It was an instant awareness that clued Kanan in to the fact that this was the moment. He had been waiting for it and now it was here and he wished he had more time. His reaction was quick, bringing the Force to bear on the explosion, holding back the flames from reaching his family. He made to move forward.
“Kanan!” Hera shouted from behind him.
“I have to do this, Hera,” he said calmly, despite his racing heart.
“You’ll die,” she said, despair cracking her voice.
“I was always going to die,” he said, pushing towards the flames to give him a second to say goodbye. “The lothwolves let me know Kanan Jarrus would die, for Dume to rise, but I would save you.”
“I don’t want to discredit your religion, love,” she said, “but who are you more afraid of disappointing and leaving, it or me?”
Kanan knelt with his knees pressed to the earth, hands on his thighs. The early morning chill settled on his face, but he didn’t shiver. He was trying to think, to know, to decide. So much had happened lately and it was difficult to find even small moments for meditation. The truth was, he knew there were paths for him to pick and it was not easy to know which way to go.
Because he’d been given a promise or a prophecy and it was a culmination of so many things in the time he had lived. On the one hand was the new life he’d built for himself out of the ashes of the old. It combined elements of both and it satisfied him in a way he had thought he would never find again. But on the other side was duty and honor and sacrifice and a reconciliation of his destiny.
The ultimate decider, of course, was how this would affect the people around him and the galaxy he wanted to protect, even if he didn’t always agree with how it was done. Because he’d been there before, been under an oath and a life held to others, and it had brought pain and abandonment and fear. Not the Jedi’s fault, but that didn’t matter much to a young man fleeing from the destruction of all he’d known. That was why he held out on full-hearted devotion to the Rebellion Hera had given her life to. Because he knew how it could fail.
Still it was Hera who was at stake here. She had to be saved. Not just for the Rebellion, but for him, for the life and family they’d created together. Nothing else mattered about him. Even if he would be gone, she would be safe and that was what mattered. He knew losing him would hurt his family, but if he could restore her to them by sacrificing himself, well, they were ready. They had grown so much, the two kids he had helped bring to where they were today and he couldn’t be prouder of them. Zeb had changed and grown with them, and even Chopper had mellowed with their time together. They would survive, they would grow stronger, they could help each other heal, and they could fight.
Kanan knew his decision. He would die and Hera would live. The wolves would have their prophecy fulfilled and Caleb Dume would finally become the Jedi he was meant to be.
He charged Ezra with the mission of saving Hera and devoted himself to making sure he was ready to help.
He was proud of Ezra and Sabine and how they worked together, pooling their combined talents to make this work. When he left them, he gave them the only goodbye he could, feeling deep within him, that he wouldn’t have another opportunity. He loved them fiercely and they were a part of him he could never regret, so it ached to say goodbye, just as it had ached to leave Zeb and Chopper on the ground.
The mission didn’t go perfectly, but nothing ever did. He hated seeing Hera bound and obviously hurting. Still, he had to admit that she was perfectly adorable when under the influence of truth serum. He was reminded of how easy it was to be around her, how she brought out such good things in him.
Oh then, then when she said the words he’d often wished she could articulate, he couldn’t let himself believe it. The ‘loves’ that had so often dropped from her lips were the only way she let herself tell him how she felt. Still, she convinced him, standing there on the fuel pod, under the stars of the Lothal sky. He relished the feeling of her lips on his, knowing he wouldn’t likely have that opportunity again. He would do anything to save her.
The gun ship arrived and the time for escape was imminent.
Hera’s words resounded through him and he felt more alive than he had since she had been taken. He had only a split second to make a decision before they all died, but for him it felt like time moved to an agonizing slowness.
He had been running all of his life, first toward the Jedi, then away, then something like toward again. In meeting Ezra and finally revealing his identity, it had felt like a new beginning and that he had something to work toward, to become. It wasn’t just the rebellion or freedom or even safety for his family, it was his own personal journey, the completion of the person Kanan Jarrus…Caleb Dume…was supposed to be. He had felt that completeness when the wolves had spoken to him; even as a deep sadness settled in his heart, he had felt complete.
But now…now it felt that her words had undone that sense of peace, because the anguish of leaving her, of losing what they had built, was too much for him to bear. He would give his life for any of them in a second, that wasn’t the problem. But did he have the strength to live for them, even if it meant his journey could not end with the knowledge he had completed his part and finally fulfilled a destiny he had denied for so long?
He had never been a perfect Jedi and not just because the Jedi were gone. There had always been something inside of him, a longing to connect. He’d stuffed it so far inside of himself he’d thought it could never see the light of day…until Hera had burst into his life with her musical voice and fierce values. She had turned him completely and he became someone so connected, with so many roots tying him to the life-giving force of his family. It was something as powerful as the Force. He had learned it was actually a part of the Force. It could be manipulated and misused, but so could the attributes the Jedi had so long venerated. Palpatine’s deception of the Council and the fall of the Republic proved that. So through the building of their Ghost family, Kanan had learned that since the Force itself was connection, connection in and of itself was not a bad thing.
What’s more, it gave Kanan more cause to fight, so fight now he would. He finally realized that the paths he saw before him were not incongruent with his desired destination, but he had to pick which way he would go. So he chose.
“Ezra,” he yelled and moved, jumping back on to the gun ship.
Ezra responded instantly and Kanan felt the slight relief of his Padawan’s power being added to his own. They had trained together so much and moved together so well, they acted now in concert, Kanan knowing Ezra knew what he had in mind.
Kanan focused all his will on keeping the flames back, on spreading the explosion to either side, igniting the other fuel pods. Ezra concentrated his efforts on repelling the entire gun ship away from the flames.
The heat from the blast scorched Kanan’s face, but he did not blink. He could not see the flames, but he could feel their energy and knew he was close to failure. If Ezra had not helped him, the gun ship would have been destroyed and his seconds of hesitation would have cost them all dearly.
Gradually the heat grew less on his face and he could tell Ezra’s efforts were now focused on helping him deflect the flames as Sabine piloted the craft away. Hera’s hand remained clutched to his arm and he felt it as a focal point, keeping him in the moment.
Kanan felt the entire fuel depot go up in flames and a part of him reveled in the destruction of something so vital to the Empire. Perhaps they had accomplished more that day than simply rescuing Hera, important as that was.
He turned and reached for her hands, holding them tightly in his. She swayed slightly, still under the influence of the truth serum, and he felt her hands trace over his face.
“Don’t ever do that to me again,” she said sharply, but there was more relief in her voice than anger.
“I made my choice,” he said simply.
“What other choice was there?” Ezra asked from beside him, sounding somewhat lost and Kanan felt guilt at what he had almost put Ezra through, even though he still felt assured Ezra was mature enough to handle leadership.
“Sometimes we have a choice between holding on too tightly to something that is gone and letting it go,” said Kanan in reply. “In my case…well, it was a bit of both. I’m letting go of the picture of what I thought I was supposed to be and holding on to the person I’ve become.”
“You sure picked a dramatic way to do it,” Ezra said.
“Hey, we were on a rescue op,” said Kanan, getting a jab in the ribs from Hera for his words. “I can’t control what happens there.”
“But you thought you were going to die,” Ezra said. “You planned to die…that’s why you let me plan the op.”
“I let you plan it because I was too involved to make good decisions,” said Kanan, “and because you’re ready for this.”
“But…” persisted Ezra.
“Yes, I thought that,” said Kanan. “And I could have and it would have been a good death and an honorable end to my life.”
“So you say,” retorted Hera, burying her head in his shoulder.
“I don’t say,” he said softly, reaching one hand up to gently cup the back of her head, underneath her lekku. “That’s kind of the point.”
She mumbled something into his shirt but he didn’t really need to know what she said. The way she was gripping him tightly told him everything he needed to know and the knowledge that she loved him was burning brighter than any destiny laid down on him.
“What did you mean about the wolves?” asked Ezra. “Why did they talk to you?”
“You tell me,” said Kanan. “You’re the one who found them.”
“Or they found me,” said Ezra and paused, obviously thinking hard. “Dume will rise, but what does that mean? It’s your name, but you were the one dying.”
It all made sense to Kanan, it had from the moment Hera’s voice had pulled him back from sacrifice.
“I made it so there’s really only one way to interpret that,” said Kanan. “I became Kanan Jarrus to hide Caleb Dume away. But I am a Jedi and I am not in hiding. It’s time for Kanan to retire and Caleb Dume to come back into the light, back to his place.”
“So you’re going to go by Caleb now?” Ezra asked.
“Yeah, I am,” said Caleb, feeling his idea of his own identity shift in his mind.
He would never not be Kanan, but the time for hiding was over, had been since the moment he’d revealed himself, and it was time to stop running from that. Caleb was who he had been born to be and Kanan was an amalgamation of the man he had become to keep Caleb alive and hidden. The galaxy needed Jedi more than ever, Jedi who would not be bogged down by the old ways, but were surrendered to the Force and full of love to give.
“I’m still calling you Kanan,” Hera grumbled.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Caleb replied, tightening his grip he had on her one hand.
“Everyone okay back there?” yelled Sabine. “We’re almost back to base.”
“We’re okay,” said Ezra, and Caleb could feel him staring hard at them. “I think we’re okay.”
When they landed the ship, Zeb and Chopper came up to them and Zeb swept Hera up in a big hug while Chopper waxed poetic about the injustices done to him during her absence. Caleb felt a big grin sweep over his face. Living was absolutely worth it.
After the initial explanations and stories were over and Hera had been as medically checked out as she could be given their limited equipment, Caleb led Hera up to where he had meditated and sat down on the stone. Hera looked up into the brilliant Lothal night sky, and Caleb looked at nothing. But it was fine, he’d come to his peace about that long ago. The Force showed him the colors of the galaxy in a way sight never had. He would love to be able to see, but at least he could still feel, still navigate, still love.
He nudged her with his shoulder.
“Me too,” he said.
“What?” she asked, turning to look at him.
“I love you, too,” he said.
“Good,” she said and kissed him.
He kissed her back, the background noises of Zeb and Ezra bickering coupled with Sabine’s exasperation and Chopper’s sassy remarks music to his ears, but above all else, he wanted to hear one voice.
“Say it again?” he asked.
“I love you, Caleb Dume,” Hera said softly, caressing his slightly prickly face, and he made a note to have someone help him fix his mangled hair. “But you know I fell in love with Kanan Jarrus.”
“Then it’s a good thing you don’t have to choose between them,” said Caleb and kissed her again.
“I’m sad you almost died,” she said.
“I never wanted to leave you,” he said truthfully.
“I know,” she said, “but I’m still mad at you.”
“I can live with that,” Caleb said, smiling down at her.
He could and he would. Living was his destiny, living as the Jedi he had always been meant to be.