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Hunters of the Dark Side (Part 3)

 


 

Chapter Nine

 

Dean wasn’t really sure what had happened. He, Sam, and Chevy had returned from their conversation on Sam’s small balcony and had taken their seats on the comfortable nerfhide couch. Dean was still trying to convince Sam to come investigate one of the mysterious fires that Dad might have been investigating—the one on Coruscant since it was relatively close by and wouldn’t take Sam away from his life for too long. Jess was being very nice, but seemed very confused as to why Dean would want to take Sam with him to investigate somewhere their father might have been, and Sam’s friend was still hanging around, apparently shocked to meet someone from Sam’s family. 

 

Dean was getting annoyed and planned to have a talk with Sam about what stories about their family he had been telling his friends. Dean didn’t know when that conversation was going to take place though, because right now, Sam and Jess were having an argument of sorts (Sam was trying to insist that Dean could sleep on the couch while Jess was insisting they could actually use their guest room) while their friend Ven looked on in amusement. Dean was looking for an opportunity to interrupt them so that he could suggest sleeping on the couch. Normally he would just end the argument by agreeing to sleep on his ship, but Dean still hadn’t forgotten the strange sense of being watched, or rather of Sam being watched from earlier in the evening, and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving his little brother alone, even if that little brother was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. 

 

Dean was about to try to engage Ven in conversation when Chevy let out a warbling bleat of alarm. Dean knew that sound, and felt his blood turn to ice in his veins. “Sithspit!” he said aloud.

 

Sam and Jess stopped arguing. Sam turned to Dean, his eyes wide in alarm. Even four years of living in the normal world couldn’t break the conditioning to that sound.

 

“What is that?” Jess asked, sounding somewhat nervous.

 

Dean already had the datapad out of his pocket and was watching Chevy’s words scrolling across the screen at a frantic pace. “Energy distortion detected. Field parameters consistent with Sith artifact. Distortion is mobile. Eight meters from front door and closing.”

 

Dean’s eyes went wide as he stroked his hand over his dropped jaw. Sam was elbowing past Jess and Ven to get a look at the datapad. Dean turned it so that Sam could see. “Blast! What the hell?” Sam asked.

 

“What’s going on?” Jess asked again, her voice shaking, clearly understanding that something serious was happening. She snuck a glance at the datapad over Sam’s shoulder. “What does it mean ‘Sith artifact’? Eight meters and closing?” Jess’s asked in alarm, her blue eyes showing confusion and maybe a hint of betrayal.

 

Dean felt horrible for Jess, and for Sam. There was every chance she was about to get a very unfortunate introduction to the supernatural, and not the fluffy, cuddly, light saber–wielding Jedi variety.

 

“Jess… I—” Sam started as Ven simultaneously said “Sith!?”

 

“No time,” Dean said, feeling his senses pique and tweak, sliding into hunter mode, attuning to the approaching danger. “Something carrying a powerful Sith artifact, or maybe a Sith Lord itself is coming toward that door. We need to get out of here.” He turned to Sam, who was still trying to explain to his girlfriend that monsters were real and that he had lied. “Sam.” No response. “Sam!” Dean said more firmly.

 

Sam turned his face towards Dean, his arm reassuringly squeezing Jess’s shoulder.

 

“I need to know right now if there is another way out and if your runes are going to hold,” Dean said, trying to project confidence in his voice, but pretty sure his underlying terror and shock were broadcasting through nonetheless.

 

“Um, we could try to climb to another level from the balcony or cut through the windows over the garden,” Sam murmured after a moment.

 

Dean gauged the distance. The bedroom and its balcony were clear across the apartment all the way to the back. They would have to move closer to the front door to get to the hallway that led to the bedroom, and then they would be trapped on a narrow sliver of space while they figured out how to get off the balcony without plummeting to their deaths. He looked back at the floor-to-ceiling windows. “Those transparisteel?” he asked, pretty certain he knew the answer.

 

“Yeah,” Sam replied. 

 

Dean vaguely registered Jess making some alarmed comment about transparisteel being impossible to cut through and Ven gasping about something glowing, but he remained focused. “Chevy, do you have the upgrades on your laser cutter calibrated?”

 

The responding chirp was a clear affirmative without Dean needing to spare a glance at the datapad. 

 

He stuffed it back in his pocket. “Start cutting,” he said over his shoulder to Chevy. Looked like he’d have to figure out just how impractical it was going to be to get a droid in and out of that garden after all.

 

“Sithspawn, no!” Sam shouted, snapping Dean’s attention back to the front of the room. “That shouldn’t be possible!”

 

Dean didn’t need to ask what. The entire front wall was illuminated, glowing red and gold in the outline of various runes Sam had etched and painted there under the room’s regular wall paint. But something was clearly wrong, the outlines of the runes were sparking and popping. One second more and a few glowed extra bright and then seemed to explode out of existence. “Blast! Move! Towards the windows, now!” he shouted, pushing Ven’s arm and directing him around the couch. 

 

Ven got the idea pretty quickly and nearly tripped himself running towards the window where Chevy had pulled out her laser cutters. 

 

Dean looked back, but Sam seemed transfixed by the apparent failure of his runes, and Jess was leaning into him.

 

“Sam, come now! We don’t have time for—” But Dean didn’t get to finish his thought because at that moment the door burst inward, popping from its frame and falling to the floor inside the entry way. Behind it stood a man, he looked like a strung-out teenager really, but the important thing was the man had yellow eyes

 

In an instant, Dean was transported to his childhood. He was four years old watching his mother stuck to the ceiling bleeding, her blond hair spread out around her like a halo, her white nightgown seeming to float around her making Dean think of an angel, but all around her was fire, burning so hot and so fast, the entire room was engulfed and the walls were melting. His father was trying to reach her, but something was keeping her pinned there, and that same invisible something was keeping him back. He held baby Sammy in his arms. Sammy had blood on his face, but Dean was pretty sure it was from mommy, not that that was any better. His father let out an anguished, blood curdling scream—“Mary, no!” as she started to glow and the flames started to lash out of her from within. His father had turned to him, placed Sammy in his arms and said “Take your brother outside as fast as you can. Now Dean! Go!” And Dean had turned and ran, but not before he saw the man with glowing yellow eyes on the other side of the flames, laughing manically. The sight had scared him so much, he had nearly blocked that part of the incident from his mind, until now.

 

“Sam,” Dean croaked. “That thing killed mom,” he said with bitter, icy certainty. 

 

Sam jumped, seemingly released from the shock that had kept him transfixed.

 

“Go now,” Dean said, tugging on Sam’s arm. Sam and Jess both took a step back, moving as if to follow, but then it spoke.

 

“Leaving so soon, I don’t think so,” it said, the voice grating, ominous, twisted, and ancient, even though it came from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old. With those words, the man raised his hand and Dean felt Sam freeze in response. Then he felt a terrible tug and watched as Jess was ripped from her feet, her hand pulled out of Sam’s and hurled across the room and turned until she slammed, back first, into the wall next to the door.

 

“Sam! Help me!” She screamed. Eyes wide with shock as she started sliding up the wall lifted by an invisible force.

 

Sam tried to leap forward, almost diving to go after her, but he too seemed held in place, unable to move forward as if some force was blocking him.

 

Sith. Force. It’s an actual Sith and he’s using the Force! Dean finally computed. He shook with the realization. They were probably all going to die. But he wasn’t going to let Jess die the way mom had. No, he couldn’t let that happen to Sammy. But as Dean thought it, it was already too late, Jess was on the ceiling, and a split second later, with a maniacal laugh, and an even bigger leer from the Sith, her belly was cut open and she was bleeding. Then the fire started. Not a little at a time, but in one big rush that seemed to erupt out and all around Jess, shooting out like a fireball licking across the ceiling, shooting down the walls, across the floor, climbing up the furniture, in less than a second the entire front of the apartment was engulfed and with it their access to both the main door and the hallway to the bedroom and balcony blocked. It was too late. There was no saving Jess now. Their only hope was to get out through the window into the garden. Maybe then they would have enough time. 

 

“Sam, we have to go, it’s too late,” Dean said, pulling on his brother’s arm. “I’m sorry,” he added, voice cracking. He tugged on Sam, pulling him backwards, half tripping, half falling over the couch until they were on the other side. Dean was relieved to discover that whatever Force powers the Sith was using, they weren’t keeping them from retreating towards the window. The cynical part of Dean’s mind knew there was something very wrong with that fact, but the more pragmatic part was not about to question small favors. Still, it would be easier if Sam would help. The fire was already reaching the couch, and the room was so hot, Dean was pretty sure they would get first-degree burns even without touching anything. They needed to get down, on the ground, before the smoke and toxic fumes filled the room and doomed them further. But Sam was still not cooperating. His eyes seemed locked open, staring at Jess and the yellow-eyed Sith.

 

Dean managed to pull Sam most of the way to the window, keeping him out of the flames. Confident that the Sith’s Force barrier was keeping Sam from going any closer to the fire, Dean turned and crouched down in front of the window next to Chevy. Ven was already there, clearly in shock, trying to steady the droid as she used her laser to cut through the transparisteel. The fire and the Sith weren’t their only enemies, in addition, there was a strong wind blowing through the apartment, sucking the flames around and around and a round up and up until they formed a vortex. It was also threatening to pull Chevy and her organic companions off the floor and toss them into the maelstrom. 

 

The bottom and lower sides of the panel were free and Chevy had rocked forward on her treads, utility arm extended, trying to cut the panel high enough so that the larger, humans and Twi’lek could fit through. 

 

A second or two before the panel finally came loose, Dean sensed a shift in the fire behind him, he saw it suddenly surge out, shooting right for them! It was too late, there was no time; Jess’s body had turned to char and ash, and tendrils of flame were shooting right at him and Ven! But then the flame seemed to stop, slamming up against another invisible wall and curling back around. A horrible sucking sound accompanied it. Dean turned to Sam who was standing wide-eyed and transfixed, but focused, and Dean knew. The new barrier was coming from Sam! Somehow his little brother was using the Force and turning it back on the Sith. Dean didn’t know how that was possible, and honestly thought he might be hallucinating it.

 

“Is Sam doing that?” Ven asked, shouting in his ear, to be heard above the sucking sound, his voice stuck between shock and awe.

 

Not a hallucination then. “I think so,” Dean shouted back, realizing at the same time what the sucking sound was. It was getting hard to breathe. Somehow whatever Sam was doing was sucking all the air out of the room, smothering the fire, but not before it burned the Sith to an ashy, charred crisp. The only air in the room now was the air coming in from the window that Chevy had just cut and it was rushing in so fast, that any loose objects in the apartment that hadn’t yet been charred were swirling around and around, threatening to pummel them. Dean looked up and saw the charred, melted durasteel behind the now-vaporized ceiling shaking ready to collapse. Sithspit!  They had to get out now.

 

Dean turned away from Sam and looked out the window. There. Throwing his hand to his utility belt, he pulled out his grappling gun. It had an adjustable-strength hybrid magnet/suction end, instead of the traditional hook that was fueled by a small-but-powerful cell in the grip. If Chevy rolled out the window, and turned on her repulsors about 2/3 of a meter above the ground, she should get enough lift to more or less skip and bounce and land roughly in the middle of the garden. If he held the gun with one hand and Sam with the other, and Ven held onto him then—Dean did a few quick calculations of mass, angles, and inertia—if he released the grappler at bottom of the swing, they should only have about a two meter drop (which was far better than the five meter drop they were looking at now or the bone-crushing force that would be the three of them slamming into the garden’s wall if they held on too long. 

 

“Chevy, roll out the window and hit your repulsors point six seven meters above the ground. I’ll help you get sorted out if you fall over,” he shouted to the droid over the cacophony.

 

She trilled out a concerned warble.

 

“We’ll be right behind you, now GO! I promise we’ll be OK.”

 

Without further protest the Droid did as instructed. Ven was frozen again, looking on in shock at the droid who had just hurled herself out the open window. Dean ignored him. He needed to get Sam before he shot the grappling gun, or he wouldn’t be able to reach Sam, and he didn’t think he could count on Ven to grab him. Turning to Sam, Dean realized that the Sith’s body was almost completely reduced to ash (Dean wasn’t naïve enough to think the monster was gone though, he’d seen enough Sith relics over time, to know that they had ways of preserving themselves). More importantly, the flames were almost, but not quite out. However, Sam was suddenly wavering. He was going to collapse, and if he collapsed and whatever barrier he’d erected, that was now starving the flames would fall, and the flames would… Sithspit!

 

“Ven!” Dean screamed over his shoulder. “We’re going out the window, and we gotta go now, or we’re going to die. Grab onto me when I jump and don’t let go.” Without checking for a response from the dazed Twi’lek, Dean reached for Sam with his left arm and pulled, feeling Sam collapse into Dean’s arm as the last vestiges of strength left Sam. At the same time, Dean took two running steps to the now-open window, silently hoping the opening was wide enough. He felt Ven slam into him, throwing his arms around Dean’s waist as Dean fired the grappling gun at the walkway with his right hand and leaped. The gun caught and they swung-fell from the open window as the flames exploded outwards from behind them. Dean could feel the heat searing the hairs at the back of his neck, but then they were falling swinging and just as he felt the grappler go taut, he released the trigger, interrupting the magnetic field and allowing them to all fall a little over two meters into a very painful heap on the grass. They rolled in a tangle of limbs and appendages down a slight slope to stop next to where Chevy had ended up. She was more or less upright, which was more than Dean could say for any of the organic members of their group.

 

“Sithspit! What was that?” Ven said shakily after a few minutes. He sat up from where he had landed on the ground looking himself over for signs of injury. His palms looked a bit burned, and there were some singed-looking spots on the tips of his lekku, but those looked to be fairly superficial. 

 

At least one of us seems to have escaped relatively unscathed, Dean thought bitterly pulling himself to a sitting position. His hands were burned, not badly, but there was a painful blister forming on the palm of his right hand from handling the transparisteel window. The apartment had gotten that hot that just moving the transparent metal had burned his hand. His cheeks felt raw, almost like he had a sunburn, and he could feel his ankle rapidly swelling in his boot from where he had landed on it. It was difficult to fall properly when dropping from a grappling line with two other people one of whom was unconscious. Dean tried to move his ankle and wiggle his toes, but he could feel the tell-tale grinding sound and stabbing pain of a broken bone. Just great, he’d had worse though. Probably not in worse circumstances though. Dean doubted he’d ever been in circumstances this bad, except maybe when he was four and Mom died… but even then Dad had been there. He was twenty-six standard years old and all Dean could think of was how much he wanted his father. John would know how to make everything all right. But this, this was not all right. He had just watched his brother’s girlfriend burn in front of his eyes. The apartment was melted, his brother had just used the Force, despite never having shown any force sensitivity at any other point in his life, the yellow-eyed Sith was probably still out there—although its host was dead—and now Dean was sitting with a broken ankle in a garden in a nice apartment complex on Coruscant with his unconscious brother, his brother’s traumatized friend, and a droid that might or might not be damaged. He heard a faint wailing whine floating in on the breeze. And yep, sure enough, the authorities were on their way to investigate. Oh, and the whole thing with Bobby’s* mysterious message and his Dad missing—

 

Dean could feel himself shaking. He just wanted to STOP. But right now, that wasn’t an option. He had to pull himself together, starting with answering Sam’s friend.

 

“Um, that was a Sith,” he replied at last, trying to gage the best way to give the “demons and ghosts are real” speech without sending the young Twi’lek any further into shock.

 

“Seriously, my friend just died. Force bless us, my friend DIED, burned. What happened?” Ven was trying to stand up, but he was shaking so badly he wasn’t doing very well.

 

“Sit,” Dean said, his voice firm but not stern. “That was Sith. I don’t know who or what exactly, but it was using the Dark Side, possessing someone. The yellow eyes, they’re a sure way to tell…” Dean let his voice trail off, struck again by the painful familiarity of those yellow eyes. “The same thing killed our mom, when Sammy was a baby,” he added, trying to keep the lump from his throat.

 

“You are serious,” Ven realized, looking at Dean with wide-eyed understanding rather than fear or suspicion.

 

Dean nodded.

 

“Is this what you do? I mean, how do you know this stuff? Is this why Sam never talks about his family?” Ven started rambling.

 

“Pretty much, yeah,” Dean said with a sigh. “Mom died. Dad used to be Jedi Support Corps. He knew something caused the fire that killed her, I mean getting burned on the ceiling isn’t natural. But even the Jedi investigator didn’t find anything, so he started looking and found out about all the things that go bump in the night. There are other hunters out there like him… like us. There’s all kinds of relics and artifacts and ghosts and animals that are strong in the Dark Side of the Force, and the Jedi—they either don’t know, or don’t care, so the hunters go after them, stop them. Try to protect people. Keep them from going through what happened to us. What happened to my mom,” Dean added with a sigh his voice cracking slightly.

 

Ven just kept staring at him from his position in a half crouch. “Ok. I get it. Sithspit!”

 

By that point, Chevy had somehow managed to right herself and was trundling over to the group small group of panting, injured sentients, looking a little banged up—she had a vine tangled around her dome, and soot had settled in splotches around her chrome exterior—but not looking much worse for the wear. Apparently her repulsor lifts had worked just like Dean had hoped they would.

 

Satisfied that the droid and Sam’s friend were OK, Dean turned to Sam to see how his brother was doing. Dean stilled.

 

Sam was still unconscious. A thin sheen of sweat covered him, and his skin was clammy to the touch—clammy, not hot and dry like Dean’s and Ven’s and definitely not burned. Whatever had happened, the fire had not touched Sam at all. Dean wanted to be thankful for that, but worried it was more a bad sign than a good one. Sam’s nose and ears were bleeding or had been bleeding, the blood was quickly drying, and it looked like he’d just been in an explosion of some sort. Dean didn’t really want to think about why Sam would be bleeding from his orifices, but he had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with his baby brother using the Force. Other than that, Sam looked Ok.  Dean crawled closer to him so that he could check Sam’s body for other injuries like his own broken ankle. He found none. Relieved, Dean collapsed back. It appeared his body had cushioned Sam’s fall. 

 

He lay there still, just breathing for a few moments. The pain was bad; he could feel it seeping in around the edges of the adrenalin as it receded from his system. His left shoulder felt pulled, strained too, but Dean couldn’t let it get the better of him. He had to get them, all of them, out of there and fast. Authorities would be swarming the place soon, and they’d want to ask questions, questions they couldn’t afford to answer.

 

Dean rolled himself to a sitting position, being careful of his injured shoulder. “Ven… Ven?” he asked, trying to get Sam’s friend’s attention.

 

No response.

 

“Ven, listen, do you know a way out of this garden, I mean, without going back through the building?” Dean tried again.

 

“Uh, uh…” Ven looked at Dean with dazed eyes.

 

“It’s important. There are security forces, investigators that are going to come—try to put out the fire and figure out what happened, and we can’t be here when they do. We need to get out of here,” Dean explained. He beckoned to Chevy with his hand and drew the little droid closer. She rolled over to them without too much effort—luckily the ground was fairly firm and even. Under more pleasant circumstances, Dean would be worrying about her chewing him out for taking her where grass could get stuck in her treads.

 

“Why don’t we want to be here?” Ven asked suddenly confused. At least he was pulling himself to his feet; he might be arguing with Dean, but he did seem to be following directions. “I mean, we’re victims here right? We’re hurt… they’re supposed to help us.”

 

“You wanna try explaining what just happened to them?” Dean asked.

 

Ven’s mouth opened and closed like a fish several times before he finally spoke. “They’d never…”

 

“Exactly, which is why we have to get out of here, get patched up, and figure out our story,” Dean said rolling to his knees. He could feel his ankle shift as he did so. There was no way that he could walk on it without doing more damage, so he was just going to have to risk a little damage. He put his hands on Chevy’s domed head, and levered himself to his feet, careful to keep almost all his weight on his left leg. “Thanks Chevy,” he said, patting the droid where his hands rested.

 

Chevy chirped her equivalent of “you’re welcome,” and followed with a much more insistent sounding bleat. 

 

Dean dug the datapad out of his pocket and read the translation. “Sithspit!” He looked up at Ven, “Chevy’s been monitoring dispatches and communications, and they’ll be here in a few minutes. We’ve gotta go now.”

 

Ven stared for a moment, wide-eyed before dropping his Jaw in a silent “oh.” “I know! There’s a door not far from here. He looked around as if trying to reorient himself. Over there,” Ven gestured at a stand of trees about 10 meters away from their present location and a couple of meters from the wall. “It’s a private door that I think Sam said building residents have a code to get in from the outside, but we should be able to get out…”

 

“Without a code,” Dean finished nodding. “Good! Now, can you help me get Sam out of here?

 

“Uh, yeah,” Ven said, stooping to the ground again and pulling on Sam until he was able to hoist him into a rescue lift.

 

Dean gave Ven an impressed nod. Not the kind of behavior he was expecting from Sam’s near-perfect friend.

 

“I trained to be a wilderness scout a few years ago,” Ven explained.

 

“Bet you’d never thought you’d use your training like this,” Dean responded. “By the way, where’s the door.”

 

“It’s,” Ven waived his hand, “behind the trees.”

 

“Got it,” Dean said coaxing Chevy forward and sticking to her side for support. They covered the ground in about a minute, and by then, Dean could actually hear the sirens in the distance. Dean was able to unlock the door from the inside and lead them out into the fresh, less smoky air of a warm Coruscant night.

 

They quickly roused Sam, who seemed distraught and exhausted, but otherwise unhurt, and exited the garden. Scurrying down the walkway as quietly as they could manage with Ven and Sam both kind of out-of-it and Dean unable to put and found a small patio about 25 meters down the walkway from where they had exited the garden. The patio was concealed from view of those passing by on the walkway, and at that time of night, there was almost no one to see them. It was the perfect place to patch up injuries, lick wounds, and decide on the next course of action.

 

Using the medkit Chevy carried (and Dean had never been more grateful that he always made sure the droid’s kit was well stocked), they were able to patch up Dean’s burns with Bactane and analgesic cream, even smearing a little of the salve on Dean’s cheeks, which were slightly burned. Unfortunately, the burns on his hands were much more significant and would take longer to heal, given anything short of Bacta immersion. 

 

Then Ven helped Dean slap a steriplast splint and lots of Bacta patches on Dean’s ankle. For good measure, Dean showed Ven how to inject a small amount of Bacta into his ankle to help speed the healing process. Dean was a little dismayed that his right ankle was broken since it was his dominant leg, but then again, that probably explained why he’d landed on it so hard in the first place. Until it healed, he’d just have to avoid getting into any fights where he had to do a lot of kicking.

 

Ven looked at Dean nervously, as Dean tended to Ven’s burns. 

 

“Here,” Dean said, holding up a pack of dark-tinted synthflesh. 

 

Ven just stared back blankly. 

 

“This is synthflesh,” Dean said shaking it in front of Ven. I need to put it on the burned spots on your lekku and then slather our strongest Bactane on both your hands.” Dean reached out and grasped one of Ven’s shaking hands, gently turning it palm up. The burn wasn’t as bad as it had first looked. “Good,” Dean said, letting out a sigh.

 

“I… I don’t understand,” Ven stuttered out, looking over at Sam, who was slumped somewhat dazedly against Chevy’s side.

 

“We need to get you patched up and quick. The only way Sam and I are gonna get out of here alive, and the only way you’re not going to get connected to this whole mess, is if you can cover for us to the authorities. And to do that, you can’t look like you just came out of a fire,” Dean explained as he reached forward to meticulously seal thin strips of the synthflesh over the two pink burns on the tips of Ven’s lekku. 

 

Ven flinched at first, but then acquiesced, giving Dean better access. 

 

“There,” Dean said examining the lekku from different angles. “You can’t tell there’s anything wrong. Chevy?”

 

She bleeped in response and swiveled her dome towards Ven, scanning him before bleeping out an answer. 

 

Dean consulted the datapad in his pocket and nodded. “Chevy says that even a Jedi should have a lot of trouble detecting it, so, you should be ok. Now let me treat your hands.”

 

Ven complied without question, sighing at the cooling, soothing feel of the salve against his injured skin.

 

Dean followed up by covering the salve with more synthflesh. “Just don’t take that off until your hands stop itching,” Dean cautioned, “Otherwise it’ll be pretty obvious you got burned, and trust me, that won’t be good.”

 

“So what do you want me to do?” Ven asked, looking down in awe at his apparently healed hands.

 

They soon decided that Ven would approach the police explaining that he had returned home immediately after the costume party.  Later, he had received a strange call from Sam summoning him out only to find Sam apparently dead and the place crawling with law enforcement. 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

“Wait,” Sam exclaimed, surprising Dean. Sam had seemed still mostly out of it, so Dean was surprised to see his brother protesting so forcefully.

 

“What?” Dean asked, cautious.

 

“Jess’s research,” Sam started, turning his eyes to Dean. The burned with grief and shock but also something else—determination.

 

Dean was somewhat surprised that Sam was even coherent enough to think about Jess’s research, but he supposed it might be Sam’s attempt at hanging onto something of Jess’s. “Sam, I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure everything in the apartment is gone…” Dean let his voice trail off, uncertain of how to continue. 

 

“No you don’t understand. She told me she found something, something strange in some stuff from a dig. It was here on Coruscant, in one of the pre-Civil War excavation sites near the Maranai mountains, I think. It was some sort of written record talking about a lost prophecy and some other strange artifacts. I remember… I remember she said something about a wraith of the Dark Side, something about a spirit that was the embodiment of evil and could move from person to person, deceiving loved ones and such. I need that research!” Sam said in a rush. He swallowed and looked at Dean wide-eyed. “I think Jess found something and it’s important, and I think that might be part of why it … killed her.”

 

“But Sam,” Dean said, trying to get to his feet so he could help Sam. The broken ankle definitely didn’t want to cooperate. “How are we going to get it?” Dean asked. It would be just typical Winchester luck to discover that there had been some bountiful source of information, only to discover it was already gone.

 

“Jess’s research wasn’t at home,” Sam exclaimed, voice only catching slightly on the word “home.” He shifted slightly, attempting to sit more upright and let out a longish, winching, sigh at the pain the movement apparently caused. “I mean, she had copies of it at home, but most of it, like the scans of the artifacts themselves, are all stored at the University. We just need to slice into her accounts to get them.”

 

Dean cocked his head to the side looking closely at Sam. A small part of him wanted to scream and ask “why didn’t you think of this before when we were figuring out what to do!” But Dean held back—he understood—not exactly, after all he’s never had a lover die, pretty much never gotten as close to someone as Sam was to Jess, but all he had to do is think about how it felt to lose Mom, how it would feel if Sammy died or if he knew for sure Dad was dead, and he knew there was nothing Sam could have done to think of this sooner. But still, that doesn’t solve the technical problem they still face. “Can we slice into these files of hers from any computer terminal? Or does it have to be one on Coruscant, or at the University specifically?” Dean said letting out a long breath.

 

“Well…” Sam began, but that was all the answer Dean really needed.

 

“Aww… sithspit!” Dean groaned.

 

~~~

 

As it turned out, they could get into Jess’s account from pretty much anywhere—either by using her ID information, which Sam had, or by slicing into the University’s good, but-not-super, security system. The problem was that the holorecords of the relic Jess had found, along with the research and analysis she and the other students and professors on her team had done so far, were stored in her department’s central computers and not accessible from remote locations, presumably to stop would-be thieves from doing exactly what they were about to attempt. Worse than that, only certain computer terminals at certain University buildings were able to access the servers on which the records were stored. Lucky for Sam and Dean, the University probably hadn’t been expecting a desperate former student who was one of the best slicers in the galaxy to be attempting the break in.

 

They had toyed briefly with the idea of having Ven use his student ID (or using it for him) to get them into the University, but a few blunt, candid whistles from Chevy showed them the flaw in their plan.

 

If Ven was at the University at two hundred hours Central Coruscant time, he wasn’t going to be free to throw the authorities off their trail, and worse, he would probably shift suspicion to himself.

 

Sam’s ID was no longer valid, since he was technically not a student at the moment. Slicing into the University’s student database was certainly an option, but it would take too much time and present more opportunity to get caught, something they definitely did not need. 

 

So, in spite of Dean’s concerns about what it might do to Sam’s mental state, they decided to use Jess’s ID. With it, they wouldn’t have to do that much slicing. Sam was pretty sure Jess had access to most, if not all, of the files associated with the find. They would still need to override the University’s security feed and cover their presence. If possible, they would also alter the access logs to conceal or at least delay discovery of their presence. But at least, if they were eventually discovered, authorities would likely conclude that either Jess was alive or—more likely—that she had been killed for her ID or in conjunction with her research. Which—if Sam was right—wasn’t that far from the truth, or at least part of the truth. Neither brother wanted to talk about it, but they both knew Jess’s death also had a whole lot to do with their family and who they were. They just weren’t sure why.

 

About fifteen minutes after Sam’s revelation about Jess’s research, the Winchesters were parting ways with Ven, having used Chevy to link them to the Dream’s computers so that they could plant a false comlink call from Sam’s comlink to Ven’s and modify the security logs at Ven’s apartment building, showing he had returned home not long after the party and left again not long after receiving Sam’s call, which was timed so that it appeared to have been placed at about the time the fire started. Dean was relieved he’d had the foresight to remove the record of his entry into Sam’s building earlier that evening, because by that point it was clear the authorities had arrived, and messing with the logs would be too noticeable. Hopefully, they wouldn’t find the alteration (he’d been careful, but he still worried), and if they did find it, hopefully they wouldn’t trace it back to Dean in the process.

 

He would really hate to be blamed for the death of his brother’s girlfriend, or his brother, since their best option was having the authorities believe Sam had died too.

 

With much sadness and trepidation, they bid Ven farewell and wished him luck. He seemed to understand it was unlikely he’d ever see Sam again, but seemed equally grateful to be able to help his friend. 

 

Dean found himself in awe that Sam had been able to make such true friends, while equally blaming himself for ever intruding on Sam’s happy life. Was it just earlier today he had followed Sam, marveling at his happiness? Already that felt like a lifetime ago. So much had changed in just hours. Dean couldn’t help fearing that Somehow he had lured the Sith here to find Sam, somehow it was all his fault, but another part of Dean knew that had he not been there Sam (and probably Ven) would now be dead. Taking a long, steadying sigh, pulling strength from the world around him and expelling his concerns and fears with his breath, Dean prepared himself for the task ahead.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

“Are you sure you’re up for this, Sam?” Dean asked with concern.

 

Sam gave Dean a scathing look. “Of course I’m not sure if I’m up to this. I’m probably not. I just lost my girlfriend and used freaky Jedi powers to take out some Sith thing that was trying to kill you too. My apartment was on fire. So no, Dean, I’m not in any shape to break into my old university and steal my girlfriend’s research, but I don’t really have a choice, ‘cause we need this!” Sam said bitterly, looking down at Dean as he paced. They were camped out in a deserted tapcaf with laughable security not too far from the University’s Auxiliary Library, which was their target building for the break-in—closely, fully linked into the University’s central servers with a terminal that could access the archeology servers, but not so high profile as to be too exposed or have the most robust security systems.

 

“I could go, you could stay here with Chevy and walk me through,” Dean suggested. 

 

That earned another scathing look from Sam. “Dean,” he began matter-of-factly, “your ankle is broken badly, and you can barely walk on it.”

 

Dean shrugged. Sam was right; it was a pretty bad break. The fracture was closed, but also not just a crack. Something was definitely out of place, and the Bacta patches he’d slapped on it weren’t doing much. He’d have to run a full diagnostic when they got back to the Dream and hope he had the supplies on hand to treat it He could slap a Perigen patch on it—he had those in Chevy’s medkit at least—but Dean knew from experience the drug would mess with his concentration. He shifted in the tapcaf’s molded duraplast chair, testing his ankle where it lay propped up on the table. “I’ve had worse,” he said with a shrug. It was true. 

 

“Dean. You don’t know your way around, or the setup of the system, or what you’re looking for. Sure, I could walk you through, but it would take longer, and we’re kind of out of time. Not to mention that at least I’m a former student there. I’m familiar with their security droids, and I might be able to come up with a passable excuse in a pinch if they catch me.” Sam finished with a sigh. “Look Dean,” he said throwing up his hands and turning to face his brother again. “It sucks, but we don’t really have another option.”

 

Sam was right, Dean thought with a sigh, but that didn’t mean he wanted to admit it. Dean racked his brain in frustration trying to come up with some solution that might work better. He was probably making a face, he knew it, but damn it, he just didn’t want to have to put Sam in that situation. Of course, if Sam did run into a security droid, it wouldn’t take long before the authorities would figure out Sam wasn’t dead, and then it only a little longer before Sam was the prime suspect in Jessica’s murder. Dean hoped it wouldn’t come to that. “I’m a better slicer,” Dean said half-heartedly as a last retort. He really didn’t want his brother going into danger where Dean couldn’t protect him.

 

“You know I’m at least as good as you,” Sam said with a rueful grin.

 

“Yeah, but at least I’m not out of practice,” Dean snarked back, shifting again in his chair, still unable to really get comfortable.

 

Who said anything about out of practice?” Sam challenged, a glint, a spark of light and life returning to his eyes for the first time since the fire. 

 

“Sammy, you sly dog you, what have you been up to? I thought you were busy playing the model student?” Dean asked with genuine interest underneath the teasing surface.

 

“You wouldn’t even imagine,” Sam deflected with a smile before his expression sobered. “Are you sure you’re going to be OK?” he asked. “This isn’t the most defensible location,” Sam added with a sweeping gesture that encompassed the cramped room.

 

Old habits die hard, Dean thought as soon as Sam mentioned a defensible position. He was half-expecting Sam to cringe when he realized what he’d said, but Sam didn’t. Maybe his brother hadn’t been quite as much of a law-abiding, up-tight drone while he’d been on Coruscant as Dean had thought, or maybe Hunting really did run in their blood like John had always said. Either way, Sam was still waiting for Dean’s response. “This is good, Sam. I’ll be fine.”

 

Sam didn’t look convinced.

 

“Look, it’s close enough to the library that I can back you up or help out if you need it. It’s got a table for me to set up on. Chevy and I are concealed here, and if we need to, it’s quick to get out. Not to mention I can have Chevy call up the Dream, and she’ll be here in one minute, tops,” Dean added, grateful he’d found a docking berth close by. Sensing that Sam was still unconvinced Dean added, “I can set her down in the plaza outside the library, Sam, there’s no one here this time of night, so we should have plenty of room.”

 

“OK,” Sam said, letting out a long sigh. “I’m just worried about you.”

 

“Duh,” Dean answered, relieved when his comment got a strained chuckle out of Sam.

 

“I guess I should get going then,” Sam added hesitantly. 

 

“Got the camera headset?” Dean asked. The whole plan would be for naught if Sam forgot it. Dean was just relieved he’d had it with him.

 

“Yeah, it’s right here,” Sam said holding up a fighter pilot–style headset complete with mounted comlink and camera. “And before you ask, I’ve got the tracking beacon turned on; I never actually stopped carrying it—it’s always been tuned so Chevy could follow me,” Sam added sheepishly.

 

Chevy gave a little trill of acknowledgement.

 

So, that’s why Chevy was so sure where Sam was coming from earlier, Dean realized. He felt himself getting a little choked up. He had designed the tiny locating devices as a child after nearly losing Sam in a crowded marketplace on an unfriendly planet. The tracking beacons were small enough to tuck in a pocket or boot and were passive transmitters, so active scanning devices wouldn’t detect them except under very rare circumstances. They were specifically attuned to Chevy’s electronic signature, so that only she had the decryption packets necessary to interpret the wearer’s whereabouts. Of course the range was limited to approximately the radius of an average star system, which was why Dean had been unsuccessful in tracking John, so far. All he could tell was that his dad wasn’t in the same star system (or he had turned off the device). That Sammy hadn’t ever stopped carrying his—through all his years on Coruscant—was a testament to ho much Sam still did care about his family. Dean’s heart swelled at the thought. “Awesome, Sammy,” he said smiling.

 

Sam looked for a moment like he was going to say something, but instead swallowed his thoughts. Reaching out, he squeezed Dean’s hand. “It’ll be OK, Dean,” he said, and then he was turning and slipping out of the tapcaf’s door into the night.


Master Post | Part 2Part 4

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