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The Light

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The convor’s hoot echoes through a quiet that’s deeper than silence itself. Ezra stirs at the sound, but it seems distant and muted. It’s a soothing contrast to the violence he had encountered briefly before: hums of a pair of lightsabers pulverising the ground beneath, the structure above shattering into jagged shards that swirled on currents of energy but defied all gravity, like a star collapsing. Yet when he opens his eyes, there’s nothing but the stars. The walkway he’s lying on ripples beneath his touch as he pushes himself upright, and he grabs his head as a spell of dizziness and disorientation hits him. There’s no horizon to find his balance in—only the triangular portal behind him, which had held that haunted memory of Malachor. And atop the portal, the little convor fusses, hooting again as if to draw his attention.

Malachor. Ahsoka.

Ezra’s eyes widen and his hand drops to his side as he turns around, slowly and in disbelief. But for the passage of time he has bridged and the events of the past he has altered, he thinks his head should be excused for failing to accept that the person he sees before him is actually there. Her back is turned to him, but it is unmistakably Ahsoka Tano. She props herself up where she’s lying, lightsabers still in hand, her arms shaking.

He had actually done it. In a fleeting moment of clarity on what he could do, on what he needed to do, he had reached through the veil and returned to save Ahsoka, where before he had failed.

“Ahsoka?” he whispers, still a little uncertain. She starts at the sound of his voice, turning around with eyes full of surprise. For a moment, she just stares, taking in his appearance, his armour, and their equally levelled line of sight due to their mirrored kneeling positions.

“Ezra?” she exclaims eventually, sounding even more incredulous than he’s feeling.

He beams a faint smile at her and rises to his feet, which confirms whatever suspicion Ahsoka had had about the sudden change from the younger Ezra at Malachor into his taller future and present self.

“You look—wait.” The faintly distant and glimmering stars seem to have caught her eye, as well as the remaining immateriality of their general vicinity, distinctly not said Temple at Malachor. “What happened? Where am I?”

“You were fighting Vader,” Ezra tries to explain. Her expression darkens at the mention of that name. “I saw you, in there!” He points to the portal behind her, willing her to understand. “He was going to—so I, I grabbed you, and I pulled you out of there!” He’s not sure if she understands anything of what he just tried to say—not that he was phrasing it all that carefully, but how do you go about explaining whatever is going on in this place? Her eyes search his face as he speaks, but she frowns as if distracted by another sound, and a shadow of sadness passes across, and she averts her gaze.

“Anakin,” she mutters. Ezra shifts uneasily—he remembers this name, too, although he had pushed his own inquisitive thoughts about the matter away, as he had done with most things concerning Malachor. But he had been right there to hear the exchange between Vader and Ahsoka, when she had challenged him and claimed revenge for her Master—revenge for whom Vader had been. Ezra had not brought it up again within the Rebellion, and he had dismissed the idea to ask Rex about it the moment he had seen the old clone’s face when he had understood that Ahsoka was not with them, and Ezra’s heart had broken for him. And after everything that had happened on Malachor, he definitely didn’t ask—

It hadn’t mattered.

From behind, the convor calls for them and breaks the spell.

“Morai!” Ahsoka’s surprise seems complete when she sees the convor. “You’re here?” Ezra looks between the two as the bird hops off the portal and soars towards them. Ahsoka clips her lightsabers to her belt and extends an arm to let the little convor land. For all the strange things Ezra had encountered here, he wouldn’t be too surprised if there’s more to her feathered companion than it seems.

“Morai?” he repeats. As it flutters past, a whisper is carried in the wake of its wings.

I am the Daughter.

“She’s an old friend,” Ahsoka says, and a smile plays on her lips. “I owe her my life.” She caresses the bird gently, although her own words seem to give her pause. She eyes Ezra. “And now I owe you that as well.”

Ezra isn’t sure how to respond to that. Perhaps he had done that—heart leaping into his throat as he had seen that red lightsaber descending upon Ahsoka fast, too fast.

Everyone. I’ll protect everyone.

Vader wouldn’t defeat her. The Temple wouldn’t defeat her. Its pulses, charged by the Sith holocron that Ezra had placed there, had sent waves of blinding energy through the structure, powering up for a razing discharge.

Is it wrong for me to protect my friends?

From distant gateways, his own words find him again, once spoken in this very void, although now they ring hollow in his ears.

“How did you get here?” Ahsoka interrupts his thoughts. “And… where’s Kanan?”

Ezra flinches, a sudden burst of hot grief spreading from his chest to his face, and he quickly looks away. “You’ve missed a lot,” he murmurs. Ahsoka’s brow furrows, but then her expression softens and becomes one of compassion.

“Was it Malachor?” she asks quietly.

“No—no, we escaped Malachor.” Ezra shakes his head. “He was blinded, but not—we made it back.” His mind is still carefully shielded, but his voice is not, and he hates it for betraying his sadness. “We tried to free Lothal, but the Empire has locked everything down, and our mission, it all just went wrong. He—he sacrificed himself, to save us.”

When he finally looks up, he doesn’t find the pity he had expected and dreaded. Instead, Ahsoka just seems tired, although her brow is slightly creased in that way Kanan’s had often been, and which Ezra would only later understand to be caused by memories of a great loss—of the Jedi.

“I’m in the Jedi Temple on Lothal now, actually,” he continues, treading toward safer ground. “The wolves sent me here. They gave me some kind of stone, and said it was from the Temple—and that it was in danger.”

“Wolves?”

“Loth-wolves, yeah.” Ezra scratches the back of his head. “We’ve been seeing them a lot, recently, and there was a big one with them now, called Dume—but, I don’t think it was real. When I woke up, they were just… gone.”

Ahsoka seems to take this in. “But I thought the Empire had confiscated the Temple after we led them there. How did you get in?”

“Well, we used a distraction,” Ezra answers, spreading his arms to draw her attention to his scout trooper armour. “But you’re right—the Empire has dug out the entire Temple. I think they were looking for this, but they couldn’t find it.”

Ahsoka lifts her head to peer into this void of stars again, and she looks to be in awe at the display. She starts pacing down the walkway, and Ezra follows.

“This place is ancient,” she muses. “Like a world between worlds.”

“Yeah,” Ezra says, although his own sense of wonder is dulled by a lingering pain in his chest. “Feels like that dream where I met Dume.” Yet around the wolves, the stars had been framed in the night sky of a purple eventide, and solidly grounded by the plains and grasses of his home. There’s nothing familiar about this place.

Ahsoka speaks from behind him, as he hadn’t noticed she’d stopped. “The creature named Dume—it appeared after Kanan died?” He turns around to her. “That has to be more than a coincidence,” she adds.

“I know,” he agrees. “Caleb Dume… a wolf named Dume… what does it mean?”

“Perhaps Kanan’s will is still at work, through the wolf.” Ahsoka’s words are careful, but Ezra still scowls.

“How could that be?”

“Well, Kanan is part of the Cosmic Force now,” she says gently. Walking towards the edge, she gestures with her free hand to an image of a wolf amongst the stars, as simple in lines as anything around. “There are ways those who have passed on may still guide or influence the living. It’s not impossible.”

“But if it was Kanan who sent me here, then…” Ezra trails off, but his heart starts beating a little faster.

“What is it?” Ahsoka asks. On her arm, the convor fidgets and hoots warily. But Ezra’s mind is racing out of time and worry, tripping over his own thoughts to reach a glimmer of light that ignites deep within.

“I thought I was sent here to stop the Empire, but then I found you!” His voice gains strength as he speaks. “Don’t you see?”

Ahsoka remains cautious. “You think that Kanan sent you here to help me?”

“Not just you!” She is taken aback by his intensity, and Ezra feels only slightly sorry—of course he’s glad he got to save her, but that isn’t the point.

You want a ride?

Ezra whips his head around at the sound of this voice, echoing stronger than the whispers of before, and giving spark to that little light inside. It trails off, and although Ezra looks around wildly, he can’t trace it.

“I can do it!” he cries out to Ahsoka, who also searches the void for the source of those words. “I can save Kanan, just like I saved you!” He gestures wildly, emphasising his words to gain confidence, because he has to be right.

“Ezra!” Ahsoka, dismayed, reaches out a hand to calm him down.

You can learn what it truly means to be a Jedi.

These words are much more dim and distant, and although his eyes eagerly rove the stars, his sight fails to find anything. And yet, he feels it tug at him, and with a certainty he can’t place he chooses the path before him and runs.

“Ezra, wait!” But he ignores Ahsoka’s cries, not caring to wait for her to follow him. His footsteps resound upon impact like on a force field, causing the walkway to reverberate and surge beneath him, and it almost matches the frantic beating of his heart.

Kid, I’m about to let everyone in on the secret.

But even at this pace, the rhythm of the reverbs is off, which tells him Ahsoka has broken out in a sprint to chase him. He only pauses when he reaches a crossroads.

I survived one war.

Where is it coming from?

I’m not ready for another one.

But it’s coming from everywhere, and so he follows what he feels to be right. Hadn’t Kanan always told him to trust his instincts? Even if they’re misgiven, most of the time, he can’t ignore what seems to feel so right. At the next intersection, he hesitates less.

Battles leave scars—some, you can’t see.

“This way!” he calls over his shoulder. The convor, taken to flight, cries out, and something in its call causes Ezra to halt. “One of these portals must lead to Kanan.” The tug has relented slightly, like a thought just having slipped from his mind, and he scoffs in frustration as he tries to retrieve it.

“Ezra,” Ahsoka says emphatically, “think about what you’re doing!”

“I know what I’m doing!” he cries out defiantly. His feet are drawn towards one portal while he argues with both Ahsoka and himself. “Here in this place, I can change things. I can stop Kanan from dying!” He has to be right.

“You don’t know that!”

“Yes, I do!” He has to be right—Ahsoka shouldn’t doubt him. “If I can change your fate, I can change his!”

A vague rumbling behind him draws him back to the portal he had chosen. The inner circle of the gateway seems to light up, and Ezra walks up to it to close the last distance. He knows what should happen next. Like a dawning sun, a red hue seeps through the veil, slowly giving shape to the rising flames around that blasted refinery. Dull, yet audible, the fires roar and crackle as they’re fed by the fuel inside the enormous depot, which is close to cracking and causing a scathing explosion. And then, in the middle, Kanan leaps forward and throws out his arms, calling upon the Force to keep the flames at bay—for the moment.

Ezra is momentarily stunned at having to see it from this perspective—he can see how Kanan is straining, arms shaking and face contorted in concentration, but it’s obvious he can’t keep this up. His own protective barrier doesn’t sustain the heat that leaps around, and Ezra almost shares the pain with him, as he could do when Kanan was actually still—

“I can reach him,” he insists, but his certainty falters.

“Ezra.” She repeats his name, yet again, desperate to make him listen. “Kanan gave his life so that you could live.” He sets his jaw, and the heat that is blown from the fire beyond the veil must be making his eyes sting, but even though he tries to shield off his emotions as best he can, Ahsoka’s words reach him. “If he’s taken out of this moment—you all die.”

And she’s right.

“You don’t understand what you’re asking me to do,” he grits out, his voice finally breaking.

“Yes, I do.” Ahsoka sighs. “You can’t save your Master… and I can’t save mine.” Those last words are uttered impossibly softly, but Ezra catches them, and he hears the depth of sorrow they’re accompanied with. “I’m asking you to let go,” Ahsoka implores, finally.

In his mind, he’s screaming, but the sound never passes his throat, which is too constricted to give voice. It’s just too unfair. What Kanan did for them, he would’ve been at peace with it, eventually, because he knows there is nothing he could have done to change Kanan’s mind or to help him. But here, he does have that power, and he still can’t use it.

He makes himself to turn his back on the scene. For a moment longer, he feels the warmth of the flames at the nape of his neck, but then it’s gone. Too early, he thinks—Kanan hasn’t stopped Hera from approaching him, and hasn’t pushed her back to Ezra in their stolen transport. But the memory has faded.

Ahsoka puts a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ezra,” she says. “But you must see. Kanan found the moment when he was needed most, and he did what he had to do—for everyone.”

“That’s the lesson,” Ezra concludes, dejected. “I didn’t see it, but, now…” He swallows and makes a small sound. “Sometimes I wish my life were different. I—I wish I could see my mom, and dad. Why can’t things be like they were?”

Morai, mostly forgotten by both, calls out from above, and when Ezra looks up, he sees the convor is perched on the edge of a walkway overhanging theirs. Having given its signal, it spreads its short wings and glides down, heading straight for them. Ezra only holds out his arm at the last moment, when he realises the bird is approaching him this time. It lands gracefully, gripping his glove, and Ezra brings it up to his eyelevel to smile at it, glad for the distraction.

“How did Morai save your life?” he wonders out loud, remembering what Ahsoka had said before.

“It’s… difficult to explain.” Ahsoka crosses her arms in thought. “But she’s been watching over me for a very long time.” The convor ruffles its feathers and flits its long tail, hooting fondly. Ezra raises a hand to stroke its head, but freezes in his movement when the bird suddenly seems to go impossibly still. Beneath his fingers, a faint glow appears, imbuing the whites of the convor’s feathers and slowly spreading.

“What’s happening?” Ezra gasps, instinctively putting some distance between himself and the bird on his arm. But even as he speaks, it takes wing again, flying up to the portal behind them and circling it slowly, before descending onto it. Luminescent like a star, the little convor exudes a soft and peaceful glow.

“She is the light,” Ahsoka simply says, as if there’s no mystery to those words at all. Ezra scoffs, feeling there’s about a hundred questions that need answering, but he resigns to staring at the bird in fascination. Its light rains down upon the gateway, and the frame once more burns white-cold in activation, although the veil isn’t lifted. But it’s not the sight that draws Ezra in. Something within the veil hums to him, indescribable and just out of reach. The sensation, he realises, is reminiscent of his encounters with kyber crystals—both his own, inside of his lightsaber, and the enormous one they had found with Saw. But somehow, this one resonates deeper with him than any before, calls to him without sound, whispers to him without words.

“Can you feel that?” he asks, drawing closer.

“What do you feel?”

“It’s…” He reaches out a hand, nearly touching the would-be surface of the veil. “It’s like it’s calling me.” Ezra starts when he feels the convor land on his shoulder, and he basks in the glow that falls upon his face. Ahsoka makes no response, but from somewhere, Kanan’s voice guides him.

You’re a good listener, Ezra. It served you here, and it will serve you again, in the future.

And as if it could help him listen better, he closes his eyes. Whatever this connection is, he has to be able to trace it—it’s just at the edge of his consciousness, but unmistakably there. He recognises it as the same tug that had led him to this portal to begin with, having trusted it on instinct. He quiets his own mind. The Force flows so freely in this place, it’s nothing but natural to connect to its currents, even though he has locked part of himself away from it. But even as he fruitlessly searches, he becomes aware of an altogether different sound reaching through, explosive and roaring. He furrows his brow in frustration, and even through closed eyelids, he knows the flames flicker back into view, and they spread their heat across his face and outstretched hand.

“Kanan!” he hears Hera cry out, voice raw with despair, and Ezra flinches at how broken she sounds. He feels it much more intensely than he had in the moment itself, when he had been physically there, and he feels her stunned anguish as Kanan reaches out to suspend her in the air, stopping her from rushing over to him. Despite the heat and the embers filling her lungs, he knows she’s reaching back, refusing to let him go.

He feels it, where he had felt nothing before. From the beginning of their mission, as he had always done, in measure, he’d raised his mental shields to steel himself for battle. And in the moment he had known what Kanan was doing, he had shut himself down completely, desperately trying to push away the pain he knew he was going to feel.

And suddenly, he realises what the tug is. He exhales softly, and lets the tension ease from his shoulders.

Sometimes you have to let your guard down.

And despite the pain that washes over him upon doing exactly that, his heart leaps a little with joy when he locates the tug. Here, between all of time and space, his bond with Kanan endures, and calls out to him from beyond the veil. He reconnects to it as easily as he had found him the first time, on Lothal. It may only be a mirage now, but he can sense that Kanan turns his head towards Hera, and he feels Kanan’s regret of not being able to look at her.

“I can help him.” He surprises himself with his words, speaking both to Morai and Ahsoka without opening his eyes. He’s aware of Ahsoka standing right behind him, her signature in the Force beautifully bright, and he’s aware of Morai’s presence on his shoulder, its imprint on the Force inexplicably complex but strong. With their help, he knows he can do this. He pushes his palm outward, and tilts his head to concentrate. He’d never been much of a healer, even though Kanan had shown him how to do it, but he uses these rudimentary skills now and simply focusses with a singular devotion on Kanan’s eyes. Their bond makes it so much easier, and although Ezra realises there’s no spark of recognition from Kanan’s side, he’s glad to be able to do this. He knows he will succeed. He has the power of time.

Slowly, Ezra opens his eyes, and with it, he lifts the mist that had blinded Kanan’s. He feels the relief and gratitude, and the sheer, unadulterated love that rises within Kanan as he stares at Hera, at last, and for the last time.

A smile tugs at Ezra’s lips, and he lowers his hand as he comes back to himself. The pain would last, but he’s more at peace now than he had been before. He had found his balance.

The convor pushes off from his shoulder, drawing Ezra’s attention, and he reluctantly looks away from the veil to see what it’s doing. It starts soaring in wide circles around them and the portal again, and when it hoots, a clear voice rings out.

Follow me.

Casting a confused glance at Ahsoka, he wants to ask where to follow it to, but the words die on his lips. Beyond the veil, Kanan makes a sharp turn, gathering the Force when he throws out his arms to push his loved ones to safety, and in that same instant, Morai swoops down and through the portal. Ezra cries out in dismay, but a blaze lights the scene up so intensely he has to throw an arm across his eyes to shield himself from it. And before he understands what’s happening, he’s bracing himself and following after it.

As he leans through, he’s immediately overcome by overwhelming sensations—of the fuel pod finally bursting into a sea of flames for the lack of any barrier, of heat that clings to his skin, even through his armour—and he briefly wonders if he has fallen into the centre of a sun. Blindly, he reaches out until his hands find hold of what he knows to be Kanan, and with all his might he throws his weight back, back into the void, and lets gravity do the rest.

The arm he had pulled at slips from his grasp, and he falls down hard onto his back, which knocks the breath out of him. Darkness cradles him, and for a short moment, he lets it. His head is throbbing with a dull ache, and he groans, sluggishly realising he must have hit it against the walkway as he had fallen. If only he hadn’t dropped his helmet before he had entered this place.

But a helmet wouldn’t have protected him from incineration. Nothing should have been able to, and yet—

His eyes fly open, and he pushes out an elbow to turn over, craning his neck to look behind him. Cold anxiety spreads in his chest, until he finds what he’s looking for.

Kanan. Unmoving, head bowed, and on one knee, arm slung across the other. He looks like he’s centring himself as before a fight, but his shoulders are tense in a way that proves otherwise, and a memory comes to Ezra’s mind—of their fight against the Grand Inquisitor, when he had found Kanan staring down into the reactor core in which the darksider had fallen.

“Kanan?” he calls out, just as carefully as then. Kanan stirs at the sound, and then he looks up, which makes Ezra’s breath catch. Because Kanan is looking at him, eyes transfixed on him but unblinking, as if he doesn’t yet realise the reality of his sight. Instead of a white haze, tears now glaze his eyes, and there’s such a pained expression in them that Ezra is alarmed.

“I didn’t save you?” Kanan whispers after a moment, sounding utterly defeated.

Ezra’s eyes widen. “Yes—yes, you did!” he says emphatically, and he tries to gather his legs beneath him to struggle towards Kanan. “You saved all of us!”

“Then, how…” Kanan trails off, now looking to Ezra’s left, to where Ahsoka is standing with a very tired and lightless Morai on her shoulder.

“Your sacrifice was not in vain,” she says, much calmer than Ezra. “But you haven’t died, Kanan Jarrus.” She takes Ezra by his arm to help him stand, as he’s trembling from exertion and his limbs aren’t cooperating at all. But he’s not too tired to put his Master’s mind at ease, and he reaches out through the Force to reassure him, letting him know both he and Kanan are very much alive—although he can’t blame him for thinking they wouldn’t be, with the starry void looking the way it does. Ezra supposes that if becoming one with the Force looks like anything, it would be this—but not yet. And this time, Kanan does know it’s Ezra, and he visibly deflates with relief.

A crash of thunder rolls through the void, startling all of them, and Kanan jumps to his feet. They look around to see where it’s coming from, but it spreads around until it’s everywhere, and fades.

“We can’t stay here,” Ahsoka says, and she turns to Ezra. “You opened the door to this world—do you know how to close it?” She lets go of his arm and walks down the path, looking around to the different portals and the maze of walkways surrounding them.

“Sabine will know,” Ezra reassures her. But something dark stirs, overshadowing his mind, and he doesn’t feel reassured at all.

“What door?” Kanan asks, radiating confusion.

“In the Temple on Lothal—I’ll tell you later,” Ezra dismisses, feeling restless. They follow after Ahsoka, but a sense of foreboding makes Ezra look back nervously. “We just have to make sure the Empire doesn’t find this place, so we’ve got to seal the door—we can do it together,” he says. “They’ll be so happy to see you two.” He grins, even at just the prospect of it.

Ahsoka slows her pace. “I can’t go with you,” she says. Ezra and Kanan exchange a confused look, for which Ezra is grateful—not just because they can actually do that again, but because Kanan doesn’t seem to understand what she’s talking about either, which means it won’t count for him.

“Perhaps I can.” A shiver runs up Ezra’s spine when this new voice speaks out from behind them. He turns to find the portal gleaming, but through its surface flickers a different kind of fire—it burns blue and contained in a stone brazier, behind which a cloaked figure is standing. Morai flees from Ahsoka’s arm as she hurls herself in front of him, and Kanan, too, pushes Ezra behind him.

“Ezra Bridger, Ahsoka Tano—and Kanan Jarrus,” the voice sneers, voice dripping with derision. “Mine at last!” He cackles, and then he bares his teeth. Ezra is frozen where he stands upon realising who the dark figure is—the Emperor, whose voice he had heard on transmission only a moment ago, before he entered the void.

His voice low, the Emperor starts speaking words in a strange and foreign tongue, moving his hands across the fire as if to encourage it, and it grows at his command. Suddenly, he extends one hand, and the flames burst out towards them, piercing the veil easily. Ezra flinches, but Ahsoka has the presence of mind to leap forward and hold the blue flames back with the Force, an eerie echo of Kanan’s position earlier. Her hands are pressed together, palms aimed at the centre of the barrage, but the flames crash around her like waves, fuelled by pure hatred, and they are all driven back by the force of it. Kanan, too, reaches out to protect them, but he seems drained from having pulled off such a feat moments ago.

“I can’t hold it!” Ahsoka cries out. At this, Ezra finally jumps into action to help, extending one hand and focussing on keeping the fire back. His panic rises when he’s slowly pushed back, because he sees the edges of the walkway before them crumble into stardust as they’re consumed by the fire. But just when he thinks Ahsoka will collapse, the fire dwindles and the force subsides, and she lets herself fall to one knee, holding her side. Ezra is immediately beside her, grabbing her shoulders to keep her steady.

“Are you alright?” he asks, and tries to pull her up. She’s breathing heavily, but doesn’t answer, and the Emperor cackles again in malicious delight. They wouldn’t be able to ward off another attack like that. Kanan seems to realise that as well, as he steps in to help Ahsoka to her feet properly and herds them both away from the portal.

“Run!” he tells them. Ezra catches a glimpse of the figure’s hand sending blue flames forth again before he starts running in the opposite direction. The fire licks at their heels, but they manage to stay just ahead of it—and yet, every time Ezra glances across his shoulder, it seems to come nearer, roaring and howling with the Emperor’s cries. A heaviness he can’t blame on his armour weighs down on his legs, and he’s falling behind, heart pounding in his chest. He has to go faster—they have to make it, they have to make it.

But then, something latches onto his ankle, and he stumbles. “Kanan!” he cries out. He claws at the walkway but find no purchase, and slowly, the coil of fire drags him back towards the portal. It doesn’t burn much, but the connection pulls at him in more ways than just the physical, and he gasps as he realises it’s sapping power from him.

“Show me the way, Ezra,” the voice growls. “Help me.” Through the forced connection, Ezra feels he’s lending his strength to make the Emperor reach a hand through the veil.

Ezra screams out. “He’s coming through!” He looks back across his shoulder towards the portal in panic, and is yanked onto his back in the act. But then he hears the hiss of lightsabers igniting behind him, and suddenly an arm is wrapped around his chest to keep him from being pulled back any further, just as Ahsoka jumps over him and severs the connection with both her lightsabers.

The Emperor growls and groans in pain, and pulls his hand back as if burned, but Kanan hoists Ezra to his feet and pushes him back the other way before he can see what’s happening. They break out into a run again, Kanan keeping a steadying hand on Ezra’s back to make sure he doesn’t fall behind this time, even while the flames break out around them anew.

“Keep going! You can make it!” Ahsoka shouts at them.

“When you get back, come and find me!” Ezra calls back, reluctant to say goodbye when Ahsoka is in this state, her arm still clutching her side, but she seems too decided to be argued with.

“I will—I promise!” She diverts her path to the right at the next intersection, which makes the flames split even, chasing them down both paths at a relentless pace. It would be close.

Ezra wants to turn around to see if she’s made it, but Kanan notices his hesitation and shuts it down. “She’ll be fine—come on!”

The gateway comes into view, although the fire wreathes around it and leaves but a narrow passage of safety. “You go through first!” he yells at Kanan behind him, which earns him a sharp push between his shoulder blades.

“No chance.” Kanan’s voice is nearly drowned out by the roaring flames, but it’s steady and sure, and its tone tolerates no contradiction.

Behind them, the Emperor croaks out a terrible scream. “No!”

But it’s too late. At full speed, Ezra throws himself forward and through the portal, and vaguely, he’s aware the pressure against his back disappears, before he slams down hard against the dusty ground as he reaches the other side, and rolls over with the speed.

“Ezra!” Sabine’s voice cries out, and he’s dragged up by his arm before he can get his bearings. “Come on, come on, we’re leaving!”

Hera and Zeb are firing back at stormtroopers to lay cover, but the barren area around the door makes them easy targets, and the troopers seem to be closing in. Behind them, the gold-lined imagery of the Loth-wolves is still circling the outlines of the door on the earthen wall’s surface. They make to leave, but Ezra stops—Kanan isn’t with them.

“No!” Ezra cries in disbelief, and he wrenches free from Sabine and throws himself at the wall, banging his fist against it. Kanan had been right behind him—they should have both made it through.

“We have to go, now!” Hera commands. Ezra leans to the side slightly to let blaster fire whizz past him, but he doesn’t leave. He should go back, go back for Kanan and get him.

But the Emperor would be waiting, and if Ezra would go in there alone, there’s no way he would be able to fight him off. Even worse, he’d help the Emperor enter the void and gain the power within it. Ezra shudders to think what the Empire could do with it. They can’t have it—the door has to be shut. He drops his hand to his side.

“We have to seal the portal,” he says to the others. Wherever Kanan is right now, this is what he would want.

I’m so sorry, he whispers to the door, and he turns away. “Come on!” They have to dodge another volley of blaster shots from the advancing stormtroopers, and Ezra stumbles as he tries to follow the others to the mural. Almost immediately, Zeb is there to support him, and they run as best they can, although Ezra nearly doubles over from a sharp pain in his ribs. He grits his teeth—there’s no time for that.

When they reach the mural, the others form a protective circle around him, firing at the stormtroopers to keep them at bay. Ezra looks up at the mural, to the stilled figures and the aligned golden lines and circles extending around them—although the lower half is currently getting pelted by scorching blaster bolts. But a shadow is cast across, cutting off the diffused light of the floodlights, as a large driller moves in to mow right into the stormtroopers, driving them back.

Zeb laughs. “Chopper’s got ‘em!” He motions with his bo-rifle. “Let’s move.”

“Sabine, which one do I activate?” Ezra asks, fervently wishing that she actually knows how to do this.

“The Son!” Sabine points up to the figure on the right. “That one!” Ezra shoots her a grateful look, and although he had expected her to have the answer, he can’t deny feeling proud of her. This figure of the Son, depicted with dark robes and a slightly menacing countenance, has his hand balled into a fist, but it’s too high up for Ezra to reach. He nods to Zeb, who seems to catch his drift and extends his arms to lift him up. Ezra wobbles a little when he’s placed on Zeb’s shoulders, and he braces himself against the wall, but Zeb keeps a firm grip on his legs and makes sure to move minimally, so that Ezra can concentrate on sealing the door.

Except, he’s not entirely sure what he needs to do for it. But instinctively, he makes a fist and presses it against the Son’s, and then he bows his head and closes his eyes, listening to the stone.

There are whispers, little slivers of darkness that flow from the figure, and initially, Ezra recoils from it. But his exhaustion weighs heavily on him, and now that his mental shields are lowered, his emotions spill out. And the stone seems to gather them up, drawing on his grief and pain. Ezra frowns. He thinks he knows what he has to do to connect to the Son.

He focusses his thoughts on Kanan, and latches onto the flare of anger that rises within him, and he follows this anger to his darkest of thoughts. He could curse this Temple—once, Kanan had been alive, and it had tricked him into thinking he was dead. And now that Kanan is actually dead, it had fooled him into believing he could save his life. But Kanan hadn’t come back with him—and they had never seen Ahsoka again either, despite her promise to find him. He clenches his fist harder, shaking slightly. It had just been a lie again, a cruel test of his own fears. He channels this seething rage, which makes his ears burn and makes angry tears prick his eyes, and he focusses all of it on the figure of the Son.

The future, by its nature, can be changed.

The Son whispers this back to him, a dark and deceitful promise—but Ezra has nothing more to give. He lets his emotions go, and with it, he collapses.

He’s vaguely aware of a loud and rumbling noise, and through closed eyelids, he sees lights flicker by as he seems to be moved around. He must have done it. He had sealed the door. The weight beneath his legs vanishes, and then he is pulled onto something, although its surface rocks beneath him. Someone hooks Ezra’s arm around their shoulders and tries to lift him up, and he twitches his arm in an attempt to help. But his body doesn’t respond, and the voice above shushes him.

Feeling oddly comforted, Ezra’s about to drift off, but a surge of energy, bright and intense, ripples through the Force and brings him back. He manages to open his eyes a moment to see the mural bathed in a gentle, golden light, but then he slumps back into the embrace that’s holding him up. When this shifts, he tries to use his legs to stumble along, until he is gratefully lowered onto something soft, and he flops onto his back. His eyelids flutter open once more, and he catches a glimpse of Hera’s worried face, and of figures moving behind her, before he sinks back into nothingness.

The Force will be with you. Always.

A farewell. Ezra slowly comes to, trying to chase Kanan’s final words, but he’s not sure if he had dreamt them or not. It’s just as with his parents, whose voices still come to him, and who are part of him through the Force, as Kanan had told him, and as Kanan is now.

To his left, Chopper warbles, telling the others he’s waking up. He turns his head to see Zeb and Sabine gathered around him, looking concerned—how long had he been out? Despite the dim lighting, Ezra’s world is reeling when he sits up, and he winces, touching the back of his head.

“If this is what you and Kanan used to do on your Jedi missions, you can keep it,” Zeb grumbles. But Ezra hardly listens to him, looking across Zeb’s shoulder to the empty cockpit.

“Where’s Hera?” he asks.

“She’s outside,” Sabine answers hesitantly. “Ezra… you’ve got to see.” His friends’ faces seem so crestfallen that Ezra feels both anxious and curious to find out what they mean, but at the thought of facing Hera, he falters slightly.

He takes a deep breath, then pushes himself off the bunk to go find out. None of the others make a move to follow him when he walks out the door, and so he steps into the cold morning alone. He’s met with a chilly breeze, which passes uninterruptedly across Lothal’s vast and empty plains. They’re still on the driller, Ezra notices now, and it doesn’t take him long to find rungs he can use to climb down. When his boots hit the ground, he crunches the frost that has formed on the short grasses. It truly is cold.

Reluctantly, he looks around, and spots Hera at a short distance from the driller. Her figure is silhouetted by the early morning light, which is diffused across the horizon while mist rises in damps from the plains. She seems so small, hugging herself, standing forlornly in attendance of a bleak dawn.

As he approaches her, he wonders what it is that Sabine wanted him to see. He scratches his head in confusion as he moves to stand beside Hera.

“Where are we?” He doesn’t recognise the place, even when he narrows his eyes to find a recognisable landmark.

“The Temple,” Hera answers softly. Ezra’s eyes widen, and he takes a step back, looking left and right to find any trace of the structure.

“What?” he exclaims. Beneath his feet, the ground is scuffed by vague outlines of the Temple’s circled markings, but nothing rises to height. “Where? I mean, how?”

“You tell me,” Hera chuckles humourlessly. She tightens her own hug, one arm across her middle, the other across her chest as she grips her shoulder. Ezra just gapes, staring out across the empty fields, where only a few rocks break the evenness of the surface. He spreads his arms in disbelief.

“Kanan and I stood here,” he says, “when we first came to the Temple.” He doesn’t miss how Hera winces, and he cuts himself off immediately. He wants to reach out to her, but Hera’s eyes are closed, and her jaw trembles slightly. Then, she takes a deep breath, and lets her hand slip from her shoulder.

“He’s gone now, isn’t he?” She looks him straight in the eye, vulnerable, but as brave and strong as she always is. “I mean—really gone?”

Ezra doesn’t know what to say. “I think so,” he answers eventually, breaking their eye contact. He can’t tell her. He’s not sure if he’s still holding out hope, but he can’t make her go through that. He lets his shoulders slump with the silence that drops between them as they stare into the distance.

But they can’t stay there forever. “I know what we have to do now,” he tells Hera, intent on giving her something to hold on to. “In a way, Kanan showed me.” He finds her gaze again. “One last lesson,” he adds quietly.

She smiles at him sadly, and turns around to leave, pressing a hand to his shoulder as she goes. He watches her walk away, and sees how her head droops as she wraps her arms around herself again, and his heart breaks for her. He should have done better. For her sake, he should have saved Kanan—even though he knows she would recover from his loss. They all would, in time, but they shouldn’t have to.

He’s too empty to feel any anger, or even sadness. Instead, he just feels weary, but as he makes to follow her, something whispers at him to turn back around. Dawn nears, but its light is broken by a figure at the centre of the horizon: a Loth-wolf stands in the far distance, looking right at him.

They may not have been seen on Lothal for many years, but as Ezra looks at the creature, he can’t imagine Lothal without them. The white wolf perks up its ears in vigilance, and Ezra smiles in spite of everything. Perhaps Ahsoka had been right. Perhaps Kanan had connected to these wolves, through the Force that binds all of them together, eventually leading Ezra to Dume. Then, with his guidance, he had helped to prevent the Empire from acquiring a most terrible weapon, protecting him and Lothal even in death.

“Thank you, Kanan,” he whispers.

But the Loth-wolf doesn’t take its leave. Ezra stirs, hesitantly, but he’s not sure what he has to do now. Hadn’t he done what the wolves had asked? He had protected the Temple—a little destructively, maybe, but at least the Empire wouldn’t get their hands on it.

The wolf sits down, watching Ezra intently.

Waiting.

Ezra narrows his eyes. “What are you waiting for?” he mumbles. He lifts his hand towards the wolf, reaching out to it, but he can’t read any intentions from it, just like he couldn’t before. The Force flows strongly around the Loth-wolves, but their presence leaves an imprint just as intricate as Morai’s, impossible to fathom.

He looks back to the driller, and he feels a pang of guilt at the thought of disappearing on his friends—but he has to figure this out. Taking a deep breath, he crosses the soft grasses to the flat dais he and Kanan had stood on, both times they opened the Temple. It may be the only legacy the Temple leaves behind. It would never open again.

Ezra steps off it, melting frost beneath his feet as he approaches the former Temple’s location. Once, he had skirted around its spire to find an entrance, but now, he can pass straight through. The faint hue of sunrise colours the mist above its surface, but the frozen ground shows no sign of ever having been disturbed, except for the soft footprints Ezra leaves behind him now.

When he reaches the Loth-wolf, it lowers its head to sniff at him, and then it lies down. Its white fur is slightly damp when Ezra runs a hand through it, but he understands what the wolf wants him to do, and he climbs onto its back.

To his surprise, the Loth-wolf doesn’t break into a run, but calmly rises and walks across the tundra, away from the Temple and the driller. And even though the sun has scaled the landscape’s gentle slopes, the mist envelops them in a cold and clammy embrace. Ezra drops his head to his chest, and he blinks down lazily at where his hands are gripping the wolf’s fur. He hadn’t noticed it before, but against the whiteness of this fur, his armour seems scorched and blackened, and dust has gathered on it. That means the Emperor must have actually attacked him with those blue flames—except, he remembers, the first time he had entered the Temple he had also experienced things that didn’t turn out to be real, and he’d still come out bruised. He sighs.

Even if the Loth-wolf is preparing him for another mission, or for another meeting with Dume, it seems to take its time. Ezra scoots back a little, and, hoping the wolf won’t mind, leans forward to press his face into the wolf’s fur. The wolf keeps a steady pace, and although it’s slightly uncomfortable, Ezra feels himself nodding off to sleep.

He starts when the wolf comes to a sudden halt to drop down and lie in tall grasses—much taller grasses than those of the tundra plains around the Temple, but dry and withered. Ezra shoots up, immediately awake, and his jaw drops when he finds he is looking straight at Capital City—hidden in ashen smoke, pollution hanging so thickly in the air there’s hardly any skyline to see. But it has to be Capital City, because just to Ezra’s left, he sees his old communications tower, which he had visited so recently to plan out Hera’s rescue mission. The wolf bristles and growls, and Ezra quickly slides off its back. This must be his destination.

“Why did you bring me here?” he asks, confused. But the Loth-wolf has jumped to its feet and trots away into the dry grasses, leaving Ezra alone. Distantly, he can hear more wolves baying, but the fumes still rising from the burned plains make them impossible to spot.

He shakes his head, looking up to his former roost, which seems even more deserted and disused than it had before. But there must be something worthwhile about this place, otherwise the Loth-wolf wouldn’t have taken him here. He follows the familiar and worn-out trail around the tower to the entrance, the door of which had long since broken down and couldn’t slide shut anymore. Stepping inside, the darkness of the old control room embraces him, but Ezra doesn’t need to let his eyes adjust to it, manoeuvring to the other side of the room with practised ease. He hits the lift control panel, and frowns when he hears a muffled clanging from above—the turbolift has yet to make it down. Ezra tenses up.

Either the blasted thing is acting up again, or someone had used it.

Ezra taps the panel impatiently, as if he could summon it faster like that. When it finally creaks to a halt and slides open, he slips inside and slams his fist against the panel to make it climb up again. Something is off, and he wishes he had brought his lightsaber—but for the lack of any weapon, he just has to stay sharp. The turbolift stops, and he quickly steps out and onto the deck, checking it for signs of intrusion. He trails a hand along the railing as he circles around the tower, but the place seems abandoned.

Still, he can’t shake the feeling that something’s out of place. This tower used to be something of a home to him, but it doesn’t feel like that at the moment—and that’s not because of the endless view of destroyed grasslands he can see from up here.

He pushes away from the railing, and frowns when his door automatically opens as he approaches it. It’s unlocked, although the lights inside are off, and Ezra’s frown deepens as he steps across the threshold. It had been a while since he’d actually entered the place, but he’s certain that several of the items that lie strewn across the room hadn’t been placed there by him.

But then, he gasps. Right before him, on the workbench, lies an item he most definitely hadn’t placed there.

A lightsaber—and not just any lightsaber. Kanan’s lightsaber.

Hesitantly, Ezra reaches out to it, and the metal scrapes lightly against the workbench’s surface as he picks it up. It shouldn’t be here, couldn’t logically be—but he grasps it tightly with both hands, this last, tangible reminder of Kanan, still humming with his familiar energy.

“I wouldn’t have let you keep it, you know.”

In a jerking reflex, Ezra activates the lightsaber and whirls around, extending the blade towards the intruder. But he freezes in his movement, and feels the blood drain from his face.

“Careful,” the figure says with a low chuckle, raising his hands in defence.

Ezra just stares.

It shouldn’t be possible—but in the doorway of his old hideout stands Kanan. There’s a careful smile on his face, although he seems a little apprehensive of Ezra’s response, eyes flicking from Ezra to the lightsaber in his hand. The ignited blade casts its blue glow across his face, and it catches the vibrancy of his eyes—no longer white, although the traces of scarring are still visible across his eyelids and the bridge of his nose. Clean-shaven and hair cut short, uneven where he had sheared it off by his ponytail, Kanan looks exactly as Ezra had last seen him: in the Jedi Temple, when he had tried to save him, but thought to have failed.

“What?” he manages to say, heart pounding in his chest.

“You stole it, remember?” Kanan’s smile fades a little, his brow creasing in concern. “I told you that you could come with me, or keep the lightsaber.” His hands are still raised as he takes a step closer, cautious as if he’s approaching a wild bantha.

Ezra frowns. “No, that’s not—” He looks down to the lightsaber in his hand, and, realising he’s still pointing the blade at Kanan, he quickly deactivates it. “I mean, I remember, but—you weren’t even here to say that.” Something like panic seizes him, because the situation feels all too familiar: this is just like his dream with Dume, where he had felt a sense of Kanan being around, an echo of his familiar presence—and this might be another dream like it, the wolves giving him an opportunity to say his last farewell to Kanan—but his eyes—his eyes—that had been his doing, more or less, and if he had managed to do that—

“And you heard me anyway,” Kanan says gently. “But I’m here now, kid.”

Around him, the Force hums contentedly, and it feels as though the air lifts with the soft breeze that is pushed in from the doorway. Taking a deep breath, Ezra does the only thing that seems sensible—he extends his hand, still clasping the lightsaber, and offers the weapon back to Kanan.

He had done this before. After he had stolen this lightsaber, twice—first from Kanan’s cabin along with the holocron that had called him there, and later with a quick sleight of hand from Kanan’s very belt—he had returned it to him on the Ghost. But then, it had been a token of acceptance and the start of his apprenticeship. Now, it’s a question, a dare with a faint glimmer of hope.

But without hesitation, Kanan reaches out to accept the lightsaber, taking it from Ezra and clipping it back to his belt. And with that simple gesture, Ezra’s fear dissipates, and pure relief spreads a grin across his face.

No dream. No tricks.

He rushes forward and throws his arms around Kanan, burying his face against his shoulder. He could have toppled him with the force of it, but Kanan just huffs a quiet laugh, wrapping his arms around Ezra and drawing him close.

He smells burned—but he’s alive.

“But I don’t understand,” Ezra mutters into Kanan’s shirt. “Where were you?”

“I was there,” Kanan says. He places his hands on Ezra’s shoulders, and while Ezra barely feels it through the pauldrons of his heavy armour, he does feel the gentle force with which he is being pushed backward. Reluctantly, he relents, and lets Kanan put some distance between them. “I made it through the door,” Kanan continues. “But when I reached the other side, I was alone.” He seems to weigh his thoughts, and then gives a lopsided smirk. “Well… except for the stormtroopers who saw me jump out of a solid wall.”

Ezra laughs. “Okay, I bet they didn’t see that coming.”

“Not really, no—but I didn’t expect them to be there, either.” Kanan turns serious again. “I saw what the Emperor tried to do, in the Temple—so I knew it had to be bad. But if you hadn’t told me we were at the Jedi Temple, I don’t think I would have believed it.”

“Yeah, I know.” Feeling a little sheepish, Ezra decides against telling him the Temple is completely gone now—if Kanan wouldn’t already know about that. “But if you were at the Temple, why didn’t I see you?”

“I wasn’t entirely sure about that either,” Kanan admits. “But after I convinced those troopers they didn’t see me there, I managed to sneak around the site to find out what was going on. I picked up some comm chatter, and heard reports coming in—about a victory struck against rebel insurgents in Capital City.”

Ezra scrunches up his face in confusion. “But… that’s—”

“When we rescued Hera,” Kanan finishes, and a streak of hurt crosses his face, before he shakes his head and focusses on Ezra again. “I was at the Temple, Ezra—moments after the fuel depot was destroyed.”

After a short moment, Ezra’s expression softens and his mouth shapes into a soundless oh. The door he had opened to the Temple hadn’t been a portal holding memories or futures yet to be played out, as the images and voices that came to him from inside of it had been. Their entry into the disruption of time and displacement of space had righted itself by restoring their timelines—in whatever way that might work. Ezra lets it go.

“And you’ve been here, all this time?” he asks instead, and Kanan nods. “Why didn’t you come find us?” Ezra knows he sounds bitter, but he can’t help the disappointment from spilling out—he’s too tired to keep any of it in check. “You could’ve let us know you were alive—you could’ve let Hera know!” He takes a step back and shrugs out of Kanan’s hold, and Kanan lets his arms fall slack beside him.

“I wanted to, believe me.” Kanan sighs. “But I didn’t know when you would reach the Temple. All I could do was try to lead you there.”

“Lead me there?” Ezra repeats, and then realisation hits him, and he takes another step back, bumping against the workbench’s edge. “Wait, did you make the wolves chase me down? So—so that wolf called Dume, that was you?” His voice gains strength as he speaks, and he searches Kanan’s face in disbelief.

“I don’t think anybody could make the Loth-wolves do anything, Ezra,” Kanan says firmly. “I asked for their help—because I couldn’t reach out to you.”

Ezra makes to answer, but then goes still, heat spreading across his face as he quickly hangs his head. Of course Kanan hadn’t been able to reach out and find him in the Force—in the face of his grief, Ezra had shut down completely, pushing the Force away as far as he could. He had only let himself feel it fully again in the Temple, when his distant bond with Kanan had drawn him back to it. The fact that he might have spared himself that much pain if he had faced his emotions as he should have done—as Kanan had regularly had to encourage and remind him to keep doing—fills him with no small amount of shame.

“Ezra.” Kanan keeps his voice low, hesitates, then sighs again. “I asked you to lead Hera’s rescue mission for a reason. I saw what I had to do—I’d known it for a while, but it was… difficult.” He levels Ezra with a gaze. “My Master tried to teach me this—not to grow too attached to the moment, but to grow with it—and sometimes, that means letting go. And I did.” There’s a calm in his eyes, a stillness in the storm, seeming more open and free in his emotions yet as inscrutable as ever. “I was ready to die, Ezra.”

“And I was ready to let you,” Ezra answers immediately, almost without thought, but with full honesty. He sags against the workbench as the weight of that statement overwhelms him. “I wanted to save you, like I saved Ahsoka—but she helped me see what would happen if I did.” He sucks in a breath, trying to stop his throat from seizing up, but his words come out with difficulty. “I know it would have been selfish—and it would have killed us all. You saved us, Kanan, and… I would have accepted that.” He screws his face up, squeezing his eyes shut as unbidden tears spill out. He’s so tired—but he needs Kanan to know he had been willing to let him go, to let him die, no matter how horrible that thought is, in spite of being the right choice.

Kanan touches his shoulder again, steadying him. “Then what happened?”

“It was Ahsoka’s bird—Morai,” Ezra says. He uses the back of his hand to dry his tears and sniffs, but can’t help but laugh when he sees the absurdity of the statement reflected in Kanan’s confused expression. “I don’t know how it got inside the Temple—but it led me to one of the portals, and showed me Malachor. I saw Ahsoka fighting Vader, and I saved her, because it—it wanted me to. That’s when I knew what the portals could do.” Closing his eyes, he takes a shaky breath, he lets the memory come back to him. He recalls walking down the pathways in the void of stars, marvelling at the overlapping voices that seemed to drift in from the scattered portals around him. He had recognised none, and had wandered in aimless wonder until he heard the convor hooting. “And then I thought, maybe I could save you, too—but I didn’t.” He swallows, briefly looking up. “But the moment I decided that, Morai just… went right through the portal, and there was this massive explosion of light. It must have been some kind of barrier, because when I reached through, the fire didn’t hurt me.”

Kanan seems dismayed. “That was a dangerous thing to do,” he admonishes.

“Well, I trusted Morai,” Ezra counters. “It told me to follow, so I did that—and I got you out of there.”

“You did,” Kanan says quietly, dropping his gaze to the floor. “There was… so much going on,” he concedes with a tilt of his head. “But I felt the light, even before—and then, I could see it.” His eyes flick up to Ezra again, who is once again reminded of the intensity of that. “Was that Morai’s doing, too?”

“Yeah, it was,” Ezra decides to say. A quiver of uncertainty and disbelief lingers between them, and he knows Kanan doubts his words—but Ezra doesn’t close down, and lets him find the answer he seeks.

And Kanan understands.

Gently, he brings his hand up to the back of Ezra’s head, and draws him in to press a kiss into his hair. “Thank you,” he mutters. Slumping with relief, Ezra leans into him, and lifts his arms heavily to grab the front of Kanan’s shirt. He basks in the sense of comfort and affection Kanan radiates to him as he keeps him there, safely tucked beneath his chin.

“You’ll see her again when we get back,” Ezra says, eventually. But as he lets that thought sink in, another comes to his mind, and he pulls away abruptly. “I need to contact Hera,” he says, eyes wide. He has no idea how much time has passed—and looking to the open doorway behind Kanan, he’s none the wiser, as the ash-filled sky clouds the sun and muddies the day into a sullen timelessness. “Can I use your comlink?”

“Uhm—I lost mine.” Kanan seems taken aback by the sudden change of topic, and he takes in Ezra’s restlessness with a calculating frown. Recovering, he points to something behind Ezra. “But maybe you can use that—it’s a transmitter, I think.”

When Ezra turns around, he sees a device is set on the far edge of the workbench. It’s not unlike the transmitter they had hastily put together in their new base, although its metal is dented and scratched in places, as if having been handled roughly, and its yellow coat of paint looks faded.

“What’s wrong?”

Ezra makes a face. “I didn’t tell the others where I went—they’re probably looking for me.” Reaching across the table top, he pulls the transmitter towards the edge of it. “How did this even get here?”

“I’m not sure.” Kanan leans back against the workbench, gripping its edge and side-eyeing the old device. “Let’s see if it still works.”

Ezra scrutinises the display, then haphazardly tries buttons and flips switches until the transmitter buzzes to life. A holographic image is emitted by the projector upon activation, and Kanan and Ezra draw back in surprise when they recognise the stylised symbol as Fulcrum’s.

“Well,” Ezra begins, blinking in astonishment, “at least the channel should be secure enough?” With a little more certainty, he sets the device to the right frequency, but stops short of sending out a signal when Kanan speaks up.

“Wait.”

Ezra casts him a sidelong glance. “Why?”

Kanan seems to hesitate, bowing his head with closed eyes, arms locked across his chest. “Maybe it’s better if you don’t tell them about me—not yet,” he says slowly.

“Okay,” Ezra draws out, although he can only guess at Kanan’s reasons. “If you say so.” Kanan makes no response, so he focusses on the transmitter again and activates the signal. “Spectre-Six to Spectre-Two, do you read?” His heartrate picks up slightly, and he tries to swallow down his nerves. The transmitter receives nothing but faint static, so he repeats his words, and waits.

Then, the comm crackles.

“—I read you, Spectre-Six. Ezra, where have you been?” Hera’s voice comes through sharply, and Ezra winces.

“Hera, I can explain—” he begins, but she cuts him off.

“You’d better! You’ve been gone for half a day—what were you thinking, running off like that?” There’s a dangerous edge to her voice, but beneath it, Ezra can hear a distinct tremor of concern. Beside him, Kanan seems to listen intently, and a ridiculously fond smile plays on his lips as Hera rages.

“There was something I needed to check out—I’m sorry, Hera,” Ezra says apologetically, holding his hands up in placation even though Hera isn’t there to see it.

“Save it—you can tell me later.”

“But perhaps you could tell us why you’re using Fulcrum’s frequency,” a deep voice adds in an amused tone.

“Kallus?” Ezra exclaims in surprise, exchanging a look with Kanan. “What—you’re on Lothal? I thought you were on the Ghost?”

“We are on the Ghost,” Hera interjects, no trace of amusement to be found in her voice. “But where did you go? Are you safe?”

“I’m fine,” Ezra responds quickly. “I’m in my old tower, near Capital City.” Now that he focusses on it, he can discern mechanical whirring and beeping coming in through the open channel of the comm, as well as the steady, deep thrumming of the Ghost's engines, resonating with the static interference.

“That would be where I left my transmitter,” Kallus says dryly.

“Yeah, thanks for that.”

“Trust me, it wasn’t intentional.”

“Cut it out, you two,” Hera snaps. “Ezra, can you make it back to base?”

“Uhm—I think I’ll need a pickup.” He braces himself for a reprimand, but Hera just seems to sigh.

“Well, we’re actually close to your location—we’ll pick you up, but be ready. I don’t want to attract any more Imperial attention, and Capital City is the last place we should be seen right now.”

“Yeah, got it.” Ezra considers her words. “Wait, the Empire tracked you down?”

“That may have been our fault,” Kallus puts in. “We did break through the planetary blockade, but attracted a patrol of TIEs that we had to shake.”

“And then another,” Hera adds. “They’re on high alert for rebel activity—we’re doing an extra sweep to make sure we aren’t followed back to base.”

“But why call the Ghost down? Why now?”

“Because it’s time,” Hera says authoritatively, easily slipping into her role as captain and leader. “Thrawn’s Star Destroyer has left orbit, Ezra. And now that the factories are down, we need to strike—so I sent out a message.”

“What message?” Ezra leans forward, fully alert, bracing his hands against the table top.

“A call for aid. Rex and Kallus relayed it for me through the Ghost—not to Rebel Command, but to our allies. On the next rotation, we’ll make a break for the blockade to go pick them up.”

Ezra’s unable to keep from smiling at that. Hera may have delivered the news as composedly as if she were reading a mission briefing, but the weight of the situation doesn’t elude him. After so many false starts and foiled attempts, and the loss of so many lives, they would finally have a chance to defeat the Empire here and drive them off Lothal for good.

But whatever allies Hera might rally to this desperate mission, something tells him it would not be enough.

When Hera’s voice breaks through the static again, she sounds more kindly, if hesitant. “You told me you know what to do now, Ezra. I need you back here—for whatever it is you have planned.”

“It’s not really a plan yet.” Ezra pushes away from the workbench again, squaring his shoulders. “More of a feeling. But you’re right—we have to push forward now.”

“Then let’s do it. We’ll send a signal when we’re close. Ghost out.”

The connection dies, and Ezra flicks off the transmission, keeping the device running for Hera’s warning signal later. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kanan making his way towards the open doorway.

“So why not tell them you’re alive?” Ezra asks, curiosity mingling with uncertainty as he quickly follows after him. “I mean—you are coming with me, right?” His voice sounds smaller than he wants it to, and he almost feels like a lost Loth-kitten, trailing his Master to the outside deck.

“Yeah, I am,” Kanan reassures him, resting his hands on the railing as he looks out across the plains, and then up towards the skies. He lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I just don’t think they would’ve believed it if they only heard my voice over the comm,” he explains, turning around to him. When he catches sight of Ezra, who hovers behind him uneasily, he frowns. He doesn’t ask, but his question is clear.

Ezra waves a hand apologetically, and scoffs. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s just—I still can’t believe you’re actually here, either.” He moves to Kanan’s side, draping his arms across the railing, and he leans over it to scour the grasslands below. The wind whistles as it goes around the tower behind him, travelling through the air ducts and around the broken relay antennae, and as the current shifts, the sound of howling rises up from below. And while Ezra can’t see the Loth-wolves, he feels their presence all around the tower.

He rests his chin on top of his arms and slumps in his armour, letting his mind drift. “When the Empire’s gone,” he begins, “will the Loth-wolves still be here?” He closes his eyes, and focusses on the rhythm of his heart. “Are we still going to be here?” he adds in a whisper.

“You know that shouldn’t matter, Ezra.” Kanan sounds as tired as Ezra is feeling.

“Yeah,” Ezra says, exhaling softly. “Yeah, I know—because you showed me. You showed all of us.” He rubs his face against his arm. “But… how were you sure it was the right thing to do?”

When he opens his eyes again, he lets a memory carry him to a different view. The beauty of his homeworld, restored—golden grasses rustling in a gentle wind, skies clear and bright around a blazing sun, and proud Capital City, bathed in its light, white peaks and spires reaching high. The sea is calm behind it, ships traversing its waters at an unhurried pace.

But there are other visions, too—fragments of the past that are interwoven with words and people he doesn’t recognise. Smoke envelops the city walls, and panic screams through the streets. It smears the peace with a presence that’s rife with the tang of blood and fear, as the darkest of clouds rain destruction upon the city.

They’re like the echoes of the world between worlds, as Ahsoka had called it. While scattered, they’re tied together in a way Ezra knows to make sense, but cannot yet make sense of—but a strong feeling of rightness draws him closer to an answer.

“Trust the Force,” Kanan says simply. “And trust yourself, like I trust you.” He touches Ezra’s shoulder lightly, drawing him back to the here and now. “We are the balance, Ezra,” he continues, with an unfathomable depth of strength and intensity in his voice. “We were meant to be Jedi so we could be here now—when Lothal needs us most.”

Ezra looks up at him, eyes shining—and suddenly immensely grateful Kanan is with him at this moment. He smiles, encouraged. “Yes,” he whispers beneath his breath, a promise to his world—and he leaves it at that.

They lapse into a short silence, which is broken by the sound of faint chirping behind them. Simultaneously looking across their shoulders at that signal, they see the transmitter on the workbench is blinking a red warning light.

“Incoming,” Ezra says happily, and he dashes back inside to switch the device off. He gives the room a thorough once-over on his way out, somehow feeling it will be a while before he’ll return to it. But as he steps across the threshold, he turns to key in the door’s locking mechanism—this tower might yet be a safe haven to someone. Outside, Kanan is still gazing up at the veiled sky in anticipation, but the Ghost has yet to break cloud cover.

“Are you ready?”

Breathing in deeply, Kanan taps the railing and steps away. “Yeah, let’s go.” He follows Ezra around the tower towards the turbolift, which Ezra nearly bounces into with enthusiasm, activating the panel impatiently. Kanan laughs, but still manages to scold him. “Calm down, you’ll break the lift.”

“It’s already broken,” Ezra returns, rolling his eyes, and the lift doors creak shut with a grinding metal screech that proves his point. He shifts his weight onto one leg as he leans against the back wall, fidgeting just as much as he had on the way up. “Hera was right, you know,” he says, when the silence stretches too thin for his liking. Kanan raises his eyebrows at him. “This isn’t exactly the best place to be hiding right now,” Ezra elaborates. “Why did you come here? Did the Loth-wolves bring you here, too?”

“The Loth-wolves?” Kanan repeats perplexed, and he blinks. “No, I stole a speeder.” He returns Ezra’s grin with a smirk of his own. “I couldn’t just stay at the Temple—I had to go back, to see for myself if everything worked out,” he adds lightly. “And… I needed to make a retrieval.” He pats the lightsaber on his belt.

“What—you lost your lightsaber?” Ezra’s grin widens. “But I thought the weapon of a Jedi—”

Don’t finish that sentence,” Kanan warns, but the effect is lost in his smile. Laughing, Ezra wants to continue teasing anyways, but at that moment the turbolift hits bottom floor, which jolts him into a stagger. Kanan quickly grabs him by the elbow to steady him, and Ezra mumbles his thanks.

As the doors squeak open, a gust of air is blown inside, carrying with it the whine of a loud and heavy engine. Ezra quickly rushes to the other side of the room to look out the open door, and sees the Ghost is being set down carefully beside the communications tower, right at the edge of the old speeder lanes that surround it. The grass bends beneath the force of the ship’s descent, and Ezra raises his hands to shield his eyes against the wind that whips around him, even as he draws closer. The Ghost’s tail is turned towards the tower, so that the cockpit’s viewports can keep a glaring, watchful eye on Capital City.

He casts a glance across his shoulder to make sure Kanan is following him, and finds Kanan looking up at the ship with an almost nervous expression. When Ezra carefully reaches out to him, straining his exhausted mind to brush against Kanan’s thoughts, he can sense the tight knot of anxiety in his mind even more profoundly. Ezra tries to channel as much confidence and reassurance as he can to calm him, but as the Ghost’s ramp is lowered with a hiss of hydraulics, and the whine of the engines subsides, even he can’t help but feel a spike of excitement.

Before the ramp hits the ground, Sabine appears on it, scanning around the ship to find Ezra.

“You’d better hurry up, Hera is—” she begins, but her mouth goes slack as her eyes flick from Ezra to Kanan behind him. She is momentarily stunned in surprise and shock, before drawing her brows together in confusion. “No way,” she breathes, barely audible.

Ezra joins her on the ramp, and looks between the two of them with an ear-splitting grin. Kanan approaches her more hesitantly, spreading his hands in an apologetic gesture. “Hey, Sabine,” he says quietly.

Breaking from her stupor, she laughs as freely as Ezra has ever heard her do, unguarded like a stray beam of sunlight breaking through clouds. She jumps off the ramp and walks up to Kanan resolutely, even while shaking her head. “No way,” she repeats, but she’s grinning, too, and meets Kanan halfway in a hug.

She draws back, exclaiming, “your eyes!” in surprise and delight, as if only noticing it now, before launching a volley of rapid-fire questions that Kanan can obviously not keep up with, and he holds up his hands in surrender, and laughs.

Ezra turns away when he hears the sound of thrusters firing and metal clanging, and he sees Chopper coming down from the cockpit, grunting and flailing his grasping arms in annoyance. His complaints about Ezra’s lateness nearly muffle another’s grumbling voice coming from above.

“What’s taking so long? I swear, if the kid doesn’t get here soon, we’re leaving.” Climbing heavily down the ladder, Zeb emerges next to Chopper, who warbles in agreement.

“What? Are you going to leave me behind, again?” Ezra calls up teasingly, crossing his arms in feigned hurt. Chopper straightens up, prattering a string of words in binary that Ezra feels disinclined to translate properly, and he scowls at the droid—because of course the metal bucket would suggest actually leaving him behind and letting him walk back to base. Tough love is his signature.

Zeb’s ears perk up when he sees Ezra, and he barks a laugh, moving down the ramp to give him a playful shove. “Ah, what’s the use—you keep coming back anyways.” Ezra punches his arm in return, but Zeb barely notices it, scowling as he looks back up into the otherwise empty hold. “Wait, where’s Sabine?”

Ezra nods to his right. “Outside—but she’s coming.” He readjusts his balance on the ramp, and inhales deeply, a sudden light-headedness adding to the giddiness and frantic beating of his heart.

“Well, what’s she doing out there?” Zeb grumbles, but Ezra just grins in response. Chopper is already wheeling past him, servos squeaking, but mercifully he refrains from bumping into Ezra—he’s sure he’d bounce right off the ramp if Chopper would do that now. Zeb lets out a growling sigh, and makes to go outside, too.

When he passes the outer bulkhead that frames both sides of the ramp, Zeb’s field of vision clears, and he stops in his tracks when he sees Sabine and Kanan. His entire stature seems to droop—ears, shoulders, corners of his mouth—and it hurts Ezra to remember how similar Zeb’s response had been when they had returned from Capital City, once he’d understood they were with Hera, but without Kanan.

Chopper is the first to move, rolling over to the two as they make their way back to the ship from behind the boarding ramp, and he circles them with euphoric whoops. Kanan leans forward to pat his metal dome fondly, before straightening to climb up the Ghost’s ramp, and he flashes Zeb a smile—still careful, but aiming for casual.

“Kanan?” Zeb backs away, yellow-green eyes incredulously wide. “How in blazes are you here?”

Kanan steps forward and places a hand on the other’s arm. “It’s a long story,” he says.

Slowly, Zeb recovers, and then he throws his head back in laughter. “Some kind of Jedi stuff, eh?” He clasps Kanan’s arm in a warrior’s embrace. “Ah, it’s good to have you back.”

“It’s good to be back,” Kanan responds, returning the gesture, and he lets his gaze trail wistfully through the Ghost’s cargo hold, as if to commit it to memory.

Sabine joins Ezra where he’s leaning against the ladder and taking in the excitement of his friends—Zeb’s boisterous laughter filling the hold, Chopper’s elated whumping, and the contentedness Kanan is radiating when he looks between the three Spectres he’s now reunited with. It’s enough for Ezra to pointedly ignore Sabine’s sceptical gaze on him. She’s about to open her mouth, undoubtedly to voice her concern, when Ezra feels the ladder shake under the footfall of heavy boots, and he looks up.

“What’s going on here?” Stepping onto the overlooking balcony, Rex leans over the railing to look at Ezra, Sabine, and Chopper below. His outfit is odd, Ezra notices, as he’s shed his usual armour for a lighter, camouflaged garb, and he’s donned a scout’s cap. Ezra steps aside to let Kallus down the ladder, who also seems to have been sent to investigate for trouble.

“We’ve picked up an extra passenger—you think Hera will allow it?” Sabine calls up, barely suppressing the laughter in her voice. Zeb pushes Kanan further into the hold to show Rex and Kallus the reason for their delay. Kanan looks almost bashful now, ducking his head and holding up his hands as both Rex and Kallus make their exclamations of surprise.

“How did you manage to make it out of that blast?” Kallus asks, astonished. “You were reported dead.”

“I know,” Kanan says gravely. “And I wouldn’t have survived it—but I had some help.” He nods towards Ezra, and suddenly, the eyes of their companions are on him.

“And… how did you do that?” Sabine looks carefully unconvinced. “Because I was there—and, I didn’t see you do anything.”

There’s an unintended barb to her words that stings harder than Ezra had expected, and he flinches, but he pushes the feeling away. “No,” he answers with a shake of his head, “it was in the Temple—but, I can’t explain it. Not now.”

“Well, it’s always good to have another Jedi on board,” Rex calls down, leaning over the balcony to toss Kanan a loose salute. Kanan inclines his head to him gratefully.

“Yeah,” Sabine says with a huff. “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

When their companions voice their assent, she tries to walk past Ezra, but on instinct, he grabs her arm and stops her. “Don’t,” he warns, sharper than he intends to. Sabine narrows her eyes at him, questioning, and he quickly lets go of her. “Don’t raise the ramp yet,” he corrects himself, voice low so that the others won’t hear it.

“How did you—no, never mind.” Sabine frowns. “Why not? We should get going.”

Ezra nods up to the cockpit beyond the ladder. “And if we don’t, she’ll have to come down,” he says. Sabine cranes her neck to look through the stairwell above them, and a mischievous glint appears in her eyes—but Hera doesn’t seem to have been coaxed out of her pilot’s seat just yet.

“But with you here,” Kallus says from behind them, motioning towards Kanan, “we might just have the tactical advantage we need.” He strokes his chin thoughtfully.

Zeb snickers. “I just want to see their faces once they realise you’re still alive.” He slams the knuckles of his fist into the palm of his other hand. “I bet they’ll run scared—that’ll make the job easier for us.”

“I doubt it’s going to be easy,” Kallus objects.

“And that’s why we’re bringing backup,” Rex says. “The best we’ve got.” He pats his chest and chuckles, hidden pride making him stand just a little taller.

“So who are we picking up?” Ezra asks, although he thinks he already knows the answer.

“That depends on who’ll show up.” Sabine folds her arms across her chest. “But we’re headed for the Seelos system—so Wolffe and Gregor will be there, at least.”

“All the way to Seelos?” Kanan muses. “That’s a long way out.”

“Yeah,” Ezra says, drawing his brows together. “You said Thrawn left Lothal, right? That means we have to strike now, before he comes back—we’ll stand the best chance of succeeding if he’s not there.”

“That might not be within our power to accomplish,” Kallus argues. “But we should discuss these matters once we get back—”

“Alright,” a clipped voice interrupts him. “Anyone want to fill me in on why we’re still not ready for take-off?”

Ezra jumps at the sound of it, but his heart leaps with it, too. He backs away from the ladder again as Hera makes her way down briskly, headtails swaying.

She might as well have opened an airlock in flight—gravity presses the crew down firmly onto the floor and oxygen is taken from the hold, leaving nothing but a vacuum of silence, as Hera’s presence seems to stay time, forcing it to slow and bide. She doesn’t notice the tension her arrival brings, and once her boots hit the floor, she lets go of the rungs to turn and place her hands on her hips, one eyebrow cocked and her mouth pulled into a thin line.

And then, she seems to still and tense both at once.

As if drawn by an unseen force, her eyes find Kanan’s the moment she raises them, and stay there. She closes her mouth, and swallows thickly, and tears start filling her eyes. Refusing to blink them away, she lets them roll quietly down her cheeks.

She can’t look away.

It’s fear, Ezra senses—a sharp fear that emanates from her, and is reflected in her wide eyes and in the way her jaw is set, as if her world might fall away if she lets go now.

But she’s brave—always braver than they know—and while her hands clench into fists and she takes in a deep and steadying breath, she steps forward in a stilted trance. The others part before her, clearing the path in deference to her mission, and she doesn’t stop—not until she’s reached Kanan.

Kanan can’t look away, either. His eyes take her in, but his body stands frozen, as if every premeditated step and plan he’d conceived of had evaporated at the sight of her. And so Hera moves first, a breath too late, and she reaches up with one hand to press a palm against his cheek, reverently.

“Maybe this lifetime, after all,” she whispers, though her voice breaks. At the sound of it, Kanan finally starts moving, surging forward to fold her into his arms. She melts into his embrace, letting out a shaky sigh that turns into a laugh of joy, and she lifts her arms to wrap them around his neck, pressing in close.

Through the darkness of their grief, incredulity flows into elation, into wonder, and into light, as their convergence brings the energy of stars into being, swirling around each other in perpetual orbit, and burning brighter for the hope that they give rise to. Kanan draws back enough to cup Hera’s face and kiss her gently, her name on his lips, which causes the others to laugh and jeer teasingly—but for the moment, they seem unaffected by it. Within each other’s light, they find themselves again, suddenly seeming younger than they had been.

The feeling of a hand briefly touching his arm makes Ezra look away, and as he blinks, he realises he’s crying, too. He turns to Sabine, who considers him kindly, eyebrows lightly raised, and he smiles at her in reassurance—the overwhelming feelings he’s responding to are not his own, in any regard, but serve to remind him how frayed his own mental shields are at the moment. There’s a sharp pain in his head now, and a pressure starts building against his temples that worsens for the lights that dot every line of the cargo hold.

Above them, Rex is swinging himself back up the ladder towards the cockpit, and Ezra decides to follow him.

He sidles past his companions and grabs hold of the ladder to heave himself up, feeling clunky is his armour as he manoeuvres his way into the cockpit. The chatter and laughter of his friends fades into a background noise, and in comparison to the cargo hold, the cockpit is blissfully dark. Rex has taken the helm, and a distant but unwelcome blare of an alarm informs Ezra the boarding ramp is being raised, just as the engines start humming to life.

“You Jedi never cease to amaze, do you?” Rex remarks, voice warm, seeming to have noticed Ezra had followed him. Ezra makes no answer, but takes a step forward to brace his arms on the backseat that Sabine had inofficiously claimed. Through the viewports, he can see Lothal’s grasslands and a glimpse of both Capital City and the base of his tower, before the Ghost is swung around and they dive into the clouds. Rex is right—it’s time to leave.

Only a day past, his friends had taken their hopes and scattered it to the winds, and they had separated to find their own ways of dealing with Kanan’s death. The mission had called each of them back, and had driven them forward again.

But for what?

Ezra exhales. Seeing his friends being reunited with Kanan—seeing the light returning to their eyes, giving it back that glint of hope that had been extinguished—makes him feel unapologetically happy. But something whispers to him, elusive as the deceitful lies of the Son’s image, and distant as the voiced echoes of people long ago and yet to come in the world between worlds—as the Force itself, in the back of his mind, reminding him of what had happened.

He could have destroyed everything. Reaching out to Kanan and dishonouring the decision he had made could have led to so much ruin, and darkness—and Ezra feels that darkness. It would have been nothing but selfish, and yet so much more than that.

His eyelids flutter as he squeezes his eyes shut tighter. But it hadn’t been his decision, he reminds himself, and he does understand.

It had been a gift. Morai’s gift—a gift of the Light.

He sees Hera’s face again, and he senses the hope that blooms within her. He sees Sabine, and Zeb, and even Chopper—growing in their courage and resilience. They had all given so much—and they’d been given something back. And, Ezra realises, a smile tugging at his lips, there’s one more thing he can help give back.

He lifts his head. “Hey, Rex?” he calls softly.

The clone captain hums in acknowledgement, but doesn’t turn away from the console. Ezra closes his eyes again and sinks against the chair. He doesn’t need to see Rex’s face to sense his burst of happiness and surprise, burning bright like a beacon, at his next words.

“Ahsoka lives.”