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Guardian of Lothal

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The Day Lothal was Liberated

Sabine slumped into her bed, more exhausted than she had ever been. Not just physically, though the day's fighting had taken its toll on her, but emotionally and spiritually. Somehow, against all odds, they had won the day, and the Imperial presence on the Lothal was effectively zero. Sure, there were a few holdouts that would need to be dealt with in the coming weeks, but most of those that hadn't made it to the dome in time had immediately surrendered.

Lothal had woken up and knew that it was strong. At least strong enough for now. Sabine was terrified of what would happen when the Empire figured out just how extensive their losses at Lothal were. Right now High Command was probably still trying to contact someone, anyone from the 7th Fleet or the Lothal garrison.

Sabine grimaced. They wouldn't be happy; not in the slightest. Losing a sector capital was unprecedented and something the Empire could neither ignore nor allow to be publicly known. So they'd be back. In overwhelming and absolute force. This time Lothal would be crushed. Probably bombarded from orbit. Part of Sabine wondered if they had merely doomed all the Lothalians to death by their actions.

And then she thought about how confident Ezra was.

A twinge of pain rippled in her gut. She'd been doing her best not to think about the Loth-rat all day since... well whatever it was he'd done. What had scared her was that he had that insufferable confidence Kanan had had before he died. As if suddenly he'd become all knowing, seeing all futures. Looking back Sabine knew beyond any doubt that Kanan had known he would die that night. The way he had acted when he parted with Ezra and her to save Hera. He had known.

Ezra had known something too. Sabine sensed it when she had placed a hand on him as he meditated. That sudden change, as if he were suddenly wise beyond his years.

Sometimes it was hard not to hate the Force, the way it had guided Ezra and Kanan to their destinies. It never asked her opinion before taking away her mentor and her best friend. What good was a free Lothal if her family was gone?

But Ezra had been confident in a way different than Kanan had been. Kanan had known he would die, and Ezra had known that he was going... somewhere? His message was sad but hopeful, hopeful that he would see them again. Sabine wasn't sure how that could ever happen. He'd been magically Purgil-hyperspaced to who knows where with the entire 7th Fleet. Supposing the badly damaged Chimera survived hyperspace, Ezra was going to be stranded with a lot of very angry Imperials.

Sabine pushed the thought aside angrily. She chose to believe he was still alive, that his dumb confidence was justified. It was easier that way. It put off grieving, and the soul-crushing pain she knew was coming.

"Haar-chak, Ezra, you could have just told me," Sabine murmured at her walls. She wasn't sure what difference it would have made. She still would have let him go; she had had no right to make his decisions for him.

But she could have at least told him goodbye. And maybe hugged his neck. And... She didn't really know what else.

Their friendship had been a strange one. Once, it was awkward and strained from a younger Ezra's unfortunate attempts at flirting. Then contentious as their radically different personalities learned to coexist with the other.

Finally, at some point, they clicked. Thinking back Sabine never really could place when that happened. But when it happened, it was final. Like two sides of a coin, they were a pair. Partners, friends, allies in battle. And in a moment he was gone whisked into the wild unknown leaving her alone.

Sabine chastised herself. He was alone too. Somewhere out there and surrounded by enemies, Ezra was alone. She muttered a few Mandalorian curses under her breath. The strong ones that Hera didn't like. It made her feel a little better, and she rolled over, pushing all thoughts from her mind, trying to sleep. 

One Week after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine loaded the last of her belongings onto the speeder in the hold of the Ghost. She had more than she realized. Apparently, she had collected a lot of equipment and art supplies over the years.

Hera stood watching her silently, one hand on her stomach, the other on her shoulder. She'd been doing that for the last week. It wasn't a gesture that Sabine understood or had seen her use till recently.

Finally, as Sabine finished securing her equipment crate on the speeder, she couldn't stand it any longer. "Look Hera I know you're going to try to talk me out of it, so just go ahead. Let's get this over with."

The green skinned woman looked at her knowingly. There was a sadness in those eyes now that never left. Sabine hoped that someday she'd move past her grief. But Hera smiled. "If you think that's why I'm here, well you're wrong. I know that your place is here. Until... Until he returns."

Sabine let out a short laugh. "I thought for sure you'd beg me to stay. Wasn't sure you wanted more of the family leaving at this point."

Hera let out a long slow sigh and closed her eyes. "Oh it's hard for me, after losing Kanan, and with Ezra gone. I really, reallywant you to stay. I'm just not sure our paths are quite the same anymore after all that's happened. I know why you want to stay. For him." She shook her head. "No, I'm mostly just worried about you Sabine. Worried about what happens when you're alone. Worried about when the grieving starts. I know how close you two were."

Sabine bit her lip and leaned against the speeder defiantly. "He's out there. Alive."

"I hope you're right, though you'll have to forgive me if I don't quite have your faith. I just... At some point Sabine you'll be honest with yourself. Just call me if you need me."

Sabine frowned. She never really liked when Hera pried into her inner thoughts. Not because of Hera, but because of Sabine's stubborn barriers that she kept up to keep everyone out. Even herself. Some things in life were just easier if you didn't deal with them.

"Look Hera, I know you had secret hopes for Ezra and me, but it never happened. Doesn't seem like it ever will now either, so please don't worry about me. We weren't ever any sort of couple or lovers or whatever. Like..." she cut off knowing that she probably shouldn't complete that thought.

Hera finished it anyway with a sudden mischievous smile. "Like Kanan and I?"

Sabine decided to back the conversation up quickly. "I'm sorry Hera. I didn't mean to pry or bring that up again."

Hera dismissed that with a hand wave. "It's fine. But I think I'm going to let you in on a little secret."

"Okay..." Sabine said cautiously. She wasn't sure where this was going, but the mention of Kanan and that mischievous smile suddenly made Sabine afraid Hera was about to divulge way too much information...

"I'm pregnant," Hera said with a wink.

Sabine blinked quickly then looked down at Hera stomach's where her hand still rested, the pieces clicking into place. A slow smile crept across her face. Sabine wasn't much of a hugger, but she'd make an exception right now. She walked to Hera and pulled her into a soft hug, or as soft a hug as one can give in armor.

Hera began to cry softly. "You're the first person I've told. I've known since... since the morning of the battle. I just wish I had been able to tell Kanan."

Sabine thought about this for a moment and stepped back. "I think he knew."

"What?" Hera said wiping at her eyes.

"I think he knew. He was acting so strange that night we saved you. Like he knew everything that was going to happen ahead of time. Like he'd seen it all or already lived the night. I don't think there was much he didn't know at that point."

Hera looked at her stomach. "Hmm," she hummed softly. "Maybe so. He kept acting like he had something to tell me." She sighed thoughtfully. "Oh, Kanan." She started crying softly again.

Sabine pulled her back into a hug. The women merely stood there in each other's arms for several minutes. Hera finally broke the embrace. "Sabine, just promise me you'll be careful. I know you want to protect Lothal. For Ezra. But I want you to live. I can't lose more of my family so soon. Do what you can for Lothal, but if the Empire comes back in force, live to fight another day."

Sabine looked out the open ramp of the Ghost across the sweeping plains of Lothal. That wasn't going to happen. When the Empire came back to retake Lothal, she would be here helping to lead the resistance forces. Ezra had promised he wasn't leaving Lothal no matter what, but that changed. Now she would have to stay in his place. And this time there wouldn't be any hope of winning. Or survivors. She wasn't going to tell Hera that right now. "I'll be careful," Sabine said evenly.

"That's my girl. Stay in touch. If you need me, call."

"I will, Hera."

One month after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine hated her job. As reinstated Governor of Lothal, Rhyder Azadi had reopened the old Lothal Senate Building and set up his new administration there. One of his first tasks had been forming the Lothal Civil Defense Force, a citizens militia that began to train immediately. He had tried to appoint Sabine overall command of the group, but that was not a role Sabine was about to take on. However, she did accept a position designing training curriculum for the new soldiers. It was every bit as boring as she expected it to be, but her Mandalorian background ensured the program would be effective.

And in truth, the LCDF would be a powerful force. Between Mandalorian influence from Sabine and the leftover Imperial equipment, Lothal would have an excellent, if small, military.

Rhyder had also set her up with an apartment in the government building, a dull four-walled room she had quickly coated in as much color as the walls could take. Today though she had no duties and meant to spend it wandering Capitol City, Ezra's city. She clipped Ezra's lightsaber to her belt. It was her most cherished possession, and she was never without it. Holstering her blasters, she left her room and weaved through the maze-like complex to its front courtyard.

Her eyes widened in shock. They'd already finished the statue. Rhyder had commissioned a fifteen-meter sculpture of Ezra for the government square. Originally he had wanted it to be of the whole Ghost crew, but Sabine had protested violently, unable to bear walking past a giant likeness of herself on a daily basis. The governor had relented and settled on one statue of Ezra at the government building and another of the Ghost itself in a different market square.

Sabine walked over to the statue and stared at it in awe. It was a good likeness. Sabine had supplied the hologram it was based on. It lacked the touches that a master artist might have been able to give it, but the size made up for it.

That face so high above her own. She missed that face and its goofy smile. "Haar-chak, Ezra. Why didn't you tell me what was going to happen? I could have... I could have..." Sabine turned away angry as tears suddenly started streaming down her face. She was glad she was wearing her helmet so no one would see this. Sabine Wren wasn't a crier, and crying just made her angry.

"I could have stopped you. Or gone with you. Or something, anything but this. We were a team. Inseparable. You had no right to go off alone like that. Look where it got you. Kriffing Loth-rat."

Sabine stalked to the motor pool and checked out a bike, deciding she didn't want to be in the city today. She didn't know where she was going. Just somewhere away. Away from the statue. Within minutes she was speeding away across the bright grasslands of Lothal under a far-stretching blue sky.

She smiled. Lothal already seemed healthier now that the Empires ore crawlers had stopped and the factories repurposed for rebuilding Lothal. Lothal's endless plains were undoubtedly different from the snowy forests she had grown up with on Krownest, but she loved them anyway. They had even begun to feel like home. Every time they had left Lothal, she missed it a little more. And now she was here to stay.

Without even realizing it she had arrived at Ezra's tower. Of course, that's where she had directed the bike. She sighed and walked up to the base of the tower put a hand on its grimy surface. There would be too many reminders of Ezra inside. She wouldn't go in today. Some other day perhaps.

A solitary loth-cat stalked out of the grass. "Hey, there," Sabine said, squatting. "You a friend of Ezra's too?" The brown and black feline regarded her for a moment, then approached cautiously. Carefully she scratched behind its ears. It immediately began to purr and sat down. "Well I don't know if you ever met Ezra, but you would have liked him. Apparently, all you fur-balls liked him."

She sat down, and the Loth-cat deposited itself in her lap immediately, demanding more attention. "Fine," she said and continued scratching its head. She stared up at the sky, wondering for the hundredth time when the Empire would darken those skies with Star Destroyers again.

No, she wasn't leaving Lothal. Lothal was home now. Home until Ezra came back or the Empire burnt them all to dust.

Five Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine had hit rock bottom about a month ago. She'd finished developing the Lothal Civil Defense Force's training regimen months ago and overseen its implementation. Then she'd done nothing. Rhyder had tried to get her involved in other projects with the LCDF, but Sabine had refused. She wasn't interested in some desk job or officers position. Sabine was a Mandalorian. She was a fighter.

She was mad at the Empire for not giving her that fight. They'd be back. She knew that. The thing she couldn't understand is what was taking so long. Lothal was a sector capital. What was going on that the Empire was accepting its loses and moving on?

She was mad at Ezra for disappearing, disappearing and leaving her alone when she needed him most. Disappearing and not even getting to see the fruits of his labor, this new free and happy Lothal.

She was mad at Hera for leaving. The General had duties with the Alliance that were clearly more important to her than her family. More important to her than Lothal.

But mostly Sabine was mad at herself. She had too much free time. Too much time to wallow in her own thoughts and regrets. She had relived the Liberation of Lothal a thousand times in her mind, and each time she had thought of some new way of that would save Ezra, some way that would keep her friend with her.

Mostly Sabine was lonely, lonely in a way she hadn't been since Ketsu had abandoned her all those years ago.

She painted a lot these days when she wasn't too angry. One day she looked around her small room at her canvases and realized that most of them were of Ezra. The same blue eyes staring back at her from a dozen places. This wasn't healthy. She knew she needed help.

Sabine commed Hera. It had been a couple of months since they'd last spoken, before this downward spiral. "Hey, Hera how are you?" she said, tension easing as she saw the Twi-lek's hologram. Oh boy, was she pregnant now!

Hera looked tired. "Sabine I... I've been better. I..."

There was a hollow look in her eyes, Sabine realized. Something was very wrong. Her own troubles momentarily forgotten, Sabine pressed her gently. "Hera. What's going on?"

Hera looked at her softly. "Sabine I'm... I'm not supposed to talk about it. This is so classified that..."

Sabine rolled her eyes. "When has that stopped us before?"

"This is different Sabine," Hera said, almost short with her.

"I'm not sure how we're supposed to help each other if you're too wrapped up in military nonsense to care." This wasn't how this was supposed to go, Sabine thought bitterly. She had imagined Hera talking sense into her, flying to Lothal, staying for a while. And here they were talking business and war.

Hera stared at her eyes hollow. "Sabine, I want you to leave Lothal. I... I think I know why the Empire never came back. They've got a new tool for dealing with dissent... And it's... It's bad, Sabine. Please."

"I'm not leaving Hera. You know that. What is this about? Some kind of new weapon?"

"Yes. Please. Leave Lothal. Tonight."

Sabine rolled her eyes again. "My place is here until Ezra returns. If the Empire burns this place to the ground, I'll be the last one standing. Now tell me what I'm up against."

Hera stared at Sabine angrily, as if deciding what to say. Finally, she lowered her eyes and whispered. "It's a planet killer Sabine. It destroys whole planets."

Sabine's breath stuck in her throat. "Saw's Kyber crystals," she said as the long-standing mystery resolved itself in her mind.

"Yeah. He was one of its first casualties too. You have to leave Sabine. It's active. I've seen it. I've seen what a low power shot does. I don't... I don't know that the Alliance survives this. We don't really have any options... We lost almost everything in a fruitless battle yesterday..."

Sabine didn't really know what to say or even think about that. Finally, she just said quietly. "I can't leave Hera. If Lothal dies than I die with it."

Hera's skin flushed dark green in anger. "Kriff it, Sabine. I know you loved him, but that's a pointless way to throw your life away. If you think Ezra would want you wallowing in self-pity waiting for the Empire to come finish you, you didn't know him as well you as think you did."

Sabine was shocked to hear Hera curse. She never cursed. "I'll... Think about it." Sabine said quietly. She was lying, or at least she thought she was, but at the moment she just thought to appease Hera. "I never said I loved him either."

"No, but your reckless behavior says otherwise. Look I have to go, I... There's a briefing coming and..."

"Go, Hera, Call back soon. Please."

Hera looked at her with compassion. Sabine didn't have a clue what she was thinking. Hera nodded and cut the transmission.

Sabine looked around her room and in a moment made a decision she should have made months ago. In less than an hour, she had packed her belongings and was gone, never to come back to the Old Senate Building apartments.

A few short days later the galaxy heard the news. Alderaan destroyed in a moment. Thousands of years of history and two billion people gone in the space of a heartbeat. Fear gripped Lothal. They knew their fate, why the Empire delayed its return. Those that could leave the planet did. Most couldn't.

Sabine moved into Ezra's tower, resigning from her position with the LCDF. She began the long task of turning the dilapidated tower into a real home. This meant spending hours hauling away old junk and equipment, most of it predating Ezra's stay. And everywhere she went she found helmets. How he had managed to secure this many as a kid on the streets was mind-boggling.

She didn't throw these out. These were for painting later.

And then the news came. The miracle that changed everything. The Alliance had destroyed the Death Star.

Chapter Text

Six Months after the Liberation of Lothal

It took Sabine weeks to even get back in contact with Hera with how chaotic the galaxy was. The holo-net was in utter disarray, both from the sheer amount of comm traffic and from the Empire attempting to clamp down on dissent.

Hera was the one to finally get a comm line through. "I... I guess you've heard?"

Sabine smiled and nodded. She was feeling a bit better now. A change of setting and a little bit of hope went a long way.

"I'm coming to Lothal," Hera said simply. "Mon Mothma apparently doesn't want me on combat duty during my third trimester. She's put me on leave till after the delivery, and I want him to be born on Lothal."

Then Sabine really smiled.

Hera arrived the next day, landing the Ghost beside Ezra's home. The old communication tower had transformed into a comfortable living residence in the last month. Rhyder had helped, sending workers and furnishings and had the whole tower repainted in white. Sabine had tried to protest, but the governor had waved off her concerns. "Look," he said. "The people of Lothal owe everything to the Ghost Crew. You're the only one that stayed. Let us take care of you." Sabine had grudgingly agreed but then threatened that this was a one-time occurrence. She wasn't going to live off the good-will of Lothal for the rest of her life.

Hera and Sabine sat on the observation platform of the tower for a long while, neither talking. Finally, Hera spoke. "Well, I guess I get to apologize now. I was a bit out of line the last time we really got to speak. I'm on the back end of the hardest year of my life. So much has happened and gone wrong. With Kanan and Ezra, and the liberation of Lothal... The Death Star. I've just been a bit... wrong for so long now that..."

"Hera I... wait. Stop. I was out of line too. You're right I should have left Lothal. The fact that you guys took out the Death Star is probably the only reason I'm still alive."

Hera looked at Sabine quietly, then nodded. "Thank the Force for that. And it was nothing short of a miracle too. Have you heard the story of how it happened?"

Sabine shook her head. "Rumors only. The holo-net's got at least a hundred versions of the story. Some hotshot farm kid as near as I can make out. Some of the stories even claim he's some sort of Jedi, but I'm pretty sure the Rebellion is fresh out of those."

"Apparently not, because I'm hearing the same rumors," Hera said. "I've only seen the kid from a distance, looked to be about Ezra's age to me. But if it's true, he doesn't have anything on Kanan or Ezra; he didn't look to have the same, I don't know, poise? Who knows at this point?"

Sabine rolled her eyes. "Would you have used poise to describe Ezra?"

"Well, maybe not all the time," Hera smiled. "But he had it by the end I think."

"He did," Sabine agreed softly. She thought about how much Ezra grew over the time she knew him. Street rat to Jedi warrior in just a few years. She wondered if he'd seen as much change in her.

"No more apologies then," Hera said. "We move on and start over." Hera turned to eye Sabine cautiously. "How are you, Sabine? Really and truly."

Sabine sighed, cursing these full disclosure kind of conversations. Then she realized how stupid that was. This was Hera; she understood Sabine better than anyone else. Besides Ezra of course, she thought with a stab of pain. "Truth is, I haven't been great. And I probably haven't been dealing with it very well either."

Hera's green eyes snapped to Sabine, suddenly in full mother mode. Sabine thought she was going to say something, but it looked like she was waiting on Sabine.

"I don't really know how to spend my time here on Lothal when it's peaceful. I've spent my whole adult life on the move and in danger. Put that together and, well, you've got a recipe for disaster."

Hera frowned. "I thought you were working with Rhyder?"

"I was. I hated it. Never been so bored in my life, Hera. He's an administrator. He's already moved way past his freedom fighter days back to something he's more comfortable with. His idea of excitement is a desk full of paperwork."

Hera chuckled. "You're right; that may not be a good fit for the Sabine I know."

"Also I didn't really like that I could look out the window and see a fifteen-meter statue of Ezra staring at me. No one here on Lothal knows him. I mean sure, they dug up a few people that remembered him as a kid to give some speeches. But to Lothal he's not a person; he's a legend. The Man that Liberated Lothal, or The True Son of Lothal. He's not Ezra to anyone. Just a statue in a square." Sabine looked away as the tears stung her eyes. She was not about to cry in front of Hera if it could be helped.

Hera put a comforting hand on her arm. "We'll talk about Ezra, I promise. Can I ask you one other thing first?

"Knock yourself out," Sabine sulked.

"You've always loved painting. Have you thought about doing it professionally? I know you've got the talent."

"Of course I've thought about it, it's just..."

"Just what?" Hera asked, her eyes narrowing when Sabine didn't finish the sentence.

Sabine sighed. "My art's been a little sidetracked lately. This is going to be embarrassing. Come here; I'll show you."

Sabine led an intrigued Hera back into the Tower to one of the smaller side rooms where Sabine kept her art supplies. She waited till they were in the room before hitting the light panel. Hera gasped as the lights came up. Several dozen paintings of various sizes adorned the room. Nearly all of them were of Ezra. Sabine's face burnt red and she looked at the floor. "Like I said. I haven't been dealing with things very well."

Hera quietly walked around the room, looking at each of the paintings. "Oh, my," Hera said quietly.

"That's one way of putting it." Sabine couldn't bear to look Hera in the eye right now.

"Sabine, these are beautiful, but I, uh... I wasn't aware you'd studied Ezra's features so thoroughly..."

"Hera!" Sabine groaned, dying a little inside.

The Twi-Lek stopped to inspect a larger one, one that happened to be one of Sabine's favorites. " I was just trying to imagine what Ezra would say if he saw this. I think he might kill over dead on the spot."

Sabine's eyes went wide as her face turned red again. "Trust me; these are not going to be here when he comes home."

"I'd pay good credits to see the look on his face." The Twi-lek stretched her aching pregnant body and sat in the room's only chair. "Still confident he's coming back someday?"

Sabine nodded resolutely. "That's the only thing in life I'm still sure of. It's why I have to stay here."

"It seems rather fitting you've adopted his home as your own," Hera mused.

"Well, it makes sense after all the time we've spent on Lothal and what we've sacrificed. And Ezra never got to see it free and happy. I have to keep it that way till he gets back."

Hera waved her hand dismissively. "I know that. That wasn't what I meant." She raised an eyebrow. "I mean you literally adopted his old home as your own. You moved into his tower."

"Oh, you meant that," Sabine said shuffling her feet.

"Seems a bit symbolic if you ask me."

"Alright, Hera," Sabine said, getting irritated. "Just say what you're getting at. No more beating around the bantha."

Hera leaned forward and looked Sabine in the eye. "No, I'm giving you the opportunity to talk to me about this. You're the one that's dancing around the topic. So start spilling. I think you've been bottling for far too long."

Sabine leaned against the wall and tried to think of just where to start. "I guess, I just thought Ezra and I had more time. I always kind of thought that when the time was right, maybe when we didn't live daily in war zones, that we would just kind of happen. So I pushed it off. It was drama I thought I didn't need. And then he was gone; we ran out of time. And I've had to come to grips with how important he was to me. I know how important I always was to him." Sabine knew she was rambling but didn't care.

"Ezra never gave up on waiting for you," Hera said softly.

"Trust me, I know. If I had just..." Sabine stopped with a frustrated hand gesture, leaving the insinuation hanging in the air.

"Regret is a powerful thing." Hera had a sad look on her face, and Sabine realized how much of this conversation was relevant to Hera too.

Sabine felt a pang of guilt. "Sorry Hera, I didn't mean to open up old wounds."

Hera smiled and placed a hand on her bulging midsection. "Hmm... I'm still grieving of course, but I've made my peace. I'm not sure you have yet."

"Well, Ezra's not dead. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to make peace with. I have to wait for him. I have to be here when he comes back so that I can tell him everything. And punch his stupid face for leaving. And... And maybe even kiss that stupid face because he's home." Sabine's face burnt red again and she slumped down against a wall. "He has to come back so I can have my other half back. So I can grab hold of him and keep him from ever leaving again..." She began to weep softly, hating herself for it. She may have hated crying in private, but crying in front of Hera was pure torture.

Hera stood up from her chair walked to Sabine's wall and sat down heavily. "Yeah... You're going to have to help me back up later," Hera grunted. "Sabine I don't have any words of wisdom to get you through this. No magic fix to make things right. But I'm here right now, and I'm not going anywhere for several months at least. You get to be my focus for a bit." She laughed softly. "At least till Jacen is born."

Sabine swallowed her pride and leaned her head on Hera's shoulder. If the Twi-lek wanted to practice at mother, well Sabine would take her up on that offer. "Jacen, huh?" Sabine mused softly.

"I liked the sound of it. Jacen Syndullah."

Sabine smiled. "I like it too."

Eight Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine didn't quite know what to expect when Jacen was born. For starters, she was worried that the emotions would run high again. Hera and Sabine had slowly worked through each other's griefs and troubles over the past two months. Sabine knew her mind and spirit were healthier for it and she wasn't ready to go back into that pit anytime soon.

She also didn't quite know what Jacen would look like. Would he have lekku like Hera? Would he have hair? She had questions, questions she felt would be rude to ask Hera. Sabine would have to wait till Jacen was born for answers.

And Sabine was going to have the honor of being the first to see him. Even before Hera. Hera had insisted Sabine be in the delivery room. This was way, way, outside Sabine's comfort zone, but it wasn't exactly an honor she could turn down.

It was a terrifying experience.

But also an inexplicably wonderful experience.

Jacen was beautiful. The first thing Sabine noticed was his fuzzy green hair. And then Kanan's eyes. She carried the newborn to Hera.

The Twi-Lek held the newborn to her breast and hummed happily. She was exhausted but content. "My sweet, sweet Jacen, You look like your daddy, you know. He was strong and brave. And by the stars, he would have loved you."

Sabine wiped a few happy tears away from her eyes. They didn't cause her shame anymore, but she still wasn't a public crier.

Ten  Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine had just sat down at her easel when she heard soft sounds coming from the next room. Jacen was making those whimperings before he fully woke up. Sabine stood and hurried to Hera's room. After putting Jacen down to sleep, Hera herself had decided to nap. The child preferred to be awake in the middle of the night, it seemed, and Hera was exhausted.

Thankfully the soft sounds hadn't woken Hera yet. Sabine had trained herself to hear them before they became loud enough to wake Hera. If Jacen was hungry, there wasn't much she could do to take the load off of Hera, but if he was just fussy, she did what she could.

Sabine picked up Jacen and went back to her art room before he could come fully awake and disturb Hera. Let the Twi-lek sleep. Sabine knew she needed it.

She sat on the floor and cradled the child to herself. "Hey there," she cooed softly. "How's my favorite little man? I hope you're not hungry. Mommy needs some sleep."

Jacen gurgled softly opening his eyes.

Sabine sighed happily. She had never been around babies or children much in the past decade, not since Tristan was young in fact. She had never known how one could consume your whole heart, yet somehow leave you fuller than before.

Jacen began to settle back down. Maybe he was going to go back to sleep and Sabine could put him back to bed. She had wanted to do some painting. She'd been doing landscapes these days. No more of Ezra. For now. She'd done enough of those. She looked at Jacen now breathing softly, asleep again. Or maybe she had a better idea.

Hera came into the room an hour later and chuckled. "I think you kidnapped my son!"

Sabine smiled and kept painting. She had arranged a blanket into a comfortable pallet for Jacen and set to work painting a portrait of the little green haired baby as he slept. "I didn't think you'd mind getting a good nap for once. Thankfully he's not hungry yet and has slept away the afternoon."

Hera stepped up to Sabine's easel. "All while Aunt Sabine painted away. This is good Sabine. You've gotten a lot better over the years."

"Hmm, thanks," Sabine said as she worked. "I'm trying to get better at realistic color and lighting. I'm so used to just doing everything in the same... What was that the Ezra called it? ...freakishly colorful style? Just trying to broaden a bit."

"Well don't give up the freakishly colorful style anytime soon. It's so very Sabine."

Sabine chuckled. "Well, thankfully our little nocturnal man over here has a beautiful bit of green fuzz on his head to brighten things up."

"You would like the unusual hair color wouldn't you," Hera said playfully. "Kanan would have never said as much, but I think he would have been secretly disappointed."

"Really now?" Sabine said raising an eyebrow as she worked.

"I think he would have wanted Jacen to have lekku. And yes that can happen. It's kind of a toss-up as to which features end up Human and which Twi-lek."

"I think he would have gotten over it."

"Yes, he would have." Hera smiled softly. She looked at Sabine again. "You almost seem a new person these days."

Sabine nodded. "It helps to have others around that I can live for again. I'd retreated so far into myself and my own shell that... Ugh," she shuddered. "I never want to go back there again."

Hera looked at Sabine sympathetically. "So what happens when Jacen and I go home?"

"I live for others. For Lothal. I've got some... ideas to keep myself occupied. And hopefully a bit less isolated."

Jacen began to fuss suddenly. He'd be hungry now, so Sabine let Hera take care of him. Sabine looked at her painting. It wasn't quite done, but it was far enough along that she could finish without having her little model.

"I'm gonna hold you to that, Sabine," Hera said as she carried Jacen back into the main living area. "Jacen is going to hold you to that," she said winking. "He's gonna need his Aunt Sabine happy."

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

Eleven Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Hera and Jacen left Lothal on a bright sunny morning with the promise of returning anytime they could. Sabine didn't return to the tower at once. No more depressed Sabine, she resolved for the hundredth time. Lothal was going to be a better place when she was done with it, one way or another. Rhyder was doing the main work, and Hera would keep the Empire preoccupied with the rapidly growing Alliance. But Sabine would have her part to play.

Getting on her bike, she flew back to Capitol City and walked straight to Rhyder's office. She almost walked in without knocking, but common sense took over, and she quietly tapped on the door. Confident but not rude, she reminded herself. "Come in," she heard the older man say.

His desk was piled with datapads, charts, reports, and more. Rhyder was a busy man with a planet to rebuild. "Oh, Sabine! What brings you here?" he said standing. "I hope you've reconsidered my offers."

"Yeah, I still can't do any of those jobs you offered. Sorry, Rhyder, but I need a little more action in my life than a desk job will allow. I've spent most of the last year being far too inactive as it is. So I've got a proposal for you instead: if you ever have any jobs that are rougher than your people can handle, you let me know: I'm your woman."

"What do you mean?" Rhyder asked with narrow eyes.

"Exactly what I said. Need a criminal brought in? A spice-runner taken down? Give me a call. I can do it better and faster than your people."

Rhyder sat back down, leaned back in his seat and folded his hands in front of his chest. "Look, Sabine, I don't doubt that's true. Lothal may be a quiet backwater, and we do still have problems that need to be taken care of on occasion. But you've got a bit of a history with explosives and violence. I don't really think I want one of Lothal's heroes destroying a city block just because you've gotten bored waiting for your boyfriend to come back."

A few months ago that might have set Sabine off. She took a deep breath and brushed it aside. "He wasn't my boyfriend. And you know me better than that Rhyder. The Ghost Crew always avoided casualties." She looked him in the eye. "No explosives. No body bags. Call me when you need me."

The governor sighed. "Fine. The police are working on an illegal casino right now. Tough types, unfortunately, and some folks have gotten hurt. Someone's going to end up dead if we don't shut the place down soon. I'll give you a shot. When the Police are ready to move, you'll be there to lead the operation. But, no unnecessary bodies."

"Not one," Sabine said.

"I hope you appreciate how irregular this is and how much trouble this is going to cause me if this blows up in my face," Rhyder said evenly.

"So deputize me or something."

"Deputi... Sabine, I tried to make you the commanding officer of the entire military! You didn't want a title."

Sabine shrugged and laughed. "Right. Point taken."

Rhyder gave a deep good-natured laugh. "Of all the Ghost Crew, the one I get left with is the one most likely to give me a headache."

Sabine shook her head. "Not true. Chopper would have been worse. Much worse. And you'd be more likely to end up with a body on your hands."

"Ugh, I was glad to see that menace go. Let's not bring him up, please," the governor said shaking his head.

After her meeting with Rhyder, Sabine left the government building and headed to her next destination. As near as she could tell Capitol City only had one art gallery. Sabine had never been able to visit it, but it seemed relatively upscale for a planet like Lothal. She walked into the door with her covered canvas feeling a little sheepish. She'd never actually tried to market any of her art before, and suddenly she felt self-conscious.

The fact that she was trying to sell one of her portraits of Ezra also embarrassed her a little. It wasn't one of her favorites so she could bear to part with it, but it still made her uncomfortable. When he found out about this someday... Awkward only began to describe it.

This particular piece showed Ezra at his most heroic, with his lightsaber held high. Sabine was counting on the fact that Lothal still seemed infatuated with their Jedi hero; maybe she could charge a reasonable price. And if she could, well, this could lead to other things.

She hadn't counted on being recognized the moment she walked into the gallery. It seemed that the Gallery owner had been hoping for months to get a visit from the Mandalorian artist. Sabine kicked herself for not having come sooner. Nor was she expecting the owner to offer her ten thousand credits on the spot for her painting of Ezra. Sabine's eyes almost bugged out of her head as she finalized the deal and then began working on a longer-term business arrangement with the gallery.

The owner a Rodian, named Reema, believed she could easily sell Sabine's art given the Mandalorian's fame, especially if the subject was the Ghost Crew. To herself Sabine laughed, thinking of all the portraits of Ezra she had stashed away in his tower. At least she had somewhere to get rid of them in case he came back. Though, she didn't want to creep out Reema by bringing them in all at once. She didn't need that scene in her life.

Sabine finalized the deal with Reema and left, promising to be back soon. This had been a great day, Sabine thought. It felt good to be doing things again and to have a purpose. She didn't really need the money, but she would find a use for it. Something for the good of Lothal. Something for Ezra's people.

Chapter Text

One Year Four Months after the Liberation of Lothal.

Both of Sabine's business arrangements worked better than she could have dreamed. Anytime Capitol City had a crime problem that the police needed help with, Sabine was called in. The police were usually present too, but Sabine rarely brought them in as backup. Lothal's criminal underworld was about as dangerous as a loth-cat to a trained Mandalorian. Racketeers, small-time spice-rings, the occasional murderer. She brought them in easily, with no bodies and only a few broken bones.

Sabine was already famous on Lothal for being a crew-member of the Ghost. Now the local press had a new reason to talk about her. Several nicknames were bounced around before the locals settled on calling her the Guardian of Lothal. A part of her liked the nickname, as that was pretty much why she had stuck around.

The other part of her was horrified at the attention. In the past, she would frequently be recognized in public; her armor helped see to that. But now she was asked for autographs, asked to have holos taken with babies, attend public events, and more. The quiet and insular Sabine had somehow become a celebrity.

Overnight her art was a sought-after commodity. Original pieces sold for tens of thousands to Lothal's upper classes, but the widely available prints she and Reema made sold by the hundred to the general public. Fame had brought wealth to Sabine, and she didn't know what to do with it until one fateful day.

A larger spice operation had come to town. Someone with more money, probably an off-world operation, had decided to move in on Lothal's Imperial-free turf and set up shop. She had helped the police with several smaller cleanup operations, but the primary processing facility hadn't been found yet.

When the police finally located the facility, Sabine was brought in to coordinate the operation. She was going to carefully scout out the building, then call for backup, catching the operation from two sides.

Sabine quietly slipped onto the roof of the warehouse. There was only one guard posted up top. Sabine quietly dealt with the Quarren, then slipped into the door on the roof. Thermal scans had shown over fifty bodies in the building. She was glad she'd agreed to the backup this time. This was way more than she could safely handle alone.

Carefully walking down the staircase, she entered a dark storeroom. Empty with only one other exit. Cautiously, Sabine opened the door. It opened onto an upper catwalk that overlooked the main warehouse. Sabine looked out for a brief moment over the spice processing facility and then quickly retreated into the storeroom, breath haggard.

Red clouded over her vision for a moment, and she trembled in anger. The workers in the warehouse were children. Poorly dressed, malnourished children. She didn't know who they were. She didn't know where they came from. But she knew she wanted to kill every kriffing member of this spice ring.

She wondered briefly if this was what the dark side felt like to a Jedi. Kanan had once told her the Force flowed through all living things, large or small, force sensitive or not. Did that include the dark side? She looked at her blasters and thought about turning them off of stun. No one would care. She would be justified and be doing Lothal and the galaxy a favor if she erased these pathetic creeps from existence and made them suffer.

Then she thought about slaughtering the spicers in front of the children and the possibility of them being caught in a crossfire. She also thought of Ezra. He'd never approve of her giving into wanton violence because she wanted to hurt these gangsters, even if they deserved it. No, she'd do this quietly. The right way.

The good news was that there were a lot fewer enemies than she thought there would be. She didn't need the backup after all. Backup even increased the odds of something going wrong with the children if a major firefight broke out. At least this way she would get to handle it herself. She smiled grimly and set to work.

Ten minutes later Sabine raised the large bay door entrances to the warehouses and walked out into the street followed by over three dozen children. She carried a Pantoran child that was so badly malnourished that he couldn't walk. The child clung to Sabine. The astonished police backup came out of the nearby shadows and alleyways, gawking in disbelief.

"Don't just stand there with your mouths open. Get medics! Get help. I've got over thirty children here!"

The director of the Capitol City Police began barking orders. Two squads entered the warehouse to capture the downed spicers and secure the facility. Within minutes dozens of speeders and hundreds of people were on the scene.

Rhyder Azadi himself came, staring in disbelief at the children. "I don't know what we're going to do with them. All our orphanages are filled with war refugees as it is, and there are hundreds more on the street."

Sabine raised an eyebrow. "Easy. We build another orphanage."

Rhyder sighed. "You know your overly simplistic view of things is touching, but we're still a bit tight on money right now..."

Sabine planted a hand on her hip and gave the governor a sly smile. "In case you haven't heard, I'm independently wealthy these days."

One Year Six months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine stood with her chosen group on the shore of the sea, several klicks outside Capitol City. A few businessmen, civic leaders, an architect, a doctor, even a farmer. All natives of Lothal. All committed to her cause. Getting them on board had been easy from a practical standpoint. Sabine had done her research on each of these people before approaching them. She knew they were committed to Lothal and had expertise and resources to make the orphanage happen.

They'd each agreed after just a single meeting.

The hard part had been working up the courage to approach them. The Sabine of a couple of years ago would have blanched at the thought of even having to come up with such a proposal, let alone present it over and over to so many people in so short a time. So she used her local fame. Where she may have lacked in natural diplomatic and negotiating skills, she used her reputation and popularity to open doors and convince people.

After a month she had her board of directors. And in another month they had their plans and course of action set. Sabine had let them do the heavy lifting. This sort of operation was outside her expertise, and yet this group still looked to her for leadership on the project.

Leadership on Mandalore had been easy. She had only to lift the Darksaber high, and others had followed. Now she had to be smart, clever and resourceful. She had lost more than a little sleep in the past two months as she stayed up late working out the next phase of action.

She looked at the gathered group again. This was going to work.

They were waiting on Rhyder. The orphanage was going to happen one way or another, but she needed his help greasing the wheels a bit.

His speeder pulled up, and he got out with a couple of assistants. Rhyder seemed to be sizing up the gathered group. Sabine knew that he probably knew most if not all of her board personally. She'd chosen well.

"Well, Sabine," the governor said,"this is a nice spot for the Orphanage. But you didn't have to drag us all out here to get me to grant you the land and permits. I suspect you know that though."

"You know me well," she said with a grin. "Pealas, if you'de give our Governor the plans."

Her architect, an Aqualish, stepped forward and gave a datapad to the governor.

Rhyder looked at the plans, glancing around the area as if trying to get a sense of scale and where the buildings would sit. "These are impressive. Looks like you'll have room for two hundred children?"

Sabine nodded. "The designs were drawn with expansion in mind as well,"

"It's impressive Sabine, thanks, Pealas," he said handing the datapad back. "And you have the funding secured?"

"We do. We're ready to break ground as soon as possible."

"Okay. Then what do you need me here for right now? Why am I here?"

Sabine turned to another of her board members, a human businessman, and nodded. The man stepped forward and introduced himself as Tamor Oln, the operator of a chemical plant that had been co-opted by the Empire. He had been able to retake control in their absence. Tamor straightened and explained. "It turns out every construction company on Lothal is booked for the next standard year. With the Empire gone, business is good again. I have tried to negotiate a faster timetable, but the added expenses would force us to scale back on the design. And this isn't something we're willing to do. We would be forced to go back to fundraising and delay the entire project."

Reema, the owner of the art gallery and another member of the board, shook her head. "This is something we're not willing to do. Lothal has so many orphans left in the wake of the Empire."

"Okay," Rhyder said carefully. "I see your point. What do you need from me? I can't force the construction companies to go back on previous contracts. I'm a governor, not an emperor."

"We understand, Rhyder," Sabine said. "Here's where you come in. Your administration has secured the use of Lothworks Fabrications for the next two years with public projects. Capitol City is their sole customer right now. And as their sole customer you can delay some of your own rebuilding projects for the month it would take for them to build the orphanage." Sabine handed another datapad to the governor. "We've gone through all the public projects on file and made a few suggestions on which ones we think you might be able to delay with the least consequence. Those are just suggestions. You know your business and the needs of the public better than we do, but we thought we might at least give you some food for thought."

Rhyder looked over the datapad for a minute, then looked Sabine in the eye. "Alright. I'll have to look this over and make some decisions, but I'll make it happen. And I'll make sure Lothworks knows so they can be ready to go when you give the order. I want this orphanage accepting children in one months time."

There were happy cheers from the board members. Even one of Rhyders assistants clapped happily. Sabine just smiled relieved, but already thinking ahead. The next month was going to be a wild one.

Rhyder laughed. "So a Mandalorian turns down my offer to lead my military, then decides to become a philanthropist and builds an orphanage instead. Sabine Wren, you are full of surprises."

Sabine blushed, retreating into her shell if only for a moment, then smiled. "I've got people counting on me." She meant the orphans of course, but she also meant Ezra.

Two Years after the Liberation of Lothal.

Sabine finished giving Hera the tour of the Ephraim and Mira Bridger Memorial Orphanage. Jacen squirmed in Sabine's arms, clearly preferring to walk. "Just a little longer, kiddo. Wait till we get outside."

They walked quietly out of the building across the grounds to a bench overlooking the ocean. The view was beautiful, even if in the far distance giant pieces of debris from the Imperial Dome rose out of the ocean. In the next couple years, salvage teams would begin to reclaim what was left of the Dome from the seabed.

Hera set Jacen down, and he immediately found a patch of dirt to play in. Hera eyed him, probably wondering if him being occupied was worth having to clean him up later. "Sabine this... All of this is amazing. You've grown so much in the last couple years. This orphanage is a miracle."

Sabine pushed a lock of purple hair away. She hadn't changed it for over two years now. Part of her knew Ezra would be upset if he missed a hair color, so she'd never altered it. "Thanks. It hasn't all been my doing of course. There's a board that's far better at actually managing this place than I could ever be."

"Maybe, but you had the vision and brought it all together," Hera encouraged patting Sabine's arm. "I can't even begin to imagine how hard it was for you put yourself out there like that."

Sabine laughed. "Oh, it wasn't fun. Trust me, Sabine Wren would rather be painting or shooting at stormtroopers. Asking for donations and helping organize a charity is not exactly my specialty."

Hera smiled, still keeping an eye on Jacen. "Doesn't seem to have hurt your popularity around here. I hear you're quite the socialite these days."

"Ugh, hardly. It's like being a trophy." Sabine wrinkled her nose in distaste. "People just like having me around at whatever public event they've got planned because it ups their own credibility."

"Ha, still don't like the attention?" Hera asked.

"Not a bit, but it helps the orphanage. The connections bring in donations and spur adoptions. So I'll do my part. Even if I find the whole thing weird."

Sabine sighed "I just want Ezra to come home. Then I'll happily retire from all this public attention, and he can deal with all this. He always liked people more than me anyway."

"You know he's even more famous around here than you," Hera said raising an eyebrow. "You said it yourself. He's a legend. If he comes back and everything you hope and dream happens, then you're going to have a public spectacle on your hands... If the Guardian of Lothal marries the Hero of Lothal, there's going to..."

"Hera!" Sabine cut her off. "Knock it off." But she was smiling. She'd made her peace with certain things. Maybe she did love Ezra. Mostly she just wanted to see his face again. "This is for Ezra, you know. He grew up on these streets. If I have my say, there won't be an orphaned child in Capitol City when he get's home."

"I was wondering if that was the inspiration," Hera said respectfully.

"He wasn't the only child orphaned by the Empire," Sabine said quietly. "We don't have nearly enough room for all of them. We're doing what we can to get the ones we have adopted and expanding our capacity, but these things take time."

Sabine took Ezra's lightsaber off her belt impulsively and inspected it.

"You know," Hera said, teasingly, "it's appropriate that thing ended up in your hands. Kanan always said that a lightsaber was a Jedi's life. Symbolic, huh?"

Sabine rolled her eyes, "You will never stop teasing me about him will you?"

"Never," Hera said laughing. "It's my duty. Besides I want Jacen to have cousins."

Sabine laughed. "Way to make it awkward, Hera. Thanks..."

Hera and Jacen left the next day. They would be able to make more frequent visits now. With a youngling, Hera was rarely on actual combat duty and served the Alliance by training the next generation of pilots. This would give her a bit more flexibility to visit Sabine on Lothal.

Sabine watched the Ghost fly away then went back into Ezra's tower. The conversation yesterday had given her an idea. She went to her workbench and very carefully set down Ezra's lightsaber. She had never dared to use it or tinker with it. Hera didn't need to remind her how important Ezra's lightsaber was; it was Sabine's treasure. And yet there was one cause she was willing to take a few slight risks for.

Very carefully she began to remove the lightsaber from its outer casing. She worked slowly, making absolutely sure to note how it went back together. After a couple of minutes work, she had its inner workings exposed. There it was. Ezra's kyber crystal.

Sabine knew almost nothing about the crystals. The empire had outlawed kyber research decades ago and sealed up all existing information. She did know a few things though: large ones tended to be dangerous, and they were incredibly durable, nearly indestructible unless disturbed in high energy environments. She knew there was little chance of her harming the crystal. Still, it didn't hurt to be cautious. She'd watched a big one of these take out a Star Destroyer once.

Two Years Eight Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine's research on Ezra's Kyber crystal had been the easy part. Her specialty at the Imperial Academy had been Applied Materials Science. That's how she'd gotten into so much trouble designing the Duchess, a weapon capable of targeting exact alloys based on atomic structure. It's why she was always so good at explosives. Sabine had a mind for calculating energy yields of the various cocktails she cooked up. She was never surprised when the explosion went off.

Within just a few short weeks she had enough basic information on Kyber crystals to theorize a way to scan for them. Designing that scanner and testing it was the next obstacle. She needed it to be extremely sensitive. After months of work, she had a scanner that could detect Ezra's lightsaber from nearly five hundred meters.

Knowing this was research the Empire did not need to discover, Sabine never recorded any of her data, instead she committed everything to memory. She wasn't willing to let the Empire ever weaponize her research again.

A week after finishing the scanner, Sabine went to Rhyder's office in the Old Senate Building.

"Oh no," he said. "Anytime you come to the office you've got a scheme."

Sabine laughed and sat down in his chair. "Ha, you could say that. I don't suppose I could borrow one of the salvage submersibles for a while."

Rhyder just stared at her blankly. "You'd think I'd be used to this. But you've got me stumped this time. I can't possibly imagine what you need one of the subs for."

"I'm going to find the remains of Kanan's lightsaber for Hera."

The governor narrowed his eyes. "That's a bit of a tall order don't you think? The Imperial Dome's debris field on the ocean floor covers nearly fifty square kilometers. Surely there's nothing left of it."

"I've got a tool that can find it. I'm only looking for the crystal. It would be nearly indestructible. I have no doubt it survived and is somewhere on the ocean floor."

Rhyder sighed. "I can't really say no to you on this, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. We've just started the salvage process, and it's a real mess down there."

"I know," Sabine said. "I want to get down there before the wreckage has been disturbed too much."

"Fine. I'll let the salvage company know you're coming. You do what you want. It's not like I could stop you anyway."

"Glad we understand each other," Sabine said with a wink.

He laughed. "I don't know how you have time for all this Sabine. Between the art, the orphanage, the occasional police work, and now this. Where do you find the time? Didn't I hear you guys were opening a school at the orphanage?"

"Next month. And Rhyder." she said laughing "I'm a busy woman. I've got to do something to pass the time waiting for Ezra to come back."

Rhyder just shook his head. "Your endless optimism on that front has me a bit puzzled, but I'm not going to rain on your hopes."

It took Sabine nearly a full of week of searching the ocean floor in the small submersible before the scanner gave a ping. Narrowing down the direction and location led to a large piece of the Dome's structure nearly fifty meters long. She spent the next several hours carefully slicing it into pieces before she found her prize. It was definitely part of Kanan's lightsaber, though it had been crushed and mangled when the Dome was destroyed. Sabine used the submersible's mechanical arms to load the precious piece of metal into a storage compartment.

She sealed the compartment to the outside ocean and waited impatiently for it to drain so she could access it from inside the sub. The compartment chimed, and she quickly opened the door. This was it. No doubt now. She carefully pulled the twisted metal away from the inner housing revealing the blue crystal. She smiled. Hera was going to love this.

Chapter Text

Three Years Four Months after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine had to wait over half a year to give Hera the remains of Kanan's lightsaber. Zeb and Hera's schedules didn't line up much anymore, and Sabine wanted the big guy to be there too.

To further complicate things, Sabine knew that Hera was involved in setting up a new base for Alliance High Command, and this was leading to her being unavailable for extended periods of time. Hera, understandably, couldn't tell Sabine where this new base was since Sabine had completely withdrawn from service. All she knew was that it was very cold and Hera complained about it a lot.

Finally, Hera commed one evening to let her know that she'd lined up a few leave days with Zeb.

"It'll be more than just Zeb and I if you don't mind. Zeb heads up a commando squad with Kallus and Rex these days, so when one's off, they're all off."

"Oh that's great actually," Sabine said. She'd hadn't seen any of the three in years, though she had talked to Zeb a few times. "Rex makes sense on a commando team, but Kallus? Shouldn't he be in intelligence somewhere?"

"Long story on that one actually," Hera said. "Alliance Intelligence wanted him and did all they could to recruit him. Turned out our very own Alexandr Kallus didn't want any more part in the underhanded side of the war." Hera looked sad for a moment. "He's got a lot of regrets, and I don't think he wanted to be part of anything that could add to them. He advises Intelligence pretty regularly when they have a need, but he's just a common soldier now, if an exceptionally good one."

"I had no idea," Sabine shook her head, "but that makes me glad to hear. He and Rex are more than welcome. See you soon, Hera."

On the appointed day two ships landed outside Ezra's tower, the Ghost and a small assault shuttle. Sabine didn't recognize the model but assumed Zeb and the others were on it.

They met her at the entrance to the tower. Jacen practically ran out of the Ghost towards Sabine. She bent over as he threw his arms around her, screaming "Aunt Sabine!" as loud as his little lungs could manage. She laughed and hugged the boy and ran a hand through that bright green hair she never grew tired of.

"How's my little man doing?"

"I'm amazing cause we're here to see you!" the boy shouted.

"Oh!" Sabine laughed happily. She let the boy go and stood to hug Hera. "Thanks for making this happen."

"It took some effort," Hera acknowledged. "You're up to something, Sabine,"

"Am I ever not?" Sabine said innocently.

"These days? No."

Chopper, Zeb, Rex, and Kallus had joined them, and Sabine turned to greet them. "Hey big guy," Sabine said giving Zeb a playful punch.

Zeb pulled her into his huge arms, lifting her off the ground in a crushing hug. "Heh, it's good to see you!"

"Oof! Glad to see you too, but I still have to breathe Zeb!" she laughed.

He set her down."Heh, sorry been so long since I've seen you. Got a little carried away," the big Lasat smiled, his ears twitching.

Chopper said something rude, which Sabine decided to ignore. Rex and Kallus greeted her in turn before Kallus gestured towards Capitol City in the distance. "I can't help but notice that Lothal has seen a bit of new construction since the last time we were here."

Sabine nodded. "Getting the Empire out of here has done wonders for Lothal. We've had several major corporations build offices here to keep out of the Empire's reach. It's brought tens of thousands of jobs, which in turn bring immigrants. Which just accelerates the rebuilding."

Rex shook his head. "Last time I was here, fires raged across the countryside. Huh, never thought I'd see the day."

A speeder pulled up, and Rhyder Azadi got out. Sabine had asked him to be here today as well. He exchanged pleasantries with those gathered.

"How's all the new growth affecting the orphanage," Hera asked.

"Mostly positive," Sabine said. "The population increase does increase the need some, but it also increases our pool of donors and adopters. We're making progress. These days we're more limited by personnel and facilities. And we've branched off into some other charitable works for the adult homeless, but that work is just getting started. Lothal is a strange place right now. Half of it is still war blasted, and the other half is seeing staggering growth."

Rhyder continued her thought. "And, we're doing everything in our power to keep people from being left behind. We've got a long ways to go before we erase all the problems the Empire left us. Sabine's done more than her fair share." He chuckled. "You know when all of you left and went on your way, I was a little worried that you'd left me a Mandalorian warrior that was going cause me nothing but problems. It turns out she's good at a lot more than fighting, though I have her do a little of that from time to time as well."

"Wait, what?" Zeb asked.

Rhyder laughed. "The police call Sabine in whenever they've got thugs they need help with. And she goes and cleans them up. The press calls her The Guardian of Lothal."

Sabine groaned inwardly. Of course, Rhyder was going to bring this up.

Zeb narrowed his eyes and looked back and forth between Sabine and Rhyder. "Okay, this is too much. You're trying to tell me that between being a famous local artist and running an orphanage you're also... Lothal's top... enforcer!?"

Hera shook her head. "They aren't kidding Zeb."

"Why didn't you tell me all this?" Zeb asked, irritated.

"I did tell you some of it, but we've all been busy in case you've forgotten."

"Karabast," Zeb said. "Our little Mandalorian's all grown up."

"Ugh, don't make this awkward, Zeb," Sabine groaned as she took them into the tower. After giving them the quick tour, she led them onto the observation deck.

"Alright, you've got us all here," Hera said, Jacen squirming in her arms. She apparently didn't trust him anywhere near the railing. "What's this about Sabine?"

"Hey, can't a girl get her family together without ulterior motives?" Sabine said innocently.

Hera raised an eyebrow. "Sure. You can. But this isn't that. I know when you've got a scheme."

Sabine smiled. "Alright stay here." She went back into the tower and retrieved a wooden box.

When she returned, the others were talking about how much healthier the prairies and skies of Lothal looked after just a few years free of the Empire. "I never saw a single clear blue sky the entire time I was stationed here," Kallus said thoughtfully. "I had thought the yellows and tans were the natural color of Lothal's skies." He sighed.

"Now, now, Alexandr," Rex said sympathetically. "We've all got pasts and regrets. You served the Empire. I helped it rise to power in the first place. There's no sense in living in the past."

"At least not the bad parts," Sabine said rejoining them. "I think the good parts are worth remembering."

"You ready to tell us what's this about?" Hera asked.

Sabine nodded. "You got me thinking about the past awhile back Hera." She handed the box to Hera. "Don't open this yet." She pulled Ezra's saber off her belt and displayed it to the group. "I'm thankful I was entrusted with Ezra's lightsaber, to remember him and keep it safe until he returns."

Zeb nodded. "No one better than you."

Sabine eyed the hilt. "I suppose that's true. Anyway, it always made me sad that Kanan's was lost. If a lightsaber was a Jedi's life, well Hera you had every right to Kanan's."

Suddenly Hera froze and looked at the box. She passed Jacen to Kallus, who immediately passed him to Zeb as if the boy were dangerous. Rhyder chuckled quietly, but then stopped when Kallus gave him an icy glare. Jacen, oblivious to what was going on, immediately began to play with Zeb's whiskers.

"This isn't... This isn't what I think it is... Is it, Sabine?" Hera asked quietly.

"Open it," Sabine said.

The Twi-lek obeyed, and everyone stared at the shattered remains of Kanan's lightsaber. "How...?" Hera asked. "This must have gone down with the Dome...?"

"That's gonna be my secret, but let's just imagine that it took a lot of work." In truth, Sabine wasn't willing to tell Hera how much effort it had taken. "That's the condition I found it in. If you want, I think I can repair it."

"Wait, what?" Hera said shocked. "Kanan told me only force users could make lightsabers. Something about the crystals being attuned to the maker."

Sabine nodded. "That's true. But this one's still attuned to Kanan, so far as I know. I've studied Ezra's carefully, mind you, and I'm relatively confident I could fix Kanan's."

Hera thought about it, then shook her head. "No, this is more than enough for now. Maybe someday I'll change my mind, but for now, this is the greatest gift you could have given me." Hera clutched the saber to her breast, tears in her eyes.

"Kanan's life," Sabine said beaming. "Yours to treasure."

The women embraced briefly.

"Just as you treasure Bridger's?" Kallus asked, ever observant.

Sabine paused for a moment. Trapped, she thought. I set myself up for this. Inwardly she shrugged realizing there was no sense denying the obvious. "Something like that, yes." She said it as cooly and confidently as she could. This seemed to surprise the group as they weren't used to Sabine being so candid about, well, anything.

"Oh my," Rex said. "I always knew Ezra had a thing for you, but I didn't think you'd give him the time of day." he chuckled. "The Jedi and the Mandalorian."

Sabine paused for a moment before deciding to go all in. "Someday, maybe, if he'll still have me."

That one got the shocked response she was expecting. Thankfully Jacen saved her from any further scrutiny

"OWWww!" Zeb cried suddenly when the toddler tried to shove a fist in one of the Lasat's big ears. Everyone shared a laugh at his expense.

"Come here Jacen. No terrorizing your uncle," Hera said taking him back.

Three Years Nine Months after the Liberation of Lothal

There came a day when Sabine couldn't stand it anymore. She'd done her best, done everything in her power to not give in. In the end, it was futile, and Sabine broke down.

She got out her paints and gave her armor a new paint job. It had been close to four years at this point, longer than she'd ever gone by far. She'd long ago planned out a darker color scheme but had held off, hoping against hope that Ezra would get back.

But he was still gone. He'd always loved seeing each new iteration of her armor. She hoped he'd forgive her for doing this while he was away.

"Come home, Loth-rat. Please. I need you," Sabine said quietly to herself as she used a sonic pulser and chemical wipe to strip the old paint from her armor. After a few minutes of work, her armor stared back at her gunmetal grey. She hated seeing it like this, so cold and lifeless. She quickly began to apply the primer layer.

It took her several hours before the armor in front of her matched the vision in her head. She'd had years to plan this new iteration, and it would be the last till Ezra came home. She would not change it again and allow him to miss it. She looked at it and smiled, not just at the new colors, but at the more personal touches. She'd put a purgil on the left shoulder guard and loth-wolf ears on the helmet. Still, she thought it was missing something.

Sabine stared at it for several minutes.

There. She knew what to do. Getting her blues back, out she masked the area and carefully applied a layer of blue paint.

She peeled off the mask. Perfect. The owl eyes on her helmet shone back in blue now, rather than yellow.

Blue eyes, in honor of Ezra.

Four Years after the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine woke up early when she heard several ships outside her tower. Hmm, she thought groggily, she didn't have any visitors scheduled. She opened the door on the observation deck and peeked out. A Mandalorian shuttle and two escort fighters.

"Karabast. Guess Mother finally decided to come find me," she said rushing inside to pull her armor on. She'd talked to her mother many times over the last four years. Unfortunately, Countess Ursa Wren couldn't seem to understand why it was so important for Sabine to stay on Lothal. "Today ought to be fun" she grumbled, as she wolfed down half a ration bar on the turbo-lift ride down to ground level.

Sabine opened the door just before the Mandalorian delegation reached the base of the tower. She quickly assessed the group. Four warriors and her mother and father. No sign of Tristan, she thought, disappointed.

"Welcome to Lothal, mother," she said, bowing her head in respect.

"It's good to see you again, Sabine," Ursa said, obviously unsure of herself and her surroundings. "It's been so long."

"I've been busy. I've got a lot of responsibilities around here."

Alrich didn't say anything but closed the gap and embraced Sabine in a hug. When he finally released her he laughed. "I am so proud of you Sabine. I saw one of your paintings get sold at an auction on Mandalore for nearly a quarter million and...

"Wait did you say a quarter million?! Which one?" Sabine asked wide-eyed. She had clearly been undercharging for her work.

"Wolves of the Prairie XII if I remember correctly."

"Huh," Sabine grunted perplexed. "I didn't even really like that one. I think I sold that one to an Ithorian collector a year or two ago. For like a tenth the price."

"Well, you're becoming quite well known in fine art circles, especially your helmet series. Though some of the art community is a bit miffed at your propaganda pieces," Alrich chuckled.

Sabine shrugged. "Mon Mothma was willing to pay, and, let's be honest, when have I ever turned down a chance to smear the Empire." Sabine noticed her mother beginning to relax.

"Sabine," Ursa said carefully. "After your father saw your piece at the auction, we managed to contact General Syndulla. She told me what you've been doing here. I'm not sure why you didn't tell us everything you have been up to. We're... We're proud of you Sabine. This may not have been the future we planned for you, but it seems you've made a one for yourself, a bright one to call your own."

Sabine looked at her mother evenly, surprised. She had expected her to come demanding that she return to Krownest, as she usually did when they spoke over comms. "Thank you. I've been able to accomplish a lot. Unfortunately, you didn't give me warning that you were coming today; I could have cleared my schedule for you. I have a board meeting, as well as a meeting with an off-world patron interested in commissioning an art piece."

Ursa looked surprised. "Oh. Well then, we didn't mean to..."

"Oh stop. You can ride along. I want you to see the orphanage, and I know dad wants to see my art at the gallery. Just give me a bit to get ready. You guys showed up early local time."

Ursa relaxed, and Alrich replied, "We'de like nothing more."

Sabine proudly showed them the grounds of the Ephraim and Mira Bridger Memorial Orphanage. "We already have a school for the children here on the premises, but we're hoping to break ground on a trade school in the city sometime in the next month. With all the new construction going on permits are a little slow to go through right now, so we'll have to see how that goes. We'd like to be able to help some of the older kids and teenagers, the ones least likely to get adopted, transition to a normal adult life with the trade school."

They had been walking across the park-like grounds of the outer facility when suddenly a group of children ran up to them screaming "Lady Sabine! Lady Sabine!" Sabine knelt and, calling each by name, gave them a piece of candy from her bag. Finally, their teacher gathered the children and moved them on to their next class.

Ursa chuckled. "I have to admit Sabine. I never imagined seeing this side of you. I thought you'd taken after me. It looks like you've got more of your father in you than I thought."

Sabine smiled. "It took awhile to get here. It was buried down pretty deep, and I had to strip a lot of years of inhibitions away. Some of my Mandalorian instincts, too I'm afraid.

"We're not a perfect people, Sabine," Alrich said thoughtfully. "There's no shame in growing beyond the faults of your upbringing."

"I know," she replied. "And it certainly didn't come naturally at first. But this is my home now; these are my people."

Alrich looked at her thoughtfully. "You've mentioned your duty in taking care of Lothal. That you're watching it for Ezra. Till he comes back."

"He'll come home someday," Sabine said, hating this conversation. She'd had it so many times with so many people over the years, and so few believed her. She couldn't blame them. They hadn't seen the assurance in Ezra's eyes that day four years ago; she had. Ezra had known he would come home someday.

"That's what you've said. And when he comes back what happens?" her father prodded gently.

"This is my home now. I stay on Lothal," Sabine said confidently.

"With Ezra?"

Sabine chuckled. "If he'll have me, I suppose. It's been four years now. I can't imagine where he's been and what's he done in that time, so I'm not going to make any assumptions." She brushed a lock of hair aside. She'd been nervous her parents wouldn't be accepting of this. Ezra was the least Mandalorian thing this side of the core. "But there's nothing I'd like better. It took me a long time to truly know myself."

Ursa raised an eyebrow. "You were always so adamant there was nothing between you two, all those years ago."

"And there wasn't," Sabine said. "But things change. I think every culture in the galaxy has a saying about absence and the heart." She paused. "I miss him, so much, mother. We were close. It was only after he left that I realized we could have, should have been something different, something better."

Alrich put a hand on Sabine's shoulder. "Then we shall pray for his speedy return."

Her mother, the stoic Countess Wren gave her a warm smile and nodded, which to Sabine was worth a thousand jewels.

Chapter Text

Four Years Seven Months After the Liberation of Lothal

Sabine lay on her back some distance from Ezra's tower in the tall grass. She wasn't wearing her armor. Since she had declared to her parents that Lothal was her home, she didn't wear it every day. She would always be Mandalorian, and her armor would always be a part of her, but Lothal was so peaceful that it began to feel ridiculous wearing it all the time; even to her Mandalorian sensibilities.

Rhyder's administration and the Guardian of Lothal had made it abundantly clear to the galaxy's criminal underworld that they would never be welcome on Lothal. Capitol City, free from the Empire and safe from the seedier elements of the galaxy had experienced a population boom and prosperity unseen since the golden age of the Republic. Where once a quiet Outer-Rim sector-capitol had stood, a gleaming white metropolis rose into the blue sky. It was so beautiful that Sabine almost didn't believe it was real. She knew that Ezra would be so happy when he saw his home that Sabine could hardly stand it.

And she hoped he would see it soon. That morning the most miraculous news had reached Lothal. The tyrant, the Emperor, was dead. The Alliance to Restore the Republic had cut the head off the dragon. Sabine knew the war wasn't over yet. There would be battles to come.

But for the first time in her adult life, she knew that she would live to see the ending, that the Galactic Empire would fall during her lifetime. She had called Rhyder to get confirmation that this wasn't just a rumor, and he'd been able to confirm it with his Alliance contacts. It was true. All of it.

Sabine had wept for nearly an hour, happy tears, alone in her tower, wishing her family could be here with her. They'd done it against all the odds. Hera, Rex, Zeb, Kallus and all the others.

Now she lay looking at the blue sky. The loth-cats came to see her like they always did when she came out to the plains. Did they come because of her love for Ezra? There had always been something strange about the life of this planet, and it had always been deeply connected to Ezra.

She thought about him, wondering where he was, as she had been wondering for nearly half a decade. Maybe he had been waiting till the Empire fell to return. Maybe he was waiting till it was safe to be a Jedi again.

Perhaps he was thinking of coming home soon. The Empire would never return to this planet now, and she knew that they had truly liberated Lothal almost five years ago. Ezra would come home to something he had never known: a home, free and safe. She knew what she would do now when saw him. She would run to him and throw her arms around him and then she'd kiss his face and damn the consequences.

Sabine decided she wouldn't get her hopes up in case Ezra didn't return immediately. But she couldn't help but try to imagine what he looked like now. Was his hair still short or had it grown back out? Maybe he had a beard. She wasn't sure what she'd think of that.

Sabine had recently cut her hair short. With her armor repainted some time back, she couldn't wait any longer to change her hair. She kept the purple but brightened the color a few shades and cropped it shorter than it had ever been. She ran her fingers through it. Sabine wasn't actually sure she liked it at first, but she was warming to it. And, well, if Ezra didn't like it, she would happily regrow it.

She fell asleep in the grass dreaming of her long lost friend and a free galaxy as the loth-cats played around her.

Five Years Four Months after the Battle of Lothal

Ezra didn't come home immediately. While Sabine wasn't surprised, she couldn't help but be a little disappointed. For the first time in years, she had an itch to leave Lothal. She had done what Ezra wanted, and Lothal was free and safe. Maybe it was time she went and found him.

For weeks, she reflected on this. The problem was that she had no idea where to even start. The disappearance of the 7th Fleet was an absolute mystery. No rumors of the fleet or it's Grand Admiral had surfaced. She wasn't about to leave Lothal to wander the galaxy blindly without a plan.

And then one day a visitor showed up at her tower. A shuttle of a dated design landed by the tower. Sabine went out to meet it. A woman wearing all white stepped from the ship, and Sabine gasped.

"Ahsoka?" she said doubtfully. Sabine hadn't seen her in seven years, not since before Malachor.

Ahsoka smiled gracefully and leaned on her staff. Sabine thought she looked queenly, maybe even priestly in her white robes.

When the Torgruta spoke, her voice was gentle. "I hear you've been doing well for yourself, Sabine Wren, Guardian of Lothal. Ezra will be glad to hear it."

This was it. Sabine felt a strange prickling sensation rise up her spine, but she decided to be cautious. "Have you seen him? Do you know where he is?"

"No. And maybe. The time of his return is soon now. Many things have changed in the galaxy, but his long trial is not yet complete. He will need us before the end."

Sabine narrowed her eyes. "You speak as Kanan did. In riddles."

Ahsoka smiled. "Then Kanan was like the masters of old before his end." She laughed a clear sweet laugh.

"Are you going to explain yourself, Ahoska, or did you just come talk in circles."

"In time, I will tell you everything. We have all had our tasks these last years. But today is not that day. Nor is it the time for us to go to Ezra. Not yet. But soon; be ready. When the Empire lies in its final grave, look for my coming. We will go together to bring Ezra Bridger home."

Sabine thought back to the last time she had spoken to Hera. The clean up against the Empire was going remarkably well. Too well in fact, almost as if the Empire were eager to tear itself apart. A few more months and it would probably be over.

"I'll be ready. I have responsibilities that I'll need to pass to others. Futures I need to secure in my absence."

"Good. We will bring Ezra Bridger back to the home that he loved and both our promises will be fulfilled." Ahsoka bowed softly, turned, and boarded her ship. Sabine watched as the shuttle lifted off and disappeared into the sky, excitement coursing through her body. The end was finally in sight. Her long wait was nearly over.

Five Years Seven Months after the Battle of Lothal

The Battle of Jakku came and went, and the Empire died its final death. The Galactic Concordance was signed and the Imperial government officially disbanded. There was a quiet in the galaxy such as there hadn't been for half a century. A restfulness.

Sabine had spent the last few months preparing to leave Lothal. She had turned over all duties at the orphanage and resigned from the board. She had spent hours painting dozens of works, some of her finest. These she entrusted to Reema, no longer just a business associate, but a close friend, to slowly sell and continue funding the orphanage. Rhyder promised to secure the extra funding to continue Sabine's work in case she was gone longer than the paintings lasted.

"Have no fear Sabine. The people of Lothal won't let you down after what you've done for them. I think we've finally taken most of the children off the street and have room to place any new ones."

"Thanks, Rhyder, I couldn't have done this without you."

"I'm just an administrator. You make people believe in things."

Sabine smiled slightly and dipped her head gracefully. "I've fulfilled the role Ezra asked me to. Now I need him to see the new Lothal for himself. Oh, and Rhyder. If you have any more of those rougher problems that your people can't handle..." She passed him a data chip.

"What's this?" he asked.

Sabine laughed. "Contact information for my brother Tristan?. He'll bring a whole battalion of Mandalorians if you ever need help."

Rhyder laughed and pocketed the chip. "You people are half crazy."

She winked. "You're not wrong."

Rhyder had been at the Orphanage that day, and they left together, walking out of the building. As they walked out the main entrance, they met a huge crowd. All the children were seated in neat rows with the staff behind them. The board stood off to the side, smiling. "What's this about?" Sabine asked, nervously. Then she saw it.

Rheema laughed. "We waited for you to resign so that you couldn't stop us."

A new statue of Sabine in full armor stood in front of the orphanage. Sabine stared at it feeling her face turn red. At least it was lifesize and not a ridiculously oversized giant like Ezra's. "I cannot believe this." The whole assemblage cheered. Sabine laughed, covering her face with her hands. She'd been hoping to make a clean escape, but clearly, there had been a plot against her. "I guess you were in on this?" She asked Rhyder.

"Of course I was. As the Governor of Lothal, it's my duty to honor citizens that have been a champion for its people."

"I just did what Ezra asked me to do," Sabine said, self-conscious in front of so many people.

"And yet you were the one to make this happen," the governor said bowing his head to her. "You have the eternal gratitude of the people of Lothal." There was another round of cheers. It took several minutes to get the children to stop. "The people of Lothal do have one request though."

"Oh?" she said surprised. "What's that?"

Rhyder smiled. "Go bring Ezra home."

Sabine nodded and looked out over the crowd. "I can do that."

The day finally came when Ahsoka commed her. She would arrive tomorrow; they were to meet at the Old Senate Building.

The next morning Sabine stood on the observation deck of Ezra's tower for the last time, staring out at the gleaming white spires of Capitol City. Ezra's city. But also her's; and someday, she hoped, theirs.

Over a decade ago they had pulled the Loth-rat off the street. A decade ago he had obnoxiously wandered into their lives and then proceeded to change the galaxy, and her life, forever. His bold transmission had echoed out across the stars, repeated endlessly, pebbles in the right place at the right time, changing history. He had saved his people and his home, through sheer tenacity and force of will. Lothal owed him much. She owed him more. And now she would bring him home.

Ahsoka's shuttle flew overhead, and she glanced up. Time to go. She entered Ezra's tower, her home and grabbed her bag. She packed light this time. No painting supplies for now. Just the essentials. Taking the turbo-lift to the ground, she locked the tower and took her speeder to the city, flanked by two loth-wolves. Sabine wondered at this, as they were still a rare sight. She took it as a good sign.

Sabine didn't know why Ahsoka wanted to meet at the government complex. Her shuttle had been escorted by X-wings; perhaps she had New Republic business her as well. Sabine didn't really care. She entered the building and took the lift to one of the highest levels. She wouldn't worry about Ahsoka. The Torgruta would find her when she was ready.

There were abandoned rooms here in the upper levels that were still in disuse even after all this time. Once, when Sabine worked in the building years ago, she had painted a mural on large slabs of duracrete. The Ghost crew, her family, flanked by loth-wolves, loth-cats, and the stone spires that dotted the prairies.

She had made many paintings of her family over the years, but this had always been one of her favorites. Sabine walked slowly to it. She looked at Kanan and missed him for the thousandth time. She looked at Hera, her surrogate mother and friend. Zeb, something of an uncle or perhaps another brother. Even Chopper was a happy memory.

But Ezra. Sabine reached a hand out an touched his face. Her dear, beloved Ezra. She would bring him back to Lothal, and all would be made right.

Hearing a sound behind her, she turned. Ahsoka, all in white, a vision of grace. She tapped her staff softly. Sabine nodded almost imperceptibly and put on her helmet. Ezra was out there somewhere. And it was time to bring him home.

Chapter Text

Seven Years after the Liberation of Lothal

The light cruiser tore through hyperspace, that reality between realities where faster than light speed was possible. The captain, a Mandalorian in her late twenties, stood at the bridge, appearing to be at ease. The crew of the small warship, allies and compatriots, gathered over the course of the voyage, were quiet. They each had a stake in finding the missing 7th fleet. Or what remained of it that is.

Sabine Wren was not as calm as her crew thought she was. In truth, she had never been more frightened in her life, now that the end of their long voyage was upon them. They had traveled into the depths of unknown space, going where few civilized spacefarers had dared. But this is not what frightened Sabine.

What frightened her was that she might have come too late. For two months they had closed on the 7th, and for two months they had found the wreckage of its battles: destroyed hulks of Imperial ships bearing strange orange and blue markings. Some of these battlefields were ancient; some far more recent. Whoever pursued the 7th didn't seem to have any losses. Ahsoka suggested that perhaps they didn't leave any debris behind to mark their casualties, a bizarre remark that unnerved Sabine.

Sabine felt her stomach knot again. Seven years ago today was the day Ezra Bridger disappeared. Nearly a quarter of her life had passed since then, and not a day went by when she hadn't thought of him.

She hoped he still thought of her too.

"Peace, Sabine," Ahsoka said quietly from behind her.

Sabine chose to ignore the Torgruta for the time being and continued to stare into the mottled blue of hyperspace. Ahsoka was a dear friend, but sometimes that inane Jedi calmness drove her nuts. Sabine felt a hand on her shoulder. Apparently, Ahsoka wasn't going to be ignored. "I'm alright. I just... I've been waiting for this day for seven years. I have a lot riding on it."

"I know," Ahsoka said quietly.

"Do you know how today ends? Have you foreseen it?"

"I have seen many ways this day could end, but I do not know which one will occur. The future is a treacherous path to tread before it has come."

Sabine turned and faced Ahsoka with a frown. "Some good that is."

Ahsoka smiled softly. "And yet there is hope in my heart that both our promises will be fulfilled today. I... Sorry. I didn't mean to go into riddle mode."

"I do hate that," Sabine grumbled.

"I know," Ahsoka said apologetically.

Sabine took a deep breath and tried to smile back at Ahsoka. Her friend didn't deserve to be treated like this. Not after the road they had traveled.

An alarm pinged, and Sabine snapped back to readiness and spoke into her headset. "All crew standby for transition out of hyperspace. We stand at yellow status. Await orders before coming to full battle alert." She heard confirmation from her officers, officers that led a crew of over fifty.

Another alarm pinged, and the cruiser reverted to realspace.

"One ship dead ahead, signs of life and power," the sensor officer declared almost immediately. "I think... I think it used to be the Chimera," she finished hesitantly.

Sabine frowned. "What's that supposed to mean? It wasn't destroyed, was it? I thought you said there were life signs."

"I... You'll have to see for yourself."

Sabine growled at the helm. "Pull us around. I want to see the ship."

The cruiser reoriented to face the other ship.

Used to be the Chimera indeed, Sabine thought. In front of them floated the triangular wedge of an Imperial Star Destroyer, but Sabine had never seen one that had endured so much damage or so many modifications. The entire bridge superstructure was missing, and numerous trenches had been gouged into the surface of the vessel. Sabine couldn't decipher if these were from collisions or weaponry of some unknown design. How it was still space-worthy, Sabine had no idea. Its hull was marked in the same intertwined blue and orange insignia they had seen for months.

She stepped to her terminal and tried hailing it on open frequencies. "This is Sabine Wren, captain of the Loth-wolf, hailing Imperial Star Destroyer Chimera. We wish to speak to your captain."

There was quiet for a moment before a crackling voice returned. "You'll find no Imperials in this part of space. This is First Officer Teynor speaking. You'll have to forgive me, but we don't see too many "friendly" faces anymore. State your business immediately."

Sabine sighed. "I'm looking for a friend. One lost long ago when your ship disappeared. I was hoping you could tell me where he was."

The speaker was quiet for a moment. "Possibly. Though I wouldn't hold out hope. As I'm sure, you can tell by our condition, there aren't that many of us left."

Sabine closed her eyes demanding her nerves to calm. "He was a Jedi. His name was Ezra Bridger."

The man on the other side of the comm inhaled sharply. "Master Bridger? I..." He cut the comm.

Ahsoka chuckled. "Well, I think things are beginning to happen." Sabine gave her friend an even look and tried to smile.

The comm crackled back to life. "I'm sending coordinates to our forward hangar. You are to dock immediately."

"Woah," Sabine said, "I'm just looking for inform..."

"If you want to live, you dock right now. If we're not out of this system in ten minutes, we're all dead. They're close behind."

Sabine thought carefully for a moment then made a snap decision. "Understood. On our way." Sabine nodded to her helmsman. "Take us in." She spoke into her headset. "Jennig grab your team and meet Ahsoka and me at the main ramp. This is it. Hopefully." She nodded to Ahsoka. "Let's do it."

Their light cruiser docked in the hangar, and almost immediately afterward Sabine felt the hyperdrives of the Star Destroyer push them into hyperspace. She opened the ramp to the familiar sight of an Imperial hangar. She immediately noticed several things were wrong. First, no stormtroopers, though this was probably a good thing. Second, everything looked... Sabine wasn't sure how to describe it, perhaps tired? The hangar seemed disorganized, ill kept, and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

All of which should be expected for a long lost ship.

Sabine, Ahsoka, and her security detail walked to the bottom of the ramp and stopped. The hangar was devoid of life. "Well," she said. "This is awkward."

Suddenly Ahsoka smiled and sighed as if in relief. "What's that?" Sabine asked, but her friend merely nodded at the far side of the hangar. A door opened, and two men approached flanked by stormtroopers.

Sabine took in all the details at once. The stormtroopers wore modified and incomplete sets of armor; all customized, personalized, and painted, mostly in blue and orange. Only a few wore helmets.

One of the men in front, a tall officer, wore white. His skin was blue, and his eyes were red: none other than the long-lost Grand Admiral Thrawn.

And the other bearded man wore orange. After all these kriffing years, he still wore orange. He was tall now, less thin, and his eyes still pierced sapphire blue.

At least the blue and orange insignias made sense: blue for Thrawn and orange for Ezra.

"Ezra Bridger I've found you at last," Sabine muttered under her breath. She held up a hand for the others to stay back and walked towards the waiting group. Ezra broke away from his group and stepped forward to meet her.

To Sabine, it took an eternity to close the distance between them. She had time to confront a thousand fears, hopes, and misgivings, all fighting to be heard amidst the turmoil in her heart. Seven years, was the thought that screamed over and over in her mind. Seven years have I waited. Is he still the same man? Does he still even care?

Does he still love me?

They reached each other and paused. Sabine trembled slightly, not knowing what to say or even do. For seven years she had thought of this moment. Dreamed of it. And yet when it came, her courage left her completely.

Ezra must have seen her trembling, because he lowered his eyes, and just whispered, "Sabine?"

That was all it took. She strode towards him knowing what she had to do.

He flinched and backed away. "Woah! Woah I'm sorry!"

Sabine paused eyes wide. "Wait, what did you think...?"

He eyed her warily. "You weren't about to hit me?"

Sabine began to smile, a wicked smile. Oh, this was going to be fun. "I thought about it. Because we all know you deserve it for doing what you did without warning us."

"You wouldn't have understood," Ezra said carefully scratching the back of his head.

"Maybe not," Sabine said taking a step closer. He flinched at that step. "I hope that you realize how hard you were to find?"

"I think we both have stories to tell," he said carefully. "And they're probably going to be long ones."

Sabine laughed, thinking of Lothal and the orphanage. "I've got a few to tell, that's for sure." She stepped closer. He managed not to flinch this time. There was barely a foot between them now. Wow, he had gotten tall she thought as she looked up at those eyes.

She winked. "I've got more important things in mind first." In one motion she reached up and grabbed the back of Ezra's head to pull him down to her and kissed him with everything she had. It took him a few moments to realize what was happening, get with the program and kiss her back. Ezra fumbled with his hands, unsure of where he was expected or allowed to put them. Sabine laughed and pulled away. "What, still bashful? We've lost seven years Ezra. I'm not waiting any longer for you."

Ezra was red-faced and surprised. He turned back to look at Thrawn and his men. The escorts were all grinning, and even Thrawn had a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. One of the ex-storm troopers gave a thumbs up. Ezra looked at Ahsoka and the group with her. She smiled brightly, waved, and winked. "Look," Ezra said cautiously, "I hoped, I didn't... I don't even."

"Shut up Ezra Bridger," Sabine said and kissed him again.