame,” Dean bit out. He hauled his focus away from the pit and put it on Azazel.
“If only we had a way to test the carbon freeze process without damaging you permanently.” The Sith tossed a lazy look to the blonde, who shrugged.
“Dead or alive was fine by Lillith,” she stated.
Bela let out an irritated huff beside Dean and muttered something very unladylike.
“Just to be safe then.” Azazel’s grin was nasty and feral – he was eating up every single second of this – and Dean felt sick to his stomach.
Azazel gestured to his troops. “Put the space bitch in.”
“No!” Dean shouted as several troopers stepped forward to grab Bela.
Ree let out a screech, Bela cursed, and when Dean darted towards her, he received the butt of a gun to his head for his trouble, sending him to his knees. He blinked the sparks out of his eyes and struggled to his feet.
“Azazel, you bastard!” he bellowed, struggling against the troops holding his bound arms.
“Tut tut – language, Winchester,” the Sith admonished with a waggle of his finger.
“Just…” Dean gave his head a shake. Behind his back, he curled his quivering hands into fists so tight his nails dug into his palms. He didn’t know what to say, what to do. They were utterly fucked, and Bela was about to die, and…
“Let me say goodbye,” Bela said breathily. The troops holding her on the platform glanced at Azazel for confirmation. Dean looked to her in surprise.
Azazel, for his part, also seemed surprised, and so smug and amused by the situation, that he waved his hand and the troopers released Bela and Dean. Dean hurried forward to meet her halfway, though he had no clue what the hell to say. He opened his mouth to speak and a thousand words jammed up his throat.
Damn it, this can’t be it. Damn it, damn it…
Bela’s lips tilted into her signature half-smirk, though Dean could see exactly how scared she really was. Instead of saying anything at all, she leaned forward to kiss him ardently. He kissed her back, hard and desperate, even though it hurt his bruised lips.
Unlike those times over the years where he worried he might never see her again, now he knew. This was the end and this really was going to be the last time he’d ever see her, touch her, taste her. Even if she survived the carbon freeze process, she’d be shipped off with the blonde bounty hunter. He, meanwhile, would be dragged off to the Death Star one way or another for Azazel to finish him off.
Bela pressed her body closer to Dean and he tried to memorize the way her lips moved against his…
The troops yanked her away all too soon, severing their contact. Bela’s eyes glistened with unshed tears and he hated the panic that flashed across her features.
“Well, hell,” Azazel let out a bark of laughter. “If I’d have known I had that kind of a bargaining chip on my hands…”
Dean felt a flash of pure hatred boil in his chest but he didn’t take his eyes off Bela as the troops positioned her on the platform. A few Imperials came forward to tug him back in line with a shivering, clicking Ree.
“Ree, take care of him,” Bela blurted, her voice trembling.
Ree squeaked pitifully beside him. He couldn’t help a chuckle, even if it was a sad one.
“I can take care of myself, you know,” he said, trying to sound casual and cocky, like everything was normal. Like maybe he could piss her off and she’d insult him back and they’d escape and everything would be fine. Like Azazel wasn’t gleefully watching them and sending them to their deaths.
Men jabbed at screens and buttons on the control towers by the pit. The pipes overhead began to hiss and groan. Dean swallowed against his paper dry throat and his stomach churned.
“Sure you can, darling,” Bela returned, her eyes were brimming with tears.
This couldn’t be it, this couldn’t be how they died after everything they’d been through. All the back and forth and close calls and impossible odds…
Dean flicked his eyes around the room, but nothing had changed. He was still bound, weaponless, helpless, completely outnumbered.
“For the love of God,” the blonde groaned. “I actually have somewhere to be, so if we could hurry this up?”
“Keep your shirt on, Ruby,” Azazel chuckled, yellow eyes glinting with pure delight, and gestured to the men at the controls.
“Dean,” said Bela, her voice quivering, and he snapped his attention back on her. She couldn’t seem to find the words she wanted or maybe she couldn’t get them past her lips. He knew the feeling and blinked against the sudden sting in his own eyes.
The platform whined and slowly descended. Dean felt like the breath had been knocked from his chest as he watched Bela being lowered into the carbon freeze pit.
“I do care,” she burst out when she was nearly halfway down. “Dean, I-I’m so sorry I…”
He knew she could never bring herself to say love – he couldn’t either, even now. Knew that this was the last thing he’d hear her say. Knew she’d cared all along, even if she hadn’t realized it herself.
So he cracked a sad little smile and he sucked in a breath. Really, if they were both about to die, there was no point lying or being an ass. He held her gaze as he huskily replied, “I know.”
He had one last glimpse of Bela’s frightened, strong, beautiful, face –
And then all hell broke loose.
A round of blasterfire had Dean ducking and throwing his shoulder into Ree, knocking her to the floor on instinct. He couldn’t tell which direction the bolts came from, and for a confused second, the Imperials didn’t seem to know either. They got their weapons out and were firing back, Azazel was whirling, Ruby the bounty hunter brandished her deadly knife in one hand and a sleek blaster in the other. There were more rounds of blasterfire, then Dean spotted a column of blue light flashing through the air and his heart walloped into his throat.
Sam! Dean grinned and, for a moment, felt only overwhelming relief.
He and Ree dove behind a row of barrels as the Imperials focused their attention on Sam, even as more lasers cut through the air from every angle. The kid’s lightsaber was a brilliant whirl of light, slashing and twisting, deflecting every bolt aimed his way. Azazel bellowed in the din and gestured angrily.
Ree rolled to a fallen trooper and used her long fingers to delve into the guy’s utility belt for something to undo her binders. Dean worriedly looked for Bela, but couldn’t see her through all the smoke, steam, and laser fire.
Ree freed herself and quickly unlocked Dean’s cuffs. They both scrambled for weapons from the dead troopers before jumping to their feet.
“Get Bela!” Dean yelled. Ree took off with a quick nod.
He darted behind one of the control towers and started picking off as many of the troopers as he could. He’d lost track of Azazel in the firefight and frowned, scanning the chaos for the Sith. Suddenly, he felt a sharp, incredible pressure on his throat, cutting off his air. His fingers scrabbled at his neck, though he already knew he’d find nothing physical there. He was dragged backwards by some invisible force and spun around when it released him.
Azazel was a few feet away, emerging from the smoke, arm outstretched. His scarred features were furious, his lips curled in an ugly sneer. The terrible pressure seized Dean by the throat again and he felt his body rise in the air until his boots left the floor. Black spots swam in his vision and Azazel’s fingers curled slowly inwards. The Sith bared his teeth.
“You’re not getting away from me this time,” he growled, his voice soaked with hatred.
Dean gurgled, his fingers scratching uselessly at his own neck. His head was spinning, lungs burning…
Sam and his brilliant blue lightsaber came spinning out of nowhere, right between Azazel and Dean. Azazel hissed and narrowly missed having his arm chopped off as he jumped backwards and reached for a weapon of his own. Dean dropped to the ground, the impact sending a shock of pain through his sore ribs. He gasped and gulped oxygen.
Azazel’s red lightsaber clashed against Sam’s with a loud crackle just in time for the Sith to avoid being sliced in two. He swung it back and forth in a flurry of movement, trying to get past Sam, who matched him blow for blow.
“Who the hell – ?!” Azazel growled.
“Go!” Sam shouted over his shoulder at Dean. “Get out of here – get to the ship!”
Dean was inclined to argue, not wanting to leave Sam on his own. Seeing as how there were no Imperials left standing in the chamber except Azazel however, he figured Sam and whoever had shown up to help him in the melee must have it under control. He couldn’t see Ree or Bela anywhere.
As he snatched up a blaster and got out of the way of the battling men, he couldn’t help hesitating. Sam had just saved his skin; he couldn’t leave him behind.
“Dean, go!” Sam hollered again, and spun to avoid a slicing attack from Azazel. The Sith snarled in frustration. “Get out of the city – I’ve got my own ship, I’ll follow you! Go!”
Dean frowned, not liking this one bit, but feeling he had no other choice, he ran from the chamber.
Castiel was pushing the ship to its limit, he knew, but he couldn’t back off the throttle. He was already far behind Sam and desperate to catch up with him. Why hadn’t he left with Sam in the first place? How could he have been so stupid as to let him go off alone?
Fool, he thought, angry with himself for being clouded. Sam and Dean will both die and it will be your fault.
Of course he’d had his reasons. He’d been so sure that Dagobah was where they were meant to be. Yet the visions of Dean persisted after Sam left, and Castiel could not ignore them any longer. The Force was trying to tell him something and he had not listened. He was meant to be in Cloud City now, he realized, and he prayed he wouldn’t be too late.
His eyes flicked to the navigation charts of his small ship. He frowned and urged the ship to go faster.
Bela ditched the binders that had held her prisoner. She ran, hot on Ree’s heels, as they sprinted down corridors away from the carbon freeze chamber. She could hardly believe just how close she’d come to being encased and the thought sent another wave of nausea rolling through her stomach.
Too close, she thought. Aloud to Ree, she demanded, “What now?”
We get to the ship, Ree answered in a series of clicks and clacks over her shoulder. Dean’ll catch up, don’t worry.
“I’m not worried,” replied Bela. Even though she absolutely was worried. She shoved the feeling away – there was a good chance her and Ree’s escape from the chamber had not gone unnoticed. She didn’t have time to devote to anything but getting out of danger.
Bela glanced over shoulder and didn’t see any pursuing troops and Imperials, but that hardly meant they were in the clear. After all –
Blasterfire sounded, Ree shrieked, Bela dropped to the ground and rolled behind a pillar for cover. She reached for her own blaster instinctively, only to find her holster empty and cursed the Imperials for leaving her weaponless. Her anger evaporated when she realized Ree was down and unmoving.
“Ree?” Bela reached for her friend, heart in her throat.
Ree stirred and groaned. Another blaster shot sizzled by, scorching Bela’s sleeve. She pulled her arm back behind the pillar.
“Shit!” Bela pressed her back to the column and tried peer over her shoulder around it. She barely had time to glimpse Ruby Fett before the bounty hunter was on top of her.
Bela wasn’t the type to run from a fight – well, a fight she could win, that is – but her gun, her knives, her backup gun and her backup knives were all missing from her person. She had nothing to fight the bitch with, and more importantly, Bela wanted to draw her away from Ree. So she took off as fast she as she could. Which, as it turned out, was not nearly fast enough.
Ruby crashed into Bela’s back, and the two women went sprawling. Bela rolled onto her back and made it to her feet, but Ruby had her blaster up and aimed.
“Don’t move, Talbot,” the blonde spat. “Lillith didn’t – ”
“Specify dead or alive, I know,” Bela retorted testily. “You bounty hunters need a new line.” She kicked, knocking the blaster out of Ruby’s hand.
The blaster fired a shot that left a big scorch in the floor, but at least it wasn’t a new hole in Bela. They both dove for the gun. Bela managed to get a finger on the hilt before Ruby grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her backwards. The bounty hunter pulled again, seeming to change tactics – if she couldn’t have the gun, neither of them could. She slammed Bela’s head against the floor. Her vision flashed white. Ruby reached for the dagger on her belt.
Bela dug her nails into Ruby’s hand as hard as she could. The blonde hissed and stumbled – when had the bitch gotten to her feet? – and her grip loosened enough that Bela could twist away. She popped to a standing position just in time to take Ruby’s fist in her face. Bela reeled back with a gasp, pain exploding along her jaw.
Ruby didn’t give Bela the chance to recover. She lashed out again, this time with that damned precious dagger. Bela ungracefully veered out of the way, coming up to take a swing of her own. She narrowly avoided the jagged blade. Ruby slashed again, catching Bela’s arm enough to leave a shallow slice. Bela lurched back out of Ruby’s reach, clutching her bleeding arm.
“C’mon Talbot,” said the blonde. “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“Oh, right, sorry, I’ll just come along to be flayed by Lillith then, shall I?” Bela said waspishly.
Ruby smirked. “I’m not the coward who blew a job and ran. You had this coming the moment you put the pedal to the metal.”
“It was actually a tad more complicated than that.”
“I don’t care what it was.” Ruby gave her knife a deft twirl. “I just want my money.”
“Yes, well, over my dead body, darling.”
“That is the idea.” Ruby lunged.
Bela dodged and whirled on her heel to strike Ruby in the back. The bounty hunter grunted and slashed with her knife. Bela caught her forearm and threw a fist at Ruby’s throat. Ruby gasped for breath and brought her elbow up to Bela’s chin as they wrestled for the knife. Bela pried at Ruby’s fingers on the hilt and tried to stamp on her feet. After a few confused seconds, Bela managed a fleeting grip on the dagger before it was knocked away, skittering across the floor, out of reach.
Bela wanted to go after it, but Ruby had other plans. She slammed her arm against Bela’s chest and shoved her until she was backed against a wall. Bela kicked, she punched, she managed to make Ruby’s lip bleed. As quick as Bela was, however, Ruby was just as quick. Bela tasted blood as it trailed from her nose to her mouth. She was going to have bruises aplenty later from the blows Ruby was landing, adding to the ones the Imperials had bestowed.
Bela spun to avoid a high kick. She caught another one of Ruby’s deadly fists, this time square in the temple. Bela crumpled with a grunt and Ruby seized her in a headlock.
“Come on,” Ruby grit out, dragging a kicking, squirming Bela.
“Let go, you bitch,” Bela wheezed. She threw an elbow into Ruby’s gut.
The bounty hunter made an oof sound and Bela hit her again, hard. Trying to avoid a third blow, Ruby twisted, her legs tangling in Bela’s, and the pair crashed to the floor.