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Sam had pulled himself into a seated position at the foot of the bed, while Mina remained pressed against the wall at the head. Sam wasn’t sure if Mina still had the look of an iriaz in the headlights of a landspeeder because he’d been focusing on his hands, fiddling with the drying bloodstain on his tunic, and had been ever since Dean had strode from the room leaving shock and turmoil in his wake.

Mina wasn’t talking. The tension was starting to itch—it was probably all that anxiety feeding into the Force. He was sure he was probably projecting his emotions, making it almost impossible for another Force user to not pick up. And he was pretty sure the itchy feeling was coming from Mina.

“So,” Sam said, the word hanging in the air as it left his lips. “You... You really thought all those things? You—I don’t blame you. I’m so, so sorry I believed Ruby. I’m sorry I didn’t see. She did some awful things when she was in your body, Mina... awful, awful things, and most of them were because of me. My doing.”

Mina seemed to snap out of it, her face scrunching up, seeming to catch on Sam’s words.

“Well, I’m sorry for believing Ruby too, Sam. If I had seen through her lies or fought harder she never would have been in a position to get to you. Or she would have found some other body. If I’d just done what I did to kill her when she first took over, I could have stopped her then and there. She would have never met you or had the opportunity to seduce you,” Mina almost shouted, throwing up her hands in frustration. “Let me ask you this, do you think Ruby cared whose body she was in or whose body Azazel had stolen, or would they have hooked up no matter what?”

“They were frantic, starved, hating every moment of 5,000 years apart. I don’t think they would have cared or noticed if they were possessing womp rats,” Sam admitted, spitting the words.

Mina laughed, a full-bodied, honest guffaw that sounded beautifully melodious in Mina’s voice.

Sam felt something snap inside him and he curled in on himself, only this time not in fear or pain, but because he was wracked with silent laughter. It was rippling through him, making it impossible to breathe as the giggles continued. They laughed for what felt like hours, each burst of air from Sam’s mouth was another kilogram of regret and fear and guilt and sorrow lifted from his shoulders. When they finally quieted, they were both flushed and exhausted—Mina slumped down on the bed and Sam half falling off the end, his ankles tangled in the bed covering threatening to trip him if he tried to stand. They probably looked like they’d just finished an exhausting training session with full combat drills.

“Hi, Sam, I’m Mina,” Mina ventured, sticking out her hand with newfound confidence.

Sam hesitated only a moment before he reached out and shook it. “Pleased to meet you Mina, I’m Sam.”

Mina giggled again, bringing her free hand up to cover her mouth as her fingers slipped across Sam’s. “So, Sam, tell me about yourself. Are you new here? I’ve only recently learned about the Protectorate.”

Sam hated himself a little for the shadow he felt descend behind his eyes, but he strengthened his resolve and shook it off, managing a smile before Mina lost her good mood. “Well... yes and no. You see, I just got back after a long absence. I kind of fell to the Dark Side, and all that,” he chuckled. That was the first time he’d actually said it out loud. It wasn’t any more or less real, but for the first time, he appreciated the irony. “You see, the thing is, I ran away from here because I was trying to avoid doing exactly that. But instead I almost brought an end to the Universe, but I got help and stopped, and I understand you’re partly responsible for that. Thank you,” he added with a smile and a mini bow. “Truth is, I was born here—well not in this house, but not very far away. But a Sith Lord, he killed my mom, and then my Dad started Hunting, and he took me and my brother all over the galaxy on his quest. I kind of hated him for it... but now I understand. You see, eventually the Sith Lord caught up with me, and then my brother and I found our way back here. And this should have been home again, but I ran. And well... you kind of know the rest, or at least have some idea.”

He felt the shame threatening to bubble up out of the unending cavern within him that seemed to constantly refill with new self-criticism and self-loathing. But rather than cringing and imagining the judgment Mina was surely—in his mind—leveling against him, he took a deep breath, let it out, and focused centering himself in the Force. He could wait, listen, and hear rather than jumping to a conclusion.

Mina’s mood slipped a little with the oblique mention of Darth Azazel, but she quickly schooled her features and smiled again. “Well, Sam, I am very new here. I’d never been off Ossus before Master Shran called me with the Beckonstone and I found myself wrestling my body back on Korriban. I grew up on Ossus, near the ruins of the original Jedi Archive. I used to watch the archaeologists as they worked, wishing I could be one of them. I could feel I was different, drawn to the archive ruins because they spoke of my heritage, but no one comes looking for living Jedi on Ossus,” her tone bore hints of her bitterness and exhaustion.

“So, I always wondered, always watched, but never learned. When I was 12, I found a cave whose walls were covered in runes and sigils. There were the remains of books and data files buried among the sands in varying states of decay. I decided if I wanted to learn, I would have to teach myself. So, every day I could, I would slip off to the cave. I figured out some of the runes and tried to instruct myself from the texts. There was this text about a Lost Prophecy. I thought the Jedi would like to know about it, so I told one of the research teams.” Mina hung her head.

“They blew you off, told you it was nothing. Not your concern, not to worry,” Sam realized.

“Yes,” she agreed nodding. “They almost laughed at me. I could tell most of them thought of me as a silly native. I could tell one of them thought I might be Force sensitive, but he didn’t say anything because... because they wouldn’t be able to train me if I was. I wouldn’t be a danger out there, so everyone was better off if no one knew about my sensitivity, including me.”

“You were hurt, but you kept going back every day to the cave,” Sam surmised, “until one day there was something else there.”

“Ruby,” Mina nodded. “You know the rest,” she added with an exhausted sigh.

“Why—why did you say ‘yes’?” Sam finally brought himself to ask.

“I could feel the truth in her words—some of them at least. I knew she was being honest when she explained how much the Jedi would fear me, despise me, try to stop me if they ever found out I’d been training myself to use the Force. I was flattered by the stories she told me about how important I’d be. And I was supposed to be helping the Chosen One of the Lost Prophecy... I don’t know, I felt...”

“Vindicated?” Sam asked.

Mina nodded her agreement scooting forward on the bed and tucking her knees up to her chest. It was the most relaxed and open she had been since Sam met her. “I was almost relieved that someone else knew of the Prophecy, that it wasn’t just me,” she twisted her hands in the bed sheets. “I should have known, should have been suspicious, but the Prophecy didn’t warn of her, so I allowed myself to believe. Now...” She turned her head away, looking out the window behind Sam. “Now that I think back, I can tell the difference between the truths she told and the lies. But then,” she shuddered, trembling from head to toe. Her eyes snapped back to Sam suddenly.

Sam gasped at the clarity in her eyes.

“There was a... difference in the feel of her words, but they weren’t lies... she almost believed what she was telling me. Maybe she did believe. There was so much ambition and hope and joy and power in her words—they overpowered everything else. I didn’t see the shadow behind her until I was letting go of my body. As she slipped past me on the way in, it brushed against me.” Mina shuddered again. “Pure corruption. Evil. I’d never felt anything like it before, and I hope to never feel it again.”

Sam nodded. He knew what that felt like. Recognized the taint of it in himself, recalled the slick, sick stench of it as Azazel had slipped inside, his soul pouring down Sam’s throat, choking him with the acrid taste of corruption.

“Why did you say ‘yes’?” Mina asked.

Sam was jerked from the painful slipstream of old memories. He shrugged, shoulders hitching up around his ears. “I was angry. Lonely. Feeling both threatened and dangerous. I’d been trying to train myself and was terrified I’d kill Dean, just like I did every night in my dreams, almost every time I closed my eyes. She found me, made me chase her, knew things she couldn’t know unless she was somehow involved in the Prophecy.” He looked down at his hands, which were now folded in his lap. “I was jealous of Dean. I wanted so much to be special like him. It was my burden to discover my powers. I was the Chosen One—and suddenly it’s all about Dean and no on trusts me. I felt like some kid who everyone thought needed to protected. I wanted some control over my life, a way to help myself, someone to believe in me... and then suddenly I didn’t have Dean, even when he’d always been there, even when I ran away. Cas was... I thought there was nothing special between Dean and me any more. Years of brotherly bonding, having each others’ backs, no one else to depend on or trust, and then, suddenly I couldn’t touch his mind...

“—I was lost,” Sam breathed, “and Ruby offered me a way to find my way out. I wanted so hard to believe there was some one special for me, I didn’t...”

“You didn’t allow yourself to see what was right in front of you,” Mina supplied.

Sam nodded as he tried to sort through the old emotions and the new perspective hard-learned lessons had provided.

Mina’s touch drew him out of it. It was hesitant, a hand on his arm, gentle press of fingers into skin. But it was the first time she’d touched him. “Sam, you realize you were paranoid...”

“I closed myself off. I couldn’t sense anyone’s intentions—including Dean’s—because I wouldn’t allow myself to feel.”

“Maybe the message here is it really was Ruby’s fault. She’s the one who preyed on our fears and desires, who was deluded enough herself she got past our sensors and tried to take us over the edge with her,” Mina said, sounding optimistic.

“I think that’s what my brother was in here trying to tell us,” Sam admitted conspiratorially, leaning towards Mina as he spoke. “Only... that kind of feels like cheating, doesn’t it? Like we shouldn’t get off the hook that easy?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Mina agreed.

“Well, I did almost destroy the Universe.” Sam furrowed his brow. “I don’t know how to make up for that.”

“You were willing to give your life to stop it in the end. You did, from what I understand; your brother just brought you back.” Mina bit her lip, deep in concentration.

“For the second time,” Sam admitted.

“I’ve been dead too, only my death wasn’t exactly... peaceful. I also didn’t move on, so I don’t now what it’s supposed to be like, after,” Mina said.

“I almost moved on the first time. It felt kind of like I was expanding, more connected to the universe around me. We were on this long-abandoned floating city on Manaan. The main civilization there is in the ocean, deep under water. The planet is teeming with life, overflowing with it, only you’d never know it from the surface. It just looks like a great, big, blue ball, with a too-pristine, white, empty city floating like a loan island. I hadn’t even thought about the presence of other beings there, how much Force was flowing through the place until I was leaving it. Then it was all so obvious... I,” Sam took a huge gulping breath, “I couldn’t see it and I almost missed it all. I felt like a fool.”

“But you lived. You didn’t go.” Mina’s voice as barely more than a murmur. “I wonder sometimes, how it would have been if I’d hung on a little harder. If Ruby just hadn’t gotten in. What would she have done? Even if I had died... maybe it should have been kind of a ... how do you call it? A grudge match? If I couldn’t have my body, then no one could.”

“Well, I, for one, am glad you didn’t die. I’m glad I got to meet you. I feel like ... this is a good chance for me to atone?” He was uncertain as he said it, but realization coalesced, became a little clearer. “I’ve been thinking of you as an innocent, a victim... and I’m not saying you’re not innocent, but... maybe we have more in common than I realized. Maybe you’re someone who can understand the things I feel like I can’t talk to anyone about.”

“Not even your brother?” Mina asked, sounding surprised.

“Maybe...” Sam frowned. “I think I need to tell him sometime, maybe he already knows. But I’ve never... I’ve been lying, or at least not telling whole truths for so long, I’ve got to start somewhere, figure it all out, before I know how to talk to him. He’s—I used to think I was the normal one, and he was ... a freak, just like my dad. Happy to be different. Not wanting any responsibility, stability, normalcy. Only, now I realize he always took on more responsibility than anyone else, it was just different responsibility. He thought he was responsible for keeping every sentient being in the galaxy free from the Dark Side. He felt responsible for me, wanted me to have the best life possible, I—I can see that now.”

“But you couldn’t before,” Mina said knowingly.

“Yeah,” Sam nodded, “I made a lot of assumptions. I was so... angry when I realized I could touch the Force. It was one way I could never be normal, but it was mine and maybe I could be special. Now, I understand I wanted the Force for all the wrong reasons.” He looked away from Mina, staring out the window at the strip of light above the hillside. “I fell... I started to fall before I died the first time. I’m not sure if Dean or Miss’Ouri, or Cas know it, but I gave in.”

“What do you mean?” Mina touched Sam’s leg, drawing his attention back to the present.

“I don’t know if you’re aware, but the way Azazel got his other two followers back was, well... They were trapped in a Thought Bomb hidden in the Force. He managed to pull it out by using a special ritual that involved killing 66 innocents and trapping my father’s soul in another Thought Bomb. I was trying to stop Azazel from pulling the old Thought Bomb through. I could have, but I couldn’t bear leaving my father trapped in torment for eternity.”

Mina was quiet, respectful; she seemed content to let Sam gather his thoughts and find the words at his own pace rather than forcing them out of him.

“I was so angry, and I knew Azazel wanted me to be, but I didn’t care. I just had to get my father out. I couldn’t let Azazel take anything else from me; at least that’s what I told myself. So, I let my grasp slip, let him have a little bit of control so my father’s soul could get free, and that gave him enough time to open the other sphere and two of his followers, his lieutenants, escaped.” Sam took a deep breath, swallowing repeatedly as he tried to clear his throat while blinking back tears. “If I had been stronger, more respectful, willing to honor the sacrifice my father was willing to give... this could have all been avoided. Tens of thousands, if not millions, of people wouldn’t have been killed nor had their lives turned completely upside down.” He stopped to wipe his eyes. “I fell before I died. I was so consumed by hate and anger, I didn’t even stop to think their might have been another way, that maybe we could have freed Dad’s soul after Azazel was trapped.”

They sat in silence for a few more minutes before Mina inched closer. “Are you... done?”

“I—I don’t know,” Sam spluttered with a stressed laugh. “I don’t really know what that means... no, that’s not entirely true. I’m afraid they’ll judge me, think of my differently, decide I’m really not worth trusting or training once they know the truth. And,” he met Mina’s eyes as he spoke, “I’m really not sure they’d be wrong. I don’t trust myself. I don’t think I’m very good with this whole balance thing. Sometimes I think I’d be better off learning the Jedi’s way, but I know their lack of balance can be dangerous for the Force, and I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t wind up like... what’s that Jedi Master’s name?”

“Zachariah?” Mina supplied.

“Yeah, him. I just don’t know what options that leaves me. If I don’t train, I’m a liability, a danger, because I could be manipulated, used by someone else too easily. And I’m sure I’d wind up using the Force anyway—”

“Sam,” Mina said cutting him off for the first time. “I know I’m not a model of virtue or anything here.” She silenced Sam’s attempted protest with a raised palm. “But I’m pretty sure Dean would say you’re thinking too much like a Jedi, and that’s just going to make you crazy. So don’t. First thing you’ve gotta do is forgive yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do. It won’t be easy, but you’re not alone in this. I think Dean knows all that, or if he doesn’t, he wouldn’t be surprised to find out. Maybe we can help each other? I will watch your back if you watch mine?”

Her mouth crooked up as she spoke. She held out her hand.

“I think I can do that,” Sam agreed, taking her hand and shaking it. “Deal.” His voice sounded shakier to his own ears than he would have liked, but as his fingers squeezed against Mina’s, he could feel the resolve building within him, as if the Force itself wanted him—them—to succeed.

“So, maybe we should see what the others are up to?” Mina asked as she let go of Sam’s hand.

He looked down at his bloody clothes. “I think I should get cleaned up first, but then we can go and train.”

Mina nodded and stood, striding towards the door. She paused with her hand on the door and turned back to look over her shoulder. “If you’re not out here in five minutes, I’ll come looking for you again.”

Sam started to protest, but stopped himself. “Okay.” He smiled as she walked away. It would take time, but he was starting to believe he could get the hang of this new life.

~~~


When Dean had left Sam’s room and was back out in the hallway, he heard and felt Miss’Ouri giving the Caamasi equivalent of a chuckle. He stepped into the doorway that joined Miss’Ouri’s living room to the hallway and slouched against the wall. “What?” he asked quizzically.

Miss’Ouri and Cas were sitting in an armchair and on the couch, respectively, facing each other and drinking tea. Cas looked almost demure, an illusion that wasn’t helped by the antique, ornate tea service set Miss’Ouri had stationed on the low table between them.

“Finally they’re starting to let it all go,” Miss’Ouri explained. “You did a good job in there, Dean. I had half a mind to break out Master Yoda’s lecture on fear and how it leads to anger and hate and suffering. He always gives it to younglings when they’re still open-minded enough to not be jaded.” She shook her head.

“Those two are still children, especially in their connection with the Force, but alas they are quite jaded. You have helped them though. Now they will open their minds to the Force again—before they were trapped in what they were afraid to see,” she added sagely.

Dean pushed off the wall and crossed the room, pausing at the table to pour himself a cup of tea. Without his gloves, he trembled a little with the knowledge that slipped into him. The tea set was given to Miss’Ouri by members of her clan to celebrate her return home after the initial phases of training as a Jedi. She’d been Protectorate even then, so her knowledge of her family was far greater than most other young Padawans, especially as she’d had a contact... Master Joran, who had ensured she received important messages from Protectorate on Caamas. But it had been a monumental and emotional experience and she had stored the memory in vivid detail, its swell of emotions triggered every time she used the set. It was... precious. For a moment he felt like an intruder, trespassing on Miss’Ouri’s private memories, but no— The realization flooded through him a split second before Cas prompted him through their bond. Miss’Ouri knew who and what Dean was. She had seen he didn’t have his gloves on—for that matter she undoubtedly knew he wasn’t wearing them because she’d been monitoring the events in Sam’s bedroom through the Force. She would have never let him pick up the cup if she didn’t want him to see.

“Thank you,” he murmured and took a small sip. It was something spicy and unfamiliar; it might have been from Miss’Ouri’s homeworld, but he couldn’t be sure. Dean was surprised... and somewhat intrigued. Thanks to his chaotic upbringing—or early adulthood as he liked to think of it—and John’s rather eclectic tastes, Dean was familiar with many of even the most uncommon cuisines in the galaxy. “This is good,” he mumbled as he unfroze and continued his path across the room, his mind already pulled away by the thread of thought Miss’Ouri’s words had tugged free. He dropped onto the couch and slid over until he was pressed against Cas’s side.

Cas slid his arm around Dean’s shoulders and brushed a quick kiss against his neck, prompting a smile.

Contact with Cas always eased the tension that sometimes built within Dean—too much energy and potential as the Force pooled within him. But he was suddenly feeling much, much better than he had only a moment before. He was pretty sure some of that was the tea, a lot of it was Cas, but the rest... the rest was Sam and Mina. He’d known their emotional paralysis was affecting him, affecting them all, but he hadn’t realized the extent until it began to ease. “Miss’Ouri, do you...” He took another sip. “Was that enough? As you said they’re still jaded. I can feel the change already, but did I help? Or are they just on a little diversion, still stuck in the same thought patterns?”

“Miss’Ouri tutted, “You know as well as I the future isn’t set in stone or even seeable in that way. But, yes, I think it is enough. You have removed their blinds, opened their eyes to see they’re not who—or what—they think. Their curiosity will take them from here.”

Dean laughed, “Well, if there’s one thing they’ve both got in spades, its curiosity.”

“We also have news for you,” Cas said, tilting his head towards Dean and rubbing his shoulder reassuringly.

“Oh?” Dean asked. Normally he would have picked up on something like that, but Sam and Mina had been occupying his full attention.

“Master Shran contacted us from Onderon. He says that Master Yoda offered him a seat on the council.”

“The J—Jedi High Council?”

Cas nodded the affirmative. “Apparently, the Council has sacked Master Zachariah—who fled—and Master Uriel has resigned for a period of reflection, and the Council itself nominated Shran unanimously.”

Dean wasn’t quite sure if that was a good thing, but both Miss’Ouri and Cas seemed pleased, relaxed even, so this couldn’t be bad... right? “What about his duties to the Protectorate?”

“He also successfully met with Sian, and she will be traveling with him for the next standard month before coming here for training.” Miss’Ouri paused and her features quirked in the Caamasi equivalent of a wry smile. “Apparently Master Yoda guaranteed Master Shran that he wouldn’t be asked to choose sides or prioritize his duties to the Jedi above his position in the Protectorate.”

Cas added, “Master Yoda strongly implied Shran will have the opportunity to speak up and stop the Order from making a similar disastrous choice—”

Dean didn’t have to ask which choice Cas meant.

“—And Yoda promised we will be treated as equals, respected for our skills and knowledge, and protected from any future threats or endangerment on the part of the Council or the Order.”

“Wow, okay... that went a lot better than I expected,” Dean admitted, feeling more of the tension he carried within release, the Force once again flowing smoothly, swiftly through him. “When Shran gets back, I want to talk to him about setting up a meeting with the Council to discuss the use of ysalimiri in their detention center.” He shifted on the couch, twisting so he could visually gage Cas’s reaction.

There was a little hiccup in their link, and Dean could see the terror and pain that flashed behind Cas’s eyes, but Cas didn’t speak.

“Which means I’ll need to contact Bobby in the meantime, ask him to do a little more research, talk to his contacts on Myrkr—he may even know things that will be important, valuable that we haven’t thought to ask in the past because they didn’t pertain to our immediate needs.”

Now Cas shifted restlessly, his hand stuttering as it moved against Dean’s back. “Will you—are you saying you, we, need to go to Myrkr?” His voice had a breathy uncertainty Dean had never heard before.

Dean nodded slowly, “We might, we might not... that depends on a lot of contingencies we don’t know yet. I—” he reached out, resting his left hand against Cas’s chest in what he hoped was a gesture of reassurance. “I don’t know if it would be safe for me, or the Force to be around them, at least not for that long or in that number, but that’s, well, several of the things we need to find out.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Miss’Ouri cock her head at Cas, as if giving permission. He could feel the burgeoning question just out of reach in Cas’s mind.

What are you trying to do?

Dean couldn’t suppress a half-horrified chuckle. “Well—I’m trying to do a lot of things...” It was stalling, but he wasn’t sure how to answer. Surely Cas could feel the tangled jumble of thoughts, fears, and intentions trying to all force their way out at the same time.

“I don’t think you can control the Jedi, Dean. Especially not when it comes to their detention practices.” Cas sounded more sorrowful than anything else, a resigned, wary look pinching up the skin around his eyes.

“I’m not going to try to control them.” Huh, somehow Cas’s words had broken through the dam of thoughts, untangling the tendrils and letting them slip through unimpeded. “I can see why and how ysalimiri could actually protect Jedi—or any Force sensitive. They could block the effects of a particularly powerful Sith or other Force user trying to attack or influence others, either by putting the Sith inside an ysalimir bubble or by those looking to escape the attack or influence taking refuge inside the bubble.” He leaned forward meeting Cas’s eyes, his words backed by urgency. “We know that—as much as the ysalimiri nearly killed me and destroyed the Force, they also saved us. We were in no condition to fight off those Jedi. When I imagine what would happen if the Jedi actually tried to detain someone like Azazel or Ruby without ysalimiri there...”

Dean shuddered. “It’s a horrible thing to do to any Force sensitive against their will, and I can’t say I would do it if I were in the Council’s position, but I’m not sure that I wouldn’t, either. The thing is, no one knows how dangerous it is for Force sensitives to be around ysalamiri, or even if there’s a risk for anyone other than me... I’m not sure it would actually be dangerous for me now that Azazel isn’t single-handedly unbalancing the Force, or if the Force would be harmed by cutting me off. That’s the point. We don’t know. The Council doesn’t know. I can’t make a decision for them, but I can definitely make sure they have answers so they’re making informed decisions rather than groping around in the dark or acting on Faith. I don’t know anyone better-qualified to find the answers than us.”

Cas regarded Dean in silence, emotions shifting behind his eyes and flowing across their bond like the raging current of the Wild Kath River. Finally, slowly, Cas said, “You’re right. We do have to do this... but Dean, you have to let me protect you. Promise not to go off half-cocked and self-sacrificing. We have much more to do in the Universe, in this lifetime.” He stroked the side of Dean’s face. “I can’t lose you to...” Shock stole across Cas’s face like a ghost.

Dean knew what he was thinking—felt it, saw it—the split second consideration that the Jedi’s use of the Ysalimiri was someone-else’s problem, not their concern, not important, followed by the gut-twisting realization, the inherent superiority of that thinking. They weren’t above the Jedi or separate from them. Anything any Force sensitive did to the Force, any action someone took against Force sensitives could have far reaching consequences for all—sensitive and non-sensitive alike—for the Force, and even for the Universe.

Cas blinked. “I just can’t lose you. The Force needs you—and I... I need you.”

“You’re not like him. Not like them,” Dean said defiantly.

“But I just thought—”

“But you stopped yourself. You thought. You realized where that path led and you realized you didn’t want to go there, that we can’t afford to go there. You cared.” Dean squeezed Cas’s shoulder. “We may need to put others above ourselves, but I will always try to place the balance of the Force, the preservation of life in this Universe above all. I will place you above me, as you place me above yourself. We’ll save each other and stop ourselves from doing anything stupid.” Dean chuckled; it was a little bitter, but real, not forced.

Cas felt it too, Dean could tell by the startled puff of air that escaped his lips and the genuine smile that spread across his face.

“Ah-hem,” Miss’Ouri’s throat-clearing broke the spell that had fallen over them, and brought them back to the moment.

“Sorry,” Cas spoke for both of them, as they both turned their attention back to Miss’Ouri.

Dean could feel the embarrassment coloring his features. “We shouldn’t have—that... here. You shouldn’t have had to see... inappropriate.”

“Nonsense, Child,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I’ve known those revelations were coming from some time. I’m just relieved you two didn’t need the prompting that they needed,” she nodded towards the hallway and Sam’s room. “Because that would have been unpleasantly awkward. And no, Dean Winchester, this was not ‘just as awkward.’ That was really quite touching and entirely appropriate. I’m sorry if your delicate sensibilities were offended.”

“Sam and Mina are doing just fine.” She continued. Her expression sobered and she inclined her head toward Cas. “Dean is right; you do need to research the ysalimiri. There are eddies in the Force that suggest the lizards will be of vital importance to be used for light, dark, and balance in the future. We must learn all that we can and pass that knowledge on so the Protectorate of the future is prepared.”

Beside Dean, Cas nodded in agreement, letting go of another wave of tension. “I understand.”

“But first, there is something you must do a little closer to home. Chevy?”

The little astromech trundled forward out of the kitchen gliding to a stop beside Miss’Ouri’s chair. She trilled a response that seemed to be equal parts “it’s about time” and “do we really have to do this?”

“Thank you, Chevy,” Miss’Ouri said, beaming with genuine appreciation. “Chevy came to me a few days ago and revealed some information about how Sam learned many of the Sith disciplines he came to rely on when hiding from us.”

Dean stole a glance at Cas, confirming the same buzz of uncertainty and confusion he felt through their bond. “I thought Sam learned from Ruby,” Dean ventured.

Chevy made a low wavering warble that Dean had heard enough times to know it was the astromech equivalent of “oh boy do I wish.” She stopped and rocked a little in place, but didn’t say anything else or indicate she wanted Dean to grab the datapad for translating.

“Sam did learn from Ruby, but as you may have figured out, Sam didn’t meet up with Ruby for at least a month after he left here,” Miss’Ouri began.

Dean thought back to what Mina had told him. Apparently it had taken some time—a few visits over the course of a week or so—before Ruby had been able to convince her to hand over her body. Going off of her time table, she hadn’t encountered Ruby until at least two months after they’d returned to Dantooine. Following that timeline, Ruby might have left Ossus as about the same time as Sam left Dantooine and depending on the ship, Ruby and Sam might have arrived at Nar Shaddaa anywhere from simultaneously to a few weeks apart. Only... He remembered Sam telling him he’d been gambling, saving up—had been there for... a month when he met Ruby. Huh?

“Huh,” Cas said aloud.

“Indeed,” Miss’Ouri continued. “I wondered how that boy had stayed hidden from us for so long without help. I thought for a while that perhaps Lord Azazel was shielding Sam from us, blocking us so we couldn’t track him. But there would have been no way for his influence to penetrate this house...”

“And Sam must have been planning to leave for at least a few weeks, and none of us ever got an inkling. I mean, I knew he was frustrated, upset. But I definitely didn’t think he was going to run. It was—” Dean swallowed hard. He didn’t need to finish that sentence, the memory of the shock and terror when Sam and the Folly had suddenly disappeared was written across everyone’s faces.

“He said something to you, didn’t he? About researching Sith techniques for shielding one’s presence in the Force?” Cas asked Miss’Ouri.

“Yes, and like you, I dissuaded him, or so I thought. He was angry with me,” Miss’Ouri clenched and unclenched her hand. “But I didn’t think he would do anything. I was still thinking of him like a child, and I didn’t sense anything in his Force aura, didn’t see anything when I searched the Force for visions, so I assumed he was okay. I was wrong.”

“We all were,” Dean murmured.

“Based on the conversation Chevy and I had, we’ve figured out Sam was researching what Sith techniques he could on the holonet. He structured his queries as searches for historical data and legends. He gleaned the information sideways—through tangents and rumors. It was all carefully structured to avoid raising suspicion and then his slicing skills erased the record,” Miss’Ouri explained.

Dean nodded; that made sense, and they all should have thought of Sam’s non-Force abilities and how they might play into his goals, but they hadn’t realized there was anything to worry about. They’d been like Jedi, blinded by the utility of the Force, forgetting the power of tools and skills at everyone’s disposal.

“Where does Chevy come in?” Cas asked.

Chevy gave an almost shameful-sounding whistle.

“When Sam couldn’t get any farther, he enlisted Chevy’s help against her will. He installed a subroutine in her primary processor that forbade her to speak of what she was doing,” Miss’Ouri paused. “Sam interfered with Chevy’s memory when he wasn’t working with her.”

Dean felt the blood drain from his face. Chevy was his; not just his droid, but his friend, his family, and he’d been so wrapped up in himself, in his own powers, in Cas, that he hadn’t noticed anything was going on. That was two people he’d failed. “I—I’m sorry, Chevy. I didn’t know, and I should have.”

“We are both sorry,” Cas added, giving Chevy a sincere, apologetic look.

“How can Chevy tell us now?” Dean wondered aloud.

Chevy gave a series of bleeps and blurts and turned and leaned towards Miss’Ouri who seemed to take that as permission to continue.

“Chevy has been trying to overcome the subroutine since Sam installed it, but she told me it felt like something... unnatural was blocking her.” Miss’Ouri paused while her words sank in. “Since Darth Azazel was defeated, or more specifically, since Sam came back to us, she has found it easier and easier to work around, and three days ago, she successfully eradicated the subroutine, and recovered the memories with which it was interfering.”

“Are you saying that Sam was somehow using the Force to keep Chevy from fixing her programming?” Dean asked, incredulous. “Is that even possible?” As he spoke the question, the answer came to him across the bond.

“It’s possible, but very, very rare. Much rarer than the ability to mass-project illusions or absorb and re-direct energy. About ten thousand times rarer,” Cas said aloud. “When I was... in my first lifetime, I knew of only three Jedi with the documented ability to manipulate and influence machinery and artificial intelligence directly. And two of those three had died centuries before my time, at least. It might have been longer. Most Force users can control machinery to some degree. We can all stun droids or even destroy them outright—”

Chevy warbled in protest.

“Sorry girl,” Dean apologized for Cas. “We would never do it to you.” It was true. He’d do anything to make sure Chevy was alright, even if she was, he shuddered, under the influence of a Sith who could actually manipulate her mind.

“But that’s because we can use the Force to send out shock waves, electromagnetic pulses, electricity—we can cause circuits to overload, crush with millions of pascals of pressure. We can also sometimes control weapons—cause blasters to jam, shock grids to misfire, that kind of thing,” Cas continued.

“But that’s because we’re either manipulating the energy being fired or the mechanical parts themselves,” Dean finished.

“Exactly. What Miss’Ouri is talking about though—that is different. If Sam actually influenced Chevy, that means he can actually control droid sentience. That’s manipulating base code and chips and molecules on the quantum level. That’s influencing a droid’s thoughts just as one would the thoughts of an organic being. It’s extremely rare and very dangerous in the wrong hands,” Cas finished. He cocked his head towards Miss’Ouri, “You do not think this was Azazel’s doing.”

“No,” Miss’Ouri confirmed. “I think it was all Sam. In fact, I believe Azazel didn’t know he had this ability at all.”

“If he’d known, he would have forced or used or influenced Sam to interfere with the Dream or would have stopped Chevy from freeing Bobby and trapping his acolytes. Azazel couldn’t have known anything about Sam’s affinity for droids because he didn’t even know a restraining bolt would be useless on Chevy.” Dean shuddered at the thought. If Azazel had known, their confrontation on Korriban could have ended very differently.

Chevy gave out a low groan of agreement.

“Well, Chevy is very strong willed, and I would have expected no less seeing as your momma made her,” Miss’Ouri said approvingly. “It seems she was able to fight the influence all along, or the subroutine and Sam’s... influence would have forced her to permanently wipe those memories.”

“So what do you need us to do?” Dean asked. “I—are we worried about Sam? Because aside from the whole Mina thing... he seems to be doing pretty well.” Although, Sam had seemed fine just before he fled, and look how that had turned out. He knew Sith techniques for shielding his mind...

“Dean, do you think Sam is unbalanced, in danger of giving himself over entirely to the Dark Side?” Miss’Ouri asked quizzically.

“No,” Dean answered automatically. “I’m worried about his internalized hatred and guilt, his sense of ... otherness. I think Sam needs to learn to let go. But he’s doing that little by little. I’d be more worried about him going too far in the other direction—trying to outdo the Jedi at their game over fear of losing himself again. Sam seems to be a little too keyed to absolutes.”

“Then we have nothing to fear on that front,” Miss’Ouri answered with a Caamasi smile.

“How can you be so sure? We missed it before—” Dean interrupted, but Cas’s eyes grew wide, and Dean found the answer spinning up out of the depths of his own mind. “I—the Force. As the conduit, the Healer, I can... see how the Force is being used around me. I would know if Sam...” he gulped as he realized the implications. Now that his energy was no longer tied up in holding the Force together, there could be no secrets from him, whether he liked it or not. The Force could tell him what was going on.

“You could not sense it before because the Force was damaged,” Cas nodded in understanding, squeezing Dean’s hand in reassurance and pulling his body close, making Dean feel safe, secure, calm. “Do not fear, Dean. I believe this ability is more... subtle than your psychometry.”

Dean nodded understanding what he meant. “It’s like I have to ask. At least tell myself if I want to know. It’s not data that’s just dumped into my mind. Kind of like Shran with Force signatures... you know. We’d be really formidable working together. We could see what everyone was doing and how and who even if they were trying to conceal it.” It could be an amazing tool—or disaster in the wrong hands. One more reason for power hungry Force users—or even nonsensitives—to want to control Dean.

“Which is why we’re not to going to go advertizing your ability,” Miss’Ouri said reassuringly. “Now for the project. It seems when Sam got to a certain point with his research, he hit not so much as a dead end, but found the need to take a more hands-on approach. In his studies, he learned the location of a cave that was rumored to hold vast Sith knowledge and teachings. He took Chevy there, used her to help him with some of the computer-based security, and then forced her to stay outside and wait while he went in. She knows the location of the cave. I need you two to investigate it. Find out what it holds and what sort of threats it might pose.”

“Do you want us to destroy it or something?” Dean asked a little uncertainly.

“No Dean, the Protectorate does not abhor knowledge for knowledge in itself is not dangerous. But we would be remiss if we didn’t learn everything we can about our environment, about skills we could use or could be used against us or others and what kinds of risks they might pose to different individuals. That is what I want you two to help Chevy figure out.”

Dean gulped. “Okay, I think we can do that.” Something was bothering him, itching at the back of his mind. “Do you really think it’s likely? That there’s an unknown Sith... cave here?”

Miss’Ouri looked positively gleeful in her response. “I know you try to play dumb sometimes boy, but I know you are perfectly aware this planet once housed the Jedi Academy as well as a fabled source of Sith knowledge that was uncovered by two of the most notorious Sith Lords in recorded memory. The crystal that provides the blade for your lightsaber was also imbued with power, protected, and cultivated nearby. And of course...”

“Azazel murdered my mother here,” Dean whispered.

“Yes,” Miss’Ouri said in sympathy. “And here we stay, not hiding, but intentionally obscured, difficult to find or detect. Dantooine has long been a place of refuge because it is a place of polar opposites. So much focused Light and Dark Side energy has left its mark that the planet is shrouded in mystery.”

“You think this cave is just one more Dark enclave that we didn’t know about before?” Dean postulated.

“Or maybe someone did know about it, but the information was purposefully obscured,” Cas suggested, “much like the Lost Prophecy.”

“Because Sam had to get the information from somewhere,” Dean realized, his brow furrowing. “Do you want us to work with Chevy to retrace or reconstruct Sam’s queries?”

“No, we must leave that to Sam... he needs the opportunity to come clean to us—on his own terms. If it looks like the boy is gonna bottle this up, I’ll let you know, and then we can all give him a good prod.” Miss’Ouri’s expression of mirth was genuine, and it lightened the heavy mood that had descended upon the room.

“Okay,” Dean said, scooting forward to the edge of the couch suddenly filled with energy now that a new task was clearly before him. “Let’s get started.” He turned to Cas, their thoughts mingling, unspoken, across the bond.

“We have much to accomplish and little time,” Cas agreed.

Miss’Ouri gave a pleased cluck as Chevy trilled her assent.

Dean didn’t know what they’d find, but for the first time since learning of his Force abilities, he felt hope and curiosity instead of the crushing weight of responsibility and fear of the future. What they would discover was still a mystery, but he knew they would face it together.

The End...

Master Post | Part 2 | Author's Notes

Comments

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paleogymnast
Feb. 26th, 2011 12:43 am (UTC)
Ah, see, the Yoda speech works 'cause I spent half of last weekend working on it, and rewrote great chunks so it sounded more Yoda-like, but hopefully less awkward. I'm really glad you and your human liked it! I was really worried it was too slow and booooring--so much conversation, not a lot of action.

*hugs* Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment!! :)
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