The Ghost limps back to the base the day after everything changed. The few crew on deck duty barely greet them. Somebody mutters about missing a party while they perform the routine checks and clear Hera for final landing. Ezra is too tired to care about parties. Their hyperdrive took damage during the firefight over Scarif. They've spent most of the last week jumping in three minute bursts before the 'drive gave out. If he never has to spacewalk again to replace a burnt-out relay with the one Chopper just finished repairing from their last jump, it will be too soon. None of them have slept for more than a couple of hours at a time. He isn't sure Hera slept at all, swearing through the hours at the ship, at Chopper, at every single absent colleague back at Rebel Command, as another damaged part gave way.
The long-range comms worked. Tarkin's weapon destroyed Alderaan, and there was nothing they could do. When it targeted the base on Yavin, they gathered in the common area, listening to the static bursts from the battle, and Ezra relived every past loss as they waited for the end. Even with the shocking news of their victory, he half-expected an Imperial trap luring the last survivors back to a vanished moon. Instead, they've arrived in time for the end of a party where everyone's invited except them.
"Go," Hera tells the ground crew with a stare. "I don't want you touching my ship." Grateful, they hurry off. "The rest of you go, too. Chop and I have this." Chopper beeps at her in irritation at being volunteered for more repairs.
"I'm not in a party mood," says Zeb, yawning.
"Then get some shut-eye. I'll need you fresh and awake for the evacuation."
He nods and wanders off towards his own private quarters elsewhere on the base for a few hours of solid sleep.
Ezra asks, "How soon do you think we're leaving?"
"The communique said the first transports fly out tomorrow. The Empire knows we're here. We need to be somewhere else."
Ezra wants to sleep. Since they moved here, he's spent most of his nights in the barracks with the other pilots instead of in his old cabin on the ship. Sleeping, as much as he could sleep, in his old quarters these past few days has him thinking too much about old times. He used to be a lot shorter, and the Ghost seemed a lot bigger, and now it's not the same. With everyone at the party, the barracks are empty. He's ready to hit his bunk when he notices the footlockers.
Dozens of them are lined up against the wall. Dozens of bunks have been stripped of their bedding. For one fuzzy moment, he thinks they're getting ready for the evacuation.
A few bunks still have their normal bedding. No one owns a lot of personal items here, which makes the signs of life in each one's bed that much more significant. Ezra has seen without noticing all the holos and flimsy pictures of families, friends, sweethearts. Now he sees what's missing. Most of the bunks have been cleaned out.
He looks at the lined-up footlockers again. Blue Squadron was obliterated back at Scarif, and Green took heavy damage. Red and Gold were all but wiped out yesterday.
Ezra sits on the edge of his bunk, eyes searching out spot after empty spot.
Sleep isn't an option.
It isn't a party, he finds out. The real party was last night, as the embers of the Death Star fell, and the Rebel survivors indulged in the double cocktail of adrenaline and Pops's moonshine, toasting his memory. Today it's a ceremony, full of pomp and bluster and hangovers. The pilots who pulled off the trench run stunt got medals. Command made a lot of speeches. Ezra is not sorry he missed it, especially since there's still food in the mess from the combination celebratory feast and hurried cook-up of all the supplies that won't last until they set up the next base. He loads a tray and finds a spot to sit beside Wedge.
"Hey," Wedge says with a headachey smile. "You finally decided to join us, I see."
"We took the scenic route home. Did I miss anything?"
His grin lets Wedge in on the joke, and he gets a laugh. "Nothing much." There are more lines on his face than Ezra remembers from a week ago.
"Did you get one of those medals? I hear they were handing them out to everybody."
"Not me. I only rated a handshake and a kiss on the cheek."
There's an uptick in the noise. Wedge cranes his neck, and his smile gets bigger. He waves to the guy who just came in, and the guy waves back. Seeing Ezra's confusion, he says, "That's Luke Skywalker. He's the pilot who blew up the Death Star."
From the circle growing around the guy, it seems everyone knows who he is. For a minute, Ezra is two years younger and on a base where everyone knows him. Here on Yavin, he's just another face in the barracks. He's glad no one has ever clustered around him the way people are gathering around this Skywalker kid.
The name rings a bell. "Skywalker. Where have I heard that before?"
"All over the comms yesterday?"
"No. Somewhere else."
"Maybe from Darklighter. Luke's that kid back home he kept talking about." Wedge's face gets tight for a moment, which answers the question Ezra hasn't asked. Darklighter's footlocker is lined against the barracks wall today.
Princess Leia comes into the mess, and Ezra watches Skywalker's whole face light up when he sees her. Ezra hides his laugh, because good luck with that. A handshake and a kiss on the cheek are all he's ever going to get.
He watches her for a moment. Leia's pale under her smile. Ezra gets that sad little twist in his gut when he remembers why.
As soon as he sees she's free for a moment, Ezra heads over to her table. "Hi, Your Highness."
"Hi, Ezra. I see you finally made it back."
"Engine trouble." For half a second, he's ready to jibe with her about Hera's swearing as she kicked the hyperdrive, but he notices the new guy, the hero, is watching, and Ezra doesn't know him well enough to kid around in front of him. Instead, he says, with as much sympathetic formality as he can, "I wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss."
"Thank you," she says after a moment. He regrets mentioning it. Leia just lost her family and her home planet. Ezra can offer her an understanding shoulder, but she clearly would rather not talk about it right now, not in the company of her new friend. Skywalker's smile is a little muted, too.
"I keep forgetting," he says to her. "I lost my family and Obi-Wan, but you lost your whole world."
Leia thanks him, but Ezra's ears are ringing and he can't hear. He stares at her.
"My father's old friend General Kenobi was killed by Darth Vader. He gave his life for us to escape from the Death Star." It's a small grief for her atop all the rest. Skywalker's face is drawn into sorrow.
All the bunks are empty and Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead. Ezra can't speak. He nods vaguely at Leia. "I'll see you later," he manages to mouth, and leaves them sitting there.
Evacuations need loading. Ezra's got two arms and a gravlift. He works, making himself not think about the news Skywalker brought, making himself practice his breathing exercises as he pushes weapons crates onto the transports.
He's exhausted by the time he puts his head on the bunk. His allergies, brought on by something microscopic growing in a slimy sheet across every surface on this humid moon, follow him into his dreams, where he can't breathe. He's outside the ship without his helmet. They'll never get back to Yavin, and when they do, it's dust. Darth Vader is waiting for him. Vader murders Jedi, and it's finally Ezra's turn.
Ezra sneezes himself awake. He's used to the sounds of snores and grunts in the room, soothing after years of listening to Zeb snore every night. It's too quiet in here.
That doesn't last. As he lies there in the semi-dark, others enter the room. He knows Wedge's voice straight away. "We'll be moving out tomorrow, but you can grab a bunk here for tonight."
"Thanks," says the new guy. "Han let me borrow the spare cabin on his ship last night, but if I'm going to be part of this, I'd rather be here with everyone."
Ezra's eyes stay carefully closed. Not every lesson he picked up was intentionally taught. He's learning to sense people through the Force, figure out where they are and where they're moving without having to see them. Wedge is a familiar light in his mind. Skywalker is bigger but hazier, like a brilliant torch viewed through thick smoke.
Wedge is leading Luke to a bunk two rows over. The Blue Squadron bunks are all empty. He sits up, startling them with the movement.
"Oh, hey, Ezra," Wedge says. "Sorry for waking you. Didn't know you were here. Luke needs a place to sleep tonight."
"Hi," Skywalker says with a quick smile, which widens as he places Ezra's face. The new guy is still learning names. The new guy was the last one to see Master Obi-Wan alive.
"Hi." Ezra pulls on his boots and gets up.
"You don't have to go," says Wedge, reading the line of Ezra's shoulders. "I thought we'd grab some of the others and maybe play cards."
"Can't. I just remembered I promised to do something for the General. Gotta go." He can always sleep on the Ghost.
Since he invoked Hera's name to get himself out of there, and he hates telling direct lies, he heads to her office first. He figures she won't be in and he can justify going to the ship for a few hours of alone time in his old cabin. He gets to her office door, and sees there's a light on inside. He knocks before stepping in.
"Office" is a generous term for the half closet that's been set aside for Hera to have her own computer terminal, a chair, and a charging jack for Chopper. She's typing when Ezra lets himself inside. She looks up, then back at her screen.
"What do you know about this Skywalker guy?"
"Not much. Why?"
He wants to tell her he's got a bad feeling, but that's not right. He wants to tell her about Obi-Wan, but he's not sure she'll care, not on top of all the other deaths in the past couple of days. "Just wondered."
She finishes typing. "I know Rex went wild when he heard the name." Someone will have to tell Rex about Master Obi-Wan. He spent most of two decades believing his friend was dead, and now he's gone for real.
Hera sighs and rubs her eyes. Ezra forgets about Skywalker.
"Did you get any rest?"
"I will when I'm finished here."
He lets himself around the desk to see what she's working on. Technically, he shouldn't, but she's not making any move to stop him. There's a list of names on one side of her screen. There's a half-written letter on the other. Ezra doesn't have to read it to know what it says.
"I am sorry to send you this letter. Your [relative] gave [pronoun] life bravely in the service of freedom on [date]."
The letters are personalized with an affectionate memory or a short mention of some heroic deed the deceased performed. Ezra remembers the first batch she worked on after Atollon, her own way of dealing with what had happened. After the last week, she'll never run out of letters to send to strangers listed on the personnel forms of fallen friends. Ezra's form lists Sabine because he figures the rest of the people who would care if he dies are already here. There are days he stops himself from taking particular risks because he can't stand the thought of Hera sitting alone at her terminal composing that letter to Sabine.
He knows the name on the letter she's writing now. "Tell you what," he says. "Let me do some of these for you while you grab a nap."
"I was their commanding officer."
"Yeah, but I've been serving with them and living with them. I've got better stories. You can read over everything before they're sent. Please let me do this." Wheedling like he did when he was fifteen works sometimes, although from the expression she gives him, they both know he hasn't been that young for a lot longer than four years. She also can't hide her exhaustion.
"Thanks. I'll look them over in the morning. You don't have to do them all." She pulls out a flimsy from a stack on the small desk surface and hands it to Ezra. "If you want to learn more about Skywalker, ask him. No one has done an intake on him yet. You can be nosy for the Rebellion."
"Yes, ma'am. Oh, I'm sleeping on the ship tonight. Don't be startled if you hear me come aboard." He glares at Chopper, who zapped him the last time he made an unexpected visit.
Ezra takes her chair as she heads out. He reads the first name on the list, and remembers a hearty laugh and devilish luck at sabacc. He starts typing.
His chance to talk with the newcomer doesn't materialize until they're unpacking at the next base. Ezra arranges to carry a particularly unwieldy bundle of plastisteel sheets, asking Luke picking up the other end. They bring their load into the mess, where the sheets will be slotted with legs and turned into tables. In silent agreement, they set down their burden and sit for a moment, catching their breaths.
"So where are you from?" Luke asks him, before Ezra can launch into his questionnaire.
Luke frowns, like he's heard the name somewhere. "Isn't that where...."
"Yeah." Ezra is tired of talking about it. He didn't used to understand why his friends hated dwelling on their own pasts. The face next to him is too young to get it yet. "What about you?"
"I'm from some nowhere planet you won't have heard of."
"Try me." Ezra has the blank form on him. He ought to write this down.
"Tatooine," Luke says, with the ready expression of someone expecting a "Where?" in reply.
Ezra can't stop the shiver. He ought to have guessed, since Luke knew Obi-Wan. "I've been there."
"You're joking. No one goes to Tatooine. Not on purpose. I spent my whole life trying to leave the moisture farm." His face shifts in a memory. He said something about losing his family, but that's the last subject Ezra wants to talk about so soon after mentioning Lothal.
"I wasn't there long. I mostly saw a lot of sand."
"Then you saw all of it." Luke stands up, clearly also not wanting to talk about home. He offers Ezra a hand. "What are we getting next?"
"If we get the legs, we can assemble the tables and have someplace to eat dinner." Base setup is always a weird scramble. The technicians have to set up the computers. The construction crew has to set up the buildings. Everyone else grabs whatever they can, and the people who come after hope they knew what they were doing.
As they set to work attaching legs to tables, Ezra pulls out his flimsy. Casually, he says, "While we're here, I can do your intake. We need some info for your records."
"It's basic information. Allergies. Religious affiliations. Next of kin. That sort of thing." Ezra stayed up writing letters for hours the night before they packed up the Massassi base.
"Oh." Luke affixes two legs to his table. "You contact them when someone dies." Ezra nods. "Do you know if someone contacted the Darklighter family yet?"
He does. He wrote that one. "The messages went out while we were in hyperspace. It helps hide our location." He recalls what Wedge said, and yes, he remembers the few stories of home Biggs shared. "You two were close."
"I should write to his mother myself."
Ezra doesn't comment. People deal with their grief in their own fashion, some by reaching out to others who knew the person, some by refusing to speak of their loved one at all.
Luke has grown thoughtful. His hands work automatically with the spanner. He'll be good in the guts of an engine, Ezra is sure. He's already shown he's a decent pilot. Maybe he'll live long enough to show off again.
"I don't really have someone to put down to contact," Luke says after he finishes another table. "My parents died when I was little. My aunt and uncle were killed by the Empire a few days ago. I have some friends left back home, but Biggs was my best friend, and he's gone. The only people I can think of at this moment who care if I live or die are Leia, Han, and Chewbacca, and I'm not sure about Chewbacca."
Ezra's about to laugh when he sees the guy is serious. "Hey, I've been there. The Empire took my family from me when I was a kid. The Rebellion is my family now, and has been for a long time."
"That doesn't seem so bad." Luke sounds like he's working on convincing himself.
"It's something," Ezra says. "You want me to put down Princess Leia as your next of kin?"
Luke chuckles. "Can I do that? Do you think she'd kill me?" There are a few other questions inside those questions. Ezra is not going to answer them for him.
"Well, on the bright side, if she ever finds out, it'll be because you're already dead."
They assemble more tables. "When's your birthday?"
Luke tells him. Ezra blinks. "Are you kidding me?"
"No? I don't think so. Why?"
Ezra writes it down. "No reason."
"Can I pick a different day?"
If finding out the newest hero of the Rebellion shares the exact same date of birth with him isn't weird enough, hearing him ask to change it is worse. "What? Why?" It hits him a moment later. Why wouldn't he? "Because you hate the Empire, and you hate being tied to it that way."
Luke nods. "I don't even know if it's my real birthday. My aunt and uncle didn't know what day I was born. They picked Empire Day because it was about right and easy to remember."
"You don't know your real birthday?"
"I happen to know your next of kin's birthday was two days before Empire Day. You could pick that one. Then you were technically born during the old Republic."
Luke puts down his spanner. "Why do you know Leia's birthday?"
Ezra puts the last leg on his last table and stands it upright. "Because she's two days older than I am."
It takes Luke a moment before he gets it. He snorts in the kind of undignified way that a man two days older than Ezra definitely should not. Ezra decides Luke must be younger than he is, maybe by weeks, certainly by lifetimes.
They stand back and look at their tables. Not bad. They should put together the bench seats next. As they head off to get more supplies, Ezra reads over his flimsy. "Okay, person on site who can make medical decisions in your name."
"Why would someone make medical decisions?"
"If you're unconscious and the medical droid has to chop off an arm or something, Command wants to have someone else tagged to make the call rather than let the droids choose. I can put Leia down again if you want."
"She finds out if I'm dead. She gets to decide if my arm gets cut off. I have known her for three days."
"You could put down Solo."
"Leia," Luke says firmly. Ezra makes a note.
They bring the benches to the mess and start assembling them. Ezra asks, "Any religious affiliation?"
"We weren't that observant when I was growing up." He's got a thoughtful look. "This is going to sound weird."
"'Weird' is a sliding scale in the Rebellion."
"Can I put 'Jedi' for my religion?"
Ezra drops his spanner. "Why?" The word comes out flat.
Luke reads his face wrong. "Sorry. Told you it was weird. I know there aren't any Jedi any more."
Ezra tries to think, but it's like slow syrup in his brain. He's from Tatooine. He's interested in Jedi. He knows Ezra's birthday. He got Master Obi-Wan killed.
"Is Maul alive? Did he send you?" The tables and benches and the base are all forgotten. Ezra's lightsaber is in storage on the Ghost, but he has a blaster and he can use the Force to defend himself. "Why are you here?"
Luke scoots away from him, frightened by the black cloud covering Ezra's face. "What do you mean?"
"I was sure Obi-Wan struck him down. I thought I felt it in the Force. Were you his new apprentice?" He doesn't like the sound of his own voice.
"Ezra," Luke says in a tone that suggests he thinks his new pal has lost his mind, "what are you talking about?" He's looking for the exit.
There's a long moment, and later Ezra knows it's a moment where he could have given in to sorrows and angers he's been carrying since he was seven years old. But he can sense the Force in Luke, can sense it like a beacon. He sees the honest, worried confusion on his open face and in his clear eyes. He's not a Sith or another servant of the Dark Side. He's a lonely kid who lost his family and got a lucky shot at the Death Star.
"Sorry," Ezra says, backing off. "I'm sorry. It's been a rough week, and I'm not recovered yet." Week? He can't remember the last time things weren't hard, the last time he didn't hurt.
"You knew Ben Kenobi." Luke's still worried, but he's latched onto an earlier part of the conversation.
"We met once. I was in pursuit of a former Sith named Maul. He went to Tatooine to kill Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought I could stop him. Obi-Wan told me I was out of my depth and sent me home. Then he killed Maul. I know he did."
"Because you felt it in the Force. You said."
"You're a Jedi." The words mix with curiosity and hope.
"I was going to be. I trained for years. Now I don't know what I am. Sorry," he says again, and really means it. "I didn't mean to scare you. For a minute, I thought...."
"You thought I was sent here to kill you." He's amused and disbelieving. "You know I blew up the Death Star, right?"
"Told you 'weird' was a sliding scale. Anyway, Maul hated the Emperor, too. He'd be happy."
"Right." Luke reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket. He brings out a lightsaber handle. "He gave me this. He said it belonged to my father. Ben was just starting to show me how to use it when he died."
There's another question in there, too. Luke's a farmboy, and he's an innocent, but Ezra is realizing he's not stupid. He's just young, younger than Ezra has felt in a long time.
"I can't train you," Ezra tells him. He is in no condition to take on an apprentice. He can barely take care of himself. But if Luke goes around carrying that kind of weapon, he'll be safer if he's got skills to back it up. "I can show you how to use a lightsaber, though."
"I'd appreciate whatever you could teach me."
Luke puts his saber away again, touching the outside of the pocket like a charm. His father's lightsaber. Ezra is sure that can't be right. The old Jedi had views about that sort of thing, which would have been an important detail to have been told when he was fourteen and thought being a Jedi just meant swinging around a lightsaber and impressing everyone with his cool powers. He'd believed so much back then. A mirror of that old innocence is smiling at him brightly, not knowing any of the path he's asking to follow.
"Let's finish the benches. After dinner, I'll walk you through a few moves."
He wonders if every teacher who came before felt this same way: a little worried about screwing up, a lot of aching for days that will never return. Ezra is absolutely not taking Luke as a Padawan. He's willing to help him out with a few lessons, that's all. As a friend.