The noise level in the hangar bay was absolutely deafening when Sam disembarked his battered and scorched ship. The bay was filled to the brim with all the members of the Alliance on Yavin’s moon and it was a sea of applauding, cheering, crying faces.
Sam was enveloped the second his feet touched the ground – embraces and handshakes and pats on the back, and a hundred voices all saying things and shouting things and combining into one gloriously overwhelming din. He was smiling so much his face hurt, but it was nothing compared to the grin he sported when Dean shoved his way through the crowd to tug Sam into a bone-crushing hug.
Sam hugged him back for all he was worth and tears squeezed out of his eyes, but he didn’t care.
“You did it, Sammy,” Dean was saying in his ear and slapping his back. “You did it.”
Sam laughed through his tears and before he replied, Jo was there too, and the rest of the bay disappeared for him as he choked on air.
“Jo!” he exclaimed, grabbing her arms roughly, as if she’d disintegrate before his eyes. “You’re – Jo, you’re okay!”
She beamed at him, her face flushed with excitement and emotion. “They winged me, and I spiralled out, but I recovered – Sam, my comms were dead, so I couldn’t – I’m sorry, I tried, I –”
Sam yanked her close to him, wrapping his arms around her much smaller frame and muffling the rest of her explanation into his chest. This time the tears that splashed against his cheeks were pure relief. When he let her pull back, she was still beaming at him.
“I limped back – landed rough outside. Only got in here as you guys were coming back.”
Sam didn’t care how – he’d get the details later – only that she was alive and well and right here, right now. He laughed, because he didn’t know what else to do, and then Dean was hugging her fiercely like he never wanted to let go, and Sam spotted Ree’s tall green form pushing through the euphoric throng. When she got close enough, she embraced Sam and he hugged her back, and they weren’t close but hugging everyone seemed to be the thing to do in the haze of victory as the cheering and celebration continued around them.
Bela emerged right behind her co-pilot and Sam’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of her, eyes sparkling, her smile wide and as pretty as ever.
He leaned in to tell her, “I knew there was more to you than money!”
She placed her finger on his lips. “Not so loud, Sam, I have a reputation to uphold!” She winked at him and opened her arms to give him a quick hug.
With her lips close to his ear, she murmured, “Turns out I care about something in this galaxy after all. How about that, yeah?”
Even though he knew she wasn’t referring to him, his stomach jumped. When she pulled back and turned towards Dean, he knew as he’d known all along that her despite her flirtation with him, she’d only ever had eyes for Dean.
Dean didn’t seem to know quite how to react to Bela. His eyes jumped across her form and back to her face. They seemed to cycle through a number of emotions that Sam couldn’t quite decipher and couldn’t care to try, not now.
“You know,” said Dean, neutral and holding back so very much. “I was about to do something blindingly heroic. Probably a Crazy Ivan. And then you came in and stole my moment. Thief.”
“Darling, even I couldn’t pull off a Crazy Ivan.” Bela tilted her head slightly. “And I recall you swearing up and down that you’d honestly shoot me the next time you saw my lovely face, yet here we are and I am quite un-shot. Liar.”
Dean smirked. “You just couldn’t pass up the chance for glory and riches, could you? I knew it. You’re so predictable.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Dean, do shut up.” She grabbed a handful of his shirt and hauled him towards her until his lips met hers.
Dean smiled against her mouth and his arm snaked around her waist as he kissed her back.
Sam couldn’t help but laugh – he was never going to be able to figure those two out.
Then Bobby was there, pushing and hobbling between the jumping, ecstatic crowd, and Sam’s heart leapt again. Bobby’s eyes were glistening and Sam hurried forward to embrace him. The older man held Sam tightly for a moment before easing back and cupping his cheek with a calloused hand.
“I knew you could do it,” Bobby said, his gruff voice wobbling with emotion. “You’re one of Mary and John’s sons and I knew you would save us.”
And there was that look again – the one Castiel used to give him back on Dagobah that had made Sam feel inadequate and heavy, like he was holding the galaxy in the palm of his hand and it was his job alone to save it.
Except now it didn’t make Sam suffocate, breathless with responsibility, feeling terribly alone and unprepared. Now he felt like he was a part of something huge, and he’d done it – he and Dean really had saved the galaxy and Sam really was the last Jedi and he’d done it and it was over, it was really over…
Jo clasped Sam’s and Dean came up on his other side and looped an arm over his shoulders. Dean tugged Bela close and together with Bobby and Ree, they made their way through the jubilant mass.
The celebrations lasted well into the night.
There were bonfires scattered around outside the base, surrounded by people. Anyone who could play an instrument either had one or made one from whatever they could find, until the corridors inside, and the jungle and ruins outside, were ringing with dozens of different songs.
All the bottles of rare and special alcohol that people had stored away for a rainy day were out and shared. There were drinks and food all over, and Dean honestly had no idea where it all kept coming from. He didn’t care to find out. He was far too busy enjoying himself.
He danced with Bela, which was amazing because he didn’t dance and it was Bela. He laughed and told stories and was implored to recount the battle a hundred times or more – he lost count somewhere around midnight. He drank but wasn’t drunk; he flew high on the euphoria. All the laughter and joy around him didn’t dampen for hours.
They were free.
Anna told them that the news about the Death Star had traveled far and wide fast. She’d heard back from a number of Rebel holdouts and outposts, and learned that there were colossal celebrations going on almost everywhere. From Coruscant to Utapau, from Tatooine to Cadinth, from Endor to Baros and everywhere in between, beings were dancing in the streets and crying out in joy. There were fireworks and parties, statues of the Emperor were being torn down, Imperial buildings emptied and torched.
Gabe reported happily that his city had kicked out Imperial control. He’d instructed that all the food and booze in Cloud City’s stores be on the house. The whole Empire falling thing was “kind of a big deal”, he said.
Sometime around two or three in the morning, Anna came through the crowds and clasped Dean’s hand gently. She drew him away from the celebration and he felt a dent in the haze of his happiness at the look on her face.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I’m so sorry to have to…” Anna sighed. “I don’t want to spoil… all of this.”
Dean gave her hand an encouraging squeeze. “Go ahead, it’s okay.”
Reassured, Anna took a deep breath before she continued, “We received a coffin from Gadreel. He was ordered to clean things up, and he used secure channels to ensure we received Castiel’s body so we could give him a proper burial.”
Like air going out of a balloon, Dean felt the joy he’d been reveling in dissipate. It wasn’t that he hadn’t given a thought to the lives that had been lost – he’d remembered them often throughout the night, and someone inevitably was always toasting to the friends and loved ones missing. It had been in celebration, however, toasting to their memory and bravery and sacrifice, fond stories and plenty of laughter book-ending moments of sadness.
He knew he’d have to feel the grief at some point, but he didn’t have to feel it then. Not when Sam talked about how Cas had put him through the paces on Dagobah or when Jo spoke of Ash’s genius side and contrary country boy side. Not when Dean was telling the others about pranks on Adam and drinks with Benny and long talks about life with Jody.
Burying his best friend’s body made ‘later’ happen right now, and he wasn’t sure he could deal with it.
Dean swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, uh… okay.” He looked down at the drink in his hand and couldn’t bear to take another sip.
Sam must’ve noticed something was up. He left Bobby’s tales of adventures on Tatooine to come stand by Dean and Anna at the darkened treeline. Then again, maybe he’d simply heard all those stories before, Dean thought.
“What’s going on?” he said when he reached Dean.
Anna laid her hand briefly on Sam’s arm and gave him a soft, sympathetic smile before she drifted back to the people encircling the bonfire. Dean cleared his throat and blinked against the moisture gathering in his eyes.
“They found Cas,” he croaked.
Sam’s expression relaxed into one of understanding. “I’ll get Jo and Bobby.”
The four of them carried the coffin farther out into the jungle, away from all the joy and merriment. There would be an official memorial service in the coming days to honor all those who’d lost their lives in service of the Alliance, but this one was just for them. Dean felt every step of that walk, terribly conscious of the weight he was carrying, of the hard ground beneath his feet and the air in his lungs.
They walked until they found a clearing – “And look,” said Jo, pointing up. “You can see the stars.”
Dean and Jo gathered firewood while Sam and Bobby built a pyre. They laid the unremarkable box atop the pile and then lit the fire. The four of them stood back to watch it burn. Dean shoved his shaking hands in his pockets. He’d always hated the smell of smoke.
“I feel like…” Sam began hesitantly. “I feel like we ought to say something before we… you know.”
Jo nodded and clasped Sam’s hand for support. In his pockets, Dean made fists until he could dig his nails into his palms. He could do this, he could do this, he could make it through this… Bobby removed his beat-up ball cap and held it over his heart.
“While I was on Dagobah, he said… he told me about his past,” Sam said. “How he’d run for his life when Order 66 came down and he was trying to make up for that – for hiding, and giving up on the Force and everything. He wanted to be a Jedi worthy of the name again, but I don’t think he believed he could be.”
The flames licked at the coffin and as Sam spoke, Dean’s vision began to blur with hot tears until he was staring at a vague black, red, and orange blur. He tried to focus on breathing.
“He was, though,” said Sam, his voice trembling with emotion. “He was worthy, and then some. He was my Jedi Master and he trained me – I only wish we’d had more time. I could never have even had a chance at fighting Azazel without him. And I never…”
Sam dragged in a shuddering breath and swiped his sleeve across his eyes. Dean blinked and tears slid down his cheeks. He didn’t bother to wipe them away. He just kept staring at the burning coffin.
“I couldn’t have made it through the battle today without him. I felt him, here,” Sam patted his chest. “In the Force, all around me. I heard him and… I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Bobby nodded solemnly, his gaze trained on the roaring fire. Jo rubbed Sam’s back comfortingly as he wiped at his eyes again.
Dean swallowed, trying to get around the lump in his throat so he could speak too – he wasn’t sure he was able, but it didn’t seem right not to.
“He was my best friend,” he finally managed. “Never let me give up. And I miss him like hell.”
Dean glanced down at his feet and pressed his nails harder into his palms. God, this was hard. With a shaky breath, he looked back up at the fire. For a small moment, he forgot the others were there.
“I’ve kind of gotten used to thinking you were dead when you weren’t, Cas,” he murmured, blinking rapidly. “It’d uh… it’d be nice to be wrong again.”
He bit the inside of his cheek. Of course, he knew this one was real – this was tangible, one hundred percent. But he could still irrationally hope. Dean let his tears fall. He jumped when he felt Sam’s hand on his shoulder, but he didn’t pull away. Just watched the fire flicker and snap and tried ignore the consuming ache in his chest.
After a while, Bobby and Jo left them, though Dean couldn’t be sure when they’d left. He and Sam stayed, standing silently together, until the fire had burned down to embers.
Situated away from the base out in the jungle was a large decaying temple the Rebels had outfitted into an expansive assembly room. Vines ran through and around many of the cracked stone walls, and sunlight filtered through crumbling spaces that were once windows. When Dean stepped through the doorway into the main area, the sight of the temple’s interior wasn’t what took his breath away.
It was seeing hundreds of people gathered in long rows, filling up every nook and cranny. It was recognizing people he’d fought side by side with for years and knowing it had all come down to this. It was looking down the long aisle to the platform at the back of the room where Anna stood, draped in a gorgeous flowing white dress. Behind her, seated in a neat line, were the other pilots who’d survived the Death Star mission.
He exhaled shakily.
“Well, I can certainly see why you enjoy playing the hero,” Bela murmured on his left. “And here I thought it was because you actually cared for the greater good,” she added with a smirk.
“Try not to completely ruin the moment,” he grumbled.
At the far end of the room, Anna inclined her head. Some loud trumpets started and Dean felt his heartrate kick up a notch. It felt so strange to him to be getting this kind of attention, and even more weird when he thought about the fact that the Empire was finally crumbling. He’d fought and fought for so long, for most of his life – it was too incredible to wrap his brain around the idea that it was finally, essentially over.
He squirmed as all eyes turned to him and the others at the back of the room. Couldn’t Anna have just said “good job” in the hallway or something? He didn’t deserve this freaking assembly and ceremony. He glanced at Sam for support, feeling nervous.
Sam raised his eyebrows and offered Dean a wobbly but encouraging smile and Dean almost laughed. It was good to know he wasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable with this whole thing.
Ree, on Bela’s other side, was the first to take a hesitant step forward, and then the four of them fell in line with her as they walked down the aisle to Anna. Dean kept his gaze trained on Anna and ignored his sweating palms as all the eyes in the room followed them across the room. The foursome came to a stop at the bottom of Anna’s platform. Between her smile, pale skin, and white dress, it seemed like she was glowing. Her red hair was braided up into a knot at the back of her head. She nodded at each of them in turn.
A Rebel officer stepped forward with a velvet-lined box. Anna reached for the first of the four shining gold medals and leaned down to loop it around Ree’s neck. Ree inclined her head in solemn thanks and Dean noticed that her brilliant eyes were shining more than usual.
Next, Anna laid a medal around Bela’s neck. Dean expected Bela would to gloat copiously about this honor later, but for the moment her cheeks flushed and she stiffened, averting her eyes, and twining her fingers together. She didn’t seem to know where to look and settled for staring over Anna’s shoulder.
Anna moved on to Sam next, who even standing a few steps below Anna on the platform, was almost as tall as she was. He bent forward to receive his medal, ducking his shaggy head low. He smiled when he straightened, a sort of shy smile like he wasn’t sure he really deserved this. Dean knew the feeling.
He was last, and felt a lump rise in his throat as he tipped his head and Anna slid the fabric over his head. Anna’s hand lingered and gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.
The medal was heavy, but in a good way, lying against his chest as a physical reminder of his accomplishment. He couldn’t help thinking once again of everyone along the way who wasn’t here and he swallowed down the pang of grief. There would be time for that at the memorial – this was the time to celebrate what Sam, Dean, Bela, and Ree had done.
Anna gestured to the four of them, and they turned around to face the gathered members of the Rebel Alliance. A cheer went up from someone in the back and then the whole place erupted in a mass of applause, whooping, and whistling. Dean’s eyes sought out Bobby and Jo in the front row. Bobby whistled enthusiastically. Jo’s eyes were shining as she clapped and beamed at them. Gabe was on her other side, waggling his eyebrows and applauding with the rest.
Dean couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face and his chest filled with a lightness he’d never known. He turned to look at Sam and found a matching grin on his brother’s face.
“That wasn’t too bad, I guess… for a junker from Tatooine.”
Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. “Jerk.”
Dean laughed. “Bitch.”
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