Like many things in Caleb Dume’s young life, he hadn’t realized how important touch was until he stopped receiving it. The nice touches, that is. Not kicks in the ribs or shoves or slaps. He got plenty of those on the streets of Kaller.
When Janus Kasmir finally forgave him for stealing his ship and formally accepted the fourteen-year-old as his business partner, Caleb thought this was as good a replacement for his master as he could get.
He thought wrong.
He tried to hug Janus once, and Janus pushed him away.
“Sorry, kid, I don’t do the daddy thing. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
Caleb shrank back, blushing to the roots of his hair. At the time, he had lacked the faculty to express that it wasn’t a father figure he was looking for in Janus Kasmir, only someone he could trust. A friend. Something he didn’t have anymore. And Janus was his friend, he would later admit. Just not the kind of friend he was used to.
Caleb had grown up rolling and wrestling with the other younglings in the crèche. He’d had a best friend, Cal, whom he tried not to think about these days. The masters and knights were reserved but not callous. There were pats on the shoulder and head, hands-on help with lightsaber training, and a million other little instances of physical contact that were simply a part of normal life. Things that Caleb had taken for granted, that were now precious to him.
He thought maybe he was just weak. Obviously he was, given the fact that he had nearly cried after Janus’s rejection. So he hardened himself. He didn’t need touch, nor did Janus, apparently, and the Kalleran seemed to be getting along just fine. If he could do it, so could a former Jedi Padawan.
He became indifferent. He became a smuggler, then a freighter pilot. He became decent with a blaster and entirely too comfortable with a bottle in his hand. He became Kanan Jarrus, the loner who trusted few and needed no one.
Sometimes, usually when Kanan was three sheets to the wind and lying in his cruddy little apartment on Gorse, he thought about the ease at which he used to touch and be touched. He remembered hanging out with Cal, sitting beside him on the parapets of the Temple and talking about the war, the future. Thighs and shoulders touching, their body heat glowing against one another. The constellations of freckles on Cal’s arms and face, which fascinated Caleb. Like looking at a starmap. And the sunset-orange hair that Caleb enjoyed tousling and teasing until he and Cal were both on the ground, play-fighting like a couple of young womp weasels.
Companionship. Friendship. Kinship. Micro-expressions of love that meant nothing to two teenage boys whose future was laid out before them. What Kanan would give to go back to those days, even for a single minute, just so he could revel in the warm, solid weight of Cal’s body beside his own and marvel at their nonchalance, their innocence. Their wonderful, blissful ignorance.
You’ve got the wrong guy.
Kanan remained distant even with Kaller and Gorse long behind him. He preferred being aloof and untouchable. It was comfortable. He was used to it. There was an invisible barrier he maintained, and it worked out to his advantage. No one came in and nothing came out. Nothing was felt, no one got hurt.
Hera understood and gave him the room he needed. Maybe she thought he would come around after a little while. Maybe she thought he was still grieving Okadiah, the man who was like a…
Sorry, kid, I don’t do the daddy thing.
…who would have been a father to him if Kanan had let him. But he hadn’t. By the time he had arrived on Gorse, twenty and jaded, it was already too late. Hera had helped undo some of the damage, helped him get used to altruism and hope again. When Zeb joined their crew, Kanan found a kindred spirit. He knew what it was like to lose one’s entire culture in a single act of violence. And he never would have expected a Mandalorian teenager to bring so many smiles to his face. Sabine’s personality was as colorful and vibrant as her paints.
He had friends again, a team. People he could depend on. But his shields were still up, his boundaries clearly marked, and behind them he lived in relative comfort and safety.
Then Ezra came along and his whole world was upended. Kanan saw so much of himself in the boy that it terrified him, utterly tore down the walls around him and left him naked and exposed in the wind.
In hindsight, it was a good thing. Crisis is the crucible in which emotions are distilled to their purest forms. Through this lens, everything becomes suddenly clear.
At no point was it ever so clear as the night when they were all gathered in the common room, taking in the latest Imperial news on the HoloNet. A steady stream of horrors that none of them should be watching before bed, much less after a fruitless mission. Citizens being evicted from their homes. People being fined, arrested, interrogated. “Hostile insurgents” shot dead in the street. Bombs. Fires. A new TIE factory going up on Lothal. The ceaseless propaganda. There was much sighing and scowling at the table.
Then Ezra, who had slowly been inching across the seat until he was pressed against Kanan’s side, carefully laid his head on Kanan’s shoulder.
Sorry, kid, I don’t do the daddy thing. You’ve got the wrong guy.
That was the first place his mind went. Kaller. Janus. The push. And then, like an answering call, the memory of Ezra’s adamant, heartfelt plea:
I don’t want the best teacher. I want you!
It had to be the Force. The Force reminding Kanan of who he was, of his new appointment.
He relaxed. Took a breath. He put his arm around Ezra and gave him a brief squeeze—this is okay with me—and then rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder. A comforting weight, he hoped. A kind touch. One that he had been denied many years ago. A touch that maybe would have made a difference in his life, mitigated some of this anger and fear that still churned deep down inside him like magma.
You never got this, said an oily voice in the back of his mind. You needed it more. It isn’t fair. Why should he be so lucky?
Just because I suffered doesn’t mean he should, too. I want better for him. He’s my Padawan. I love him.
The voice went silent.
Kanan sighed. He became aware of eyes on him and looked over to see Hera smiling clandestinely, her gaze traveling between him and Ezra. Kanan pulled his mouth to one side and raised his hand in a helpless gesture. Kids. Her smile widened before she turned her attention back to the news.
Kanan looked down at the boy nestled comfortably under his arm, almost on the verge of falling asleep.
Don’t worry, kid. I’ve got you.