That morning, the core command group spoke at length about how they would take down the terrible battle station. They debated details and methods before settling on a firm plan of attack. Between everything the Alliance had gone through on their journey to Yavin, they hadn’t had much time to discuss how best to exploit the weakness Ash had discovered. Once they finally agreed on a plan, it was time to brief the pilots and personnel who would be carrying out the mission.
Dean shifted in his seat as the room filled up. He was still sore, but it was a lot easier to ignore now that he’d had some painkillers and bacta treatments. Jo took the chair beside him with a smile.
“Well?” she raised an eyebrow at him, wanting his opinion on the plan.
“I think we have a real chance.”
Her smile widened and her eyes brimmed with hope. “Me too.”
Sam and Bobby hobbled in shortly thereafter, settling down on the other side of Jo. The kid was looking a lot less bruised, Dean noted gratefully. He realized all over again that this kid was his brother and he almost laughed out loud. He didn’t know how he’d ever get used to the idea.
Anna called for quiet a moment later and the murmurs in the gathered crowd died down.
“As you well know, the Death Star is heavily shielded,” said Anna, gesturing to a sizeable technical hologram of the Empire’s prize battle station. It hovered in front of large wall display, which depicted technical layouts of the Star’s inner workings. “Its firepower is so great it has the capacity to destroy an entire planet.”
Her eyes flicked to Dean, who swallowed hard and thought of Alderaan. If he closed his eyes, he could still see the way his home had shattered in a terrible fireball, still feel the wave of pain and terror and sorrow that had made his chest ache. Could still feel it in the quiet moments before he was able to make himself fall asleep.
Jo placed her hand over his and gave it a quick, comforting squeeze.
“They have chosen to design its defenses against a direct, large-scale assault, so the few battle cruisers we have will not be useful,” Anna continued. “However, because of this design, a small one-man fighter should be able to penetrate the outer defense system and bypass the tractor beam.” She paused and nodded. “Yes, Jody?”
Dean craned his neck to see one of their veteran pilots standing towards the back of the room.
“Pardon, Anna, but what the hell good is a few little fighters gonna be against that monstrosity?” Jody Mills asked, jutting her chin in the direction of the hologram and readouts.
Anna smiled softly. “Excellent question, Jody. According to the plans brought to us by Dean Winchester and his team – ”
Team? Dean snorted, thinking of Bela, and Jo knocked her elbow against his arm.
“The Empire apparently does not consider one man fighters to be a threat. In their arrogance, they have created this weakness, which we will most certainly be exploiting.”
A wave of soft laughter went around the room, and Anna pressed a few buttons on the table before her. The hologram of the Death Star disappeared; behind her, the display on the screen changed to depict a 3D map.
“It will be quite difficult to reach the target area, however. You will need to descend and skim the surface, manoeuvering down this narrow trench until you reach this point.” Anna gestured, and the map moved down a path until it reached a wall-like area with a large hole in the center. “This is a thermal exhaust port, situated directly below the main port. Because it is connected to the reactor system, a direct hit would cause a cataclysmic chain reaction that would tear the station apart from the inside.”
Anna pressed another button and the screen showed a brief simulation of what she was speaking about.
“Only a precise, direct hit will cause this chain reaction,” she continued and frowned slightly. “The catch of course, is that this port is a mere two meters wide. And because the shaft is ray-shielded, we’ll have to use proton torpedoes to accomplish this.”
A murmur of dismay and surprise swept through the room. Dean exchanged worried looks with Jo. Frankly, he wasn’t entirely convinced it could be done. Flying down the trench and hitting the very small target wasn’t the problem, at least not for him. It was hitting it just exactly so that this chain reaction did what they expected. And it was trying to do it with a damn proton torpedo.
Sure, there was a real chance it could work. There was also a very real chance it wouldn’t.
“Pardon again,” Mills said above the elevated mumbles. “But that’s impossible, even for your computer simulator, there.” She shook her head.
“Actually, I don’t think it is,” Sam, to Dean’s surprise, piped up. The kid swivelled in his chair. “Back home, I used to bull’s-eye womp rats in my T-16.” He shrugged modestly. “They couldn’t have been much bigger than two meters. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
Dean raised his eyebrows. The Alliance had a bunch of T-16’s they used for training. They flew very similarly to the snubfighters they used in battle, although the 16’s were a little less maneuverable. And as far as he knew, womp rats were nasty pests and stupid fast – hitting them cleanly with T-16 guns was pretty impressive indeed. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who thought so, as much of the room looked at Sam with surprise and respect.
The kid’s face reddened a little under the attention and he hunched his shoulders as he faced Anna again.
“You’re right,” she said, nodding appreciatively at him. “It’s not impossible. Just terribly difficult.” She raised her eyes and looked around the room at the gathered faces. “I don’t want to sugar coat this: this is not a simple, easy mission. It will not be without loss and I wish there was another way. But we have this opportunity before us and we must take it, and stab at the very heart of the Empire.”
Anna paused for a moment, letting the room absorb her words.
“We have the chance for victory today. This victory will not only be for us; it will be for the galaxy. We will avenge the lives of those we have lost and save the lives of so many to come. We will deliver such a blow to the Empire that they will be crippled and bleed out.”
She dipped her head slightly, her gaze becoming intense and brilliant. Dean never wondered for a moment how she’d managed to lead thousands of people into battle.
“Today, we fight for our freedom and for peace, like we have never fought before. Today, we fight to end this war.”
When she finished, there was a burst of applause, cheering, and whistling. Anna let it continue for a good minute before she dismissed the room. Everyone filtered out to make preparations for the upcoming mission. Dean stood to leave as well when one of the aides hurried forward and spoke quickly to Anna. Her expression went from surprise to dismayed to grim in quick succession, and Dean stopped.
“What is it?” Jo asked, standing alongside him.
Anna’s eyes locked with Dean’s and the pained expression in her eyes made his stomach somersault.
“Something bad,” he muttered.
Jo lingered for a moment before she got the sense that Anna needed a minute alone with Dean. Jo gathered Sam and Bobby and they were the last ones out of the room.
Dean came around the table to Anna’s side the second the door to the briefing room slid shut.
“Anna, what is it?”
She had gone very pale which spiked his heartrate.
“We’ve received word from Gadreel,” she explained quietly. “They’ve only just finished decoding his latest transmission.”
Dean swallowed. Gadreel was their greatest spy, nestled deep inside the Imperial force. He’d joined up with the Empire originally, and even been on a mission or two that ended in Rebel casualties at his hand. Eventually, he came over to the Alliance, morally distraught over what he’d done and what the Empire continued to do, and had been spying for the Rebels ever since.
“What’d he say, Anna?” Dean prompted, his worry increasing at the way Anna was struggling to get the words out.
“Dean, I am so, so sorry.” She clasped his hand. “They found Castiel. He’s dead.”
Because of Sam, Dean already knew this, though it still hurt to hear it officially confirmed. He nodded numbly, not trusting his voice for a few seconds. He tried to keep breathing and keep away the surge of grief that was threatening to crash over him. He assumed he’d have to feel it all at some point, but now was not that time. He shoved it away, buried it deep. Later, later…
Anna, as usual, understood what he could not say and continued less hesitantly, “There’s more. Azazel is dead too, which is good for us, except that the Emperor has come to personally take over the Star.”
Dean allowed himself a small moment of pure relief and satisfaction. Knowing that the Sith who had plagued so much of his life was finally gone lifted a weight off his shoulders. Of course, he would’ve much rather been the one to end that evil son of a bitch, but it was good enough knowing he was dead.
It was unsettling to hear that the Emperor himself had taken over. The Emperor had been an elusive figure in the Empire, pulling the strings but never visible like Azazel. Dean had long thought of the Sith Master as being massively powerful but completely untouchable, shrouded in mystery. A shudder ran through him thinking of the Emperor taking over for Azazel. The kingpin was revealing himself, appropriating the throne. The idea was utterly terrifying.
“Well, that’s good news at least,” Dean said with a sigh. “Sort of.” If they had any luck left in the universe, the Emperor might even be on the Death Star when the Alliance attacked.
Anna was still looking far too grim, however, and Dean’s moment of relief evaporated.
“What else?” He braced himself, concerned about what other information Gadreel had imparted to them in his latest message.
“The Imperials implanted a tracker on your ship in Cloud City before you all escaped. Dean, they know we’re here.”
Dean snapped his eyes to hers, angry and incredulous. The bastards had already tried that trick once but they’d damaged it themselves when the Impala was escaping the Death Star. Bela had found it, but how could Dean have been so stupid to think they wouldn’t try it again? They were certainly desperate enough, and Azazel was not the type to let things go.
Dean had been so worried about getting away from Cloud City and getting Sam and Bela help that he hadn’t even considered another tracking device. His ship had been under Gabriel’s people’s care, sure, but then Azazel and company had shown up. The Sith wouldn’t have let there be any chance of Dean escaping again and Dean knew it.
He swore under his breath, mad at himself for slipping up, and at possibly the most critical moment in history.
“Is he sure?” Dean demanded.
They were going to have to evacuate and this time they had no established base to run to. They’d be scattered, on the run in the black until a new temporary base could be set up. On top of that, the damn Imperials could be here already, seconds away, if they’d tracked them from Cloud City, and God, not now, not when they were so close to ending this!
“They’re coming,” Anna assured him somberly. “Ash crunched the numbers. We have maybe a couple hours, probably less.”
Dean pulled his arm away from Anna so he could scrub his hands over his face. He supposed there was some sort of good news in that they’d managed to decode Gadreel’s message before the Emperor and the Death Star blew them to bits. Knowing that they were even coming in the first place was most likely Dean’s fault for not checking his own damn ship before he flew to the base really took the ‘good’ out of it, though.
Anna inhaled, clearly about to try to talk him out of the guilt she knew he was feeling, but he didn’t want to hear it.
“We better move up the timetable,” he said before she spoke. “We gotta get pilots in ships now.”
Decked out in a fresh flight suit, Dean made his way across the busy hangar bay. Getting into the thing had been a bit of pain – one day with a whole bunch of bacta had certainly healed him up pretty quick, but one day wasn’t enough. His body still ached from the punishment he’d taken from Azazel. He wished he’d thought to stop by the med bay and grab another painkiller, though he knew adrenaline would take over in no time and he wouldn’t even notice his injuries.
The whole base was organized chaos as the Rebels prepared to attack the Death Star. Amongst the bustle of people and droids, Dean caught sight of Bela, who he hadn’t seen since late last night in the med bay. She’d been terse and distant with him, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary, especially since she’d been in the middle of being treated for a number of injuries herself.
He made his way over to her, sidestepping around a golden protocol droid and a couple of pilots.
“Oh, dear,” Bela said in greeting, eyes raking over his uniform. The skin on her face was mottled with fading bruises. “Orange is a terrible color on you.”
He snorted. “Gee, and here I really thought it brought out my eyes.”
She leaned down with a small smile to put another crate onto the dolly beside her.
Dean felt a tendril of cold anger coil in his gut. “What’s that?” he asked, even though he knew exactly what it was.
Bela didn’t meet his eyes as she reached for another crate. “What I was owed for delivering you.”
“So after everything we went through…” he trailed off, trying to control the emotion riding too close to the surface. Damn it, damn her…
This was exactly what he’d expected, exactly why he’d fought against himself and tried not to fall. It had all been in vain, of course, because he hadn’t been able to really resist her, he never had, and now she was leaving him in pieces once again. He hated himself for thinking that this time might be different and she wouldn’t disappear into the black with her money and no backwards glance. He hated that he continually fooled himself into believing she could be a decent human.
“Look, I saved your life, you saved mine, we’re square,” she said airily. “You never wanted to see me again anyway, but circumstances tossed us together so what choice did we have? Now I’m just fulfilling the promise I made back on Clia.” Bela shrugged. “I’ll leave you to your Alliance, and you’ll leave me to my smuggling, yeah? Back to old times.”
Dean’s heart hammered in his chest. “After everything we went through,” he repeated hotly. “And you’re just gonna act like nothing happened? Bela, I know you’re cold, but you’re not that cold. You can’t be.”
She met his fierce gaze with a blazing one of her own. “Then perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think, darling. I never wanted to be a part of your precious revolution, I’ve told you that. Bully for you that it’s going so well in the eleventh hour. But I’ve had my fair taste of it, and it’s not a flavour I particularly enjoy. In case you missed it, I was nearly killed for merely being in your company.”
“Ruby had nothing to do with – ”
“I’m not talking about damn Ruby,” Bela cut him off sharply.
He pictured the carbon freeze chamber again – Azazel’s mirth, Bela’s fear, his own desperation and helplessness. “Bela,” he tried, only slightly more gentle. “You said – ”
“I know what I said,” she snapped, resuming the stacking of her crates. “I was about to die, for God’s sake. I would have said anything.”
He didn’t believe her, didn’t want to believe she was truly that callous. He’d seen the way she’d looked at him. He knew the way she looked at him when she let her guard down and when she was under him in bed. He knew there’d been something real in these past few weeks and it stung like hell to realize she was determined to throw it away because she was scared.
And he didn’t know why he was surprised by it.
“Look, just put away whatever messed up crap is between us,” he said, more pleadingly than he would’ve liked. “You know what we’re up against here, how close we are to ending this. The Alliance needs your help.”
“Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?” She stopped loading the dolly to straighten and glare at Dean again. “I’ve got to pay off Lillith – Ruby won’t be the last bounty hunter to come to collect, so I’ve got to square away my debt before that happens. I don’t have time to play war with you and your comrades.”
He opened his mouth to interrupt her, angry with the way she always minimized the Rebels and their missions, but she ploughed on.
“Besides that, you’re planning to send a small force of one-man fighters against the goddamn Death Star, which I have had the personal misfortune to set foot in, so I know firsthand how huge and powerful it is. Tell me that not’s suicidal and I’ll tell you you’re wrong. I want no part of it.”
“You’re really going to be that selfish?” he barked. “You’re going to take off when I – when we need you the most?”
She tossed him a condescending smirk. “I rather think you all can get yourselves killed without my help.”
Dean watched her continue with her crates. So this was really it then. She was leaving, exactly like he’d known all along she would, and yet watching her really do it hurt more than he could put into words. He should never have let himself believe, even for a second, that she’d understand the cause – she never had. Or that she’d truly admit that she’d changed a little and maybe actually cared about someone other than herself.
He swallowed his warring emotions until he could speak to her plain and flat and cold. “Well, hell. And here I thought I was maybe wrong to always assume the worst of you.”
She glanced up at his tone but didn’t slow her progress with the crates.
“I did care about what happens to you, you know. That was all real for me.” He flung the words at her, wanting them to leave a mark.
Bela’s movements slowed.
“I assume you’re taking the Impala,” he continued stonily. “So you better get her back to me once you’re good with Lillith. Providing I don’t die on my ‘suicide mission’ today, it’ll be good to fly her again, especially if I can do it freely without the Empire hunting me down.” He hoped the ice in his voice was stinging her as much as her words had hurt him.
Bela straightened. “Dean…”
Hell, she almost looked regretful. He didn’t feel bad about it one bit.
“You leave, and I don’t ever want to cross paths with you again,” he warned. “If I do, I’ll shoot you on sight.”
She tilted her head down a little and for once, appeared genuinely apologetic, looking at him from under her long eyelashes. “Come now, you don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t,” Dean bit out. “I mean it very much.”
She smiled then, as if she could warm him with it and erase her cutting remarks. Her voice was honey when she next spoke, like a balm to the ache she’d created in his chest.
“Darling, please, let’s not end it like this. We both know you’d miss me too much.” She took a small step towards him. “How much I would miss you. All our ups and downs… This is a bump in the road, yeah? We’ve done this before.”
She was so disingenuine, he thought, trying to making light of all this, and it made him sick. He could barely stand to look at her.
“Don’t.” He said the word with such force, such finality, that she flinched as though he’d slapped her.
The painful silence between them lengthened for a few moments, deafening to his ears in the middle of the bustling hangar bay. He swore he could hear a thousand and one unspoken things, and then all he could think about was that day on Clia when he’d thought he’d walked away for good, nursing a broken heart.
He held his jaw tight, because this was different and he meant it when he said he was done. He was determined to.
“You better get going,” he finally managed, his voice hard as transparisteel. “And Bela, I swear to God, I don’t ever want to see your face again.”
He hated her, he hated the way she was so predictable in her self-preservation. He hated that they’d come to this, that he’d let them. He hated the way her eyes were glistening as though she was trying to hold back tears, and the proud set of her jaw as she was pretended she wasn’t.
He hated that he wanted to say he was sorry.
“You won’t,” she replied. To her credit, her voice wobbled only a little.
Dean turned on his heel and headed for his snubfighter. He refused to look back.
Once Sam was medically cleared to pilot an X-Wing, he quickly got a hold of a flightsuit. He was both nervous and fired up, ready to do his part in the fight against the Empire. Even more than that, he was excited to fly – this wouldn’t be like the uneventful trip to see Castiel, this was chaos and battle. The idea scared him as much as it excited him.
“All flight troops, man your stations,” came a bland voice over the intercom. “All flight troops, man your stations.”
Sam hurried to the hangar bay, which was full of people and the roar of engines starting up. In his haste to find Jo and his assigned plane, he nearly crashed into Bela who was struggling along with a loaded dolly. She was red-faced from the effort and looked uncharacteristically sad as well as frustrated.
“Sorry!” he apologized, narrowly avoiding a collision.
She straightened up, and her expression cleared, so fast he was sure he’d imagined the sadness.
“Well, hello you!” She tossed him a grin and a wink and his stomach fluttered against his will. Clearly his time on Dagobah, away from her, had done nothing to banish his crush. Even though she visibly hadn’t fully recovered from her battle in Cloud City, he still thought she was unfairly pretty.
Sam glanced at the dolly piled high with crates. “Did you need a hand?”
“Yes,” Bela exhaled in a huff. “I was not expecting it to be so damn heavy.”
Bela pulled and Sam pushed, weaving through the people darting this way and that. He tried not to put too much pressure on his healing shoulder, instead favoring his other arm. He was cleared to fly, only just barely, so he wasn’t about open his injuries up again.
Another call for pilots to get to their ships sounded over the intercom as Bela and Sam reached the Impala’s loading ramp.
“Thanks,” Bela puffed, swiping her arm across her forehead. “Ree and I can take it from here.”
“No problem,” Sam replied. “What’re you loading?”
She hesitated, her expression clouding.
“Sorry,” Sam waved her off. “If it’s personal, I don’t need to – ”
“No, of course, it’s fine, I just…” Bela trailed off. He had never seen her look anything but self-assured, yet now she seemed off kilter and unsure.
He had to get to his ship, but he couldn’t walk away from her without asking, “Are you okay, Bela?”
She laughed, and her demeanor shifted back to the confident, flirty one he was familiar with. “Oh, darling, you’re terribly wonderful, you know that?” She smiled prettily at him and he felt his cheeks warm.
He ducked his head with a chuckle.
“You better get to your ship before they leave without you, Sam.” She gestured towards the massive bay doors at the farthest end of the bay where a couple ships were already taking off.
Sam realized with a jolt that she was preparing to leave as well, and he had the feeling she wasn’t ever coming back. “Bela…”
“Now, Sam, I’ve never been good with goodbyes, so don’t make this harder than it needs to be, yeah?”
“C’mon, you can’t leave now!” Sam protested. “Look around – we’re about to head straight into a war and we need all the help we can get.”
“Trust me darling, I am well aware of that,” she said bitterly. Her eyes darted to her crates and Sam remembered hearing something from Jo in passing about “paying Talbot”. His heart sunk.
He knew Dean said all kinds of nasty things about her, but he’d assumed that was their complicated history talking. He certainly had got the impression Bela only looked out for herself, but he figured in her and Ree’s line of work, they sort of had to.
Besides, he’d only ever promised her a reward to make her help him free a stranger, or so he’d thought. Now after everything, he couldn’t believe she was really holding Dean and the Rebels to that promise.
This was different than simply looking out for herself, though – it had to be. This was so much bigger than that, than a few thousand credits. This was the fate of the galaxy, of billions of people, and how could she – how could anyone – consciously walk away from that?
She tilted her head and smiled at him in a weary way. “This isn’t for me, Sam. This isn’t my fight.”
“Bela, if you care about living free in this galaxy, it is your fight,” Sam said firmly. “Or, if you care about anyone in it.”
She glanced away from him, closing off. If she really was leaving for good, he didn’t want this to be the way they ended things. He wasn’t foolish enough to think he had an actual romantic chance with her, he just didn’t like the idea of walking away without a real goodbye. He wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance again.
“Look, I gotta go,” he tried, turning his tone soft and friendly again. “I’m sorry to see you go. It’s been a hell of an adventure.” He offered her a genuine smile, which she gratefully returned.
“You too.” She reached forward to clasp his hand and gave it a quick squeeze. “I don’t… I don’t put much stock in this sort of thing myself, but, Sam...” She stood on her tiptoes to plant a quick kiss on his cheek. Near his ear, she murmured, “May the Force be with you.”